Saturday, January 19, 2013

Past the Midpoint

A few days ago, there was a re-union between old friends. It was a celebration of relation that had survived through thick and thin. Through countries and continents. Through relationships and breakups. Marriages. Kids. Graduations. Jobs. Lay-offs. Passionate pursuit of hobbies. Spiritual experiences, or the lack thereof. On the day of our re-union, we all had many stories to share and hide.

We talked about all that. We joked. We sang and played. We also talked about those things which used to fill up our conversations when we were all in our twenties. You could sum them up as change-the-world topics. It was so like 10 years back!

Except a starkly different topic. Receding hairlines. Mounting waistlines. Cholesterol. Indigestion. Aches and pains. About saving up. About settling down.

It was about ageing. All of them in the group are in their early thirties, except me. I am in my late thirties.

The discussion turned towards mid-life crisis. Though, I think, I had less to add about these topics than others, I could see glances intermittently turning towards me for more light. Have you been through it? How does it look? Those glances seemed to ask.

I joked, Ya, I think it happened to me sometime when I was sleeping!

And it's not just the above incident. This strain laces through all discussions among people of my age. When you are well into your thirties, the realisation of the finiteness of life starts dawning.

I am not going to assume an attitude of a saint who is above and beyond these very natural anxieties of human beings. I do agree that the thought of dying someday isn't very pleasant. Worse still is the idea of having to go through an old age filled with helplessness and disease. Talking about a possibly impending crisis isn't bad. It's probably the first step towards preparing oneself to meet the inevitable as gracefully as possible.

What would make these discussions less gloomy is a positive outlook towards ageing and death. We all know we are going to grow old and eventually die. All life culminates that way. All the trillions and trillions of living beings that have been here have gone out the same way. All of them who tread over the surface of the planet at this moment will follow thither. It's not something new that will ever happen to us. If we think a bit rationally, death isn't something to be afraid of. 

Similarly, age is not something to hide or be ashamed of. I feel all the jokes we crack (sometimes on ourselves) about someone being older than someone else are a bit in poor taste. Think about it. What exactly underlies the humour in age related jokes? Only those who think of life as something totally absurd, a universally lost chance, are the ones who can find having lived more of it as laughable. It seems like saying: 'A is a bigger loser than B because he is older.'  As if both are losers by the definition of being alive. How absurd!

How do we look at life? As a corpus of time to be spent until it runs out? Or as a wealth of experiences to be collected and treasured? In other words, does life deplete or grow with time? With the former perspective, life is doomed to look like a tragedy, an impending and inevitable disaster. And, just assuming that life's just that and nothing else, it's then quite sadistic to laugh at someone who is presumably closer than someone else to that disaster on account of being older. If, on the other hand, we look at life from the latter perspective, a person who has lived longer is likely to have a richer wealth of experiences. In what way then does an older age make him the butt of a joke?

Having settled that, I wish to return to my earlier stand that I am not beyond the fear of death. I won't prefer death over life today. Or tomorrow. It's unlikely I will ever find death more attractive than life. On the one hand, I don't see life as a wonderful, divine gift like a truly enlightened person would. There may be divinity in it, but I haven't seen it myself. I know there are moments of sheer joy with divinity almost poking its head out. But they come floating to us like twigs in an ocean of boredom, toil and even misery. On the other hand, I don't claim to belong to the existential lot who demand a right to be depressed, treating life as a natural accident they had no say in. I am somewhere in the middle of these two extremes. And my position only allows me to want to live more; to fear death; and while life lasts, to strive to make its beautiful moments more frequent.

Taking no sides whatever, I wish to engage in a moment's thought. What is it about death that we dread so much?  Of course, to a large extent, living organisms are wired to shun death. Even insentient creatures try and avert death. But that doesn't explain the unimaginable extent to which human-beings go to preserve life.

This article is going to remain unfinished, if, it having initiated this discussion, a decisive analysis on life and death is what would complete it. I hold no qualification, no credential, to embark on such a lofty enterprise. I want to leave you with just a thought that as soon as we devote a moment of serenity to this thought of life and death, we feel lightened, past the knee-jerk reaction of panic that's built into our biology at the mention of the inevitable.

And that's not because life's not worth living. I don't want to give you any impression of divinity which I myself haven't experienced. That would be like faking orgasm! I just want to remind you of those twigs and branches of ecstatic moments that float to us (or we swim to them) through the ocean of drudgery. If there's any divinity anywhere, it's hidden in those moments. Here's brief list:

  • When a sip of tea suddenly seems to inject freshness right through your soul.
  • When you jam with your friends.
  • When a loved one sincerely expresses that you mean something to him/her. When you are able to express your love to someone and he/she understands.
  • When a point of enduring confusion gets clarified. When the thought process that led to that clarity lies before your eyes like a tamed beast, like a well-laid out map. The beauty of it all!
  • When a thought or word of yours brings the light of hope and clarity to someone's eyes.
  • When you look at a creation -- a drawing, a song, a recipe, an essay, a discussion -- and the feeling comes to you: 'Yes! This is what I wanted to express!'
  • Whenever a moment feels like just the way it should be.
  • When you feel that you are exactly the way you would like to be.

The experience of these moments seems to completely offset the cost of all the drudgery and misery that interleave with them. In fact, just try this question: How much are you ready to pay for any of the above? And you will know the answer. It's almost stupid to try to attach a price tag to these experiences. These experiences are priceless! And any life that gives you a hope of these is every bit worth clinging on to.

But, there still seems nothing to fear anything that may put a sudden stop to it. Taking a moment off from my self-afflicted agnosticism, here's a prayer I feel like saying: Keep me sane enough to be able to remember what experiences I have had. Give me the good-sense to be thankful for them. Give me the hope and energy to try and fill my moments with these experiences.

... and. Give me the grace to be smiling when it's time to pack my bags.


Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Man's Most Violent Invention

No:  It's not nuclear weapons. It's not industrialisation. It's not globalisation. Not stock markets. Nor money! 

By far the most violent war humans have waged against nature is by coining the term 'meditation'. Nature has designed us in every way to become fidgety, impatient, depressed, greedy, jealous, afraid, lazy... But here we are: lifelong struggling to be that happy and contented soul, perpetually alert, unprovokably non-violent. On the one hand, there's our imaginativeness that makes us believe such a thing is possible. On the other, there're stories of seers, saints, prophets and so on that we embellish and perpetuate through ages with our wishful thinking, which never lets us give up this unending struggle. Could there be anything more violent than this never-ending war waged against one's very own nature?

No: It's meditation. The most violent invention of humankind!


Pratising Presence

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Limits of Education

Education is popularly compared with the glow of a lamp. A lamp lights another without going out itself. Thus spreads the light of learning.

I have seen many ways in which the above doesn't happen. Here are two of them:

One: Your being educated doesn't mean a dime to anyone.

If a friend comes back from a visit to a new place, we become eager to hear from him stories of his experiences there: what he saw, the people he met, what he ate, where all he went. We ask him to share his photos and so on. If someone visits a new restaurant, we ask him about his experience with the food and services there. But if someone comes from an educational journey, why is there so much silence around it? Quite surprisingly, I find the culture of sharing one's deepest and most insightful experiences with the near and dear ones completely missing around us. That's because we relate education and learning with achievements, not experiences. If something is treated as an experience, it pleases all when we share it with others. But when everyone looks at the same thing as an achievement, you must keep quiet about it, lest your sharing any of your thoughts gets construed as bragging. This way, your old friends, your loved ones distance themselves from you fearing you would make unsolicited display of your knowledge and learning to them.

The other one: I feel, is the more serious one. It's the inability of education to reach inward, towards the soul. Here's another long-remembered Sanskrit couplet for you:

विद्या ददाति विनयं , विनायाद्याती प्रातताम 

पात्रताद्धनमाप्नोति धनाद्धर्म ततस्सुखम 

(Education gives humility, humility gives deservingness. From deservingness comes wealth. Weath allows you to do good conduct. And that's happiness.)

I don't feel, education today is designed to give us humility. Just the opposite. It makes us more and more heavy with pride that we can't handle. Our ego, our primal competitive nature to be called the number one, to stay ahead in some or the other competition, finds its expression in our education. Lamentably, this fact gets corroborated in umpteen cases where people, otherwise well recognised as scholars, can't stand others of their creed. Look at the politics in the top academic departments of the country, for instance. How many instances of friendliness, leave alone deep friendship, do you see flourishing among the PhD students or professors of intellectual groups of stellar status? Hardly any? Thousand different things come in their way of sharing amicability: professional rivalry, intellectual rivalry, conflict of principles...While so-called ignorant people would succeed to make up for their differences easily, intellectuals part ways on the slightest of excuses, and nothing can then bring them back together to share the earlier relation.

If our education is making us more and more intolerant, irritable, self-centred and narrow-minded, why on earth would we want others to get educated like us? This education, which doesn't teach us to look at it as a joyful experience but a toilsomely gained achievement, is like a disease. If it makes us forget to love and share, to be happy, to live, it's better to remain uneducated. Instead of spreading light, it draws out what light we naturally have in our souls, and leaves darkness there. Such an education can be shown off to others to make them jealous. It can't be used to make us one bit happier.

Is there a way to become learned which doesn't erect walls: between the learned and unlearned; and between the learned and learned?


Monday, January 07, 2013

6 Vices

Through the 5 years of my Sanskrit education, I scored very high in that subject, by pure mugging up. I did pick up parts of the language, but nowhere enough to be able to claim that I know it. I terribly repent it!

Parts of it have stuck with me. And that gives me the hope that probably someday...

Anyway, here's a sloka I remember from my school days:

षट् दोषाः पुरुषेन हातव्या भूतिमिच्छति .
निद्रा तन्द्रा भयं क्रोदः आलस्य दीर्घसूत्रता 

6 vices try to kill man: sleep, drowsiness, fear, anger, laziness, procrastination.

Probably sleep, drowsiness, laziness and procrastination are related and similar. The other 2 -- fear and anger -- are related too. Anger is often a display of deep fear and insecurity. As Master Yoda says:

"Fear is the path to the dark side. Fear leads to anger, anger leads to hate, hate leads to suffering."

That's all for now. See, sometimes, I too am capable to deal out small morsels of thoughts! But, do chew on it a bit please! ;)