Right and wrong arise only from social – or religious – definitions!
As we drove through Poes Garden yesterday, my Uber driver asked me: “Sir, do you see the irony of it all? The working class keeps slogging away harder and harder; the looting class keeps stashing away more and more and yet they get away scot-free. She (Sasikala) may have gone to jail; but our state is in the hands of her clan…so that the looting can continue and the looted treasures can be hoarded and protected. Why do wrong-doers always have it good in Life? And why do the honest always suffer?”
Although these questions have been asked with respect to the murky political scenario in Tamil Nadu – as I write this blogpost the Sasikala faction has won the Trust Vote in the State Assembly – they apply to all contexts and scenarios, to all people, in Life. Why do wrong-doers always have it good in Life? And why do the honest always suffer?
First, let us understand, there is no right or wrong in Life. On a spiritual plane, all actions are equal and are made by individuals basis what drives them, what inspires them and what possesses them at any given moment. Society, for reasons of regulating large masses of humanity, prescribes guidelines that have, over time, led to the classification of some actions as right and some as wrong. Religion has invited itself to this party and has given what it deems right, a God-stamp, a blessing; and whatever it deems wrong has been labeled sinful. So, for instance, a man having sex with a partner outside of his marriage is merely a “normal action that satisfies a physical craving in him and his partner”. But society labels this very basic, physical, need as wrong, brings in a definition of polygamy, prescribes punishment by way of social ostracism and religion labels it adulterous and, therefore, as sinful, punishable in the “eyes of God”. So, right and wrong arise only from social – and, if you will, religious – definitions. In Life, everything, when viewed objectively, dispassionately, is only an action.
Now, let’s get back to my cabbie’s questions. If you look at those that are pissing on democracy in their lust for power, you will realize that they are doing it only because they are very clear this is what they want out of Life. They want money. They want property. They want control. They want position. And they see nothing wrong with the means they have chosen because it is the end, and only the end, that matters to them. The conscientious common folk though want governance, want basic needs met, want some money to eke a livelihood, want peace of mind and, basically, a good night’s sleep. They see their righteousness alone as right and everything else as wrong. To this class, the means is often more important, and sacrosanct, than the end. None of what the common-folk wants is causing them any misery except two things – one, a desire for good governance and two, a desire for Life to be fair to them. Now, what is the point in desiring governance while refusing to participate in the political process actively? By active participation I mean going beyond exercising your right to vote alone. I mean getting involved in the process of citizen activism, contributing to the political process and to democracy as an institution. I mean that just as once upon a time, families sent their children to serve the country through the armed forces, the time has come for us to groom our children to be national leaders and honest politicians. The second desire to want Life to be fair just because you are a class of sloggers, good natured, ethical, humans, is misplaced. Life never promised anything to anyone. Life just keeps on happening. You bring in an expectation of fair-play and so you are responsible for inviting suffering into your Life. Bottom-line: on both counts, you have an option to end your suffering. Just drop this right or wrong debate. If you want to fix the system that is holding you to ransom, go down to work on it. Your suffering, and your ranting about it, is not going to fix any system!
Here’s the nub: those that lack scruples are clear that values don’t matter to them. It is only those who are scrupulous that are confused about wanting to hold on to their values and also wanting all that which comes from being unscrupulous. This confusion is what is causing all the turmoil, the suffering, in them. I sincerely believe in this – if someone can walk without any sign of remorse over being self-obsessed, why shouldn’t the self-righteous walk equally freely – with their head held high? They surely can – if they can resolve the conflicts in them by choosing to be non-suffering!
Arguing endlessly and being bitter is not going to change any reality.
Suddenly, the US of A is divided. Shockingly polarized. I have been to that great country so many, many times. And I love the people there immensely. Our son lives there, just as several members of our extended families do. Yet, I have never seen so much division out there, ever.
Just look at your Facebook feed and you will know what I mean. So many, many, many people hate Trump and fear ‘his’ America. Yet, an apparent majority sentiment against him, and all the fear-mongering and protesting, isn’t going to prevent Trump’s inauguration on January 20th next year. His election is an act of people’s will, of a duly laid out constitutional process. No amount of debate is going to change it. No protests are going to make things any better or different for the protestors.
Free speech is enshrined in most democracies in the world. And USA’s is a beautiful, thriving democracy. Yet, even as people are expressing themselves freely, there’s a great deal of angst and intolerance that’s visible, palpable. Political ideology has divided people at a social level. And that’s a sad thing to happen. I believe a conversation that cannot allow a candid, calm and constructive discussion is not a mature one. What we all have to recognize is that whether someone supports one leader or the other, the core issue here is that everyone want better leadership. Each one feels the person he or she is inspired by is a better leader. Now, if you don’t support someone’s choice of leadership, discuss and debate about the leader and leadership – don’t rubbish the person you debate with hoping to win an avoidable, vitriolic argument. This serves no purpose. Actually, honestly, even social media posts serve no purpose in such debates. But they do serve as a means of expressing ourselves freely. Such expression must be respected and any personal or acerbic remarks must be avoided ideally and surely expunged!
I have learnt that arguments over anything – not just over a political or academic or religious or ideological viewpoint – serve no purpose. They end up raising the decibel level and increasing acrimony. An argument is really an ego game. It is always fought over who is right than what is right. Interestingly, at a deeply spiritual level, even right and wrong is relative. What may be right to someone may always appear wrong to someone else. Or what may be right now to someone may appear to be wrong to the same person at another time. So, when what is right is debatable, what’s the point in deciding – that too, over a painful, often wasted, argument – who is right?
Osho, the Master, explains this beautifully: “Life is not divided into black and white – a lot of it is more like gray. And if you see very deeply, white is one extreme of gray and black is another extreme, but the expanse is of gray. So one can see it as white and one can see it as black. It is as if a glass is there, half full, half empty. Somebody says it is half full and this is the truth and somebody says it is half empty and this is the truth… and they start fighting. All arguments are more or less like that.”
The upcoming Trump Presidency offers us all a chance to evolve into being more tolerant. There’s an opportunity here for us to learn to avoid the urge to belligerently argue. And stop wanting to be right and to be seen as right. If you have an opinion that is fair and constructive, and if you think all parties in the discussion will have the maturity to accept it, express it. If you believe that maturity is lacking in the forum, exercise your right to not participate. Ideally every perspective shared in a discussion must be constructive and must create value. If you can’t ensure that, it’s a simpler and intelligent response to just remain silent.
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If your inner peace is being ruined, ask yourself if a confrontation is really worth it?
A businessman I met yesterday said he was forever on tenterhooks. Because, he said, he is always fighting for ‘what is right’. He fights his brother’s reckless decisions in the business that they jointly operate, he is fighting for a parking space, that he legitimately owns, with his apartment builder, he is fighting for an Income Tax refund with the authority for over 10 years now and he is fighting within himself unable to reconcile to the surge of Hindutva and communal strife in the country. Phew! He asked me what he must do to be peaceful.
“Meditate.” This is what I told him.
But the last thing that will come easy, when you mind is agitated and firing on all cylinders, is meditation.
I have been the way this man is right now. So I know.
Our sense of morality, propriety, integrity and intention often wants us to demand a fair world. Besides, the human mind is wired, through years of conditioning, to point out to you that you are always right; that while everyone around you is either doing wrong or doing only what appears to be right, you, and you alone, are the messiah who is clamoring to do what is right. Any definition of right and wrong involves individual judgment and perception. What may be right to you may be wrong from another’s point of view. So, the moment you get into this ‘I-am-right’ mode, you have launched into an endless, zero-sum game! This is how, for many years, I vexed over trying to create a better world – for me, around me. I discovered, through catharsis, that there is nothing wrong with wanting an ethical, fair, egalitarian environment around you. Except that you mustn’t try to create it at the cost of losing your inner peace. Anything that demands a fight that disturbs your inner equilibrium is simply not worth it.
So, fight the good fight, take up causes, choose issues that you want to campaign for, but first win your inner battle. Nothing in the world, nothing in Life, is worth more than your inner peace. If you are at peace, you will have the energy to face the world, you will have stamina to last any crusade and you will have the focus to devise and execute a winning strategy.
Do what you must do in any situation but do it only if you can be detached from the outcomes. Invest in the process, but be detached from the outcomes. Often the biggest hurdle to an individual’s evolution is the desire to want to control outcomes, to prove oneself right and to hold on to opinions. Focusing on the merits of each experience is perhaps a good way to ascertain and convince yourself if such clinging on is really worth it. So, I always recommend a three-step check before you take up any issue that you want to invest your energy in:
- Will what you are fighting for really matter some years from now?
- What is best for all parties involved – letting go or proving yourself right?
- Which stance – letting go or clinging on – will help preserve your inner peace?
This approach has helped me immensely. I have come to realize that wanting a perfect world is not a wrong expectation. But you wanting to create this perfect world your way, well, that’s a stance you may want to rethink and, perhaps, even avoid. Instead, choose an intelligent approach, which is, decide on whatever you do, or want to do, basis your inner peace being first protected. So, ask yourself, each time before you launch into an ‘I-am-right’ mode, if it is really worth it?
Each experience has a place in your Life. Go through everything and keep moving on!
Last evening we watched a movie called Nasha on TV. It was released in 2013 and stars Poonam Pandey. It is a very strangely made film – the story’s visual representation lacks aesthetic and, in fact, borders on soft porn. That treatment, I felt, was quite unnecessary to tell the story. But the story itself contains a very powerful spiritual message. A young lady school teacher, under various convoluted circumstances, falls in love with her young, high school male student. When she realizes that she has crossed the threshold of the time-honored guru-shishya relationship, she leaves the school and her young beau. She leaves a parting note for him though, from which we can glean a deep spiritual takeaway: “There is no way in which we can define our relationship. And I don’t want to define it. It just happened. And it was beautiful. And I want it to remain so in our memory…There is no guarantee to what can happen in Life. Go through every experience. And treasure its uniqueness, its beauty. Living in the moment is the way to live fully….” (I have captured the essence of the takeaway here and not the exact voice-over/dialogue from the film.)
Indeed. In reality, there is no good or bad, no right or wrong, in Life. What may appear right to you may appear wrong to someone else. And what may appear wrong to you may be something someone else believes is totally right. So, it is best we don’t bring in morality or judgement to events and experiences that are unique. This, while understanding and appreciating a universal, overarching principle, that nothing ever, at any time, must be pursued that goes against humanity and the grain of compassion.
I personally didn’t believe Nasha’s story needed to be told in that soft-porn tone by its director Amit Saxena. But that was his choice. Even so, my disagreement with the film’s treatment does not mean that a teacher and student cannot or must not fall in love with each other. I guess it happens all over, all the time. So the film’s message does offer a learning opportunity for anyone who is willing to pause and reflect. The truth is Life itself is a series of unique experiences. Not all experiences need to conform to predictable and established social frameworks. We must learn to value each experience for what it is. Not in comparison with another. Not out of fear of what people will say. Not feeling guilty either. But seeing everything you go through as a true celebration of who you are and what makes you come alive.
Osho, the Master, always encouraged people to come alive and live free. And he warned that the moment you feel inhibited, constrained, by social strictures or your own emotions, it was time for you to move on. Without regret. But with a sense of joy and liberation. And that’s exactly what the teacher in Nasha did.
I believe there’s a big learning here for all us. We stop wanting to come alive only because we want to look good in the eyes of others, of society. Instead if we choose and do only what makes us come alive, even if it is through experiences that are unique to us, we will lead fuller and happier lives.
Sometimes, being silent, and walking away, is the best response. People trying to prove each other wrong, which is what arguments are all about, leaves no one any better. Let’s remember that people do things their way only because they feel what they are doing is right. To an observer, or to someone who is at the receiving end of any action, it may well be possible that the action is questionable or inappropriate. When an argument follows, reviewing the merits of the action(s), it will always be a case of who was right than what was right. So, in all such contexts, when you find yourself in the midst of such an unwelcome, pointless debate, exercise your option to not say or do anything. Just let things be. Don’t even opinionate in your mind. Don’t even console yourself or justify your actions. Just choose to be silent. And that is not an act of cowardice.
- Is what I am going to do useful to me?
- Is what I am going to do useful to, and will it create value for, all other parties connected with my action?
- Is it at the cost or expense of anyone concerned?
- Is it in violation of a law or even the spirit of the law?