Human life, insignificant? When we consider the average human life span, of 75 years, in the eternity of time, of 13.4 billion years, since the Universe was born; or if we look at this speck which we call Earth, in the immensity and vastness of space we will be inclined to look at our lives as merely insignificant. To some extent this is true.
But then we are here and we have a life to live and we better make our lives as significant as we can. Here are some thoughts on how to lead a far more significant life. To lead a far more fruitful and fulfilling life we need to study from what I would like to call ‘The Book of Life’
The Book of Life:
The Book of life has 3 main sections. They are included below
1) Studying from one’s own life: This is the first section in this book. Poor or rich, wise or stupid all of us carry a wealth of experiences and personal knowledge. We really need to dive deep into our own lives. There are many gems of truth and knowledge we will find in the deep waters of our past lives. The past is many ways is our compass to our future. We need to analyze our motives for our past actions. We must delve into our biases, our judgmental ideas ingrained deep in our minds. Can we justify these prejudices of ours?
We can learn more from looking into ourselves than by reading any book or listening to any sermon.
2) Studying from our social circle: There is a lot we can learn from immediate and larger social circle. What makes them tick? What drives them? How do they handle problems?
What would you have done if you were in the situation that they are in? Would you have handled the situation differently? There are so many lessons that life offers us. We need to be observant and reflect. If you have a role model in life try to see how they handle adversity. What are the qualities in their life that you admire? What makes them different from you? How can you emulate some of their virtues? This is the next section in this Book of Life.
3) Studying from the enlightened ones: This is the last but an important section. There is a lot we can learn from the wise sayings of Krishna, Buddha and Christ. These enlightened souls had an extraordinary insight into human nature. We need to reflect on the pithy sayings of these souls. Here is a sample
Christ (Bible): Love they enemy
Judge not, lest ye be judged
Krishna (Gita): Do your duty without regard to the fruits thereof
A true yogi is one who is not affected by joy or sorrow
Buddha: Anger is like hot charcoal. It burns the hand that hold it.
There is an enormous amount of meaning and depth in each of these sayings. We can use them in different situations in our lives.
We need to really drink deeply from this Book of Life. There are many things that this book can teach us and help us lead a more fulfilling life.
To move ahead in life there are several ‘dos’ that we need to follow. In this post I would like to high light 3 essential don’ts that we need to adhere to in life. Here they are
Don’t postpone distastefulness: In other words don’t procrastinate something because you dislike the particular task. Very often in life we have a problem starting a task which we hate. We try to avoid doing it. Eventually the task becomes inevitable or we run into a crisis situation which we could have avoided if we got on to performing the task. Personally I think putting off something that is distasteful only delays the event. Moreover you will have those nagging thoughts of the hateful task popping up every now and then in your mind. In my opinion the first thing that you should do is to get this task out of the way. We should try to finish off should not just the urgent tasks but also those that you truly hate doing. Once this is out of your way you can focus on other more important tasks
Don’t spoil a perfect present with imaginary fears: This is also something that we tend to do often. We worry about something that may happen in the future and completely spoil a perfect present. If you have no control on something that is yet to happen then I would suggest that you push the event to the bottom of the stack of things to keep in your mind. For all you know the fears may be unfounded and things may turn out well after all. You really cannot get back all those hours you lost sweating a probability. Quit worrying and enjoy the present.
Don’t assume outcomes without trying: This is another problem I see with several people. People assume that the worst will happen if they do something and simply avoid doing it. I have known people who conclude that they will not get any job based on their experience and don’t even bother to apply. How do you know if you will or will not be called for the interview without even trying? Maybe you are looking for a raise. Go ahead and ask your boss. Trusting ‘karma’ will take you nowhere. Certainly you will feel releived that you tried.
Maybe you are having having romantic ideas about the ‘sweet little thing’ in your school or the ‘smart’ guy in your office. Don’t make assumptions about the other person’s thoughts. It makes better sense to voice your thoughts rather than make assumptions. This is all too common is us humans. We reach conclusions based on assumptions instead of facts. Personally, it is better to have tried and failed than never to have tried at all. So don’t assume ask, try, do.
Conclusion: There are possibly umpteen other important don’ts in life. I would rate the ones above, pretty high on that list of the other dont’s.In each of 3 situations they help you in avoiding frittering away mental energy due – i) to nagging thoughts when you procrastinate b) to unnecessary worry c) to wishful thinking or in unsubstantiated despondency.
Is virtue relative? Is there an inherent merit in virtue?
Virtue like kindness, honesty, altruism etc are all relative. In my opinion, no virtue in an absolute sense, has any merit by itself. Merit or otherwise, can only be assessed in the context of the situation in which the act was performed. This may seem puzzling to you.
Here are my thoughts. Consider the following hypothetical situations
Let us say a friend or a relative did not a get a promotion and he comes to you with the news. You know this person fairly intimately. You may feel that this person is not outgoing enough or possibly does not network sufficiently. Will you empathize with him/her or will start lecturing to your friend on their shortcomings. Will you be brutally honest or lend a patient ear. In this case, it may make sense to empathize initially and then possibly lay out the areas of improvement to your friend. We may need to be kind initially and later be tactfully honest.
Consider another situation. You friend or your son/daughter has flunked their exam. Will you berate them on their stupidity? Or will you be nice and accept this failure as a fact of life?
Personally I think it is more important to be kind that to be correct. Honesty is highly-overrated! Kindness, to me, is a far more important virtue in comparison.
However in some situations it is necessary not to mince words and to lay the facts as they are. This sometimes has to be done, so that the person on receiving the input, is able to alter or correct their erroneous ways. If we have to reveal something unpleasant to another person, it is important that we do it in such a way, that it does not hurt the other person.
Intentionally causing emotional pain, when you think you are being honest, is completely unacceptable in my opinion.
In my book, anybody being brutally honest is both stupid and insensitive.
Similarly kindness also makes sense only in certain situations. Some people are evil. They have no intention to change and reason does not work them. In these cases it makes sense to use force to eradicate this evil. A good example is the Mahabharat war where force was mandatory.
Do you have altruistic feelings which makes you drop a few coins, every time, in the bowl of a beggar? Should we or should we not encourage begging? Are we perpetuating begging by our behavior? Should we be thinking on how to we make these people start to look for other avenues to make a living? These are all questions to consider.
In my opinion, no act by itself, can be virtuous or evil. We have to look at the context in its entirety. We will need to look at the long term effect of the act before it can be considered as a virtue or a vice.
Listen to my talk – You are not who you think you are
My short talk on “Life sucks … big time?“
To succeed in life you need 3 qualities namely patience, perseverance and grit. If you have all of these in sufficient measure then you are very likely to succeed.
Patience: This is a quality that is very difficult to get. We can’t really practice patience. It has to be understood inside out. Patience is one of the key characteristics of all those who have achieved great things in life from Gandhiji, Charles Darwin or Einstein. We must understand all good things take time. If we are learning a new skill then we must have dollops of patience to get anywhere near expert level. But usually we expect miracles and are in a big hurry to see results. We want to achieve stardom overnight but this is not going to happen. We must observe and monitor our progress. We must be mentally prepared to progress in small steps. We must have the patience to realize this.
Perseverance: Patience goes hand in had with perseverance. We must not only be patient but we must persevere to do things, We must do things continuously and consistently. Malcolm Gladwell suggests a ‘10,000’ hour rule to get anywhere near being an expert. So whether you are learning a new musical instrument, trying to program or learning to write we must have performed this task for 10,000 hours says Gladwell. Regardless of whether this is true or not , consistent and dogged effort is required to achieve greatness. Scaling Mount Everest would have taken many years of training. When sitar maestro Ravi Shankar caresses the string of the sitar it displays the hours of dedication that he must have underwent. Without perseverance success can only be fleeting
Grit: This is something that is indispensable for achieving greatness. Grit is the ability to weather failures along the way. Grit is the attitude to look at setbacks and carry on renewed vigor. But this is something that can only happen if there is a burning desire, motivation and drive to achieve greatness. It also requires a great maturity see yourself through failures. If there is grit no obstacle is a problem and no achievement is impossible.
So if we have patience, perseverance and grit nothing can stand between us and true greatness.
Our mind can at times be our greatest enemy. It can completely deceive us by either playing the devil’s advocate or by spinning a web of rationalization. We have to tread extremely carefully and ensure that we can find our way through the darkness of our own mind. These are some of the common modes of self-deception that many of us fall prey to.
‘Tis more important to be kind than correct: Nothing, in my opinion, is more important than kindness. How often have we heard people tell us proudly that they “speak their mind”? In the minds of these people being brutally frank ranks higher than sensitivity and sensibility. You can expect these people to promptly tell somebody that they are “too fat” or “they are going to fail”. These people think that being forthright and honest is most important. But these people lack sensitivity to the feelings of others. To me honesty comes second only to tact. We must ensure that we couch our words with sensitivity. We must take into account the pain the other person may feel when we convey something. We need compassion and kindness. It does not make sense to just get something off your chest when that something can hurt others. So, be kind and be correct.
‘Tis more important to be right than stupid: This is another trap many of us fall into. A brief encounter with religion or philosophy can often leave one confused on the right course of action. We may end up interpreting philosophy completely wrong. It is true that Jesus said “If someone slaps you on the left cheek, show thy right cheek”. This does not mean that we quietly suffer all insults and indignities that come our way. I am certain that Christ intended a non-retaliatory response to those who are capable of self-reflection. If we accept everything a sadist throws our way we will always be on the receiving end.
Alternatively the call of Krishna for war against the Kauravas does not in any way justify the use of violence. Such a means can only be resorted after all other means have been exhausted. Similarly we often find people adopting a philosophical attitude towards their suffering and assume that they simply deserve it. We really need to be practical and work towards the solution.
In most cases we must ensure that we employ our reason in every situation and act according the merit of the occasion. Better to be right, than stupid!
We have to be wary of the workings of the mind and avoid the common pitfalls that occur.
There are some striking similarities between the Matsya Purana of India, the Old Testament of Judeao-Christianity and the Epic of Gilgamesh from Sumeria. The following excerpts from Matsya Purana, the Old Testament & the Epic of Gilgamesh will make this clear
Matsya Purana : The Matsya Purana talks of the story of the king Manu who decided to live a quiet life near a river. One day when he washed his hands in the river a little fish asked him to save him from the big fish saying that it will one day save him in return. Hence King Manu (also known as Satyavrata) put the little fish in a jar. After a few days the fish grew and the king transferred the fish to an urn. It grew even more and had to be transferred to a pond, then a river and finally it was moved to the ocean. When it was put in the ocean the fish asked the king to build a boat and take along with him all types of seeds, eggs, animals and birds. King Manu realized that this was no ordinary fish but was the avatar of Lord Vishnu himself. Subsequently there was a great deluge and the fish with a horn came to King Manu. The King tethered his boat to the horn of the fish using Adisesha the serpent and the fish took King Manu to MountMandara. All the living creatures on the earth were wiped out by the deluge except King Manu and the creatures in his boat.
Old Testament: Genesis 6, of the old Testament says that Lord was unhappy with the wickedness of mankind and requested Noah to build an Ark. The Lord told Noah “of very living thing of all flesh, two of every sort shalt thou bring into the ark, to keep them alive with thee they shall be male and female”. Hence Noah built a huge ark and like Manu took into the ark seeds and a pair of every living creature. Then there was a deluge which lasted for several days. Noah took his ark to the top of Mount Ararat. All creatures on earth
were destroyed by the deluge except Noah and the creatures in Ark.
Epic of Gilgamesh: In Mesopotamian civilization the epic of Gilgamesh has a similar story about an ark and a great deluge. This is from Sumerian civilization or modern Iraq. In tablet XI the king Gilgamesh who discusses immortality with Utnapishtim. Utnapishtim tells Gilgamesh about the great deluge which lasted for 6 days & nights and how he built a large ark and took his family and all “animals of the field”. His boat lodges on a mountain similar to that mentioned in the Matsya Purana. On the 7th day Utnapishtim releases a dove, a swallow, and a raven. When the raven fails to return, he opens the ark and frees its inhabitants.
The similarities in these 3 stories are really striking. The common thread in the 3 stories is that there was a deluge which is supposed to have lasted several days and nights, A huge boat/ark was built and all the animals were taken in and the boat was lodged in a mountain.
Was there really a great deluge about 1200 B.C? Did the legend of Manu travel to the West or did the story of Noah’s Ark & Gilgamesh travel to India?