Monday, December 30, 2013

What do you think about fate?

A question posed by my wife to me. I gave her an answer that she seemed to like. Sharing it here :)

There is a famous sanskrit phrase - 'Tamasoma Jyotirgamya'. For most people, the meaning of this phrase is the standard translation 'lead me from darkness to light'. But this is just the translation from sanskrit to english. To know the meaning means to have experienced the process being referred to.

Take for example any characteristic we have, or any attitude towards important life dimensions - ones attitude towards money or ones outlook towards class/caste/religion etc or ones feelings with respect to career / social status / marriage / love / politics etc. Most often than not, our views / outlook is not something that has been arrived at by carefully observing all the relevant factors. Even for those who claim to do so (like many modern day liberals), there could be many subconscious biases that guide the decision making process. In most scenarios, the individuals outlook is there due to the flow of (seemingly) arbitrary events in nature - our birth in the family and society (macro and micro) where we were born, the time in human civilisation, our experiences since birth etc. This flow of prakruthi (nature) has produced certain characteristics / tendencies in the world as a whole and also in us. The right word for this tendency to maintain status quo is 'inertia'. The sanskrit word 'tamas' alludes to this.

For example, for some of the students I teach Yoga to, I tell them that Ill not quote a fees. They are free to pay or not to pay and if they pay, they are free to choose an amount. This puts them in some amount of difficulty - much like the one they experience when I ask them to stay for a while in prasarita pada uttanasana! They are similar in the sense that initially both are quite uncomfortable but slowly they both help to throw light on things (stiff back / hamstrings in one case and relationship with money in the other) that exist but one does not know. in addition, both these explorations can be beneficial (at least in my opinion) :)

This disturbs the students and usually makes them sit up and take notice about the unusual situation they find themselves in. That they are disturbed is natural as they will (correctly) be worried if there are other strings attached. But, I do not do this to trouble them but to set up the space such that they come in touch with their relationship with money. We will happily blow 300 rupees on some stupid movie but will fight for a single rupee with a share auto driver. This is not necessarily wrong but I am pointing at our relationship with money (which not many of us are aware of) from which this behaviour stems. 

The various reactions I encounter are worth looking at. Some keep on negotiating and throw the ball back at me, some just choose an amount and settle down with it, some pay in excess to play it safe, some choose an amount but are constantly worried if it is appropriate and finally some sternly ask me to be professional and quote a price. None of these is wrong and I am NOT trying here to make any judgements here. This is just an attempt at exploring the various reactions which in turn stem from various characteristics of the individuals in question and in particular their relationship with money. The interesting question here is that how many of them are aware of their characteristics and their relationship with money that bring about this behaviour. In my opinion, not many. A few of them for whom this rankling is there, talk to me about this at some point. Then, there is a chance for further exploration. That would then be an attempt at experientially exploring the above wise saying from the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad.

But, one need not let this tamas completely dominate ones life. One can actually be free from this tamas at least in some dimensions of ones life. To do so, one has to carefully observe all relevant factors (external and internal). Then one is not programmed into exhibiting the default behaviour. This default behaviour (interaction of our tendencies with that of the worlds') is what is usually referred to as fate. Observing it and getting in touch with it is metaphorically referred to as throwing light on it (as one becomes conscious of their existence which one was not earlier). This throwing light on many of our default characteristics leads to lot of self discovery. If one experiments with this in ones life and ensures that one is free of all default behaviour in at least one dimension of ones life, then, in my opinion, that individual can be said to have had a taste of the above mentioned sanskrit aphorism.

But, to do this takes a bit of effort. One must be willing to let go of old patterns of behaviour and change one selves. Any such attempt is equivalent to breaking ones built up sense of self and this inevitably leads to some amount of pain. Young kids experience this often but since they are quite flexible they learn fast. As we grow old, we cannot ape the kids as we also need to be strong and not let the worlds thinking capture us all the time. So, the need is to simultaneously be strong and flexible. This is also one of the aims of asana practice - to make the spine strong and flexible. I remember once playing with a discarded bee hive in a farm. It was extremely strong and flexible. If we build up enough desire to develop such an ability in us, then we will be able to develop the right kind of discrimination that will help us identify appropriate pains and endure them in order to develop desirable qualities and overcome the relentless flow of tamas. This then takes us away (at least to some extent) from the default behaviour or fate! If not, one shall surely be consumed by the incredible flow of prakruthi!

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