In the Christian tradition, from a life of leisure and happines, after Adam and Eve eat the fruit of knowledge they are condemned to work and this has created the prejudice that all work is punishment in the education systems that have followed the Christian philosophy. We in India have been influenced by this belief due to the British education system that was imposed on us by our colonial masters. Little has been done to undo that.
In the Indian philosophical system, as enumerated in our scriptures, the perfect life follows certain stages of life. They are Childhood; Student days; Householder stage; Reflection Stage and finally, Renunciation stage. There is nothing special about this being exclusively Indian, and can apply to any society except for the last part renunciation. In that stage, in old age, the husband and wife withdraw from all attachments, physical and mental and withdraw into the forests to meditate and await their death.
In all the stages however, there is an undercurrent of Dharma. Dharma means virtue, duty or law, but is mainly concerned with doing the right thing. It is the moral law that gives structure to each human being and the cosmos. The concept is aimed at leading people through their lives and is concerned with the achievable rather than the ideal. In its simplest form a dharmic life is one where one lives the way he would want others to let him live. This immediately means, not doing anything to anybody or anything that one would not be done to him/her. Thus, the concept of Ahimsa, not causing any kind of discomfort to other beings. Throughout the journey of life, one is expected to strive for the ideal but adapt to the possible and the practical. It is also taught that work is a privilege and not a duty to be performed for reward. Reward is to be expected but to be accepted in whatever form it arrives, expected or otherwise.
In modern India, that ideal is as good as dead. I believe that it is so because of our confused state of mind, neither completely Indian nor completely Western. The ideal life is practiced in the breach by a minuscule minority of Indians while the vast majority strives for the modern “Perfect Life”. What does this translate to? Simply stated the same thing as all the world strives for. Materially prosperous, modern life with security and all conveniences available to the world, particularly, the material conveniences available to the Western world.
This has brought about a great deal of conflict between the modern and the traditional and in one particular aspect of life, that is the family, the old traditions have, or are in the process of complete breakdown. From the Joint family system of the past, to the modern unitary families with limited accommodation unable to handle dependents due to space, resources etc, alienation and stress with particularly hard impacts on the aged has taken place and one of the most touching phenomenon is the pitiable condition of our old people’s homes.
In my personal life, I have tried to live the Perfect Life without much difficulty. I however must emphasize that the ideal is still elusive whereas the having to adapt to the possible and the practical is constant. In this process however, the other players in my life are striving for their own Perfect Life and there lies the rub. Their ideas of what is perfect and my idea of what is perfect are rarely common. The frustrating reality is the inability to follow the traditional dharmic stages, which I would dearly like to, due to the pull of the other dharmic compulsions. When I confronted my Guru about this frustrating reality, he simply said, “Do your duty with an attitude that it is a privilege, to the best of your ability and that is Dharma.” In other words, I cannot run away from my responsibilities because the others in my life have not or do not, live according to our Perfect Stages of Life!
It is a perfect life or what?
This post is the Loose Consortium Bloggers’ Friday post when Ashok, Conrad, Grannymar, Magpie11, Maria, Gaelikaa, Helen, Judy, Anu and Ginger write on the same topic. Please do visit the other blogs to taste the different flavours. Some of these bloggers may be preoccupied with examinations, family problems and/or romance, so be a little indulgent in case they do not post or post late.