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Friday, February 5, 2010

Compassion and Wisdom

Dear Asha, Ajay, Ravi and Ariana,

I want you to learn meditation. It may be of help to you at a practical level, if not at a spiritual level. While preparing to write an essay on meditation for you, I came across an essay in the weekend edition of a newspaper. In that essay on meditation, there were two words which triggered my reflection. They were Wisdom and Compassion. These words occupied my reflections for several days. This essay is based on these reflections.

Why do people want to meditate? On the spiritual side, two possible motivations are to obtain Moksha (Sanskrit word meaning “liberation”) and to seek enlightenment. There may be others, such as physical and mental relaxation and relief from stress. But, let us explore the words “liberation” and “enlightenment” and what they stand for.

First, moksha or liberation. Liberation from what? It may be liberation from samsara (cycles of birth and death, according to Hindu and Buddhist philosophies); it may stand for liberation from agnana (spiritual ignorance); or it may mean liberation from the imperfect life in this world to reach another more perfect “world” (heaven?). Personally, I do not believe in the idea of “my” being born again. Nisargadatta Maharaj does not believe in it either. I suspend judgment on the assertion that there is a more perfect world somewhere out there. I do not find any need for the comfort that these ideas may bring me.

However, the idea of enlightenment as opposed to spiritual ignorance is appealing. If meditation is for enlightenment on how to lead a life of wisdom and compassion during this life, it is a more appealing concept for me. It is a practical goal. This should be possible for everyone irrespective of one’s religious tradition and one’s view on after-life.

How will I know that enlightenment has been attained? I will know because enlightenment should lead me to inner peace and to an attitude of a more harmonious relationship with the outer world.

Enlightenment requires enlightenment of one’s mind (reason) and one’s heart (emotion). The mind enlightened with reason should lead us towards wisdom (pragna). The heart enlightened by reflecting on one’s feelings and emotions should take it from there and lead us to compassion (karuna) in our actions. What do I mean?

Reason tells me that everything and every life we see in this world should have come from one source. As pointed out in the Nasadiya Sukta of Rg Veda, I will never know how it happened or why. Just backward reasoning leads me there. Where did that one come from? How did that one become many? Although several ideas have been put forth, no one really knows.

When those initial “forms” came into “being”, it could have happened only in a space-time continuum. This is because objects take up space, however minute they are. One cannot become many without space and time, since the simple physical law is that no two objects can occupy the same space at the same time.

Once forms appear and occupy discrete spaces, “separateness” starts.

Once these forms acquire life, an awareness of separateness starts and it becomes increasingly stronger for the following reasons. Each form gets its identity and a name. By repeatedly connecting life’s experiences with our “self” (in reality with our body) we focus on our needs, wants and comforts. The natural tendencies of all live forms include built-in, "hard-wired" needs for survival and for reproduction. These needs lead directly to competition for resources. This competition leads to greater separation between individuals. The mind, particularly the human mind with its ability to use language and a tendency to categorize and name all forms, contributes greatly to the separateness. Just observing nature should convince you of these observations.

We go further and further away from the original common source and forget that the original “causes and conditions” are in all of us. The common source of the materials we are made of and of the life force that animated us are inherent in each of us, but have become invisible because of the increasing sense of separateness.

The other natural law of "individualized" life is “loneliness” as pointed out by the elders of the Native American traditions. However much others may help, we are all alone during stress, disease and death. In essence, this life in this world is a private journey. If we have any motive for co-operation left in us, it is only to combat this loneliness. We are prepared to live with others, share resources and adapt only to the extent it allows us to satisfy the other two basic needs, survival and reproduction. Push a little, these two needs will dominate and lead to cruelty to “others”.

In order to move from this wisdom that came out of reasoning to the next level, I have to acknowledge that
1. All of us come from one common source.
2. We are “impermanent inter-beings” made of star-dust. To be more precise, we are made of recycled matter which came from the sun.
3. The energy that lit our “life” is the same energy that started other lives.
4. Not only do we all have the same seeds; all lives have the same needs, namely the need to survive and the need to reproduce.
5. This leads to a sense of separation.
5. Which becomes reinforced by the nature of our living and our use of language.
6. Which in turn leads to further separation and loneliness.
7. The inherent tendency for loneliness in individual life leads to personal suffering and a tendency for cruelty to others.
8. Using this logic, it is easy for me to see how I have forgotten that I am an impermanent “wave” in this space-time continuum of the “ocean” of cosmos.
9. The cure for all of this is simple. I have to reconnect to the common condition of all other lives through compassion.
10. But, how?
This acknowledgment is my first step.

So far, we dealt with the wisdom, based on reason and logic. This logic based on reason leads me to face cold and cruel realities of needs, wants, competition for resources, conflicts and pain. This is sterile wisdom and is useless. The emotions they generate in my heart are frustration, dejection and anger! What is the use of wisdom with such negative emotions? I want the wisdom of the real nature of cosmos and of life to lead me to compassion. Can it?

Yes, it can. It is easy. I just have to concede that just as my “life” wants to survive, reproduce, avoid pain and feels lonely, so does yours. That is compassion.

That is compassion coming out of reflecting on my emotions arising out of my needs, wants and loneliness. That is compassion coming out of reason and wisdom. That compassion leads me to better relationship with the outside world and to a sense of interconnectedness. I can do that because I have understood and acknowledged and conceded that all of us are dealing with the same loneliness because of our insistence on “individuality” and increasing separateness. I concede your need for survival and for the resources of the cosmos. Therefore I wish to share the resources and not compete for the resources. I promise to send you a message of love during your moments of loneliness.

I send you a message of love based on understanding and compassion. Thus I touch our common source by these acknowledgments. And these acknowledgments are my daily meditations and prayers.

Thus have I seen logic and emotions lead me to wisdom (pragna) and compassion (karuna). Wisdom and compassion coming out of these reflections on knowledge and emotion, should lead me to inner peace and outer harmony, to equanimity and to detachment without disengagement. That is Moksha. That is nirvana. That is Heaven. Moksha, Nirvana and Heaven are not to be found at some other world after death. I can reach them NOW, in this one life I am fairly sure of and at this moment which I am absolutely sure of.

With love, to all the grandchildren of the world.

Thatha (grandfather, in Tamizh language)

3 comments:

revolutioniam said...

Asha, Ajay, Ravi and Ariana,

Listen to this man. He obviously loves you and from experience, he speaks the truth. Life after finding Nirvana is a wonderful place in which to live.

Peace,
Sean

Ramesh said...

Beautifully, beautifully written. Wisdom, experience, thoughtfulness, compassion, all rolled into a lovely post.

I feel there's a stage in life to comprehend this. Maybe the four stages of life as in Hindu philosophy is very apt. To appreciate the wisdom of your words, I suppose you need to be at least a parent.

You may have written this for the grandchildren of the world, but it is inspiring to us, who may somewhat older.

Balu said...

Thanks for the comments, Sean and Ramesh.