dharma

The world we create

A while ago, I had written about the narratives of our lives, a look at various narratives across time – from religions and nations to popular culture and brands to the internet – that have (arguably) tried to fulfill our sense of belonging. All the narratives I had considered were external in nature, though they might be dictated by our choices and preferences.

An excellent comment on the post by The Lit Room made me consider ‘the narrative of individual imagination’. As I answered, it is probably the most important one, as it takes all sorts of external stimuli, and converts it into a unique stream of consciousness. Just when I began thinking of writing a follow up post by including that aspect, I was reintroduced, thanks to Devdutt Pattanaik’s Sita, to the concept of ‘aham brahmasmi‘ – “every human creates his own imagined version of the world, and of himself. Every human is therefore Brahma, creator of his own aham“. I think it is impossible to crack everything that goes into the making of one’s own consciousness, which is probably what led to

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(image via)

But there are at least a couple of perspectives that the book provides in terms of how one can create an ideal ‘world’ for oneself. It says, “stay true to the idea of dharma. Be the best you can be, in the worst of circumstances, even when no one is watching.” I thought a bit about what actually drives our actions, and realised that at the bottom of it is fear. (debatable) Not just one fear, but many, many fears driven by our contexts – some we acknowledge, some we don’t. George Lucas probably figured it out earlier, (see) though we might travel paths different from what Yoda has suggested. The book also states that – Fear is a constant, and faith is a choice. Fear comes from karma, from faith arises dharma. Faith in what, was the next thing I pondered over. In oneself, and a moral code that one adheres to? Or a higher power/cosmic law that governs all that happens? Or is it just a mechanical process with the fittest surviving? There are more options as well, probably, but I like to go with the first, because in the world that I create, my actions can ensure I do not have to fear.

Meanwhile, also from the book – Shiva chooses the path of asceticism and self control to control the aham, and the world it creates. Vishnu chose to live amidst materialism and yet find a way to break free – a middle path. (now I can see why Buddha is assumed to be a form of Vishnu) I think there are several degrees to choose from, and there lies the challenge. I also realise that it if each of us are creating our own worlds, we cannot really answer the questions of the world at large – a universal answer – because it is an aggregate of each of our worlds, which are different from each other and have unique rules. We can only find the answers to our own world, and through our individual paths, find our own version of the answer to the purpose of life.

until next time, muddled path

Jaya Indeed

I didn’t attach much significance to the words on the jacket – High above the sky stands Swarga, paradise, abode of the gods. Still above is Vaikuntha, heaven, abode of God. The doorkeepers of Vaikuntha are the twins, Jaya and Vijaya, both whose names mean ‘victory’. One keeps you in Swarga; the other raises you into Vaikuntha. In Vaikuntha there is bliss forever, in Swarga there is pleasure for only as long as you deserve. What is the difference between Jaya and Vijaya? Solve this puzzle and you will solve the mystery of the Mahabharata. But it was only after I finished ‘Jaya’ (by Devdutt Pattanaik) that I realised this was what the complex and layered epic was all about. While swarga is considered an afterlife phenomenon, the dichotomy above is significant for life as well.

(spoiler)

Vijaya is material victory, where there is a loser. Jaya is spiritual victory, where there are no losers. The tale ends when Yudhishtira attains Jaya, not when the Pandavas achieve Vijaya over the Kauravas. That is the significance. Jaya is victory over the self. Only when there is undiluted compassion for everyone including our worst enemies, is ego truly conquered.

Janamejaya, probably on behalf of all of us who would like to attain Jaya, asks what insight eluded his forefathers, and Astika replies “That conflict comes from rage, rage comes from fear, fear comes from lack of faith.” He does not expand much. I’d have to assume that here, the faith is in the self, the true self that is intrinsically connected to the larger consciousness. Thanks to material advances, Vijaya itself is a moving target and difficult to achieve. With all the distractions, Jaya is even tougher. Thus very few would even attempt it, and thus the entire concept of dharma spiraling downwards across yugas is very logical.

The book provides many examples in humility. For me, the new things I learned and the increased awareness of the epic and its layers was a lesson in humility in itself. Even more humbling is the concept of Jaya.

until next time, #epic #win

What remains…

Kathavasheshan means ‘The Deceased’, and it’s one of my favourite Malayalam movies. In my mind though, I split it in a different way (inaccurately) – what remains of him after the story. I watched it on TV after a long time. Meanwhile, such was the magic of Devdutt Pattanaik’s Jaya that I used the ad breaks to continue my reading. Though I consider myself fairly well versed with the epic, the book was an eye opener at many levels – new interpretations and back stories, philosophy, and the narration that immensely adds to the tale’s relevance.

After the Mahabharata, as Yudhishtira is conducting the Ashwamedha and is called upon to settle a dispute, Krishna asks him to postpone his decision by 3 months as the situation would undergo a sea change, because 3 months later, the Ashwamedha will conclude and the Kali Yuga will begin. Only a quarter of the values instituted by Prithu at the dawn of civilisation will survive. Man will live for pleasure, children will abandon responsibility, woman will be like men, men like women. Humans will copulate like beasts. Power will be respected, justice abandoned, sacrifice forgotten and love ridiculed. The wise will argue for the law of the jungle. Every victim will, given a chance, turn a victimiser. Values. Dharma. As the epic explains, dharma is not about winning. It is about empathy and growth. Dharma is work in progress, and cannot be seen in the isolation of one life.

(movie spoiler) Kathavasheshan‘s protagonist is a sensitive person who has empathy for everyone around him. The story begins with his suicide and his fiancee’s search for the reason. The story progresses through the perspectives of various people whose lives he has touched and his effect on them. It finally turns out that it is this very empathy and his inability to live in a society that allows the Gujarat atrocities to happen that is the reason for his suicide. (there is a personal connection for him too)

It led me to wonder if the manifestations of the Kali Yuga were such that they could not be fought within the ‘constraints’ of dharma, and escapism was the only way.  It is only a movie and a character, but I’d like to think that he remains – in the minds of the people he touched – and continues his growth and the pursuit of dharma in his next life.

until next time, the post continues.. :)

The Uncertainty Principles

Not the quantum theory kind. Sometime back I read this interesting post on HBR on uncertainty, which made me think about my relationship with the concept. I must admit that I have more than a little affection for certainty. That is exhibited in most of everything I do – from my routine to travel itineraries to life planning. It also manifests in relationships – not just with people, but even services like Twitter. :) It is probably a bit about control, and a bit about not having to waste what I consider premium currency – time.

In the post, Tony Schwartz states that

It feels good to know things for sure. It makes us feel safer, at least in the short term. But certainty has its limitations. Very rarely, I’ve discovered, is certainty the outgrowth of careful consideration and deep understanding. Far more often, it’s a primitive instinct — a way we defend against uncertainty, which understandably feels unsettling and even dangerous.

I really can’t disagree with that, though I think that sometimes it’s an individual’s conscious choice. The sad part is that the automaton inside us usually makes this choice for us. Further in the article, he also adds a neurological perspective on why we are pulled to certainty, and then “Above all, certainty kills curiosity, learning, and growth.” And that’s the part that I am ironically, unsure of. My take is that if I am certain about a set of things, I am able to focus on, and do better in another set of things.

Devdutt Pattanaik’s ‘The Pregnant King’ was an excellent read, and though it was the story of Yuvanshva, the king gives birth to a son after drinking a magic potion meant for his wives, it is also about the nature of the world and the fluidity of dharma among other things. There are a few interesting statements in it, if I consider it from the uncertainty context.

In an argument with Pisachas, Yuvanshva states that “every civilisation needs its delusion” and we don’t take kindly to things that “threaten the facade of order”. I think that would hold for individuals who prefer certainty too. In another conversation between Yuvanshva and the Angirasa, there is a meaning given to the existence of this world,

When all is understood and accepted, the world will lose its purpose and cease to be. The world exists only to make us wise. Ignorance fuels pain and from pain comes our search for wisdom.

But my favourite is in the form of two diametrically opposite approaches to the purpose of life that comes earlier in the book – Yaja and Upayaja, two Siddhas who never agreed on anything, yet ended up taking the same decisions.

Yaja sat under a banyan tree and sought truth in stillness. Upayaja always sat before a waterfall and sought truth in movement. Yaja said, “By observing the flow of rasa, one can train the mind to accept destiny. This is the purpose of life. Upayaja argued, “By manipulating the flow of rasa, one can change the world and fructify all desires. That’s the true purpose of life.”

Though Upayajya’s argument might seem in favour of certainty, I’d say that both are versions of the same story – embracing uncertainty. And thus, another lesson from the book springs to mind “The truth is not poison. It is our inability to handle it that makes it poisonous” The same goes for uncertainty too… I guess :)

until next time,

Mirror Images

I came across this passage while reading Kiran Desai’s “The Inheritance of Loss”. The context is of a young girl, who, because of a new found romance suddenly becomes conscious of herself.

“But how did she appear? She searched in the stainless-steel pots, in the polished gompa butter lamps, in the merchants’ vessels in the bazaar, in the images proffered by the spoons and knives on the dining table, in the green surface of the pond. Round and fat she was in the spoons, long and thin in the knives, pocked by insects and tiddlers in the pond; golden in one light, ashen in another; back then to the mirror; but the mirror, fickle as ever, showed one thing, then another and left her, as usual, without an answer.”

I found that I could also identify with it in the context of our encounters with the social platforms around – Orkut, Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn.. and how slowly the ‘Like’ and RTs seem to be defining the interactions and affecting even perceptions and understanding of the self. Its not as though people and comments never existed before, but the sheer mass of people we come into contact with, thanks to the social platforms is unprecedented. Through the conversations and responses, we see a bit of ourselves, a self colored by the other person’s perceptions. As the voices around us continue to increase, at some point, is there a danger of losing touch with what we really are? Yes, you could ignore or be selective, but then we’d just get back to an objectivity argument.

“The biggest danger, that of losing oneself, can pass off as quietly as if it were nothing; every other loss, an arm, a leg, five dollars, a wife, etc. is bound to be noticed.”

I read that, thanks to @aanteadda‘s share on Twitter – an excellent take on the Ramayana,(do read it) and in a completely different context – that of dharma, it happened to arrive around the same place. Rama, having lived his entire life by what he considered his dharma, is distressed by what he must do with Sita after the end of the war with Ravana, irrespective of what he personally wants. The author thinks that this is Rama’s tragedy, and that of every person who lives by ‘impartial and abstract principles’, which don’t take into account ‘individuals as persons,’ and can’t see the difference between a situation and a personal situation’, and it can only lead to the destruction of the self.

And so I wondered, whether its people, or a moral code that one follows, whatever dictates what we do, is there really a difference – between the reflections from others and ourselves? Is there one right answer for what should define us and the way we live. I think not.

We must prioritise, I guess, based on what we think will give us happiness, and just like this neat article on addiction (the internet in particular) ends, “we will increasingly be defined by what we say no to”, all thanks to an abundance of choices, from within and without.

until next time, you always have a choice, but do you always want a choice?