Recognizing Reality

by | Jul 1, 2023

As the first Noble Truth, Buddha declared that life is suffering. According to the legend, Prince Gautama Siddhartha was restricted to his palace by his father, who worried that he might become an ascetic due to a prophecy made at the time of his birth. However, on his first trip out of the palace, Gautama saw four things: a man bowed with old age, a sick person, a corpse, and a wandering ascetic, and wondered whether this was all there was to life. He felt a spiritual urgency and became a wandering monk, which eventually led to his enlightenment.

This is a story that each of us is living. In our busy lives, surrounded by activities – chasing happiness, comforts, friends and loved ones, and more wealth – blank moments stare back at us, questioning the fruitfulness of life in this intrinsic vanity fair and narcissistic theatre that we have turned our lives into. However, because we are extensively conditioned by society, we emerge from this discomfort sooner rather than later and return to our fantasy of daily life, of earning a living and making money, a large portion of which goes into the system that generated the delusion. In this process, we try to avoid the truth of our existence, and this inevitably creates pain.  

The reality is that each one of us has come into this world, not at our bidding, and must depart someday, not at our chosen time and not on our chosen terms. Understanding this Reality is the first step towards enlightenment. I am not an exception; I am like everyone else. What applies to me applies to everyone else and vice versa. Others also value their viewpoints, ideas, and judgments in the same way that I do. Like me, others like a certain hue, a certain flower, or a certain meal, but their preferences differ from mine. The stubbornness that my choices and preferences are superior and must be followed by others, is the source of my anguish.

Reality does not need or seek our approval. We will just make ourselves sad in the end by resisting reality. Our suffering stems from a single belief: that reality should be different than it is. We have been taught that the world should be a certain way, and when reality falls short of our expectations, we are disappointed. However, that upheaval originates within us, not from the outer world. Reality is unconcerned with what we want it to be. It simply is what it is.

No amount of adamantly denying facts will change the world. Yet, we frequently act as though this isn’t the case. We oppose reality with growing zeal and obstinacy, as if the universe will bend to the will of a single person. This is childish hubris that must be overcome as we mature into adults and even approach old age. We suffer the false belief that if we are unhappy enough, the world will notice and bend to our will. People do this by worrying themselves ill, overworking, or withholding love from others whom they perceive do not love them properly.

All of these approaches are unsuccessful attempts to change reality by making people unhappy. They are all inoperable. Even those whose jobs indicate that they serve you maids, drivers, security guards, hotel servers, vendors, and so on are there as part of a social contract, not because their lives are less important than yours. Accept others as if they are doing their best. Remember, they would have done better if they could. Recognize that like you do what you want, others also have the right to be themselves.

We are continuously bombarded with political and commercial propaganda, thanks to electronic media. We are conditioned to learn a stimulus that is designed to elicit a response to determine whom we vote for in elections, what we buy with our money, and whom we love and hate. This sponsored propaganda is neither knowledge nor entertainment. Who is the owner of the TV channel? How much money do TV anchors make? In debates, who is opinionated and who is knowledgeable?

There is a continual attempt in public discourse to make people feel nervous and uncomfortable, in the hope that they will feel better by purchasing specific items, following particular leaders, and strengthening a creed. It is a subtle game of controlling people and making them serve vested interests. You can’t change it, and neither can anyone else. The best that can be done is to recognize the reality – differentiating what is genuine from what is fake. The ability to see the motives behind actions is a great skill. 

These are the times of Kali Yuga, the Age of Decadence, with struggle, dissension, disagreement, and contention. Injustice and inequity prevail, and the right actions do not always result in the right outcomes. According to Hindu mythology, Kali Yuga began when Shri Krishna’s incarnation ended and would span many thousand years before the planet is destroyed and re-created after a period of dormancy and another cycle resumes. You have to embrace the current way of circumstances without panic or despair like a bird stranded on a rock in the middle of the ocean. 

The challenge is to remain good and do what is right even when everything around you is unjust and the people you live with are unreasonable. It is vital to understand that acceptance and agreement are not the same thing. It is possible to accept reality without agreeing to it. Whether we like it or not, we must admit that injustice exists. However, accepting the existence of unfairness does not entail that we approve of it. Acceptance allows us to perceive reality for what it is. Our erroneous notions of denial collide with reality’s granite, causing a spark that eventually burns us. The acceptance of reality makes dealing with it much easier.

Accept the existence of others as a part of your life and reality.  Allow life to live through you by letting go of your biases. The unpleasant things, challenges, difficulties, disputes, and quarrels are all created to bring out the best in you. Take them as a learning experience, learn from them, and move on. Accept that suffering will always be a part of your life; there is no getting away from it. The best advice I have ever come across is that of Mahatma Gandhi, who said, “Be the change you want to see in the world.” If you want others to be kind to you, start by being kind to them. If you wish to get more money, start by giving a little to those in need. And if you want others to tell you the truth, first start telling yourself the truth.

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19 Comments

  1. Thought provoking blog, Prof Tiwariji !

    Your concept of recognizing reality is brilliant !!

  2. Another engaging piece sir!
    This blog emphasizes the fundamental truth that life often throws curveballs and our resistance to accepting the reality is what amplifies our pain. The story of Prince Gautama Siddhartha serves as a powerful reminder that we, too, are on a journey of self discovery and enlightenment.
    Societal conditioning pulls us away from the truth and leads us to seek happiness and validation in external pursuits. The mention of the current times as the age of decadence resonates with the challenges that we face in a world filled with injustice and inequality. Despite the difficulties it is important to remain true to our values even when we are surrounded by unfairness.
    By aligning our actions with our values we can contribute to a more compassionate and truthful existence.

  3. Thank you for making us think by bringing up problems that are essential yet often overlooked in public debate. We are undoubtedly living in an era of chronic, large-scale, and extraordinarily complex syndromes of global economic and environmental interdependence. In comparison to previous generations of challenges, these new illnesses are marked by profound scientific uncertainty, large choice costs, and time and geographic scales that exceed those of most social organizations. The challenges posed by such increased complexity will worsen during the next century as the number of people, amount of industrial production, and demand for agricultural products all double or more.

    Many problems are dealt with in isolation, whether for political reasons, such as CFC impacts on the ozone layer, which has clear corrective methods, or for public relations reasons, such as poverty and a lack of civic amenities for many people. When problems are viewed in this light, solutions can be found. This method fails to address much more fundamental issues, whether economic, social, or environmental, that arise because of the system’s complex dynamics. “There is a constant attempt in public discourse to make people feel nervous and uncomfortable in the hope that they will feel better by purchasing specific items, following specific leaders, and strengthening a creed,” you remarked spot on.

  4. I have said this before in the comments to your blogs and I’ll say it again – among all, this is the best genre of your writing that I love reading.

    Always believed to live life on life’s terms. If it’s not broke then don’t fix it. Don’t worry about things that you have no control over, meaning people, places and things. What do we have control over is ourselves and the decisions we make.

    You learn to understand why it has to be that way, what is good about the way it is, even though it may be difficult to swallow. A lot of suffering in life comes from people having unrealistic expectations of reality which, when contradicted by the course events take, causes a great deal of emotional distress.

    Additionally, suffering and misery builds character, it is only through the confrontation with your own inadequacies that you may begin to manifest strength of character and of mind. ‘What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger’ may be cliche, but it has a firm basis in fact; bad experiences show you not only what you are capable of, but also how you are not what you could be, and they necessitate resilience by their very nature.

  5. Death has nothing terrifying about it if we live totally and intensely. Though I don’t read Osho’s works, I’m blessed with a friend who does. The idea of life and death as taught by Osho is indeed appealing. It help us understand that each moment is an eternity unto itself. All of us aren’t saints. So, getting carried away by politics and mundane stuff is quite natural. However, we must be cautious that it doesn’t eat into our zest for life.

    ‘Give us this day our daily bread’ makes a lot of sense since it’s about today and that today is enough unto itself. Unfortunately, everything has its time and validity period. And each one of us grow into and out of things as years pass by. As long as the music plays or till the music fades, let’s dance. Also, encourage/give a hand to people with two left feet to get up and groove.

  6. Great read. I saw a comment about blog towards being pessimistic. I think even when we know the reality sometime hope of the future plays important role in make us keep going. Balance of reality and hope is required to keep us sane…

  7. Sir, you are doing a great service by discussing these essential issues that no one is discussing these days.

    There is a pervasive sense of meaninglessness and purposelessness that pervades literature, art, and philosophy. Religion’s assurances have largely vanished. By fixing our practical issues, science merely serves to highlight this inner gap. People who are suffering from a sensation of vacuum may be doubtful about their own identity. Many of them have a divided self, with one part experiencing something and the other part dismissing the experience as illusory or unimportant.

    The way we spend our leisure time is closely tied to, and certainly a component of, the consumption process. Leisure has devolved into a meaningless, packaged mass pastime, with the entertainment business providing its ideals. Traditional human groupings are weakened or destroyed by mass society, leaving the individual at the mercy of impersonal communication such as that given by the media.

  8. Sir, your last blog about Unto This Last and this one on The Age of Decadence is encouraging us to recognize and point out the inequality in society, which is increasing at an alarming rate. It is often conceived of as the gap between the earnings of the richest and poorest members of society. But a mere walk of one kilometre in any modern city can show that beyond financial figures there are far greater inequities in modern society.

    Chief among these is inequality in access to healthcare. Most common people are suffering from one or the other ailment and not receiving any treatment. There are striking differences in the health and well-being of people displayed around by seeing sick people living without proper treatment and nutrition causing huge variations in life expectancy.

    Among India’s richest 1 percent, three are cricket and film stars. And behind both entertainment and cricket the businessmen are ruling us, and certainly not entertaining us. Something very wrong has already happened with our society and no one seems to bother about it.

  9. The modern world is defined by a refusal to accept or deny reality. There are various ways to do so, such as differing degrees of non-perception, misperception, non-recognition, non-understanding, or non-acceptance of particular facts in order to cope with otherwise intolerable intrapsychic conflicts, feelings, or memories.

    People also automatically resort to denial as a reaction to threats that they believe they are unable to handle; this denial, in turn, detracts from and restricts their prospective ability to address problems genuinely.

    Another part of reality denial is the inability to comprehend the repercussions of an event that has not only never been personally experienced but is also unfathomable due to its exceptional enormity. How long have we been denying climate change? We are looking at the skies after a month in which Hyderabad received no rain and Delhi had the coolest June in history.
    Thank you Sir.

  10. Wonderful blog Respected Sir. You hit the nail on the head when it comes to the most pressing issue confronting the current world. People no longer choose to address truth directly, having learnt and accepted that reality has become unmanageable for all practical purposes. To assuage exhausted and broken egos, people are increasingly devoting their energies to the multiplication and fabrication of trivia and unreality. Television’s growing significance is particularly pernicious in that it has become both a simulation of reality and reality itself.

    Thanks to 24×7 TV, the Internet and mobile, there is no such thing as reality anymore. People are living in an illusionary world presented to them by vested interests. Symbols, information, and entertainment have become so intertwined that few can tell them apart. Overexposure to escapism in entertainment such as TV, movies, and literature distracts people from their daily issues, encourages them to retreat into a fantasy world, and promotes individual and group apathy, stifling societal progress.

  11. Tauji, I enjoy the concept of this blog since it highlights one of modern society’s most pressing issues, especially for young people like me.

    In the absence of meaningful pictures, young people may make decisions that are excellent for them but have little bearing on the future of society. Most photos do not depict people’s interconnectedness; individuality notions have taken precedence. There is a tendency to flee from emerging circumstances.

    I wish you would write more on a “sleeping sickness of the soul,” which may be the greatest way to characterize the lack of meaning in our individual lives as well as the collective meaning that binds people together.

  12. श्रीमद् भागवत पुराण के स्कन्ध १२, अध्यायः २ के पहले श्लोक में शुकदेव स्वामी राजा परीक्षित से कहते हैं कि कलियुग में:

    ततश्चानुदिनं धर्मः सत्यं शौचं क्षमा दया।
    कालेन बलिना राजन् नङ्‌क्ष्यत्यायुर्बलं स्मृतिः॥

    और फिर, दिन-प्रतिदिन, धार्मिकता, सत्य, पवित्रता, क्षमा और दया।
    हे राजन, समय के साथ जीवन शक्ति और स्मृति नष्ट हो जायेगी।

  13. I agree with many points which you have mentioned. You wrote it from observation and your vast experience with different characters around you. Regarding your thoughts on political and commercial propaganda via media, you reminded me of the horrible situation in Manipur, Northeast India. It is unfortunate that the nation is lending a deaf ear to the political and ethnic crisis in Manipur.

  14. A brilliant post, as usual, Arun ji !

  15. Your blog today is too pessimistic. Every day is a blessing. As Robert Kennedy said, “Some men see things as they are and say why. I dream of things that never were, and say, why not?”

  16. It has always been a ‘Kali Yuga’. Sat Yuga is a myth. And the man made end of this world is not far away. There have been many mass extinctions in the past. Life will start again as it did many times before. The cycle will go on till this earth becomes unfit for any kind of habitation. We may then become another planet like Mars. Most suffering we see around is self inflicted. That’s the TRUTH.

  17. Dear Sir, Your blog reminded me of the book “Joy of Giving” by former US President Bill Clinton. Karma plays an important role in our life, what we give comes back to us in similar or different forms. When you give something to the needy, he gives back some blessings and the energy transforms your life, nature starts working towards you and tries to give back to you what you have given to society or nature.

    God has granted me with some extra, I am living with this reality, and always try to help people in need, and it seems working for me, commenting on your blog from Sydney, Australia is proof of that, will keep doing my work.

  18. It is an astonishing, amazing and intriguing life that crisscrosses the bitter truth and realities of life. Take home at any moment is accept things as they are to be in unison with the ultimate realization of our own self while we align with the outside world. To be happy and meaningfully contributing in life is virtue to be learnt and acquired.

  19. Dear Prof Tiwari, it is always a pleasure reading your words of wisdom. Time and life have taught you many lessons. Thank you for sharing them with the world.

    Your piece just reminded me of the reality of life and how to deal with it. In my sixties now, I share some of the same life experiences you are highlighting. I will also remind your readers of the “Serenity Prayer” that has proved true to my life experiences:

    “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference, living one day at a time; enjoying one moment at a time; taking this world as it is and not as I would have it; trusting that You will make all things right if I surrender to Your will; so that I may be reasonably happy in this life and supremely happy with You forever in the next. Amen.” By Reinhold Niebuhr.

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