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24 March, 2012

The Dilemma of Choice

(Oliver Goldsmith 1728-1774)

       The world is constituted of three types of living beings – plant, animal and human.

       The plant kingdom ranges from banyan trees to creepers, flower-beds to weeds. They have a distinct character. They merely exist in the world at large exhibiting their nature. With no voluntary reaction to the world. No eyes to gaze at the environment around.

       Animals have a built-in programme to live their lives. They cannot tamper with their natural constitution. A tiger cannot become a vegetarian nor a cow a flesh-eater. Eating habits apart, the behavioural pattern of each species of animals is clearly defined by their basic nature, vasanas. The creatures of each species are constituted of the same vasanas. They possess a collective nature. All lions are ferocious. There can be no lion meek and mild. So are all deer soft and tender. And there can be no deer ferocious.

       The human species stands out distinct and different from all other creatures. The nature of each human being is singular. Each one is constituted of his individualistic nature, vasanas. No two humans possess the same vasanas. Consequently, each one expresses his or her own behavioural pattern. Hence human beings have to be treated individually, not collectively as in the case of other creatures.

       The behavioural pattern of animals follows their own nature. They have no choice to live apart from it. But humans are free to choose their course of life. All through life you are faced with the dilemma of choice. To get into business or profession, to marry or not to marry, to be a vegetarian or non-vegetarian etc. The problem lies not so much in making a choice but on what basis you make it. That requires a study of the forces that propel human action.

       Human actions emanate from either the mind or the intellect or a combination of both. The body executes action. But the body cannot act on its own. The actions of the body are driven by either:

1. Likes and dislikes, feelings, emotions, impulses of the mind.
2. Reason, discretion, judgement of the intellect.
3. A combination of the above two.

       Here is an example of the above three possibilities arising from an action. Offer a sweet to a diabetic person who is fond of sweets. His mind wants to take it. His intellect decides against it knowing that he is diabetic. If his intellect is more powerful than his mind he will refuse it. If otherwise, his mind is strong and intellect weak, he would accept it. In a third possibility, if the person is not diabetic, his mind and intellect may concur and consume it.

       People the world over operate more on feeling and emotion rather than by reason and judgement. Sometimes even the reasoning of the intellect is overpowered by the mind’s emotion.

       In The Village Preacher, the poet Oliver Goldsmith shows how the human intellect should reign over the mind’s feeling and emotion. He describes the village preacher with a heart full of chaste emotions for his fellow-beings. But never does he let his emotions disturb his intellectual poise and judgement. His head rules over his heart. The poem concludes with this metaphor:

To them his heart, his love, his griefs were given,
But all his serious thoughts had rest in Heaven.
As some tall cliff that lifts its awful form,
Swells from the vale, and midway leaves the storm,
Though round its breast the rolling clouds are spread,
Eternal sunshine settles on its head.
       To have emotions is a virtue. But it would be a grievous error to let them interfere with your intellectual judgement. That would tantamount to human weakness. History reveals this intellectual weakness of human beings in letting their emotions overthrow discretion and judgement.
Source: Abstract from 'The Fall of the Human Intellect' By Swami Parthasarathy

17 March, 2012

Why Good People Suffer?

“Why do good people suffer or why do bad things happen to good people?”

       This question seems to be very common these days. It seems as though good people get the brunt of all suffering, while evil-doers enjoy life. But if we observe closely, we see that everyone undergoes suffering in some form. Keeping this in mind, our question becomes meaningless. Just because a person is good does not mean there would be no suffering in his/her life.

       But what do we mean by ‘good’? In Sanskrit, ‘sadhu’ is the word used for a good person. Sadhu comes from the word ‘saadh’, meaning ‘to accomplish’. If we work for ourselves and achieve great things, there is nothing laudable about it, but if we help others to achieve their goals, then it is an accomplishment. If someone is good to you and you reciprocate, that is common courtesy. But if someone is harming you, and despite that you continue to wish that person well without expecting anything in return, it is real goodness. A sadhu bathing in the river saw a drowning insect. He saved it from drowning and was stung in return. Again, the insect fell back into the river and the sadhu pulled it out of the water and placed it under a shady tree. On seeing this, a person asked the sadhu, “Why did you do that?” He replied, “The insect did not give up its nature, so why should I?”

       How can we achieve this goodness in our lives? To reach any target, we must first have a goal. Similarly, for achieving goodness, we must have a standard of goodness which is known to us, because only then can we rise up to the required levels. As long as we see differences in the world around us, true goodness will not manifest. This can be achieved only when we become aware of our oneness with others. An example will illustrate this point better. Every organ of my body is part of one whole. If the finger goes into the eye, there is instant forgiveness, because of the complete identification with the finger.

       Now that we know what is good, let us see what suffering is. Objective suffering befalls all people, good or bad. Situations leading to suffering could have their roots in past actions. Objectively, the existence of pain or any other physical handicap cannot be denied, but the degree of sorrow this leads to is entirely subjective. Riches or positions of power do not guarantee happiness. People become miserable over small matters. If a person claims that he is good and is suffering, while the dishonest person is flourishing, we can be very sure that the person is not good. For a good man, the real suffering is to do something against his convictions. Suppose a pure vegetarian is faced with a situation of remaining hungry or eating beef, the chances are that the former option would be more acceptable.

       All our spiritual practices cannot eliminate suffering, but they protect the mind and make suffering acceptable, just as on a rainy day, we cannot stop the rain, but can protect ourselves from getting wet with an umbrella. Bhagavan Krishna says, “A good person never suffers.” By some logic we feel that suffering and enjoyment is related to past actions. If we observe at the subtle level, we find immediate results of our actions. The moment a good thought enters our mind, we feel elation, and similarly a wicked thought causes agitation.

       Real suffering is when we lose our goodness. Compromising with goodness is the greatest suffering. Even though superficially it may appear that evil doers are flourishing, it should not be an excuse to compromise. The problem arises when one does not have an ideal or when one is not able to live up to one’s ideal. But the greatest problem is when one believes that the ideal is not worth living up to and has lost its utility. Remember, a good man will stand by his convictions, because “If you do not stand for something, you will fall for everything.”

Source: An article by Swami Tejomayananda, President, Chinmaya Mission.

11 March, 2012

Two Motivations

       Human desires manifest as two powerful motivations in life – acquisition and enjoyment. You want to acquire whatever you desire from the world. And after acquiring you long to enjoy what you have acquired. You build a house and enjoy living in it. You prepare a tennis court and enjoy playing the game. Etcetera. Propelled by these two motivations every human being craves to acquire and enjoy more and more in the world. He consumes his entire life chasing images of happiness. None has found true happiness in mere acquisition or enjoyment. Yet the chase never ends. People are ultimately exhausted with their futile efforts and become frustrated and unhappy.

       From the very beginning of life the mind has a tendency to acquire the wealth of the world. Yet it cannot qualify or quantify what it wants. Even in the present, when the mind acquires the object of its desire it forthwith pitches up something else. This thirst for acquisition continues. The wealthiest man in the world wants more wealth. The most powerful seeks more power. The most beautiful more beauty. Human beings face a real problem in their minds’ insatiable desire to acquire, aggrandise and the consequent agitation and frustration. The thirst can never be quenched by sheer acquisition of whatever the mind demands. Neither can the problem be solved by suppressing the desire for acquisition. In fact, there is no taboo to acquisition. You are advised only to control, regulate the mind’s indiscriminate craving for acquisition.

       The second motivation is the desire to enjoy what has been acquired. Here again, there is no objection to enjoyment. You are not to refrain from enjoying what the world offers you but to restrain, control your indulgence in them. The unrestricted craving for enjoyment agitates the mind and ruins your peace. You suffer. Also, you enjoy objects or beings only when you exercise voluntary regulation and moderation. If however you do not exercise control and plunge into indiscreet indulgence in sensual enjoyment you lose the charm of it. You cannot enjoy it anymore. Unrestricted indulgence kills the enjoyment that you seek.

       In truth there is no joy content in the objects and beings of the world. But it is extremely difficult, nay impossible to convince the layperson that the world cannot provide the enjoyment he seeks from it. He goes to an ice-cream parlour and orders Belgian chocolate. He enjoys it. How can he be convinced that there is no joy content in it? Yet the truth remains that none can find enjoyment in the external world.

       The following example can perhaps help you examine the veracity of the statement. You sit outside in your garden on a full moon light. You ‘enjoy’ the beautiful moonlight Just think. Does the moon actually produce light? Does it have light in it per se? No, not at all. Yet some believe that the light comes from the moon. Educated as you are, you know that there is no light in the moon. Whatever arguments you put forth, the ignoramuses can never accept that there is no light in the moon. They see the light coming from the moon. They experience it. They enjoy it. So it becomes impossible for them to conceive that the moon has no light in it.

       Similarly, the masses lack the wisdom to accept the truth that there is no joy content in the world. Their argument is similar. They can perceive the joy in the sense-objects. And argue that they gain enjoyment out of them. Hence they can never accept there is no joy in the external world. You may likewise hold on to your views but just ponder over the moonlight example.
Source: An Extract from The Fall of the Human Intellect by Swami Parthasarathy

01 March, 2012

Why do we celebrate Holi?

In Indian Culture
Why do we celebrate HOLI?

Holi, the festival of colors, is celebrated in the month of Phalgun (February-March).

Also called Phagwah, it is the full moon day in Phalgun that ushers in the spring season in India. It is also a celebration of the harvest season.

The festival gets its name from the Puranic story of Holika. Holika was the sister the demon-king Hiranyakashipu. The king, egoistic as he was, desired that everybody in his kingdom worship him alone. Much to his ire, he found that his son, Prahlada, was a worshipper of Lord Vishnu. It was then that Hiranyakashipu decided to kill Prahlada in connivance with his sister. Holika had been granted a boon that gave her the power to remain unaffected by fire. To lure Prahlada into a fire, Holika sat him on her lap and pretended to play with him while Hiranyakashipu ordered his men to set the place where they sat on fire. It was then that Holika's boon failed her. In her sinister venture to kill the Lord's devotee, Holika was burned to ashes while Prahlada came out unscathed.

Another reason why Holi is significant is its association with Raasleela, the Divine Dance that Lord Krishna performed for the gopis , his devotees in Vrindavan on this day.

‘Holi' comes from the word ‘hola' which means sacrifice. And the festival is a reminder that we must live our lives in a spirit of service and sacrifice.

Holi symbolises victory of our higher aspirations over our lower, base desires. It is the burning of our petty, material desires at the altar of our goal of self-development. It stands for the victory of good over evil, a theme that runs through every Indian festival. For it is impossible that those who live their lives by truth will ever be overcome by the corrupt.

Another important aspect of Holi is its joy and fun. Contrary to common perception, spirituality is about enjoying life to its fullest. The spiritual life is not about giving up our possessions but discovering higher, permanent joys. It is a path filled with serendipity and moments of sheer joy reflected in the life of Lord Krishna.

Thus, the spirituality that Vedanta speaks is of isn't meant only for ascetics in the Himalayas. It is a philosophy that is meant for men and women of the action. It is a vibrant, living knowledge that enables us to make life a celebration. So on Holi, we must remember to bring the color into our lives by living the principles of Vedanta

Source: Excerpts from the article by Jaya Rao.