Here’s why I relate to Girish Karnad’s approach to living – and why I celebrate the beauty and simplicity of his final journey!
Life is pure. Life is beautiful. Life is uncomplicated. And simple. It offers no guarantees and demands nothing from us.
The other day, we visited a friend whose husband had died recently. He was an alcoholic and despite her best efforts she could not wean him off the habit that eventually consumed him. She had taken him to therapists and counsellors; and he had been through rehab three times! She says she had pleaded with him and prayed for him – “incessantly”. “I tried everything that’s humanly possible but eventually I lost,” she told us. He was only 40. “I don’t think Life is fair or that there is any justice in this Universe. I don’t think there is any God. I have stopped believing in God. Tell me, AVIS and Vaani, is there any point in praying to God,” she asked us.
She loved him deeply. They had met in school and their love for each other was well known in our circle of friends. She told us that they had everything – money, assets, a flourishing business, two beautiful children – and yet “Life was so meaningless and empty now.” “The one thing I just couldn’t control, nor could he, was his drinking. I fasted for Shirdi Baba every Thursday, I went to Vaishno Devi, I visited Tirupati too every month…but…but…my prayers fell on deaf ears,” she lamented, sobbing quietly for several minutes into her dupatta.
In a while though, she regained her composure and repeated her question: “Is there any point in praying to God?”
This is both an important, and interesting, question. And it is almost always asked when you don’t get what you want or when you get what you don’t want!
Think about it. When everything in your Life is going the way you want it to go, if you are a believer, you may feel grateful and prayerful but you never question God’s existence. It is only when you are in a situation that you intensely dislike, it is only when you pray and don’t immediately get what you want, that you start challenging the now-all-so-popular God theory.
From what I have learnt from Life, from my lived experiences, this entire God theory is a human invention. To me, Life is the only Higher Energy that is there. Just plain, simple, Life. Which is why I always spell Life with a capital ‘L’. Without Life, of course, we are all dead. So, I believe, if there is ever a God, it is Life!
Here are a few irrefutable truisms about Life. It has no religion, no color, no race, no caste and no creed. (And, interestingly, God has all of that!) Yet, without Life no form of creation can survive. Each of us is created by this Higher Energy a.k.a Life without our asking to be created. And our biggest blessing is that we are created human – so that we can experience this Universe in a manner that is so different from all other forms of creation. Now, the other truth is also that, when we are created, when we are born, Life makes no promises to us; it gives us no guarantees. As in, none of us is born with a warranty card or a trouble-shooting App to help us “fix” our Life should things go “wrong”! You are just born, the way you are – into a family, country, gender, and you have no control over any of this! Besides, from your birth, to your death, all you have is a set of experiences and events happening to you. This is what your Life really is. You have no control over any of them too.
Religion, God, ritual, prayer – all these are introduced to you, conditioned in you, by your parents, by family, by society. Which is why I believe God is a human invention. Pause and reflect on this: why does no other species, except us humans, have religion or God or ritual or caste or creed? If you get the point being made here, why will you either demand “fair-play” or “justice” from a God, who never invited herself or himself into your Life in the first place, or blame this God for whatever is happening to you?
Does the no-God-in-the-popular-sense theory then mean there is no Higher Energy? Of course not!
Surely, there is an inscrutable Higher Energy, a power that is more intelligent than you and me. It is this intelligence, for instance, which has made you a human that is capable of contracting the H1N1 virus and it is the same intelligence that creates the pig that carries and gives out the H1NI virus, the swine flu. Pause and reflect again – you may well have been created as the pig; how – and why – is it that you are human? So, clearly, there is a Higher Energy. But that Higher Energy, which is Life, neither promises nor demands anything from us. It certainly does not say “believe, pray or fast”! On the other hand, Life has a mind of its own and simply keeps on happening to us – whether or not we want it happening in a certain way, whether or not we belong to any religion, practice a ritual or believe in a God!
Life is pure. Life is beautiful. Life is uncomplicated. And simple. You make your Life miserable by subscribing to the “invented” God theory and by having an expectation that your prayers must be answered.
An indisputable reality about Life is that if you are born, you will eventually die. And as long as you are alive your Life is simply a series of experiences. Some of these experiences may meet your expectations or exceed them – like having good health, great talent, money, love, fame – and some of them may not meet your expectations – like having a cancer or a relationship mess or a bankruptcy or loneliness. And in everyone’s lifetime there will be a sprinkling of both kinds of experiences, at different times, with varying degrees of impact. So, when you clearly can’t control the Life that is happening to you, what is the point in blaming Life if you don’t get what you want? What then is the point in blaming your God, who is only a figment of poor imagination, invented by humans through a flawed theory?
So, what should one do then, in the wake of Life’s upheavals? Well, once you realize that you can never understand Life, this one’s a no-brainer: simply accept your Life for what it is and keep going on. Because no matter what you wish, no matter whether you are a believer or not, it is always what it is. Yes, you can certainly pray – just as I do – by being eternally grateful for this Life and this human experience – it is still a great blessing, no matter what is happening to you right now! Now, please remember, prayer does not quite solve problems in the way we expect them to. But it surely helps us last longer so that eventually when Life changes, with time, we can celebrate getting what we have always wanted! This awareness, this clarity, holds the key to being happy despite your circumstances.
Why is there so much suffering in, and around, us – despite so much emphasis on religion and rituals?
We were with some friends yesterday. And the conversation slowly wound its way to us sharing notes on the inscrutability of Life and the power of prayer and surrender.
A friend threw up these questions: “Is ritual an enabler for prayer? Is it necessary to be ritualistic to realize God – and happiness and equanimity? And does any ritual aid the process of surrender?”
Now, those are important questions. And I believe the answers, as I have gleaned from learnings from my lived experiences, lead us to a deeper, better, understanding of Life.
We must realize that we have all been created without our asking to be born. This is a choiceless birth for each of us. So, we must recognize that there is a Higher Energy, Creation, that has given us this human form and has given us this opportunity to experience this lifetime the way we are experiencing it presently.
I see this Higher Energy as Life itself. And I humbly submit to its intelligence, to its might and to its grace.
Some look upon this Higher Energy as ‘God’ – and their religious conditioning gives this ‘God’ a name, shape or form. But clearly, there is no disputing that there is a Higher Energy that powers this Universe, that has designed, and is administering, the cosmic Master Plan. Otherwise, why would you and I be human? We may well have been created as a less endowed species in the animal or plant world or even be an inanimate object – after all, they were all created too, without any of them asking to be!
So, to me, there are only two states to be in – eternal gratitude and total surrender. In fact, it is when these two states are maintained in unison, it is when they confluence, in us, in our view of our world, that true happiness and equanimity can be experienced and sustained.
Prayer is nothing but a way of expressing gratitude – Thank ‘you’, Thank ‘you’, Thank ‘you’! And prayer itself denotes surrender – I don’t know, I don’t understand, so I give myself up to ‘you’. The ‘you’ here is the Higher Energy, Creation.
This is all there is to Life. It is simple, easy to understand and easy to practise. The truth is you can never understand the mind of Creation. You simply cannot understand Life. At best, you can be forever grateful for who you are and what you have, and in complete surrender, flowing with Life for what it is.
We however complicate this process of flowing by resisting what is, by bringing in our logic, desire and expectations. Much of all human distress stems from our wanting our Life to be a certain way – to be different from what it is. As long as we want something, in a certain fashion, we will suffer. And that is what is happening to – and in – all of us.
The human mind, when it is suffering, is like a smoldering cauldron of myriad, uncontrolled, often wasteful and debilitating, thoughts. And religion, as a means of suggesting a method to calm the mind, to weed out debilitating thoughts and emotions, recommends rituals. The larger idea is that the rigor of ritual – in spirit and activity – will help you learn the value of gratitude and surrender. Deep at the core of all rituals, across religions, is this idea of complete, total, surrender. But what have we been conditioned to believe? Practise rituals to cleanse your sins; be ritualistic or you will be punished by ‘God’; if you want your prayers answered, your wants fulfilled, follow this ritual or that; rituals can banish your ‘bad’ phases and so on and on. Bottomline – we have been fed loads and loads of garbage in the name of religion and rituals. Which is why, despite all the rituals, despite all the religiosity in us, many of us are still unhappy, fearful, worried and are suffering endlessly!
So, my answer to my friend’s questions was this: “Do you normally need any apparatus to help you breathe? Not really. But, if your body systems are weak, well, you do need a ventilator. Similarly, do you need a method to practise gratitude and be in total surrender? Surely not. For, if you understand that being created in this human form is a blessing, you can only be grateful, you can only be in surrender. But if you don’t realize – or reflect on – this blessing, well, you then need a method, a device – a.k.a ritual and/or religion – to help you along. But, clearly, no method can help you live happily – in gratitude and surrender – unless you are willing to flow with Life’s Master Plan, for you, the way it is.”
No one can win fighting against Life.
A young man we had coached a few years ago pinged us saying he was in town and wanted to meet us. We caught up for coffee.
When he first met us in 2012 he had an alcohol problem, his wife had left him and he was out of job. He looked every bit the way he was feeling then – beaten by Life – and he was low on both confidence and self-esteem. But when we met him last week he was looking very different – he was glowing, it appeared as if he had grown younger and, important, he radiated happiness.
As we got our coffees, he said, “I am still struggling to land a job. I still have not found a companion. But I have stopped drinking, I have stopped pitying myself or blaming others. I have made peace with my imperfect Life. I have learnt to be happy despite whatever is happening in my Life!”
This young man has unlocked Life’s secret to happiness. He’s discovered that Life can be spectacular even during a crisis. In the Life coaching conversations we had had with him, six years ago, we had shared our learnings, from our own crisis (Read more here: Fall Like A Rose Petal). We told him that he must not fight Life; he can’t hope to win fighting against Life. No one can. So, acceptance is the key. Accept your current reality, go to work on changing it, but work without any expectations. Only then can you be really, truly happy.
Vaani and I have seen this from our own experience. Of course, like everyone else, we too began by setting conditions on our Life. We said that we will be happy if we get this or that, if our problems are solved or if we get all that we want. But we soon realized that Life has a mind of is own. It just keeps on happening – in its own inscrutable way. So, we reckoned, as long as you keep insisting that Life listens to you and gives you all that you want, you will be unhappy. We looked around us and found that it is in this state that some people feel depressed or some lean on crutches like drugs or cigarettes or alcohol. And others turn angry and violent. But Life is not bothered about how you are feeling or what you are doing to yourself. So, in effect, you are fighting alone and are fighting a battle that you will never win. So, we concluded, why fight? We simply accepted our Life for the way it is and surrendered to its Masterplan. To be sure, our problems have not vanished. But our ability to deal with them has improved greatly. Important, we have learnt to be non-worrying, non-frustrated and non-suffering.
We have learnt that all of Life’s problems fall under two categories. One category is those that you can solve with your intelligence and initiative. So, why worry or fight those problems? But there are other problems that will solve only in their own space and time – no matter how hard you wish, work or pray. So, why worry or fight those problems again? Just accept them for the way they are. Acceptance is the key to happiness. Acceptance does not mean inaction. Acceptance means dropping a wasteful fight. It means trusting the process of Life.
Our young friend, like Vaani and me, has understood this truth about Life. And that’s why he’s glowing, he looks younger, he’s quit a ruinous habit and he’s happy despite his circumstances. You may want to consider this perspective we share here – simply accept your Life for what it is, no matter what you are going through. Then, you too will discover that Life can be spectacular through a crisis!