We live life every single day – working, learning, stumbling, struggling, and enjoying this great miraculous gift our parents were kind enough to give. Sometimes we ride the wheel of time as if we are master of it, but at other times we crawl along, dragged and bent down by the cruelty of time. We carry on with all the ups and downs, like one of my friends often says: Hang in there my friend, hang in there . . . Indeed we hang in there as if life’s reward is waiting for us.
Life goes on. Perhaps the writings and paintings on rickshaws, auto-rickshaws and trucks in Bangladesh and India add some flavors to the realization of life’s meaning by average Joe and Jane. Some of them have deep philosophical tones like the one saying: Burning since Birth. Similar feelings and epiphanies of people can be seen in many social media outfits on the cyberspace. Despite the fact that some are tainted with thoughtless spontaneity, these realizations are real – neither fabricated nor polished to profit from them, or to get acceptance. Sometimes words of wisdom come from unexpected sources. They are like what Galileo Galilei (1564 – 1642) once rightly pointed out: I have never met a man so ignorant that I couldn’t learn something from him.
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One of my friends said: Come on, don’t start like that. It sounds very pessimistic and depressing. Look at life like a war or sport. The friend continued: Don’t you see V-sign or phrases like game-changer across cultures?
Yes, I do see them and they are really worrisome. Because the notion of looking at life as if it is war or sport shows how prevalent is the belief that fighting and aggressiveness are the answers for all things we do. What is more worrisome is the fact that the notion is promoted by those who are in power at the helm of things that matter to most of us. Some use this power consciously, while others just follow the cultural trait without much thinking. The problem with such promotions is that the notion permeates into every strata of society dragging all into the vicious modes of conflicts and mistrusts – adding to the complexity of life and the world around us.
Yes, I do see them. Frustratingly, the prevalence of war and sport-like attitudes tells us that the society we live in is divisive, intolerant and impatient. We rush to worship winners and resort to hating and bullying losers. Some might say: Why should we care? It is all fair and square, as long as the practices let us make money, and do business. Really, does business require to profit from divisiveness and intolerance? Let us ponder over the question at some other times.
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For now, let us try to examine what the war and sport-like attitudes mean to life. For both war and sport, the primary motive is to defeat the opponent. In a war the opponent is an enemy – and both the winning and the losing parties resort to applying ruthless methods to destroy each other. Who are the enemies in life – one’s family, one’s neighbors, fellow countrymen, everything that surrounds us, or other countries? Well, if these categories are conceived as enemies then the future of mankind is in big trouble, and perhaps we are digging our own graves.
For sport it is fun and entertainment. But sometimes the consequences may appear cruel, something like the moral from a nice little story which says: What is a sport to you is death to us. With whom are we playing games in life? With the same categories we just talked about? Well then we know the answer. But one should not forget to remember that war and sport-like attitudes are contagious that invite and provoke reciprocal reactions.
Is everything wrong in the war and sport-like attitudes? Perhaps not. The attitudes also have seeds of competitiveness and assertiveness. These spirits are useful energy sources in life. The only thing is that one should be careful not to get too obsessed with them, because it is difficult to be assertive and competitive without being brash and aggressive.
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It is encouraging to explore the wisdom of philosophers and religious leaders to find that most thoughtful characterizations of life have been suggested by them. They say life is a journey that has different phases with both gains and losses, and that life’s actions should account for consequences. The spirit, they say is to enjoy life by trying to avoid conflict with the motive of not defeating the other, but rather working together as a team to achieve a common goal and peace. In a life’s journey, there is neither winning nor losing, there is only achievement.
Sometimes we do not know what we are achieving – but things are being constantly achieved each time we put our hearts and minds in them. Reflecting on the Tathagata saying – as in the 201st verse on Happiness in the Dhammapada: Victory begets enmity; the defeated dwell in pain. Happily the peaceful live, discarding both victory and defeat.
Such leaders explain life analogous to a river – river flow to be specific – beginning the journey in the mountain – narrow in shape but high in energy. As the river enters into the lower valley it matures and broadens giving and sustaining many lives and plants. It gains water by accepting tributaries, it looses water through distributaries, it meets other rivers – but instead of fighting, it mixes with the new encounter to gain more strength. On its way the river faces many obstacles – it faces narrows and raised beds – nothing deters it – it swells and continues the journey with rejuvenated energy until it reaches its ultimate goal of reaching the ocean or lake. But if blocked by dams or interventions the life of a river is shortened. With the atmospheric circulation, the hydrologic processes make sure that the water gets back to its source again. The wheel of a river’s life is complete. Some say, the illustration is even more evident in the life cycle of a Salmon fish.
If one looks closely, life’s stories are similar to a river no matter where we live – in Asia, in Europe, in Africa or in the Americas; whether one lives in a developed society or in a developing one. It has similar songs of joy, love, frustration and struggle. One will not find the real stories of life in history books or in geographical and economic characterization of cultures, but in popular myths, folktales and legends or in one’s own experience – they all tell the similar stories.
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Perhaps there is more to it. Perhaps the Fluidity of Nature, like in a flowing river is another way of characterizing life and social relations. We are fluid in our body, in our thinking, in our emotions, in our social interactions – we constantly change in time and space. Human spirit is universal no matter where we live, yet we take the shape in physical and mental formations and growth in accordance with the country where we are born and raised, and where we live and work much like the fluid that takes the shape of its container. Like the uncertain behavior of fluid, humans are not perfect – either in understanding themselves or in social interactions. We are a biochemical entity endowed with emotions bad and good – and we often act and react in ways that cannot be justified.
In analogy with fluid behavior, some of us can be termed as less viscous and dense than others – we call these people light headed and shallow, lacking maturity and depth of understanding. However, within the fluidity of life, flows the energy which is the fundamental driving force behind everything we do. We all perform in accordance with the life’s energy we posses – whether it is physical or mental. But perhaps, in the end we behave like what Bob Dylan (1941 - ) once said: All I can do is to be me whoever that is. However the human quest never stops to find and define the RIGHT ME or more precisely, the fluxes of oneself in the ever changing dynamic world.
In another metaphor, life is imagined like a Tree - a seeded plant that thrives on many contributing factors - sunshine, water, soil, air and wind. In gratitude it decarbonizes the air and contributes to the generation of Oxyzen for other lives to thrive - it provides shades and shelter, flowers and nutritious saps and fruits, and lumber or firewood. Human life and social living - it says should be like a tree humbled by the gratitude for its existence conditioned by the harmonious contributions of many.
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To find the RIGHT ME one needs to equip himself or herself with life’s provisions – education, skill, right understanding of things, and a calm, loving and compassionate attitude. This does not mean however that the RIGHT ME will always have a smooth ride, but doing otherwise is likely to cause a frustrating delay in finding the RIGHT ME.
People often ponder over the meaning of life. The quest is very natural. For some, the answer is simple: to live life to the fullest, getting married and raising children. Some do it with some degree of comfort and happiness, many not so much. This is no different than other creatures, except perhaps some amounts of human elements in it. However mundane that may sound; this outlook is a very reasonable meaning of life.
Many Greats around the world, however attempted to find the meaning from different perspectives. They took the question as the driving force to study nature and human interactions discovering ideas and spearheading them. Their contributions made scientific and technological innovations and civilizations possible. It is the sacrifice and discovery of these Greats that have made a difference to move us forward in advances and leaps of human progress.
Despite having an amputated leg and being a cancer patient, Terry Fox (1858 – 1981) made history by making people aware of cancer by running across Canada. The famous painter Pablo Picasso (1881 – 1973) once said, the meaning of life is to find your gift. The purpose of life is to give it away.
Finding the gift of life is not easy however, and is difficult for some than others. Mundane or extraordinary – nothing is lost in life – demise of one reincarnates to another – energy flows from one form to the other – what is born must come to an end in the process of completing the Wheel of Life.
Whatever the goal, life’s pursuits should aim at what the Dalai Lama (1935 - ) once said, the purpose of our life is to be happy. As happiness is mutual, individual experience translates to family, to society and to the wider world. Sometimes, as inhuman as it is, one may feel vicious joy by hurting another physically or emotionally – but that deplorable joy is not the meaning of happiness, because the action is ill-motivated to victimize a person. It is needless to overemphasize that all should strive to enjoy life by being a partner to wholesome peaceful activities without getting trapped into the hell of conflicts. Happiness can be elusive but human resilience never stops going after it.
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We have talked about the principle of dynamic equilibrium in the NATURE section, and have also discussed it in the SCIENCE & TECHNOLOGY section to show how scientists and engineers use the principle to find answers, and generate solutions. Similarly it is important to try to achieve the bliss of equilibrium in our thoughts and actions as we journey through the different phases of life. Reaching equilibrium is one of the toughest jobs in a divisive and mistrustful social framework. Nevertheless, it makes sense that we strive to do so without being too aggressive or too passive.
We are born poor needing help and care from our parents. We become dependent on others when we become old or disabled and ultimately dying poor – the poverty of not being able to understand what the hard-earned wealth means anymore. In between we try to conquer the world not as a loner but as a social partner. We depend on each other’s company, love, care and friendship to complete the journey. Humans are not loners – we nourish each other with our thoughts and strengths. Like in nature, the seeds of progress germinate and grow strong and vibrant only when there is inspiring positive social energy in a dignified stable framework. But in order for such healthy growths, it is important that a person does not feel strangled or constrained in freedom of thinking, in efforts of doing better in his or her pursuits.
Perhaps a line from a famous song of Frank Sinatra (1915 – 1998) is appropriate in understanding this. It says: . . . life is a beautiful thing as long as I hold the string . . . But life’s strings are many, and it is impossible for one to hold them all. Some of us hold the strings of other peoples’ lives tight and strong. Some others do so light and loose. It only makes sense that those who hold other peoples’ strings tight and strong feel responsible, and refrain from playing God.
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How shall we conclude? Perhaps like this – that life is a precious gift and we should cherish its sanctity in peace, and in social harmony of understanding and helping one another. That we should respect each individual’s right to complete the Wheel of Life (image credit: anon) in a meaningful way without interference and intervention.
Do they sound very moralistic and religious? Perhaps yes – but the alternatives will only lead us to mistrusts and conflicts.
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Here is an anecdote to ponder:
The disciple commented, “Sir, we get inspired by philosophers, listening to them opens the door of our mind.”
The master smiled, “It comes with a price, my friend! A philosopher is a person who is deeply moved by betrayal. The guy manages by escaping into the wilderness, eating less and reflecting more.”
The disciple continued, “Thank you sir. But I must tell you I hate to lose. Someday I will win, win and win . . .”
The master turned as if looking at him for the first time and smiled, “That is good my child. But be careful, you may end up winning so much that winning will not satisfy you anymore. Do me a favor, will you? Try to win over yourself first.”
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- by Dr. Dilip K. Barua, 9 June 2016