“Bahut diyaa dene waale ne tujhko
Aanchal hi naa samaaye toh kyaa kije
Beet gaye jaise yeh din rainaa
Baaki bhi kat jaaye duaa kije” – Shankardas Kesarilal “Shailendra”
[Providence has provided you bounties aplenty
(so much) as to not be contained in your cloak, what might you do
just as these days and nights have passed
pray that the remaining (life/time) also goes by]
The poem is a wonderful allegory highlighting possibly, our outlook on life. First, focusing not on what is available to us, instead hankering for what we desire to possess. Second, not being mindful to express gratitude for the privilege of our life.
Each morning when going forth to seek alms, Buddhist disciples were admonished to not ask for charity which was to be left entirely to the discretion of a householder. The novices could only approach the doorway and wait; occasionally they would get a handful of grains or leftover bread, sometimes they would be waved away. Furthermore, their daily benediction was to be limited to the amount that could be accommodated in cupped palms or their begging bowl. They were prohibited to seek more or save any unconsumed alms for the next day. The underlying philosophy is that by seeking more than one’s daily needs a pupil might feel jealous if he received less rations than a fellow student; this perceived inequity might anger him; he could become fearful that alms might not be received; the pupil could give in to temptation and greed to hoard for a “rainy day”, which could also cause him to worry that someone might steal his cache. This might well be a parable attributed to the Enlightened One but serves to highlight that by not being mindful, inattention to our base emotions easily triggers thoughts that manifest themselves into negative or unproductive physical actions.
I was very fortunate to spend a few quality years with someone I can identify in several ways – a good friend, father figure, mentor and a kaamil murshad (the complete Master). (Late) Professor Harbinder Singh had the rare ability of providing simple, easy to understand explanations for complex matters of theology, philosophy or life issues, generally. I remember something he once said to me, “Puttar (son, in Punjabi), I want to draw your attention to the birds around us. These God’s creatures wake up each morning singing songs of praise as they fly out to gather food for their chicks. They do not know whether they will find anything or whether their chicks would be safe from predators and still be there waiting to be fed, when the parent birds return to their nest at dusk. Yet, these birds do not worry about the unknown, but implicitly trust the power that created them would also take care of their sustenance. The birds are content to behave intrinsically – they chirp happily and remain carefree, mindful only of the present moment. Man on the other hand, is a “naa-shukraa” (ungrateful being). He suppresses natural instincts and instead uses the faculty of intellect to plot and plan for the future to compete and get ahead, deluded into believing that this life experience is not everlasting. Man is allowing the power granted to him by nature to be suppressed by weaker and unfavorable emotions of worry, anger, greed, fear that lead to stress”.
When our daughter graduated from High School, she was unsure of the subjects she might read at University. She respected her English Literature teacher Mr. S and so we went to seek his counsel. He told us that he could readily recall a handful of his students over the three odd decades of his teaching career. These were kids who had enjoyed English language and were passionate about literature; our daughter was one such student according to him. Mr. S urged her not to give up on her passion. He added that many of his former students had switched from Humanities and gone on to study law, medicine or business etc., under influence or duress by family or friends. A number of them had “done well” and were very successful in their chosen profession. Their current positions provided them wealth and a very comfortable lifestyle but very little satisfaction. But, said Mr. S, most of these students had confided to him that while not entirely unhappy, if given a chance to start all over they would have opted to studying and doing what they enjoyed instead of being in the profession they had selected. Some even said they hated waking up each morning and having to go to work but were unable to break out of this cycle because of the fear their current lifestyle could not be otherwise sustained.
It is not difficult to see how we have arrived at this juncture. Today, instant gratification is the mantra. First class marketing techniques first create a demand and then surreptitiously make us believe it is a need that must be satisfied. This is coupled with tools that make available anything we want (perhaps not need) from anywhere at any time at the click of a few strokes on our computer keypad or mobile app. Money is not a limiting factor any more, thanks to credit that encourages us to live beyond our means. Peer pressure – compounded manifold through social media – dictates not just our consumption behavior but is reshaping our very being. We are more mindful of what others might think of us, instead of recognizing our inner values and staying true to our own self.
It is not wrong to be ambitious, to strive to attain greater heights. But, how does one balance this burning desire to achieve more, versus current satisfaction? When is enough, enough? Contentment arises from simplicity, I think. In a conversation with Professor Singh, we agreed there is merit in the equation
HAPPINESS = SATISFACTION divided by DESIRE
Just like the Rolling Stones, I can’t get No Satisfaction!