A Reason For Being.

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The Japanese have a word for this – Ikigai.

Try as I might, I cannot find this particular type of Reason For Being at my present age of three score and fifteen. What possible reason can motivate me to get up in the morning to face another day? I often write about the impact that Viktor Frakl’s book Man’s Search For Meaning had on me some decades ago, and now struggle to find some meaning to his conclusion of the Western kind. He concludes “it did not really matter what we expected from life, but rather what life expected from us. We needed to stop asking about the meaning of life, and instead think of ourselves as those who were being questioned by life—daily and hourly. Our question must consist, not in talk and meditation, but in right action and in right conduct. Life ultimately means taking the responsibility to find the right answer to its problems and to fulfill the tasks which it constantly sets for each individual.”

Truth be told, what gets me up in the morning is simply that I cannot sleep after 5.00 am no matter how late I go to sleep because of habit ingrained from boyhood when a martinet of a father insisted that we got up when the crows cawed which was inevitably well before sunrise and day break.

Subsequently, I got into the habit of meditating and yogabhyas in the mornings which continue to occupy my time in the mornings but, those two activities are not the reason for my being.

I look forward to reading the morning newspapers and solving the crossword puzzles in them. Is that the reason for my being? Once I finish those very likeable activities at around 12.00 noon, what will keep me going? The prospect of lunch, the siesta that inevitably follows, the session at the computer to catch up with mail, facebook posts etc?

I wonder what the Japanese will suggest as a word for someone like me!

Which wondering brings me to the Indian philosophical approach to the same situation. It is called Purushartha or The Object Of Human Pursuit. Please do spend some time on the Wikipedia exposition on this concept so that, you can follow my take on life’s purpose in my current stage of development.

The four components, Dharma, Artha, Kaama, Moksha can be compared to a bracelet of three beads with Dharma being the holding string that holds the three otehr beads together. In other words, a morally lived life of acquiring means to enjoy the pleasures of life which hopefully will take one to a stage of satiety and the last stage of seeking freedom from the very essence of life, wanting! Moksha is the ultimate goal for Indians which can be obtained by learning and understanding the highest philosophical ideas. This process is called Shravanam, mananam, nidhidhyasanam, or, learining, understanding and reflecting on the knowledge gained. Quite a bit of my time is taken on this activity and so my Ikigai may well be Moksha!

Book Review – Mark Manson.

In my post An Unexpected Gift, I had undertaken to review the book that I had received as the gift. I also take you to Ekoshapu’s post where he wondered if I would comment on two observations that he made there and I will combine both the review and my comments here.

First the language. Having braced myself for a barrage of foul language based on various comments and the reviews that I had read, I was pleasantly surprised to find the four letter word more or less disappearing after the first couple of chapters. Once Manson gets into his stride with his message, he does not seem to require the crutches of the f*** word and the reading becomes quite placid. Towards the end he does use it a few times but not to the same intensity as he does in the beginning.

Now to the content. As self help books go, this is one that people of my age, Tammy and Monk, I hope that you agree, can safely ignore. Unlike Manson who is now is his thirties and still with a long life ahead of him, there are two issues that we do not need to address. One, we have nothing to prove to anyone including ourselves, and two, we are quite familiar with the prospect of impending death.

The other recommendations that Manson makes will perhaps be of use to younger, and particularly Western and Westernised Indians grappling with the pressures of modern living and expectations. In other words, people of my age, both Western and Indian have no need for this rethinking. We made our mistakes and learnt from them in a different world with different value systems.

It is still a good read. If you are the type that would like to learn how young minds work now, this is the book for you.

Coming to the two observations that Ekoshapu wanted me to respond to:

1. You can’t be an important and life-changing presence for some people without also being a joke and an embarrassment to others.

I am in total agreement. Over the years, I have come to accept that I will not be universally popular and that there is no point in running a popularity contest. There will be people who will like me for what I am and more who will think that I am not worth a thought. This is indeed life and the sooner one learns this, one’s expectations from relationships of all kinds become realistic and manageable. Manson addressed this issue to those people who want to be liked by everyone. An impossibility.

2. Our culture today is obsessively focused on unrealistically positive expectations: Be happier. Be healthier. Be the best, better than the rest. Be smarter, faster, richer, sexier, more popular, more productive, more envied, and more admired. Be perfect.

It is. No doubts whatsoever in my mind and my response is that I am not a participant in that value system. I am at the twilight of my life and am content with the way I am and with the things that I have. I am in the process of getting rid of things rather than acquiring them and that includs value systems too. I have nothing to prove to anyone, not even to myself.

I would like to share my experience when it comes to item number one too.

  1. Who you are is defined by what you’re willing to struggle for. It’s the most simple and basic component of life. Our struggles determine our successes.

I hope that Ekoshapu takes my word for what I am about to say.  I never had to struggle for position or possession.  I grew into middle and old age at a time when just having a secure job was a blessing.  Positions and possessions just happened by my being in the right places at the right times and in the absence of strong competition. My favourite quote is and has been for decades:

“Sitting quietly, doing nothing, spring comes and the grass grows by itself.”
~ Basho.

An issue that Manson treats with great attention is “Commitment”. To Ekoshapu, I point out that this is the single most important value to take away from the book. I speak from experience.

If there is one more that I would choose to highlight, that is “The only way to overcome pain is to first learn how to bear it.”

Checked Out Characters.

I have this remarkable young friend who keeps stumping me with singular insights and terminology that sometimes zaps me. We were discussing some personalities yesterday and he came up with a description of two people I know as Checked Out Characters. In my opinion, very apt but, perhaps for my readers a little explanation is necessary.

The two personalities that I was discussing yesterday are from a sub group of Indians who due to education and with the help of some assistance from providence, have moved out of their base group and moved into  the so called elite of our society. Somewhat akin to the nouveau rich or the upwardly mobile in the social sense of the term.

Let us take some examples. I have cousins who went to schools that taught little English language and so condemned them to a life of lower middle class. On the other hand, I have cousins who went to schools which taught in the English medium which enabled them to go on to study Engineering or Medicine or to get into the Civil Services etc. Both sets of cousins come from the same stock and background in terms of religion, caste, economy etc, but one set simply due to the accident of one type of education took of on a tangent different from the other.

So far so good. The problem with the latter group of cousins is that they look down upon the former as being somehow inferior and avoid socialising with them to the extent possible. The former on the other hand having seen this phenomenon, struggle to put their children through the English medium schools and at considerable sacrifice succeed. Both sets of cousins now have their children qualified and very likely working in the Silicon Valley as computer coolies but sending money back home.

The divergent cousins now converge and strut around in relative prosperity and look down on the less fortunate ones.

My young friend called these characters as Checked Out characters implying that they have checked out of their roots and pretend to be something other than what they are.

I can come up with people from all walks of life who fit into this description. I love it. I intend not only using it to describe people but also to take some people down a few pegs.

Women And Men.

“We talk about how many women were raped last year, not how many men raped women. We talk about how many girls in a school district were harassed last year, not about how many boys harassed girls. We talk about how many teenage girls in the state of Vermont got pregnant last year, rather than how many boys and men impregnated teenage girls.

Even the term ‘violence against women’ is problematic. It’s a bad thing that happens to women, but when you look at that term, ‘violence against women,’ nobody is doing it to them. It just happens to them. Men aren’t even a part of it.”

~ Jackson Katz

Sanctity Of Life.

As has happened so many times in my life, synchronicity strikes again.

I read about an assault on a gynaecologist in this morning’s newspapers. Abortion is legal in India incidentally, but only under specified circumstances. This is an adjunct to our thrust on family planning and I have no quarrel with the legality or the ethics part of it. Since there are other problems involved in that, I don’t wish to elaborate but suffice it to say, that I am impressed by the doctor’s insistence on being on the right side of the law and condemn the goons who attacked him.

I read the newspapers in the morning and after my siesta earlier this afternoon, I got this clip in Whatsapp from a friend.

And that is the synchronicity!

The Pythagorean Cup.

You can learn all about the Pythagorean cup in this Wikipedia entry.

Like many other events in my life there has been synchronicity here too. On Tuesday night, my friend Koushik who features in so many such synchronicities, exchanged ideas with me about Aparigraha as a way of life. Lo and behold, just a few minutes later another friend Arun sent me the image that features on top showing the Pythagorean cup.

Let me quote a sentence from the Wikipedia entry; “The virtue of aparigraha means taking what is truly necessary and no more.” Is it not strange that the same concept seems to have worked on the mind of Pythagoras?

Further Wikipedia also quotes Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras;

Yoga Sutra’s sutra 2.39 states,

अपरिग्रहस्थैर्ये जन्मकथंतासंबोधः ॥३९॥

With constancy of aparigraha, a spiritual illumination of the how and why of motives and birth emerges. (39)

— Patanjali, Yoga Sutra 2.39

The symbol of this cup should also apply to the modern fad of Minimalism.

The Universe is sending me a big message. I am hearing it loud and clear.