For years, I’ve prided myself on the virtue that I do not make any judgments. That I do not judge a book by its cover, and a man by his nature- because each has a story of their own; collective incidents that shouldn’t be seen as anything but whole that have shaped the subject thus. Since I’ve never known their story and their motivations behind the actions, I practiced assuming the best of everybody I met. And while not always did I understand their reasoning, I never judged because everybody has reasons they steadfastly hold on to- who was I to decide their validity?
But time and again, we all have experiences which jolt us out of our comfort zones. That makes us question our basic assumptions- the foundations of our behavior, which we believe up to that point had always been just and fair. And we struggle to understand where we had gone wrong. We seek to know with impatience, in a haste to feed the rattled soul and nurture it back to normalcy, so that everything feels natural and nothing contrived.
Just how naïve are we? In our hurry to know it all, to know it now, we can stumble if we do not slow down and learn that this period of unrest with the mind is the teacher; that the journey towards the answers is significantly more important than the answer to the questions.
So let me then share the questions which have been gnawing at me. And I’d be so eternally grateful to you if you’d indulge me in a discussion where clarity is not the objective but perplexity and bewilderment.
Perhaps you’ve heard the story of Alexander the Great and the Gymnosophist. If you did not, let me take the pleasure of introducing you to the gem that I first came across in a TED talk by Devdutt Patnaik.
Alexander the Great reached the banks of the Indus, after conquering Persia and found there a gymnosophist, or a naked wise man, who sat on a rock and meditated all day and gazed at the stars all night. "What are you doing?" asked Alexander. "Experiencing nothingness," answered the gymnosophist. Then the gymnosophist asked, "What are you doing?" Alexander replied, "I am conquering the world." Both chuckled and parted ways, each one thinking the other was a fool. Both thought the other was wasting his life.
The disconnect between the two men is a direct consequence of their different subjective truths constructed by the stories they were exposed to as a result of their cultures.
Alexander was told the story of heroes and that participation in battle ensured victory and withdrawal led to defeat. He heard tales of Achilles, Jason and of Theseus. These were men who made a difference to the world, who shaped history, who were children of destiny. Alexander was told he should be like them, spectacular. He should not be like Sisyphus who spent all his life performing a meaningless, monotonous chore, rolling a rock up a mountain all day only to find it roll down at night. When he participated in games, Alexander was told to win, for in the exhilaration of victory one comes closest to experiencing the ambrosia of the gods. Alexander was told to do something with his life, for there is only one life and when one dies, one has to cross the river Styx and if one has lived an extraordinary life, he will be welcomed to the heaven of heroes, called Elysium.
But these were not the stories that the gymnosophist heard. He heard about Bharata, who like Alexander , sought to conquer the world and having done so climbed Mount Meru, in the centre of the world, intent on hoisting his flag declaring he was there first. But when he reached the mountain top he found there hundreds of fluttering banners of kings before him each one of whom believed they had conquered the world first, only to find on the mountain top that it had been done before. And in this canvas of infinity, Bharata felt small and insignificant. The gymnosophists would have heard of heroes like Ram and Krishna who were not two heroes but two lifetimes of a single hero. For the gymnosophist, there was a river that separates the land of the living from the land of the dead and one goes to and fro endlessly.
Alexander had heard of a linear, one-life truth, the gymnosophist had heard of a cyclical, many-lives truth. Thus former is governed by a sense of urgency and the latter by a sense of repose.
Alexander had to achieve everything he could in one life while the gymnosophist saw no sense in doing anything while inside this infinite loop, so he preferred to just meditate and figure it all out.
According to his truth, Alexander was doing the right thing by waging wars, conquering kingdoms and killing thousands. To the gymnosophist this was futile.
Now what if there was a farmer in a far-away land, not exposed to either truths but guided by the simple precepts: to do no evil, to do good, to help all beings. How then does the farmer decide what is good and what is evil? If he treated the wounds of an injured lion and nurtured it back to health and if the lion went on to hunt and kill tens of defenseless deer for food, was the farmer wrong in helping the lion? And if you call that karma, that the deer had to die in the lion’s hunt for food, would you say the same about the girl who was tortured and killed in the most barbaric way at the hands of rapists? If the farmer saved, unintentionally and unknowingly, the life of a man who then went on to cause a massacre, on whom do you place the blame for those lives lost? If doing nothing is the solution to everything like the gymnosophist believes, then why are we told that the greater sin would be not to stop evil or wrong doers? How do we decide what is evil and what is wrong? Is it enough to have good intensions and not take the responsibility for the implications? If there was a higher power watching over our actions, supporting the good, why does bad happen at all? Are “good” and “bad” subjective? Is there no objective reality in them? Then, can it be said that there’s nothing “good” or “bad” but just difference in opinions? A duality exists, perhaps? And may be this duality needs to exist for the Universe not to implode. May be, this duality is the balancing force? That the bad cannot ever be gone and it will stay, just like the good, till the end of time?
My mind and soul are twirling through a mass of thoughts, and I find my fundamentals shaken.
May we all find what we are looking for, but are we ready yet?