The Reluctant Protestor

The 3 protestors huddled over a corner table at the popular cafe tucked away in a quiet cul-de-sac in the heart of the bustling city. It was a cold windy afternoon. The cafe, not too crowded at this time of day, had become their favorite haunt to debate & plot. The strong aromatic coffee, recommended by the barista, complemented their energetic conversation.

No1, with a long mustache and short-cropped hair, restless & angry, was ranting, “The public is clueless and they don’t bother. The government is unleashing irresponsible policies which are going to hit them hard. Yet, they don’t react or protest”

No2, adjusting his ever-dropping horn rimmed glasses on his nose, agreed, “Yes, this protest we are organizing will help raise awareness”

No1 continued, speaking fast, “Yes, it will be a show of strength. Lets show the filthy politicians & kowtowing bureaucrats that we matter. They can’t make us pay for their mistakes & blunders. They have to reverse their policies and make them more beneficial to our lot. We are a big vote bank after all. We just need to showcase our numbers for them to take notice”

No2 – Before I forget and we go deeper, I want to say that the cafe owner has graciously offered to sponsor our table today. He is happy to see we are regulars here, sometimes bringing in a bigger group of friends. All coffee and pastries, including the cafe special I have ordered today, are on the house.

No3 was leaning back in his chair with brooding eyes

No1 – Something bothering you?

No3 – We can protest, but I am not sure if it will solve all our problems.

No2 – We can’t keep quiet. The policies are draconian.

conspirators-a

No3 – Yes, I agree. But we got a whole host of issues. New challenges keep cropping up everyday. You resolve one issue after another….there seems to be no end to this. Corruption & inefficiencies are everywhere.

No1 – Unless we act and protest, how to stop these? We should do our best and things will work out well, over time. Key is we continue protesting. If we stop, the situation will get worse.

No2, biting into the fig & honey tart, concurred,  “Yes, the corrupt politicians and businessmen will take over the city sooner or later. We should fight them.”

No3 leaned forward, put down his coffee mug, and spoke slowly, “We want to protest against corruption, inefficiency, nepotism etc. in the public sphere. But, on the other hand, we seem to have a hand in perpetuating the same problems we are fighting”

No1 spilled some coffee from his mug as he burst out, “What are you taking about?”

No3 continued, “All of us have day jobs. We are not full-time social activists or protestors. We are engineers, entrepreneurs, bankers and so on.  While we don’t directly contribute to creating these social problems, we don’t stop to think about indirect and second-level effects”

No2, toying with a pastry in his plate, frowned, “Thats confusing”

No3 was getting animated. “Not really. Take the example of my banker friend who is keen to join our protest. He draws a salary from his bank and is a socially responsible citizen. But, in his day job, he provides loans to social irresponsible real estate businessmen who are linked to corrupt politicians. Isn’t he socially irresponsible, indirectly?”

No1 – That’s a very convoluted argument. Everyone needs a job and income. All engineers, bankers & entrepreneurs cannot quit their jobs to become socially responsible.

No3 – I not saying everybody has to quit their jobs. But they need to think and worry about their net impact.

No2 – Net impact?  Whats that?

No3 – Are you a smoker?

No2 – No, and you know that.

No3 – Do you invest in cigarette companies?

No2 spoke rapidly, putting his coffee mug down. “Of course not. Cigarettes are unhealthy & socially harmful. I don’t want to make money by investing in a company which sells cigarettes.”

No3 – Well, you are not selling cigarettes yourself. So, what’s wrong in buying shares in a business selling cigarettes?

No2 – I want to be socially responsible. I don’t want to contribute, in anyway, to the promotion and selling of cigarettes, even indirectly.

No3 – Perfect. The same logic applies to my socially responsible banker friend who, by providing loans to corrupt businesses, is also being socially irresponsible. So, he needs to think about his net impact. Is it positive?

No1 jumped in. “That’s very complex. There is no way to measure one’s net impact. Nobody can know for sure. Going by your logic, No3 cannot invest in many other industries also, like retailing and logistics, as all these indirectly support the cigarette manufacturer.”

No3 – That’s right. We are part of a huge complex inter-linked society. A junior software programmer may just be a small contributor towards building a complex business-critical enterprise software that is sold to a weapons manufacturer. But he is indirectly contributing to the business success of his employer’s client, the sale of more weapons, and towards the possibility of more conflicts, wars & destruction.

No2 – Wow, that sounds fantastic.

No3 – Yea, it is fantastic but true. We are in a consumption driven world. The more we consume, the more is our indirect contribution to the growth of greed, corruption and other evils, which cause the many public social issues we face today.

No2 – You are thinking too much. If everyone starts thinking like you, there will be no progress, no growth, no development. The world will stagnate. Nobody will work on innovations, inventions & discoveries.  Everybody will be paranoid.

No3 – Not necessarily. Things will slow down, no doubt. But, when more of us work towards making our net impacts positive, the world will become more sustainable, more livable and enjoyable.

No1 – That’s utopian thinking. Not possible. Not feasible. How can you make the whole world think like that?

No3 – What do we want to achieve by organizing this protest?

No1 – We want to highlight issues & challenges we face in the society today…raise awareness.

No3 – That is exactly what I am doing right now. Making you aware of the indirect impacts of your actions and decisions.

No2 – But, how is this going to help the society or the big wide world? Just 3 of us worrying about our net impacts will not change anything.

No3 – That’s true. Just like our protest won’t solve all the problems in our complex inter-linked society. As long as the protestors are indirectly contributing to the very problems they are protesting against, there won’t be much progress. We may jump 10 feet, but will be dragged 9 feet back, without us noticing it. The net impact may not be significant…can even be negative.

No1 – That’s a very defeatist attitude and thinking. Are you against the protest?

No3 – I am not sure. I want to fight. But I am also worried about my net impact. Am I directly or indirectly contributing to the very problems we are protesting against?

No2 – You are intellectualizing this too much. Remember our last discussion. We decided its time to act. We have had enough debates.

No3 – Yes, I agree. We can’t keep quiet. We got to do something. But I also want to make my net impact positive. It may take sometime or even a lifetime, but I want to work on it.

No1 – That’s a very noble thought, esoteric and so very long-term. Think about the present? We should be worried about the issues plaguing us and our children today. Now is when we should fight corruption, inefficiencies, irresponsible politicians & bureaucrats, and so on. We must try to make the world better for us and our children. Thats how mankind has progressed, throughout history. Think of all the revolutions & wars. Human progress & development was always through protests, struggles and fights.

No3 – That’s a popular narrative version of history which needs some rethinking. Was there an alternative path to progress which we seem to have missed and ignored? Lets suppose we had chosen to avoid the paths of struggles, protests, wars & destruction, over the course of history. And chosen the slower, more peaceful & sustainable path of progress, could we have done better?

No2 – Well, that’s a big supposition. And, anyway, it didn’t happen that way. Getting the whole world to change to your thinking is impossible.

No3 – I can start with myself. Then try to influence the two of you.

No1 – Your idea of net impact sounds good, but difficult to practice. Almost all jobs I can think of has negative indirect consequences.  Even a small time clerk in a government office or a primary teacher in a village school may be indirectly contributing to global terror or viral epidemics. I can’t starve. I need a job and income.

No3 – That’s true. I am not saying its easy. But, at least, we can be conscious of our choices and actions. We got to start somewhere.

No2 stretched and yawned, “We are heading nowhere. I am full of pastries and coffee. I want some fresh air.  Any of you want to join me for a walk in the park?”

No1, shuffling some papers and glancing at his watch, spoke seriously,  “Lets finish what we came here for. The blueprint for the protest is almost ready. We just need to agree on a few points and we are good to go. No3, are you still with us?”

No3 sat back and murmured, “Yes, I guess so”

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Contemplations on Money

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Man-made wonder. Gone awry.

Self-replicating meme. Gone wild.

Medium of exchange. Gone viral.

A wonderful idea. Gone beyond its brief.

A thoughtful convenience. Another language.

We created it. It conquered us.

Many want more. Few have enough.

Most work for it. Modern slaves.

Toiling day & night. Seldom pausing to think.

Few say enough. And call it a day.

Relentless pursuit. Almost till death.

How much is enough? When to stop?

Is piling it up the goal? That’s a pity.

Life is much more. Given up so easily.

money illusion

A tool has taken over. How did we allow it?

A trick? Delusion? Mirage? Nightmare?

It helped trade. It created things anew.

Then it created more of itself. It now runs the world.

There is no stopping it. It’s a snowball.

Its rolls on…& on. Amassing speed and size.

Delighting many. Crushing many.

Slaves abound. One generation after another.

Ready to serve it. Grow it.

It looks immortal. Defeating its creator.

Kings & men. Few are left untouched.

Few stand up to it. Enlightened souls.

What more can it do? Create or destroy?

More evil than good? Who is to ponder?

Our destiny in its hands? Or its destiny in our hands?

It governs the world. It decides. Behind the scenes.

Who eats? Who wins? Who does what? Who goes where?

Who survives? Who lives it up? Who dies? Who rules?

It greases the wheels. The world goes around.

Bigger than its creator. Runaway renegade.

Pause & think. It’s an illusion.

Come out of it.

Contemplations on Food

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Eternal question. Eat to live. or Live to eat?

We master it. Or it masters us

So little the body needs. Why eat more?

The senses take over. The body is beaten.

So much available. So many starve.

So much feted. So much wasted.

So much variety. So much creativity.

Food is much more? An art?

Hunger or senses? What is right?

The body is a vehicle. Food is a fuel.

Right food at the right time. Works like magic.

Medicine or fuel? Aren’t both the same?

Eat well. Live well. Age well.

plate

Good food. Healthy body. Alert mind.

Simple or fanciful. Does it matter?

Many are enslaved. For life.

Senses & desire. Chain the young & the old alike.

Many indulge. A life long habit

Few control. Many can’t.

Death & disease. Seldom teach lessons.

Even the aged are smitten. Unable to give up.

Keep it at bay. Sooner the better

Less or more. Fat or thin. No one perfect way.

The body knows whats right. And how much is right.

The body signals. We know it.

We take the hint. Or we don’t.

Many have fallen. They teach us best.

Food is life. Food is not life.

Eat well. Live well. Eat right. Live more.

 

Contemplations on Sex

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The King of all desires. Seldom vanquished

Wild & passionate. Often uncontrollable

Natural or God-given? Indulge or despise?

20 or 70. It never turns stale

The flesh may wrinkle. Memories linger

The Original Sin?  Or The Original Gift?

Varieties of experiences. Feisty cauldron of senses

History says it all. Volumes of text

Kings & men. Few are immune

Men and women. Struggle in vain

Shame and pain. Soon forgotten

Many fall. Few admit

Cultures & traditions. Fight in vain

Laws & rules. Seldom work

khaj

Religions pour scorn. Desire is evil?

Whats wrong with it? Say the brave

Why fall for it? Say the cautious

Fatal attraction for some. Playground for some

Some are bound. Some abandon themselves

Vicarious for some. Clandestine for some

Avoid or plunge in? Is there a middle way?

Control or abstain? What’s right?

The pages of history. Offer much insight

The mighty & the fallen. Say it all

Think, pause, act. Find the right way

Many paths. Some new, some old

The King of desires. Relish it, with caution.

Speculations on Hindu Rituals

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To believe, or not to believe

To do, or not to do

To fear, or not to fear

There comes a time in the lives of some Hindus when he or she gets to contemplate the deeper meaning, purpose and implications of various Vedic rituals.

Some are born into rituals, some take to them along the way, some have rituals thrust upon them.

Any ritual, modern or ancient, has a purpose. Its inculcates habit & discipline to achieve a goal, like daily running is a good habit or ritual for an aspiring marathoner.

Over time, however, rituals have the tendency to gather ‘bells & whistles’ which, though decorous and interesting, have to be stripped away to get to the real purpose behind them. Many modern exercise regimens, accessories & gadgets have made running so complicated, expensive & daunting that the simple exhilarating pleasures of freestyle running are largely forgotten.

Vedic rituals, over time, have become so complex, mysterious and voluminous that we need a guru or guide to help us navigate them. However, most gurus just show the path without shedding much light on what lies ahead on the path. They tell us what rituals to do and how to perform them, without saying much about why we need to do them at all.

The result is fear, uncertainty and doubt.

Rituals are designed to serve our needs. We don’t need rituals for the sake of having rituals. Our ancestors who originally designed the Vedic rituals would have had a purpose or goal. Some of those purposes may not be valid in today’s world where we (hopefully) have a better understanding of nature and how it works. It’s safe to assume our ancestors would not have fashioned the rituals to create fear, panic or uncertainty in our minds.

It’s useful to cut through the weeds and get to the heart of the rituals. Lets look at just two common rituals.

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  1. Marriage rituals

At the core, these rituals are vows and promises the couple make to each other in the presence of various witnesses – celestial, terrestrial and in-between. It’s quite natural for these rituals to have acquired, over time, various elements of celebration, education, entertainment, and prayers to invoke blessings of Gods & ancestors. A tinge of Godly fear and respect also prevails over the rituals to caution the couple in case they venture beyond the boundaries of the wedding vows and promises. This fear perhaps serves a useful purpose for the couple, their families and societies to be organized and disciplined. But when the fear and other ‘bells & whistles’ dominate, the original purpose and the meanings of the vows & promises are lost.

2. Death rituals

These are more complex and tedious which have, over time, acquired various elements of fear to enforce rigor and discipline. We need respect & curiosity to understand these rituals, not fear. Our ancestors would have fashioned the original rituals, without the attending frills, to serve a purpose which is more important to understand. Would our ancestors, having died and gone to wherever they go to, be dependent on us for food & water or curse us if we don’t perform various rituals?  Fundamentally, these rituals are a way to offer our respects & gratefulness to our ancestors – both human & non-human (like trees, animals & insects). They provide an occasion to think about and learn from our ancestors, how they lived their lives, their success and failures, lessons they taught us directly or indirectly, and so on. 

When we remove layers of modern technological marvels and conveniences which dominate our times today, our lives are little different from those of our ancestors’. They probably went through similar lifetimes of ups & downs, childhood and adulthood, faced similar fears & pains, joys & happiness, wondered similarly about birth & death.  Are our experiences & circumstances in life vastly different? Probably not. If we want to know how to live life well, find a satisfying job, get married, make friends, wage war or even die well, we just need to turn the pages of history. It’s all been done before. We can learn much from past masters, and our ancestors.

Most death rituals provide an opportunity to contemplate our ancestors, their lives and past times. There is much to learn from them, not fear them.

Such a rational approach to understanding rituals can be labelled speculative, preposterous, atheistic….

But, perhaps, it is better than blindly performing the rituals out of fear or compulsion.

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So what do we gain by performing “mere” rituals? We will acquire one-pointedness of mind, discipline, non-attachment, will power, humility. On the whole it will help us to live a moral life. Without moral conduct there can never be Atmic inquiry and Atmic experience.

There are many benefits that flow from rituals, puja, etc. One of them is that they help to make us good. They are also of value in taking us to the path of workless yoga and the inward quest.

Rituals are indeed not necessary for one who has realized the Self. But we must put the question to ourselves whether we have truly realized It, whether we are mature enough for realization, whether we have become inwardly pure.

  • PUJYASRI CHANDRASEKHARENDRA SARASWATI SWAMI

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Hey Brahman !

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Hey Brahman, who are you?

What’s all this?

Is it all real or illusory?

Or something else?

 

If its real,

Why is it imperfect?

Why all these ups & downs?

Twists & turns, trials & tribulations?

Why the many temptations & sins?

Desires, joys & sorrows?

Why can’t it be simpler, easier, perfect?

Is it simple, but I make it complex?

Is it easy, but I make it hard?

Is it perfect, but I can’t see it?

It’s all surreal

Consciousness_Mountain

If its illusory,

Why the elaborate delusion?

What are you trying to prove, teach, learn or discover?

Why & for whom?

For yourself, your ego, your desires?

You too suffer these human frailties?

Why such a complex & fantastic magician’s trick?

Why don’t you simply say so?

Are you dropping hints here & there?

No, I don’t see them.

It’s all surreal.

 

Is this something else, maybe your play?

Why should I be a part of it?

What am I supposed to learn?

Discover myself or you?

Why this long journey & many acts?

What are we trying to do?

Its abstruse, frustrating

It’s all surreal.

 

Where are you from?

What was before you?

What is after you?

Is there a ‘before’ and ‘after’?

What is death?

What happens after?

Do we become one?

Do I come back?

Gods, Vedas, Rituals, Devotions…

How do they all fit in?

They seem superfluous

It’s too difficult, beyond me.

It’s all surreal.

 

Is this your idea of having fun?

All this elaborate creation or delusion, or whatever it is?

Should I relax, have fun, or drown in sorrow?

Should I be stoic and tranquil?

Should I give it all up and await death?

There are so many questions, so many paths, so many ideas.

What is true, what is real, what should i do?

It’s too confusing.

It’s all surreal.

 

There must be an easier, simpler answer.

What’s the right question?

Lets start again

Hey Brahman, who are you?

Another Chat with Brahman

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Me : Good to have you back

Brahman : You had something in mind?

M : Yea. You do get right down to business, don’t you?

B : We kind of know each other….we had a chat before.

M : Not really. You may know me well. But you are still a mystery to me.

B : Is it?

M : Yea, I have been thinking about you & our last chat. I am reading up a few Masters, as you suggested last time.

B : That’s a good start.

M : That doesn’t sound very encouraging. You seem to imply I have a long journey ahead of me.

B : It depends on you.

M : I know, I know. You said it last time.

B : …

M : Ok, lets plunge in right away.

B : Go ahead.

M : I have been reading and thinking about the illusions of maya, irresistible pull of desires, machinations of the ego, how to live without attachments, how to just do my duties and live without expectations …and so on..

B : Sounds good

M : It all sounds very complex

B : Really?

M : Why is it not simpler to understand and pursue?  Why make it complex?

B : It is simple.

M : But it’s not. Believe me, I am trying hard.

B : Work on it some more.

M : Thats my point exactly. Why should it be hard? Why can’t you make it simple so all of us understand it easily and fast?

B : It is simple

M : Is it?

B : Yes

M : Well, if its simple, we should have more enlightened souls on earth.

B : Whats bothering you?

M : Why create all this complexity? Why have all these desires, suffering, attachments, maya, and so on? Why can’t we have a simpler, easier and tranquil life?

B : You can have it, if you want to.

M : Are you pulling my leg? Look at the world around me. Is it simple & easy?

B : Yes

M : Aren’t you contradicting yourself? You seem to agree its a complex world and life, but you say I can make it simple?

B : Yes, its your choice.

M : I thought you will say that. It’s always my choice, right?

B : Yes

M : I can choose to make my life simple or complex?

B : Yes

M : But why did you create this complex world? Why all the elaborate maya, attachments, desires etc. Are you playing a game?

B : No

M : Maybe your creation just ran out of control?

B : No

M : Or perhaps, you want to teach us some kind of a lesson?

B : No

M : Come on, your monosyllables are not helpful. Why did you create all this complexity

B : I didn’t create that

M : What? You must be joking. Who else could have done it?

B : You

M : Me?

B : Yes

M : Surely, you are joking.

B : No

M : How could I create all this stuff? I understand I am part of you and you are part of me…we are both one and the same, and all that stuff we spoke about last time. But why should I make my own life more difficult and complex?

B : Its your choice.

M : Hmm, you are back to your favorite reply. Are you saying I made a choice to make my life complex….that is, humans over time have made their lives more complex and are now struggling in the complexity they have created?

B : Yes

M : But why can’t you help us out of it?

B : You can help yourself, as much as I can help you.

M : Are you saying you cannot help me?

B : You can help yourself and that’s easier.

M : You can’t wave the magic wand and make my life easier, simpler and tranquil?

B : No. You got the magic wand

M : I have it?  Come on, you are kidding me.

B : No, recollect what I told you last time?

M : Study the masters and their ideas?

B : Yes

M : But what’s the purpose of this whole exercise? Why am I here, creating all this complexity and making my life difficult for myself?

B : That’s not the idea

M : You mean the original idea was different?

B : Yes

M : It was not to make life complex and difficult?

B : Yes

M : Then what went wrong?

B : It was your choice.

M : There you go again.  My choice?

B : Yes

M : I am part of you, eternal & all-knowing. How can I make a bad choice?

B : You are discovering yourself

M : But why go through this elaborate complexity?

B : You don’t like it?

M : Not really. I do like some aspects of this worldly life.

B : Focus on that

M : You mean I just ignore whats not good or complex.

B : You can do that.

M : You don’t answer directly, do you?

B : …

M : I…I mean humans…created all this complexity, desires, attachment, ego and so on, over time. But I still can choose to focus to spend my time and energy on whats good for me? Avoid complexity, pain, suffering, illusions and those things which doesn’t make sense?

B : Yes

M : You do make me say a lot of stuff. And, continuing the flow of my thoughts, I can focus on the good, happier, simpler stuff?  Enjoy the worldly life and also discover my true self in the process?

B : Yes

M : But that’s easier said than done. The obstacles are many. The complexity is mind-boggling. Desires, ego, & attachments don’t make my life easy.

B : Study the masters

M : You said it before

B : Yes

M : But, going back to my original question, why create all this illusory complex stuff at all in the first place. Why can’t we, you & I, just stay put? In our original state, whatever it is or was.

B : That was a choice

M : My choice, or yours, or both?

B : Guess you can say both

M : Thats not comforting…the idea we created something so monstrous, deceiving and illusory.

B : You said you like some aspects of this worldly life.

M : Yea, I do. But that’s a small part & transient. The larger complex, illusory, less understood, and frustrating part of this worldly life is overwhelming, threatening, disappointing, depressing….

B : It doesn’t have to be that way

M : I know what you are trying say. I can choose to focus on the easier and simpler things that matter, right?

B : Yes

M : But, at the risk of being repetitive, why create the bad complex stuff which is not required?

B : Ignorance

M : You mean I, we…humans over time…created this monstrous complexity because of our ignorance?

B : Yes

M : But am I not all-powerful and all-knowing?  I am part of you, right?

B : Yes.

M : Then why embark on this complex project of creation and go through the upheavals of a worldly life?

B : That was a choice

M : But why?

B : You have to discover it yourself.

M : Can’t you explain it now?

B : I can and will, at the right time.

M : Now is not the right time?

B : You are not ready

M : I can study the Master, follow their ideas…and the know the truth ultimately?

B : Yes

M : And, while I do that, I can also have fun?

B : Yes

M : The Masters, their work, ideas & life sound serious & dry. Did they have fun?

B : Yes

M : I guess you mean responsible and detached joy, not the kind of worldly fun the material world knows. Though am not completely sure what it means…

B : …

M : You…I…having made the choice of creating this complex illusion, why not have fun exploring it? I can study and learn from the Masters. I can discover my true self and also enjoy the process. What do you say?

B : Yes

M : Yea, guess that’s a better choice, rather than being discouraged, depressed, confused or bewildered.

B : ….

M : If Buddha or Sankara can do it, guess so can I

B : Yes

M : Thats reassuring.

B : ….

M : But, you know, I still am not convinced on the need for all this complexity. It looks like the whole nature of this complex creation has become more bewildering over time. Are we making life more & more difficult for ourselves, as time goes by?

B : You could say that

M : But I can unravel it, right? All this stuff I see and experience have some good reason to exist and I should be able to find it.

B : Yes

M : And therein lies the fun & joy?  Of exploration, excitement, discovery?

B : Yes

M : But what happens if I get distracted, or get beaten even after trying very hard? Most folks seem to have gone down this path and failed, over the ages.  Very few Masters seem to have discovered the truth.

B : Try, keep trying.

M : And don’t get discouraged or distracted?

B : Yes

M : Till the very end?

B : There is no end

M : Really?

B : Yes

M : Ok, guess I will take your word for it now.  The idea of time and death opens up another huge complex subject which we will deal with another time.

B : As you wish

M : Ok. I feel kind of cheered up. I see possibilities. I see a path which ought to be explored. A path fraught with distractions and challenges, but still holding up the promise of fun and excitement. And you say the journey itself will be rewarding….I don’t have to worry about the destination now.

B : Thats one way of saying it.

M : You are a perfect sounding board.

B : ….

M : I am going to dive in with fresh enthusiasm and curiosity. Life looks good.

B : It is

M : Good to hear it from you.

B : …

M : That’s a good positive note with which we could wind up our chat for now. I will need to consult you later as I make my journey.

B : I am here always

M : Great. Thanks for dropping by.

B : Welcome

Can you (really) change the world?

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Many feel the urge to change the world, make it better. But perhaps any effort to improve the world, like making it more equal or egalitarian, is futile and contrary to the ordinary course of nature. The law of the jungle and survival of the fittest seem to be immutable realities. The strong and smart thrive by edging out the weak. It’s a zero sum game. If you win, somebody else has lost. Governments, philanthropists, great men & institutions may try to equalize, redistribute and establish order. But perhaps chaos, disorder & inequalities cannot be abolished completely. They may even be a necessary condition for a thriving vibrant world.

All of us are not rich, intelligent & healthy. Some are better than others. And they claim their pound of flesh, before they give, or even as they give.

4531635-were-sorry-for-inconvenience-trying-to-change-the-world

Big changes seem to entail big costs. Big philanthropic gifts may come from dubious business profits. Almost all big businesses make big profits by extracting big pounds of flesh. Big revolutions cost lots of lives. The ends do not always justify the means.

We live in a complex world. The costs & consequences of changes and improvements we seek are not immediately clear. Many costs are hidden, latent, spread out in space and time. What looks good to us now may not be so for others in a different space and time. Even well-meant humane & developmental works may have hidden costs and consequences beyond our understanding.

One country’s rise may suppress another country. One society’s improvement in living standards may be at the cost of another. One generation’s pursuit of happiness may harm future generations. The rise of one species may destroy few others. Wealth accumulation by the top 1% of the population may be sufficient to render many millions poor, homeless & starving. Unintended, unforeseen or unplanned eventualities and accidents are more common than we care to admit. Even a regular middle class salaried job (in a bank, factory or school) ultimately polarize the world by indirectly advancing (not always benign) goals of business profits. Many of us don’t pause or bother to think of costs & consequences of our actions.

History teaches that big changes come with big costs. And many a time, the costs are known much later, after a few decades or even centuries. An idea, work, invention or discovery may change the world in the span of a few years or decades, but previously unseen costs and consequences may become evident after a few centuries. The change agent may have died happily, satisfied he had changed the world in his own lifetime. But, subsequent generations may not exactly agree with his ideas or actions.

Jesus, Buddha, Gandhi, Mozart, Leonardo Da Vinci, their ideas & actions may have changed the world for the better. But have Einstein, Shakespeare, Steve Jobs, capitalism, the Internet and Google improved the world? We may have to wait for a few more generations or centuries to find out.

How then to change the world?

Perhaps we cannot. The world seems to change & evolve naturally by itself, with or without us, despite (or in spite of) our actions or inaction.

What then can we do?

We can live responsibly, make small & steady improvements to our lives and in our spheres of influence, watch out for hidden and unintended costs & consequences, and hope to make a small net positive impact over our lifetime.

That sounds boring and unexciting. But perhaps thats the only benign way to change the world.

Better to accept it, learn how to do it well, and enjoy the journey.

 

Tao is Brahman

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While reading the chinese classic Tao Te Ching by Lao Tzu, one can observe its striking similarities to Hindu thoughts.

Some parts are mystical, but the text is full of sound practical wisdom on how to live well.


When you are content to be simply yourself and don’t compare or compete, everybody will respect you.

In dwelling, live close to the ground. In thinking, keep to the simple. In conflict, be fair and generous. In governing, don’t try to control. In work, do what you enjoy. In family life, be completely present.

Chase after money and security and you heart with never unclench. Care about people’s approval and you will be their prisoner. Do your work, then step back. The only path to serenity.

Success is as dangerous as failure. Hope is as hollow as fear.

The Master doesn’t talk, he acts. When his work is done, the people say, “Amazing, we did it, all by ourselves!”

Must you value what others value, avoid what others avoid? How ridiculous!

If you want to be given everything, give everything up.

A good traveller has no fixed plans and is not intent upon arriving.

Do you want to improve the world? I don’t think it can be done. The world is sacred. It can’t be improved. If you tamper with it, you’ll ruin it. If you treat it like an object, you’ll lose it.

The Master does his job and then stops. He understands that the universe is forever out of control, and that trying to dominate events goes against the current of the Tao. Because he believes in himself, he doesn’t try to convince others. Because he is content with himself, he doesn’t need others’ approval. Because he accepts himself, the whole world accepts him.

If you realize that you have enough, you are truly rich.

Knowing others is intelligence; knowing yourself is true wisdom. Mastering others is strength; mastering yourself is true power.

When there is no desire, all things are at peace.

The greatest wisdom seems childish. True wisdom seems foolish.

If you look to others for fulfillment, you will never truly be fulfilled.

True mastery can be gained by letting things go their own way. It can’t be gained by interfering.

The Master gives himself up to whatever the moment brings.

Knowing how to yield is strength.

The Master’s power is like this. He lets all things come and go effortlessly, without desire. He never expects results; thus he is never disappointed. He is never disappointed; thus his spirit never grows old.

Those who know don’t talk. Those who talk don’t know.

The mark of a moderate man is freedom from his own ideas.

Governing a large country is like frying a small fish. You spoil it with too much poking.

Give evil nothing to oppose and it will disappear by itself.

Confront the difficult while it is still easy; accomplish the great task by a series of small acts.

The Master takes action by letting things take their course.

The ancient Masters didn’t try to educate the people, but kindly taught them to not-know. When they think that they know the answers, people are difficult to guide. When they know that they don’t know, people can find their own way.

I have just three things to teach: simplicity, patience, compassion. These three are your greatest treasures.

Failure is an opportunity. If you blame someone else, there is no end to the blame. There the Master fulfills her own obligations and corrects her own mistakes. She does what she needs to do and demands nothing of others.

The Master has no possessions. The more he does for others, the happier he is. The more he gives to others, the wealthier he is.


Tao Te Ching by Lao Tzu

What can go wrong as we age?

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While aging & death are unavoidable, do they also have to be scary, pitiable, despondent & miserable?

Even as our physique weakens & mental abilities wither, our emotional & psychological outlooks can keep us in good stead and help us age well. And that’s possible only if we make the conscious effort to learn and incorporate such attitudes into our psyche when we are younger.

Instead of asking ‘what ideas can be adopted’ to age well, it may be worthwhile to invert the question and instead ask ‘what ideas should be avoided’, which may be easier to answer.

1. Losing purpose is not good for any age, even more so for the elderly. Many of us subconsciously define our lives around our work & family which unfortunately is not sufficient, and becomes a limiting factor later on. When we retire and the family thins out, our lives start looking empty, with no purpose or reason to live for. It’s useful to identify or seek a few purposes, in our 20s or 30s or 40s, which can last for a long while. The aging person may still earn an income, run a business, spend time with family and grandchildren, but they may turn out to be ephemeral or unsatisfactory in the long run. A big bold larger than life goal may help us stay active, agile & satisfied as we age. If the goal is ambitious, always looks slightly out of reach but still achievable, not so enormous that it becomes a burden, then that perhaps is the purpose we need in our lives, till our death. The goal can be personal, related to family, social, political, etc., but it must be something we are really interested in, supported by some related knowledge and skills we have acquired through the years.

2. Slipping behind the times happens so smoothly, without us being aware of it, that we are alerted by rude shocks to its impact on us, in our 40s, 50s or later. This predominantly cultural & social generation gap is natural. Uncles & grandmothers find their ideas and comments being labelled old-fashioned. Many aged people are unable to accept new realities, ideas, concepts, traditions, etc., even when some of them are just old wine packaged in new bottles. As we age, we need to make extra effort to learn, unlearn, renew and update our ideas, views & opinions. If we do so, we can avoid being exposed to unnerving rude shocks to our psyche. This may not be easy or convenient, and may even seem unnecessary. We may choose to live a peripheral life, away from the new & modern, but let it be a conscious choice while simultaneously being aware of and accepting the changing times. Nostalgia and memories are fine, but constantly living in the past is inviting danger.

3. Self-pity can be excruciating.  It does us no good & is addictive, even as we are pulled deeper into its abyss. Most of us are its victims. It can be more damaging to the vulnerable elderly, when they start pitying themselves about their conditions, relationships, health etc. We need to constantly guard ourselves against falling into the throes of self-pity, which seems to be a natural human response to distress. It wastes time, energy and provides no relief. Why indulge in it?

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3. Anger never helps. It’s easy to get angry with ourselves, our family, the society, and so on. Anger makes us loose reason. We can’t think properly. We jump to the wrong conclusion or course of action. Many elderly are angry. It doesn’t help them or the people around them. It’s perhaps easier when young to make the conscious effort to bring the tendency to get angry under control.

4. Ego is the big ‘I, me, & myself’ behind many a ruined life. Thoughts like ‘I am entitled to…’, ‘I can seldom be wrong’, ‘I want, need, desire, seek, so i must…..’, ‘How can I be insulted like that?’, ‘I am more knowledgeable than…, so….’, etc. are sure recipes to a disastrous life. Ego expresses itself as anger, lust, desire, conceit…any extreme emotion which bypasses rational thought. An elderly person with a massive ego is pathetic sight. Ego is perhaps easier brought under control before 40s, providing one makes the effort to recognize it first. Ego raises its head so often, many times a day, subconsciously, and we are blissfully unaware of its machinations. Only conscious effort can help keep it at bay.

6. Self-abuse & self-neglect is common among the elderly. Many neglect their health & finances, give up on relationships & hope, & pity themselves into worser conditions. A sunny and positive attitude, if developed in their younger lives, will help them sail through their later lives in good spirits. Life is never perfect. Most of us never get all that we desire. The best thing to do is to constantly scan for and hold on to the rays of hope & positivity, rather than succumbing to the depths of despair and depression.

Living may not be easy. But aging & dying can be easier and even exhilarating, given that we have had a long runway.

Riding into the happy sunset requires effort, in our younger lives.