This may well be ‘koan’ – a paradoxical anecdote or riddle without a solution, used in Zen Buddhism to demonstrate the inadequacy of logical reasoning and provoke enlightenment. So, are you who you are? Or is this Life that you lead a dream? In Sanskrit and Pali literature, in the ‘Vedas’ and ‘Puranas’, there’s this concept called ‘maya’ which really points to Life (and everything) as an ‘illusion’, and if you don’t get it and don’t understand Life’s true nature, well, ‘maya’ can also mean ‘delusion’ in such a context!
Living meaningfully is an individual choice and a personal responsibility.
Yesterday I saw a post in the Chennai Bloggers Club where a young lady Janani announced that she has launched a “Make it Meaningful” campaign around her wedding. Her fiancé and she have invited their family and friends to avoid lavishing them with gifts and instead donate to the cause of funding the education of 200 children.
I think the idea is not just innovative and compassionate, it is super cool. I wish more people take inspiration from this young couple and make their celebrations meaningful.
Whether it is a wedding, birthday, anniversary or just about any celebration, gifting is an integral part of both traditional and contemporary culture. But if you dispassionately observe the whole process of gifting, it has somehow stopped being aesthetical. Gifts are, unfortunately, brandished more as status symbols. Who gave what seems to have overtaken the art of giving. Besides, the big, fat, Indian wedding has gone beyond being just big and fat – it has become a pompous show of wealth. So much money – and food – gets wasted at our events in the name of ceremony and tradition. In a world where so many people die of hunger, where so many don’t have a roof over their heads and where so many more don’t have the means to education, all this spend can be better utilized than wasted.
Young Janani and her fiancé promise us light though. I know of a gentleman who plants trees on the birthdays of his friends. For several years now, Vaani and I have been donating to www.rasaindia.org and to Narayanan Krishnan’s www.akshayatrust.orgon the birthdays, anniversaries or weddings of people that are very close to us. I am sure several people out there are doing something very similar. The Bhoomika Trust has a program called www.truegiftsindia.orgwhere people can choose gifts from Rs.200 to Rs.10000 and above – all funds gifted will go to the specific needs of participating NGOs. Yet, so much more public participation and groundswell is required.
Gifting is not a bad idea. Spending on celebrations is also not a bad idea. But splurging and wasting precious resources – time, energy and money – definitely is! Each of us has a responsibility to leave this world a better place than we found it. And we can do that only by living meaningfully – starting, well…Oh! Yes! Abhi!
Don’t take yourself or Life too seriously. At the end of the day, Life’s but a dream!
A couple of years ago, a young lady came to meet me and my wife, feeling totally despondent about Life. She was separating from her husband, she had two young children and her business was just not working out. She had accumulated a lot of debt – most of it from family. She was wondering if there was any meaning to Life. She asked me: “What’s the point of Life if there’s so much pain in going through it?” I am sure this is a question each of us has asked ourselves at least once in our lifetime so far.
I shared with her a story from the Life of the great Chinese mystic, Chuang Tzu (a.k.a Zhuang Zhou or Zhuangzi, 369 BCE ~ 286 BCE).
One morning, sitting in his bed, Chuang Tzu looked very sad. His disciples had never seen him so sad. And never after waking up had he remained in his bed, sitting. What had happened? Was he sick?
They gathered around and asked him, “Master, what is the matter?” He said, “The matter is really difficult, I cannot solve it; perhaps you may be of some help. I will tell you what is the matter. In the night I dreamed that I had become a butterfly, and I was moving from one flower to another flower.”
One of the disciples said, “This is nothing to be sad about. In dreams we all do strange things; and this is not a bad thing, to be a butterfly – colorful, beautiful, moving from one juicy flower to another juicy flower. Why are you so worried?”
He said, “You have not heard the whole thing. The problem is, now I am awake and I am wondering whether Chuang Tzu dreamed that he is a butterfly, or now the butterfly has gone to sleep and is dreaming she is Chuang Tzu.”
As Chuang Tzu shared his dilemma, his disciples remained silent. They understood the import of Chuang Tzu’s poser. This is what all the scriptures have been saying – that everything is ‘maya’. Everything is a dream. So, why the strife? Why worry, why the anxiety, grief, guilt, anger and sorrow? Chuang Tzu taught his disciples this: “Continue easy with Life and you are on the right path.” He didn’t say this way or that way was right. He said, whatever you are going through, go through it with ease, don’t resist, don’t fight, don’t aggress. Just go easy. Because whatever is happening to you is just a dream. It will soon be over. So, don’t gloat over your riches or your successes. It’s a dream that’s soon to die. Don’t bemoan your sorrows. But it too is a dream and will be over soon.
I met that young lady recently. We had been mentoring her, holding her hand and helping her understand Life better, over these two years. But in the past quarter we had not met her. So, when she came over, I noticed how much she had evolved. I saw a twinkle in her eyes, a radiance on her face and an enthusiasm in her step. I asked her how things were. And she replied: “Nothing’s changed – the marriage is still going through the final rites, the kids are a handful and the business is deep in the dumps. But I am taking it all easy. And so, I am at peace and I am very happy.”
Sometimes, Life can weigh you down. Things just won’t go the way you want them to. That’s the time to learn to take Life easy. As the famous song from the Tamil movie ‘Kadhalan’(1994, Shankar, A.R.Rahman; Hindi – ‘Hum Se Hai Muqabla’) goes, (have a), “….Take it easy, policy!” And have it now – Oh! Yes! Abhi!