Good Deeds, Bad Deeds
Every childhood is synonymous with instructions raining from parents and other people around. A child is continuously told to do this and not to do that. This continues throughout their childhood where they are influenced by the various people around them and their prejudices. And now, social media is treating human beings as puppets and has assigned emojis, so that they can express their emotions as one type of the many offered.
But a human being is not a puppet and, endowed with the mental faculty of imagination and discernment, can never be one. Even the poorest of the poor, the most hopeless, disadvantaged person, upholds this unique feature that no other creature has in the known universe. However, the tension between what you are told to do and what you believe you should do, creates a force that decides the course of your life. In the epic poem, Aeneid, Virgil (70-19 BCE) writes of a character as saying, “If I cannot bend Heaven, I shall move Hell,” (Book VII, line 312).
Even after we grow up and parents and other authority figures have faded away, the “shoulds” given to us, continue to live inside us, like the echo of a shout keeps wandering in the valley for a while. Our mind is, indeed, ruled by the oppression of the “shoulds”, dictating the way we think, act, and feel. Of course, our “should” beliefs have served us in the past, in shaping our concepts of how the world works and how we are to behave in it. Our achievements, social network, and control are the fruits of this “should tree.”
But, like fruits rot over a period, we must examine the “shoulds” operating inside us, refreshing them with the changing times and situations. The good news is that we have the power to change the way we think — and free ourselves from the shackling “shoulds.” I have come to believe that the purpose of a human life is best served by allowing your unique “person” to manifest, transcending the “shoulds” by developing the faculty of discernment between what is good and bad, and acting upon life, as it presents itself. Adi Shankaracharya called his magnum opus of the Advaita Vedanta, the Vivekchudamani (विवेकचूडामणि) i.e., the “crest-jewel of discrimination.”
All major religions of the world are unanimous on this one point that this life is an opportunity to better the afterlife. There is a Quranic verse (11.7), as translated by the Turkish scholar, Ali Ünal (b. 1955), ‘Your proper abode is the Hereafter, where you will be either in bliss or suffering according to your conduct in the world.’ Dr. APJ Abdul Kalam taught me to take every situation in life as a test that I must pass with honors. He used to say, ‘If things are flowing very fine for you, most likely, you are getting trapped by the bliss, to be driven to your destruction.’
Dante Alighieri (1265-1321) titled his major work as Divine Comedy. Human beings are born in this sinful world, in the process of moral change. People suffer, not simply as the consequences of some past bad deeds or to repay some debt, but to become good. This world is a place where one can reflect upon the sins, and thereby, change the psychological tendencies which lead one to sin. This process, called Purgatory, leads to an extraordinary richness in one’s character.
Dante imagines Purgatory as being divided into seven terraces, each one corresponding to a vice, namely, pride, envy, anger, sloth, avarice, gluttony, and lust. On each terrace, there is a slightly different form of suffering: the envious, for instance, have their eyes sewn up; the proud are weighed down by stones. The range of forms of suffering is, therefore, considerably greater, but so is the process of change, full of opportunities and possibilities.
And, coming to the concept of reincarnation, we leave one life and go into another as part of spiritual growth, by taking on physicality. There are varying levels of consciousness through which a soul moves, depending upon the moral quality of the activities in the life-forms, from minerals, plants and animals to human beings at the pinnacle. The implication is that the soul essentially remains the same, while occupying a new body. A life is, essentially, a dream: fleeting and illusory.
Buddha pinned the ego-consciousness, as grounding one into a cesspool of desires. One is reborn through desire, which needs a body to manifest. Every desire creates an action, that generates a reaction, and this cascade of actions and reactions determines one’s next incarnation. A human life, being the highest in the entire creation, is, indeed, achieved after great tribulations through multiple existences at lower levels of consciousness, and it is a pity if it is wasted, and one slides back into inferior realms by living unwholesomely. Virgil writes in the Aeneid (Book VI, lines 126-129, as translated by the English poet, John Dryden (1631 1700):The gates of hell are open night and day Smooth the descent, and easy is the way: But to return, and view the cheerful skies, In this the task and mighty labor lies.I have derived a three-fold code of living a good life, from the Shrimad Bhagavad Gita. The first is to act upon your circumstances, मा ते सङ्गः (च) अकर्मणि मा अस्तु. Action is not optional (II. 47). The second is to act wholesomely, and not selfishly. One must surrender to one’s fate, माम् एकम् शरणम् व्रज (XVIII.66). Attend to the situation in the best way possible, without grudging and complaining. And finally, one must learn to be satisfied in one’s own self, आत्मनि एव आत्मना तुष्टः. Being alive and experiencing bliss is the greatest blessing (II.55).
There was a great tennis player, Arthur Ashe (1943 –1993), whom I admired as a teenager, for his graceful style. He won the singles title at Wimbledon, the US Open, and the Australian Open. But fate was cruel to him, and Ashe contracted HIV from a blood transfusion he received during a heart bypass surgery in 1983. However, rather than moaning over the tragedy, he dedicated the rest of his life, albeit a short one, to service. He founded the Arthur Ashe Foundation for the Defeat of AIDS and the Arthur Ashe Institute for Urban Health, before his death in 1993. For several years, I used his words, ‘Start where you are, use what you have, do what you can,’ as a footer in my email.
It is futile to get annoyed that your position is not good, that you are at a disadvantage, that conditions are unfavourable, people are against you, and so on. Acceptance of your situation and/ or condition, as well as putting in conscious efforts to make the best of the same and moving on from the undesirable situation, is fundamental to living a peaceful and meaningful life. Easy money, entitlements, and rise without effort have never been good to whoever had gone after them.
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