The world seems to understand the concept of relativity. It is one of the finest fundamentals to recognize the magic of life and living. But a big part of this understanding which distinguishes our level of maturity depends on where we place our reference point. Where is your fixed point, with reference to which you are moving?
Most of the time when we engage in conversations we find everyone wants to speak! There are hardly any listeners. Even more startling is that all of this talking has nothing other than how one is better than most others. Almost without exception most of us will respond with a bigger act of achievement as soon as we hear one in a group. I have found most people can’t stand listening quietly without speaking about their achievements.
It is becoming extremely difficult for anyone today to let go of an opportunity to feel bigger than most others around, if not everyone else. We go to great lengths to make sure this happens. If we are not able to do this in absolute (which is the case in most average human beings in society), then we try to establish this feeling by putting others down. By putting down institutions and people around us we make ourselves look big. This need to feel good and bigger at any cost is the source of most agitations that we experience. The recognition of this fact and questions thereof initiates us into spiritual advancement. But sadly even in spirituality we find there is tremendous competition to prove who is more spiritual than the other! There doesn’t seem to be any end to this madness, at least in the way we understand relativity.
There is a substratum on which the movement is happening, but that cannot be in the world. Now that’s plain logic. The truth is that all changes happen on something that is unchanging, but it takes effort and courage to go beyond our comfort zones and delve deeper to find it out. If we do our life will be full of peace and happiness. But why are we not even making the attempt? It is because of this misguided thought that we can feel peace and happiness once we achieve and live up to our dreams. If we possess and experience, peace and happiness is a given. Bigger, Better, Richer seems to be the mantra and today happier is also getting added to that list. Some people even showcase this in a relative sense and this entices the ignorant.
Truth is fairly obvious. We ignore it just to align with the larger herd of society. The woman (men included), who doesn’t fall prey to this illusion, evolves. Is that not the reason why every prophet in some way was a revolutionary figure?
Don’t put down others in conversations, it is actually hurting us in the long term and making us agitated. Every time you hear even a small achievement, simply acknowledge and encourage. If you feel the urge to showcase your greater achievement, just remain silent. It is fine if the world does not hear it just now. The best part of this is the resulting peace within us.
One child says she loves chocolates. The other immediately responds saying she hates them. Why these opposing feelings towards the same object, in this case, a chocolate? Where do these children learn what to like and what to hate? Who taught them these?
Adults teach and children learn. Adults act and children learn deeper and faster. Yes, that’s the truth. Every time a child sees their well wishers do something, it makes an impression on their minds. They learn that this is right or wrong and this creates a deep impression on their minds, which almost never changes. The problem is not in learning that a particular object is good or bad, and should be liked or hated. The problem turns into the bigger learning that we must learn to sort things into two compartments – that which we like and those that we hate. As children grow up, you can see these impressions taking enormous forms even while in school. It is not uncommon for us to hear children say, they like someone and they hate someone; someone is on their friend list and there are a few on the enemy list! Can you imagine small primary school children talking about enemies?
This grows and becomes a permanent feature in almost every adult. They all (including all of us) have likes and dislikes. We have them with foods, clothes, music, books, and more importantly people. This division is simply a figment of imagination. Just like the chocolate in the case of the children we discussed in the beginning, the goodness / badness are both not in the object (chocolate) in their case. Similarly as we grow up, this lack of understanding makes us feel that our likes and dislikes are always in the objects and beings around us. Hence we get affected by the nature and actions of the objects and beings that we come in contact with. Either we are happy that they align to our worldviews and like them or we are unhappy that they are not the way we want them to be, and hence dislike them. This constant stream of likes and dislikes makes us happy and sad alternately. We are not even aware that it is our misunderstanding which is actually causing this constant change in our state of mind. If we even get a doubt, we can reach out to philosophy to help us understand how to start walking out of our problem. If we do, our life becomes more peaceful. Vedanta is one such school of philosophy that explains this ignorance.
There are times in life when big questions get raised in our heads. All the knowledge of the world does not seem to help with answers. We feel confused, anxious, agitated and worried about how to handle the situation and how the future will unfold? Under these circumstances one eventually lands up in philosophy. ‘Philosophy’ – the subject that asks and answers the really big questions in life! I once came across a book titled ‘Why business men (women included) need philosophy?” and it’s not surprising that it did not do very well. Why will it? The way we land up in achievement or celebration is not how we land up in philosophy. While the former is always done in groups, the latter is always alone. When you sit back and ask questions like: “Why me?” or “Why are some people more privileged than me?” – Inevitably the worldly knowledge cannot give satisfying answers. An answer that satisfies one person may not satisfy you. Hence, everyman will have to ask the questions to himself and then seek answers.
So should everyone learn ‘Vedanta’? Is ‘Vedanta’ the only solution to all big questions in life? No, not at all! There are many systems of philosophy and one should expose themselves to some or all of them before choosing the school of philosophy to pursue.
Which one should i choose?
- Choose the one that fits your personality.
- Choose the one that you relate to.
- Choose the one that you have access to.
- Choose the one that can address your big questions satisfactorily.
- More importantly – Choose one and stick to it.
At least in philosophy, variety can create more confusions than solutions. Try to avoid it, however tempting. Because ‘philosophy’ should not become entertainment! It can create more ruckus than not having known philosophy at all.
Think about it!
Many people especially the ones who deeply believe in God or God-men profess having witnessed or experienced miracles. The intellectuals normally rubbish these as imaginations and tricks. Both schools of thought are right. While reasoning is what human beings should engage in because of the innate instrument given to them – all scientists (who are worth something in their fields) have declared that there are limits to what reasoning can detail. They sense something deeper but the proof always eludes them. They submit to this greater power that ensures them the intuitive insight and thereby they become extremely humble. They trust this greater force but in most cases they realize this very late in their lives. Vedanta says ask yourself deeper questions early.
What are miracles and to whom does it happen? It happens to people who trust! Be it trust in Gods, God Men, Science, or anything else; it is trust that enables one to see miracles! But how will one develop trust without having seen miracles in the first place. The intelligent mind wants proof before trusting. In this process of searching for proof without adequate development of the intellect or reasoning power, we become critical and doubtful about everything. In fact many times the ability to destroy belief through rational questioning is seen as intelligence. No wonder that in most cases it’s only a calamity or loss that makes one seek miracles.
Which should come first? Seeing a miracle or trust? It’s like the typical “which came first” challenge – there is no right answer. But the truth is, it is a cyclical process. Most people in arts seem to give in to the muse or the divine power or whatever they call it and in the process allow the greatest of works to happen through them. Scientists exploring the outside world take a long time to reach the stage that an Einstein or Bohm reached? Most don’t! So they don’t end up even asking the question.
Life must be a good mix of reasoning and miracles. To see miracles one needs trust – else we dismiss all miracles. On the contrary one must not accept every incident that can’t be explained as miracles – then the process of reasoning stops. So it is a mutually reinforcing process – one of trusting and one of seeing and experiencing miracles.
Think about it.
Yesterday I had an experience – rare one in so many years of haven flown all over the place. I had a flight back home after my workshop with one stopover. During the first leg of the flight, mid air, we suddenly experienced a terrible shake-up. While the captain did warn us before we took-off about possible turbulence en-route, this was fairly more than a normal turbulence. During those 20 seconds or so, I saw firsthand what happens to people in case of an emergency. For the first time I kept calm. Instead of closing my eyes, i kept it open and looked outside. It made me feel i was being tossed around by someone just for fun! Everyone was shaken. Thanks to the captain (and to God, prayers, etc too) we were again flying smoothly –but most people kept looking at each other in disbelief, disbelief about seeing each other not dead or was it that we were still alive. It was my first experience of scenes that i see only in a movie or read in a book. Scary it is!
The truth is somewhere deep down at those moments and for a few moments after that, we think about the value of life. We think we must drop everything and do what matter the most. But in a few hours we are back to what we normally do in life. We forget that ‘Life is a like a dew drop on a lotus leaf’ and that we experienced it a little earlier. We forget the knocks and shocks of life when they are delivered in small quantities. We don’t take the effort to understand how to live life. We don’t do what we are born to do. Why? Because we misunderstand life! Somewhere deep inside us we fail to understand that what happens to others (death) can happen to us as well. Such little reminders that tell us about the fragility of life is ignored with the dangerous assumption that it won’t happen to me and if it does, i can handle it much better. Both of us fail on occurrence.
I was back home and spent the evening at work. It was only before going to bed; I casually mentioned this to my wife. We had a lovely little chat about the importance of that lesson and discussed how we can narrow our distractions further. These knocks and shocks are only to remind us to get back on track, not to demotivate and make us give up on life. This misunderstanding is what has made us miss the beauty of the subject of philosophy, in particular ‘Vedanta’.
If you are conscious, aware and alert there are many situations in life that give us this message – but we miss it because of our ignorance and distractions. If you learn to stay alive and alert every moment to the happening at that instant, life will be more happening!
This is the central message of Vedanta – learn how to use the time given to you to evolve and reach your kingly state from which you have fallen.
I am writing this blog today because I was given a chance to stay alive – and I hope to do things that fit more closely to what i can contribute. What will I do with everything I accumulate, if 20 seconds mid-air can make everything redundant? What will I do postponing all close-to-heart activities in life, if 20 seconds mid-air can end the journey? Then there must be something more to life. Don’t wait for harsher knocks and shocks as reminders to start living life.
The last week’s Vedantic Wednesday post on “Instability of Life” ( http://rajshankar.wordpress.com/2013/09/11/vedantic-wednesday-instability-of-life/ ) received number of responses, likes and shares. People even wrote back asking how to take this thinking ahead. Here is my humble learning so far on this topic.
The essence of last week’s thought was this: “Life is like a dew drop on a lotus leaf”
But looking at it this way seems so pessimistic. Then why would a great teacher like Bhagavadpada Sankara Acharya give us such a lesson. The man, who in less than 32 years of life on Earth performed more work than even most performing people, could not have written this to share his pessimistic view of life. There is a deeper message for us.
When we understand that life is uncertain we begin to appreciate the importance of not taking it too seriously. When we are advised to take it too seriously the immediate reaction is to give up – but that’s where spirituality and spiritual knowledge is misunderstood. If life is to be lived like a sport (‘Leela’ in Sanskrit) then one needs to learn how to play! When you see children play sports we don’t see them go to a game to lose, but at the same time they don’t go to win either. They go to play. But soon we start feeding them that winning is important. This is the place the fun part of sports is lost and the seriousness of a game comes into picture. When this happens we begin to start experiencing pressure, expectations, happiness and disappointment. It doesn’t stop there, this spreads to all aspects of life. Instead of being a good writer we want to be a New York Times best seller or an Amazon best seller! Instead of being a good businessman, we want to be the most famous businessman, etc.,. The misunderstanding of the statement makes people who achieve things dismiss philosophy and those who lose either dismiss it or use it to justify their pessimism in life. Both are not true. Religion wants you to live life fully, but joyously. We misunderstand, think that life is a race and end up beating ourselves down to stress, disappointments, and sadness.
Life is unstable. But isn’t that what makes life interesting? If you knew what’s coming next all the time, do you think life will be interesting? Never! We get bored even with mundane repetitive actions, then if every next thing in life is predictable and known, we would all become extinct through boredom. Human beings are the only species given the faculty of reasoning and thinking, but we use it for everything other than thinking about how to live? Think about it.
The great acharya is only reminding us about the futility of our actions and urging us to think about our misunderstanding of the truths of life. If we get the message right, we will start re-thinking about the importance of having the right attitude towards life and living.
Have another great week of contemplation and reflection!
In a moment, the whole world changed! Have you or someone around you experienced something like that? Here are few examples to give you an indication:
a) An entrepreneur works his guts out for a long time without much success. But because of his good nature and intentions he has helped some people who have become successful. One of these people suddenly pops up one day and offers him a million dollar deal – which has never seen or even aspired for! He has been seeking only a hundred thousand deal and he is now faced with a million dollar deal. He gets anxious and worries himself to breakdown with the upside possibility. Many people have told me this is not possible – it’s good when we are not the protagonist. We always feel we would have managed it better.
Go ahead and read a few more situations where there is more downside. Is it that we can handle that better than the individual protagonists as well? I am sure our minds will tell us it won’t happen to us and even if it happens we will manage it a lot better than others.
b) A young man, extremely successful right through school, college and work is working on a really important engagement / initiative that can elevate him 5 levels. He is just a few days away from the end of the project and all of a sudden his health gives way – he is diagnosed with blocks and advised restrictions (food and work) and extensive rest.
c) An entrepreneurial man with a PhD working as a researcher develops headache. He googles and identifies possible root causes. He takes some online tests. He tells himself he has anxiety disorder since the test says so! Within 3 months he is at the psychiatrist taking help to recover.
d) A young boy who tops his class continuously and has number of good friends suddenly realizes that he does not have a girl friend. This is because most of his friends have one. Peer Pressure? He then forces himself into one and eventually gets serious to such an extent that he disconnects with all his loved ones. He starts getting angry when he does not get attention from that girl and eventually break down emotionally. He takes tests online which only aggravates the anxiety and stress. His whole academic career is now staked against something that started all of a sudden!
Innumerable cases like these exist. Why do people get attached to objects and beings knowing fully well that life is full of surprises? Learning to handle surprises is learning the skill of right living. Every religion in the world has scriptures and they teach the human being the meaning of right living. But man fails to get attracted to it early, looking up to it only after living life. In the ancient times young people were first sent to this ashram of a realized teacher who will teach them all skills for life and how to live life as well. They will then be sent to live in the world happily and peacefully. But somewhere we reach out to religion only towards the end of our lives – isn’t it the reverse of what should be actually done?
In a beautiful poetic composition of the 8th century saint Adi Sankaracharya he describes this instability of life with this metaphor: “Life is like a dew drop on a lotus leaf” – no, don’t think this is a pessimistic attitude to life. In the next week’s Vedantic Wednesday post i will detail how this understanding can help us lead a positive, peaceful and happy life. Till then think on this and similar situations that you have come across.
Every religious and spiritual endeavour results in people asking the aspirant to renounce desires. Even if you try to run a little experiment on yourself for a day you will quickly realise the futility of this task. It is almost impossible to force yourself to control or eliminate desires. However Vedanta says it is not desire per se that causes the issue, but the set of conflicting desires. It begs a human to fix on that single inner calling and work relentlessly in its pursuit.
Desire creates two things in every one of us. One, energy. Two, effort. It is because of aspirations that we take efforts towards gaining something. It is also the sense of gaining it and the possible resultant happiness that creates energy and helps us sustain the along the path. Both of these drive action. Without desires it is very difficult of us even to visualize acting or working. If we make an effort to understand what this spiritual path and what spiritual evolution means we can utilise the above two forces generated by desires to help us steadily advance on our spiritual quest. The intention behind action while not visible to the whole world can help the individual make progress.