Meaning or Worth of Human Life
Glancing through Bertrand Russell’s autobiography I noticed Will Durant’s letter to him written in 1931. In it he asked why after so many efforts by dozens of scholars over the centuries no one has been able convincingly to say what is the meaning of human life and what is its worth. He felt that too much thought and growth of knowledge at lightening speed have destroyed the value and significance of life.
Yet, I am sure everyone would agree that these questions are fundamental and, also, that a good answer to them can be our pole star at this troubled time. In my view a clear simple answer is possible. Let me try.
All of us are born into a garden full of trees, bushes, grass, and micro plants. All are beautiful in their own way. Some bear fragrant flowers and others delicious fruits full of nutrition to satisfy the hunger of all animals. Clean air and sweet water are provided all over the land. Millions of animal species inhabit this garden and they all play their roles. All are needed for together they form a community of life. The dung beetle is needed, and so are earthworms, mice, cats, elephants and of course us humans. Extinction of any one of them leaves a dent in the life of the community.
So we humans are needed in the community of life, and that to my mind is meaning enough in our being here. Of course we need to play our role diligently and in the right spirit.
We humans are a proud race and we unabashedly call ourselves sapiens-sapiens even when we can easily imagine that other animals and plants think differently.
Let us for now take ourselves on our own word and believe that we are in truth wise. Then it becomes imperative that we act wisely. And that means we care lovingly for all that the creator has provided. Also as members of the community of life we must be good, kind and just. Being wiser requires that we behave in an exemplary manner and be a good role model. If we remember and act wisely our worth in the eyes of the whole community will rise.
So our being has meaning enough for we are needed in the community of life to make it complete. And by living wisely we give ourselves a worth that can soar depending on the quality of our actions. This of course requires that our actions, and not just our thoughts be right.
In fact too much thought, far too many words, and lack of hands down participation in the actual day-to-day activity of the community makes us worthless. It also leads us to wrong living and destructive actions to both life and the garden in which it thrives.
July 16, 2011
Toxins of the Mind
Last week (June 30th to July 2nd 2011) I fasted for three days. There was no illness, pain, or injury to heal. It was just a routine fast to clean out toxins and tone up the body. First night, I slept lightly but woke up the following morning reasonably rested and cheerful. I drank my usual morning ration of water and lay down. The day passed quite peacefully and without discomfort. I felt only lightly hungry, not enough to want actually to eat anything.
Whole body was so calm I could not feel any itch, rub, pain, or irritation anywhere in the body. There was no headache or fever. Only thing I could feel was a sense of slow weight loss.
Second night, the sleep was very light and patchy but I did not feel anything clearly enough to notice. I assumed that nothing was happening because the body is well. Some cleaning was perhaps happening but not much else.
Second day of fast too was like the first. I felt very light hunger but no discomfort. Usually in a long fast one experiences negative, often disturbing thoughts, on the second day. But none came. I kept wanting to go out walking and actually did a few times. During the second excursion my friend Nagrajan caught and mildly chastised me! He is in fact one of my fasting mentors and his word made me fall in the line of discipline.
I slept lightly till midnight the third night. Then I began to dream. Thoughts of what I had been neglecting, what I needed to do, and right path came in a torrent. The flow was so strong there was no time to react. After some feeble attempt to hear clearly I just gave up and let the current flow.
This process of removing toxins of the mind continued till the next morning. I woke up, shook my head and tried to grasp what was going on. My memory was failed and nothing came clearly to mind of the content of the dream.
With great difficulty I could faintly recall hearing ‘slow down’, ‘nothing to do’, ‘you cannot do’, ‘it happens by itself’. A week later I am still in the grip of that experience.
Is it all my imagination? I do not know. But certainly, I am reminded that there are more toxins in my mind than in the rest of the body. I sincerely hope that during this fast some of my mind’s toxins dissolved and drained out. Walking on the dead-end street of worldly concerns has gone on long enough. Time has come to turn earnestly to the path of eternal joy.
I am reminded of the story I have heard many times since boyhood. A simple illiterate man ran into a sanyasi (recluse). On his advice he turned to repeating the name of Lord Rama. After a few years he became enlightened. When asked what name he repeated he said ‘mara, mara, mara’ which means I am dead. Poor man had reverted the syllables in the name of the Lord. Correctly pronouncing the name is not required. The idea is let go of our excessive involvement in the mundane. One needs to awaken the animator in us. Only then we can finally shatter the curtain of ignorance and enter the bright sunshine of Truth.
9 July 2011
Sensible Use of Water
The Great Book says that all living beings are needed, therefore important. If it were not so they would have become extinct. It follows that their basic needs have to be met. One of them is water and that means all animals and other living beings have the same right to it.
Obviously, if we humans take the lion’s share, others may have to suffer and even die of thirst. If life on earth is to continue this cannot be allowed. We as culprits then may also have to be sacrificed to restore balance. Clearly as bell The Great Book tells me that we humans need to use water sensibly for the sake of our own survival and continuation of life on Earth.
Speaking for myself, since I do not know how to change the minds of my brothers and sisters, I try to do what little I can. I cannot say my action will save the world but it makes me feel more at peace with myself.
Here are a few things I do to live within my share of water and to help preserve its purity.
One, I never use flush latrine where possible. At Navadarshanam I either use our dry latrine or leave my gifts of liquid and solid excretions on the open ground. Of course I cover the solid matter with mud or dry cow dung. When visiting a village I make my offerings to some farmer’s field.
Two, I clean my body daily by hot or cold sponge bath using 2 or 3 liters of water. About once a month I take a big bath with half a bucket. On these full bath days I also use soap.
Three, I remember to try to drink my quota of 4 or 5 liters of water daily.
Four, I wear my clothes for at least 2 days. I often stretch this to 3 when I am not staying in a palace as guest of a king! I wear my nightclothes longer.
Five, to save water, I do not use soap for every washing of my clothes. I just soak and rinse them most of the time.
Six, I do not mix anything into the water that would make it unfit for birds or animals to drink.
Seven, wherever possible I wash myself near a plant that needs water.
I do many other small things to save and preserve water so that I stay within my fair share if it. All this is not to boast or preach to others. It is only to be at peace with myself.
June 18, 2011
Water attracts my attention this morning as I turn to read the Great Book. It literally pulls me to itself with an enormous magnet. What grips me is not just plain H-2-O, we use several times from morning till evening without thinking, but the mysterious phenomenon that reflects divine attributes. It is the substance that infuses life into all living beings and moves essential substances up, down, right and left in the bodies of plants and animals.
On casual touch it is soft. It’s so very soft that my hand goes right through it in a pot full of water. With little effort I can scoop it out, splash it, sprinkle it, drink it or spill it. It is very smooth and adaptable. If you put it in a pot it instantly takes the shape of the pot and fills it to the maximum. I do not get hurt if someone hits me hard with it. It splits, divides, flows, and easily goes between rocks or any other obstacles.
Water racing down hill in torrent can instantly level anthills, beaver dams and the mightiest structures built by man. Even natural hills do not stand much chance against a mighty flood. Whole cities can be washed away in a short time without leaving any debris as trace. Floodwater can bring or take away millions of tons of soil in a short time. Glacier fed rivers start from the top of the Himalayas and works their way to the oceans through hills, huge rocks, swamps, sand, forests and human infested areas.
When heated, water turns to steam. At very high temperatures steam can move million ton ships, turn huge turbines, and put giant machines to work. Steam can also soothe with warmth, cook, burn or cause destruction.
Water has completely different qualities when it is frozen at low temperatures. Ice can be hard as granite and cause serious damage on collision. Billions of cubic meters of water can be frozen and put in reserve in the tundra and the same can then melt and remerge into the ocean.
There are many other subtle, small or mighty things water can do. Their number is so large that it would take a library of books to list them. Humans find some of these acts destructive and others beneficial. But they are not known for a wide view.
Since this morning I have been reading about water in the Great Book. It has so inundated me with joy and wonder that I feel satiated.
June 4, 2011
The Surya (Sun)
Okay, Great Book, here I come and stand before you with folded hands. Tell me how to begin. I know you are not a ‘book’ and are not organized into numbered chapters. One does not begin reading you from chapter one. For you are an undivided whole. One can start anywhere and connect with all of you. Also there are no words, no one language. I am confused. Please, kindly guide me.
I wait a long moment and then feel a presence. Something comes and seems slowly to speak to me in English. “Buddhu Ram ji, it is I, that you call the Great Book. I can guide you if you give me your full attention. I know you wish to start with the Sun. I understand. It is the first thing you see every day. Just start and put down what you see written on me. Have no fear. I am with you every day, every week.
So I feel reassured and move. Oh sun I saw you early morning as you rose in the east. You were wrapped in red cool glow as a newborn baby. You rose slowly and the whole scene before me lit up. As you went up your red wrappings began to peel off and you became thin, smaller and warm. And then your light became brighter and hotter. I try to read the Book.
This Sun came first. Earth spun off it as a blob of red-hot molten lava. As it had come off the sun it began to orbit around its source. Then it cooled and became hard surfaced. Water appeared and filled most of it. But few dry spots remained. Then life began in water and marine animals and plants evolved. They took many shapes and filled the oceans. Slowly some sea animals were attracted to dry land and became amphibians. With time some of them adapted to living on the land.
The Sun continues to give light and warmth to all animals to those that live on dry earth and others in the oceans. All of them need light and warmth. If it stopped coming all beings would die. Imagine the sun’s responsibility and for how many billions of years this great saint has carried it!
Sun is the living model of what the Hindus call Dharma (appropriate action). It cannot be defined or canonized as dogma, for it is never the same for every individual.
All beings of the world began to wake up and start doing their assigned work. In my tradition we say we perform our dharma, that is, to do what we are able to do for the community of life according to the abilities given to us. We don’t think only of ourselves, for we are not alone. We exist only as long as life around us exists.
This is what the sun does. He distributes light and warmth among all living things. These are the two things he has and he given them without restraint to everyone. He does not care whether it is a king or a cockroach. He gives equally to both. Recipients have different attitudes. Some meet the sun every morning and meet it with an offering of water. They bow several times to show gratefulness. Others curse the sun for giving too much heat or blinding light. But the sun gives to both for it is his dharma.
The sun rises every morning right on time no matter what. He never says let me not rise today for I am tired or sick today. People on earth may not sometime see it because of the clouds, but the sun is there above the clouds without fail. This being sun’s dharma, he does it with all his might and skill.
Our sages of the old used to call the sun the great guru of dharma. They also said that when God created Dharma it was taught first to the sun. Since then he rises every morning with his message written on his whole face. It is easy to see and read by all. An ant can read it as also a dung beetle, an elephant, and a human being. Knowingly or inadvertently, one can fail to live by one’s dharma but as long as the sun rises in the morning and goes known in the evening, they cannot say no one made me aware.
28 May 2011
The Great Book
All living beings in this world inherit an invaluable gift from nature. It is a book filled with timeless wisdom distilled from lives lived by countless species over millions of years. Mutations of the body and behavior patters adopted to cope with the environment were lived and tested. The ones found harmful were automatically dropped and forgotten. The remaining ones of proven survival value were preserved. These nuggets of wisdom were written down in the Great Book for the guidance of coming generations.
This Great Book was written for the benefit of ALL living beings, including the minutest of organisms everywhere, worms and insects in the soil, mammoths like elephants and hippos in the forest, all plants, and, of course, for us humans. Therefore the language used in this book is such that it can be read and understood by all. Obviously, it cannot be read like the books written by us humans on paper. Its message can be understood with the help of all the different senses that living organisms have.
The Great Book is not written on paper, bound, and kept on a shelf in a library. That kind of a book would fail to serve its purpose. So, it is written on water, soil, earth, sky, moon, sun and all the places contacted and experienced by life.
The Great book is extremely complex and extraordinary. It cannot be defined in words. The best way to know it is to try to read or experience the book bit by bit. Therefore I am going to try to read a page or a paragraph every week and write it down on Saturdays. I will then share the narrations with you friends via e-mail. It will be like the stories I used to write.
Bless and encourage me in this new venture.
May 21, 2011, my 80th birthday