Musings on Life’s purpose

The last few weeks have brought on smiles, chuckles, frowns – a rainbow of emotions – an invariable event when the World Cup is on. This blog too tended to stay away from brooding for a few weeks, however a question from a friend got me reflecting back on more heady matters.

The question was one of those really simple yet profound ones that keep popping up unexpectedly, race around the brain for a while and then just disappear.

“What really is driving us – and how do we define success?”

Philosophers – I know – have engaged this question in plenty of detail and come back with detailed explanations. I thought I’d ask a few acquaintances – and here’s what I came up with:

Most live their lives for a future result – in many cases, one they may not live to experience in the flesh in this life. Consider:

1. Many are driven by the legacy they will leave behind:
– Biological genes (As in kids and grandkids who will change the world).

– Ideas (these are the guys who hope to leave behind an invention that will propel mankind further)

– Sagas (People who leave behind stories that will inspire future generations by their deeds)

2. Some are driven by a belief (from religion/ society) –

– Many devout christians live so they are called to the right side of the ledger on judgement day, many hindus live so they earn the right karma for a favourable rebirth and so on..

– Some live propelled by the vision of a better world they can help establish – usually by eradicating some blemish of society. Feminists, Caste(race)-free and Minority-right crusaders all live for a cause they believe in very strongly – though they know they may not live to see it happen in their lifetime

Interestingly, there are some people who don’t live for the future – but live in the present. Consider:

– Sages – they live as witnesses, unaffected by life but fully contributing to it.Think “ramana maharishi” for instance.

– Many scientists and even technocrats live by this credo – where they live not for the success of their experiments but for the joy of participating in the experiment and driven by curiosity more than anything else. This is best of course exemplified by Steve Job’s quote “The journey is the reward”. Or Robert Pirsig’s view that “sometimes its a little better to travel than to arrive”.

The majority of us however seem to live defined by our constraints. If you were to ask such folks what propells them, they’d not be able to define it – they can however very clearly define what constrains their journey (we would have all heard these sometime!):
– financial dependence
– inadequate family support/ need to support family
– not the best childhood/ pedigree..

Some actually define their life in terms of sacrifices made – these are the career “victims”. They always a have a story of how much nature/ world/ family/ Colleagues/ fate always stunted “what could have been”. Many a time, “the what may have been” is vague – leaving life unfulfilled….

I am of course unqualified to say which one of these is the best one – or even if there is a better set that I haven’t been exposed yet to. What I do know is some of this exchanges today’s joys for a belief in what tomorrow would bring – though in many instances, its these belief’s that underpin actions to provide us with a stable society. This is the “mind” winning over the “heart” – conservative, thoughtful, planned.

In sharp contradistinction, the other option brings in joy today – with a neigh a care for what will happen tomorrow. There’s an acceptance of “what will be, will be” – no point worrying about it. Those from this group often have a song in their hearts and their joy inspires our spirits as well. This is the maverick at work – joyous, spontaneous, wild.

The question really I guess is – which one of these are we? And is that who we want to be…

A meditation on Life’s tragedies

The last month hasn’t been one fraught with good news. Come to think of it, the news these days seldom is – but a lot of it is sensationalist stuff, so doesn’t really get you emotionally worked up most of the time.

Truth be told, statistics don’t reveal any significant peaks in the number of tragedies in the month past. The numbers were much the same – and infact India has just had a polio-free year  – so the numbers should be marginally better. Bad news however always affects you by the quality of the event and never the quantity – so the death of a loved one can affect you more than the 300 deaths due to a large scale aircraft crash. It’s not that we are insensitive to the latter, it’s just that we are a lot more sensitive to the former. And the past month saw tragedy played at several “personal” levels (tragedies to a near one and dear one, at the local neighborhood and the death of a star we looked up to), so perhaps the musing is a little more.

I recall our scriptures proclaiming that at our very root, we are most concerned about ourselves (essentially things that have to so something with “me” or things that are “mine”). The self takes on multiple identities – we identify ourselves with our body, our society, our nations, our tribes and our beliefs. This is why when any of these are hurt, we get hurt – we perceive it as an affront to our personal self (extended self maybe, but self neverthless). Eckart Tolle explains this at great length in the his new best seller (The New Earth) – and this is a great framework for seeing what hurts you and why.

Now, a look at the tragedies. The first was the news of death of an infant child of a dear one (actually another friend had also gone through a similar tragedy a couple of years earlier). A couple who are good and true had just had a loss they couldn’t account for. If you believed in a benevolent god, would he give you something precious only to request the favor back so early? And yet, if the event wasn’t attributed to a cosmic someone or something, where could we find solace and an entity to drown our sorrows in? The law of karma would state that it was the infant’s choice, that it was a very advanced “soul” in a little body and therefore had very little karma to work out and hence moved on -and with a lot of gratitude toward its family at that….. even if this true and a satisfying evolutionary explanation, would the parents not feel piqued that the God of justice had triumphed over one of compassion? Ramana Maharishi or some such elevated souls may have reacted differently to such events, for most of us it’s a hard cross to bear.

Closer to home (geographical proximity meaning an “extended physical self”?), we had a gang who specialized in bank heists shot dead. It was far enough (at least a couple of miles) for us to not have heard the so called “encounter” shooting, however the sheer thought that just a few miles away there had played out a strange drama of a heist and a few deaths, leaves a knot in the stomach and an uneasiness in the air. Such tragedy inspires fear and implicit acknowledgement that our neighborhoods are not so safe any more.

The third tragedy was the premature death of a singer – one I had never met – but whose songs have enthralled me for a long, long time. Whitney Houston succumbed to the usual “celebrity” story – excessive substance and alcohol abuse and a very turbulent life. With her death (and Michael Jackson’s in the not too distant past), a small chapter from my childhood somehow to have lost its reality – a cherished scene of the family talking away listening to these legends crooning their hits on radio and tv (specially during the grammy’s) has faded away…

So what next – for my friend and his family, I can and will provide a shoulder to lean on. And I have memories of togetherness that can be cherished. In the second case, there is no real “personal” loss – except that we will bolt the doors a little earlier (!) and advise kids against the twilight talks most of us used to enjoy on the very same streets. And Whitney’s and Michael’s records survive them (actually the only way I knew these legends in the first place) to entertain us.

The sadness therefore is not just from the loss itself, but in the understanding that there is a bit of us that has evaporated with these tragic incidents. We grieve for the part of us that shared a special moment with the person, place or event who suffered the loss – and is now lost as well. It is also an object lesson for us that life does not stand still – she “flows” and does not stop for anyone or anyplace. Let’s take a moment to stop, take a breath and whisper our gratitude to all the great souls who have come our way and appreciate all the events and places we are and have been fortunate to experience. This will make a difference – not perhaps to reality and it’s tragedies – but to our reaction to them and the memories that we are left with when a treasured phase passes us by. To know life is fleeting makes us all more present and caring. Prayers.

Hoping hope will deliver me from pain…

On Friday, life dealt me a stinging blow. It took my mom away from me with no warning and no apologies. She was there rosy cheeked and happy one moment – and a part of the celestial kingdom just a few moments later. It is probably not the hardest life has affected anyone, – there are instances of tragedy that leave the mind boggling – but it was certainly the hardest it had dealt me and I haven’t still recovered – not fully for sure.
Tragedies such as this make you question life – its principles, its mechanics, and objectives. Is there a purpose to life, has there ever been? Where would all the prayers, all the chivalry, all the goodwill that was earned by people like my mom expend itself? It certainly hadn’t averted a disaster this time – was it being held in store for the next life? Some of it of course must have been translated into a painless death, on a very auspicious Hindu day – but was that enough – couldn’t more life have been a better offering?
This morning, I did a bit of contemplation on this and was stunned by a revelation – was I looking to hold on to her so I could continue availing the immense help and the priceless guiding and advice she offered to me? Would it that the celestial heavens offer unending joy as opposed to a 50-50 life out here, and make her a solace to the world as a “Mother” as opposed to just a “Mother to me”? If the celestial world did indeed make her life more joyous, would I feel so bad? Are there newer paths she is encouraging me to learn (as I must for sure now)?
I don’t know.
But it is only by bringing in the law of karma, the tons of goodwill and wishes she has accrued over the years, the pleasant face she continued to sport even when no more here, belief in the divine and celestial heavens – and such related expansive dharmas/ knowledge am I even able to reconcile myself to the thought of the separation having some benevolence.
And this is me, a man who has experienced well over 3 decades of life on this earth – all through which I have been the benefactor of her solace, trust and smiles. How would such an event affect a parent who loses his infant son, a child who loses her mother, a sister who loses her adolescent brother? Life can truly be shattering, and it is necessary to delve into scriptures and seek the support of the wise men/ women for finding solace. It is also important that we care (and show them we care) for our near and dear while we can. With life throwing such uncertainties at us – a harsh word, an impulsive gesture can cause profound guilt – we would be better off without.
Poets can be moved by life’s gentle events – a rose swaying in the wind, a little girl singing in the mountains, a sunset that has many hues. For the rest of us – it is life’s seismic events that bring out the philosopher in us. The awakening I experience is sudden – and it is upto us to make it an awakening of trust or a death of beliefs. Scriptures, wise counsel and friends help much through this phase and should help evolve solutions that should be palatable for our lives as well as support good prophecies for the departed souls. When we can help them no more on the physical plane, let us say a thoughtful prayer for them, thank them for the zillion acts of kindness showered on us and lend strengths to beliefs of their success in the next world. Reincarnation allows for loved souls to find their way back to us in a new body, so we may benefit from their love once again – it is these thoughts that we should hold dear and strengthen through our earnest prayers so they get manifested and find their way to fulfillment in our earthly plain. Peace. Peace. Peace.