Monday, November 28, 2011

The virtue of not knowing

"It's the people who don't know the answers who are going to heaven, I tell you."

- Character Mac McClintock in Anne Tyler's book Saint Maybe

Saturday, November 19, 2011

One thought, and there goes your volition

Parvati and Shiv were sitting atop Mount Kailash.

Parvati was nagging Shiv. “It’s so gross. How can you sit here immersed in bliss when there is so much misery in the samsara you have created? Why can’t you help relieve the misery of mortals?”

“But Devi,” protested Shiv. “I have nothing to do with individual misery. I merely created the samsara and hardwired it with a set of natural laws. All else is merely the result of an auto-generated process… whether it be pleasure or pain; happiness or misery.”

“Oh puhleaze!” sneered Parvati petulantly. “Spare me the gyaan. What kind of God would shirk responsibility this way? What kind of God wouldn’t be moved by the misery of the beings created by him? Huh. So much for your professed love… you can’t even do this much for me!”

Shiv knew if he didn’t do something soon Devi would go into a deep sulk and there would be bliss to pay. So he sighed and pulled Devi into his arms for a warm embrace. “Devi, how do I explain to you? Even I cannot play around with the natural laws I have set in place. I simply cannot remove all misery from samsara in one go. You see, the whole game is poised on dual opposites. Pull out any one and the whole system collapses. But, seeing that you are so upset, let me do one thing. If there is any particular individual you want me help, just point him out to me and I promise I’ll help him in any way I can. Just this once, okay? Just because I love you.”

Parvati was mighty pleased she had got her way with him finally. So there was a way around his armour of equanimity after all! But then, she realized with a start, there was a problem. She didn’t have any specific individual she wanted to help! Yet she couldn’t let her sweetheart’s offer, hard-earned as it was, lapse.

She peered down from Mount Kailash, right through the drifting clouds, and her gaze chanced upon a poor man dressed in rags and bent with age, carrying a large stack of firewood on his back.

She straightened her back, tilted her nose up, put out her right hand and pointed a delicate long finger downwards. “Him! I want you to help that man.”

Shiv looked down and saw the miserable specimen. With an endearing smile, he turned to Devi. “Some riches should help relieve his misery, don’t you think?”

Even as he uttered the words, a cloth bundle filled with gold ornaments materialised a little ahead on the path being trodden by the poor old man.

Now, let’s rush down to earth to pick up the other end of the story thread.

The poor old man’s name was Bhikku. He was sixty-five and had recently become a widower. His back was bent not by the weight of the firewood but because he carried a heavy burden of self pity. Life, he thought, had handed him a raw deal. Why did his wife have to leave him so early? Why did his children have to be such dunces? Why did he have to carry such heavy loads of firewood over such long distances to make a living? Why me? Why?!

Of course he was totally unaware of the bundle of riches that had been placed specifically for him a little ahead on his path.

“Why do all the bad things happen to me?” he continued to brood as he walked.

Just then a thought struck him. And he decided to see the whole thing from a completely different standpoint. “That’s not right,” he chided himself. “There are others more miserable than me. Blind men, for instance. Imagine going through life without seeing a thing! How agonising that must be! I am becoming a self-absorbed fool wallowing all the time in self-pity. I must break out of this pattern. Let me blindfold myself to feel compassion for blind folk, for a change.”

So saying, he rolled up his headscarf and tied it around his eyes, and blindfolded thus, continued walking gingerly up the path… and of course he bypassed the bundle of riches lying await for him.

Watching the scene from above the skies, Parvati was aghast.

However Shiv was not. He smiled inwardly because he knew too well that a single thought was enough to make mockery of a man’s concept of volition.