Just Another Wake-up Call

Murali Sivaramakrishnan[Professor of English at Pondicherry University, India. He is also a poet and painter. His recent publication includes the poetry book Silversfish.                     E-mail: <smurals@gmail.com>

It had rained so heavily last night. But now the dawn has brought so
much soft light on the wet boughs and silken flowers. Everything appears
fresh and clean. The sky bears an amazing touch of blue. From where
I sit on the low balcony of my house I can see right up to the end of the
street where it turns sharply to the left and right hiding beyond the heavy
laden trees. Now there is a shower of insects. There are termites all over
the place. Crows, mynas, drongos and magpie robins are dashing in and
out of the strange volcano-like eruptions from the ground. Millions and
millions of tiny winged creatures zoom about only to be devoured in hundreds
by these birds and other little lizards and hairy mongooses which
join them. This is certainly a protein rich repast for them. Nature is so
strange. Each one thrives on the other. Life is one long unending chain.
And yet the survival of each species is ensured through different means.
The termites might be food for the birds but their sheer numbers makes
them outlive their predators. It is not the time span or specific niche in the
food chain that ensures this, for after all in nature time means different
stuff for different species.
They say that the Mayfly has the shortest life span of all living creatures.
It lives barely for one day. And within this short life circuit the entire
drama of birth, growing up, reproduction and the ensurance of the species
and death comes full circle. Some moths and butterflies live a little longer
and dragon flies live up to a week. While on the other hand, the longevity
of elephants and tortoises takes them close to a century and beyond
sometimes. All life forms on earth have their own intrinsic space and time,
and one significant point we have to bear in mind is that they are there
for themselves and they play a significant role in the biosphere and ecosphere.
We can say they have intrinsic significance which means they have
essential rights to exist independently of what we humans might consider
their worth. Of course we human beings have the definite capacity to decide
their fate and destiny because of our might and forceful histories. We
have become the dominant species on earth the masters of all our universe
(until we encounter such superior alien creatures in other planets or stars
which is a future possibility). But for the present we humans have absolute
right of control over all of this planet earth, this third rock from the sun.
I once heard someone state over the television that Americans have
such superior weapons nowadays that they can destroy the entire earth
nine times! This immediately made me wonder how such a threat is feasible!
Simply because once the earth is destroyed there would not be another
to destroy a second time let alone till the ninth! But the threat is obviously
a bit exaggerated for the sake of its magnitude! Of course humans do have
the power to annihilate all life forms including ourselves. This is certainly
a potential threat to all nature.
But nature thrives through creation and destruction. Even the giant
reptiles of the Jurassic age had to face extinction through the great ice age.
Nevertheless nature did find a continuity in ensuring the success of life by
permitting new and newer life forms to germinate even after such a massive
catastrophe. It is said that even after a horrendous chemical warfare
cockroaches can survive to live another day! Perhaps they have evolved
their own biological adaptations after encountering repeated attacks from
us humans inventing and reinventing several chemical and biochemical
atomisers and such stuff to eradicate what we hold as pests from our domestic
spheres! Life does find new ways!
We humans are indeed great consumers. We gorge on our planet. And
down the centuries as we read in our history books we have been exploring
and conquering new territories inside our earth as well as on the surface
and even above our earth. We have created cultures and civilizations,
languages and technologies that have helped us spread all over the globe.
There is virtually no place on earth which has not felt the shadow of a
human being! Our great creativity and adaptability has ensured our survival and success. There is little doubt that us humans are the sole owners
of this mass of rock from the sun. We might defend ourselves by saying
that we have every right to ensure our own survival because we are the
dominant species on earth. We can command the fate of all else. And now,
even if we do produce a mass of garbage which might pollute our earth and
water and air around us we can eventually find new scientific means to
get rid of all that. There are many among us who would strongly advocate
for human beings alone as the apex creations of god – after all we are the
direct decedents of god – he or she produced us in their own image (this is
what our religions would teach us).
This I have heard: humans are not the only creatures who leave debris
behind. Large herds of wandering elephants pull down and destroy
innumerable trees, thorny shrubs and bushes. Aren’t they then culprits of
destruction of nature and habitat? With the discovery of fire human tribes
have torched and scorched miles and miles of bush and terrain down the
history. So then, why only blame our present day generation solely for habitat
destruction?
Having said that, we come to realise that the axe and the fire have laid
waste miles and miles of living land through countless generation. But the
point is simply that now we have reached such a pass that we do not have
any more chance: we have reached a cul de sac in our history and the history
of our planet. We have the first wake up call.
We have built up our civilizations and cultures with us humans as the
centre of it all. When we put our interests in front of everything such a
view is called anthropocentricism – human centred world views. Little do
we recognise as the intrinsic rights of all other non-human stuff to exist.
But nature as we have come to realise through all our learning and pursuit
of science, is something that cherishes what is called biodiversity. There
are innumerable living and non-living things that are besides the human
existence and they too have a need and necessity to exist side by side. In
fact it is through the continued preservation of this vibrant harmonious
web of life that we can also aid in our own survival. Ecology teaches us
that everything in our universe is interlinked with every other thing else.
We break one and it makes a dent in all others as well. When each animal,
each bird, each amphibian, each insect is deprived of its survival space – its
biological habitat – we also are making dents in the other interconnected
chains. We are locked in with everything else that exists. Some we can see
and make out, others are invisible to us but nevertheless exist. We have
so little right to assert our own right over everything else. But yet, this is
exactly what we have been trying to do so far. Our history, or rather our
environmental history is so full of our own footprints and finger prints.
We are the culprits.
Our second wake-up call is one that tells us our earth is not a garbage
dump! All the nations of the world produce waste and they are of several
levels from chemical to bio-chemical to nuclear waste. What do we normally
do when we are left with some waste? We simply dispose of it over
our wall; if it is in our neighbour’s yard it is safe beyond our sight. Now that
we have come to realise that all of this is our home where shall we dump
our waste? Is there space beyond stars? Can we find a distant galaxy where
we can heap all our waste?
These are not mere lists of facts or a fanciful array of fantasies – but
his could be a clarion call to stay awake and recognise our responsibilities.
We should not reach out for the snooze button
There has been no time in our histories as in the present when our
wake-up call has been so persistent. It is screeching. We have so polluted
our earth, our waters – including fresh water lakes, rivers and the seas –
and our air. We have to change our ways of living. Before that we need to
wake ourselves up. Do we need to wait till the last and final call has to go?
Was it indeed Mahatma Gandhi who said that we have not just inherited
the earth from our forefathers but simply borrowed it from our children!
My reverie is rudely broken by the door-bell. Someone is at the door.
I need to go and get the front door. The sunlight outside has become warmer
and shadows have started to shrink. The sun is moving beyond the tree
line up into the blue skies. The termite volcano appears to have subsided.
The crows have already left. Satiated no doubt with their fill of sumptuous
protein-rich meal. Only a couple of stray mynas still hang about pecking
at this and that. A couple of squirrels dash in and out of the bushes. Probably
the late comers. It dawns on me suddenly that I have left the lights on
inside my rooms. It is imperative that I conserve whatever is left, including
our electricity. I definitely do not want that doorbell to be the third and
final wake-up call. I am up and about in no time!

____________________________________________________________________________
Revista rile, joão pessoa-pb, v. 1, n. 1, p. 289-292, jan – jun 2018 
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The Virtual Gaze

Watching the replay of a not too recent India versus New Zealand cricket match on Television I was particularly struck by one of the innumerable advertisements that were played and replayed in between overs. A little girl with a pair of large glasses looks into a mirror and asks Father, Am I pretty? The dad’s voice tells her Of Course, you are. The girl replies: then why doesn’t anyone look at me? There follows a loose shot of a kindergarten class where the little girl looks longingly at a tiny boy next to her who is too busy writing on his notebook to notice anything! There is enough to put even Jacques Lacan to shame! But worse is to follow.  The father buys a large car and the girl sprawls in the seat and everyone stares at her! This is the height of ridiculousness. You are entitled to promote your ware and sell over the small screen anything and everything in this capitalist world. But what right do you actually have to twist and pervert the tender minds of million such kids who would certainly watch and imbibe these visuals innocently? What is the idea here? Is it the quality of your car or its comfort or even its elegance that is projected? The truth of the matter is the perversion of the look and gaze that is given undue focus here, perhaps deliberately, or even unawares?  How could the media feign irresponsibility in this matter?  What right do we have to corrupt the innocent minds of tiny tots—we have but borrowed our world from them!

Existentialist philosophers drew attention to the look and the gaze. Our very identity depends on the other and we share a reciprocal existence.  The look of the other could engender meaning in terms of pride, pleasure, position, or simple being. Of course the other, as Jean Paul Sartre reminds us, is always Hell! In a marvelous scene that connotes the situations of class- wars and class-consciousness, Eugene O’Neill in his play The Hairy Ape pits the look between two people of entirely different social class to tremendous advantage. The hero is a huge hunk of a hairy dark man who works in the coal-fuelled underworld of the steamship while the heroine is the representative of the tender, fragile, rich, aristocracy.  When the lady looks upon the dark awesome creature she yells and shrieks—there is a long minute of the look that transforms both at once.  The man is yanked off his feet and is too shocked to understand while the lady is even more shocked that such creatures like this one exists at all! The class-difference is too very well brought out here and the devastating impression of the look is dramatically established. A mere look can do wonders—it could shatter and disfigure—constitute, create, or crush. 

Feminist intellectuals over the last century have drawn attention to the gaze that they term is often the male variety.  The patriarchal world runs on established power structures that condition the male gaze even in women who might be biologically born as women but are re-conditioned into playing gender- stereotypical roles in life.  The male gaze operates virtually in all spheres of living and bestows its own value-systems. The female of the species quite unconsciously is also trapped in this social structure. In fact a great deal of the world of the market is strategically controlled by this sort of gaze: female beauty pageants and the entire market world of beauty products are dependent on this response to the male gaze. What a woman wants, what she is supposed to look like, what manner she is supposed to bear herself– all this is conditioned and manipulated by this devious device of the male gaze.

We have the look, we have the gaze. In the advertisement that we have noted above both these attitudes are unbearably taken advantage of. The little child is made to behave in an adult manner and fit into the mode of the patriarchal world view. Given the psychology of the child at that age, to believe Jacques Lacan, there would not be any possibility for the erasure of any given image in this early stage in the development of the child’s ego simply because it is only beginning to constitute.  The child is an innocent victim in this avaricious world of the adult thinking. Why should the little girl start thinking about the image of the public eye? Why in the heaven’s name should she be made to appear under the male gaze? If you want to sell a product couldn’t you do that without resorting to the corrupting eye? Not only do you desire to corrupt the present but you also desire to throw mud into the eyes of the future generation as well!

Our world is now manipulated totally by the virtual gaze. We are made to believe in the more real reality of the virtual than our own everyday reality!  What the media thinks and distributes, we are silently made to swallow and digest. And we are willful victims in this process of slow destruction and decay.  We need to sit up and resist. At least now, before it is too late. At least, some among us.

In one of his great plays Albert Camus the French existentialist intellectual has a unique scene that goes like this.  A handful of extremist rebels have decided to annihilate a powerful potentate. Their selected killer however backs out of the act of throwing the grenade into the vehicle of the dictator as it passes him by. The reason is simple: there were a couple of little children in the vehicle with him!  The message is clear: in our rage to annihilate the atrocities of the past and the present we have no business to commit any violence on the future! How could we make ourselves do this now? What right do we have to inculcate devious values into the future minds? We need to resist. And resist we must. The media of the present that is run on super technology might dig up some excuse or other, but we need to remember our responsibilities. After all we have only one earth and we are the last of the species, apparently, because we can think like human beings. Our gazes are already attaining the level of the virtual. Let us not be made virtual as well!

Playing Fair and Square on the Green Fields

The scene is the cricket match between India and the West Indies during the recent WorldCup.  Sachin Tendulkar is batting.  He has barely faced a few balls when one races through his arm-pad and lands in the wicket keeper’s gloves. There is no appeal—neither from the bowler nor from the wicket keeper. But Tendulkar is walking toward the pavilion. The players are stumped! And so are the million audiences over the world! Tendulkar realized perhaps that the ball had indeed grazed his forearm and so without waiting for the umpire’s decision he retired.  While in the commentary box the erstwhile icons of Indian Cricket Sunil Gavaskar and Ravi Sastri debated the issues and virtues of “walking” the play resumed.

Now, we in the present appear to have forgotten the fact that cricket is a game to be played with the sportsman spirit it calls for. In all fairness Tendulkar had demonstrated it albeit the fact that he was playing for a country and that there are enormous amounts of money involved in the whole process. After all, the entire industry of Indian cricket and the business of the World Cup with its whole rigmarole of mega crowds, hoardings, televisions and their ubiquitous commercials, big business offers and betting and so on, revolves round the strategic issue of big money. How could anyone deny that? The spirit of play may be one thing, but the spirit that runs the whole thing is another. In this context what has playing fair and square got to do with the game?

And what is game? What is play? What is fair and square in the field and off the field?  All games we must recognize are essentially sport, which entails entertainment, recreation, and exercise primarily. There is a whole history of human sports that would trace its evolution from the primordial ritual to the contemporary scenario of big Capitalist business. There is also the implied connection with war and destruction and domination: all contemporary games at the international level (and even at its minor levels) are perhaps symbolic versions of battles and wars—a mockery of the all consuming, vindictive passions of the human being!

            Game, Sports, Play—almost synonymous, but each are descriptive of different issues. Game as it is usually understood, is something innocuous, non-violent, played out for the sheer pleasure of it all, and for the most enjoyable and involving little or no disastrous physical violence. It has a beginning, middle and an end—there is a marked difference between the before and after in terms of the protagonists as well as the spectators; above all there is entertainment and enjoyment for all in a game. Sports I would categorize in the similar manner as one that involves outdoor, physical activities, for the most. Entertainment and enjoyment there is, no doubt. There is a game in Sport and there is a sport in game as well. But the point is that all games and sports have their own set of rules which are purely arbitrary, having evolved over the years over cultures and times. In simplistic terms we could even state that all games and sports are products of sets of rules—they keep varying of course, but their visible presence (read umpires, referees, field book etc) and invisible presence (read time, place, action etc) account for the structure of all games and sports. However, the concept of play is something rather loose. It has a structure, no doubt, but this is an ambiguous, amorphous and protean structure, very loose and almost a non-entity, as when children get together and play about.

All three words have conceptual backgrounds; their own socio-political, cultural, economic and historical dimensions too. The proto game-sport-play is of course shrouded in human prehistory. It has necessarily evolved over many centuries.  One could trace its graph from ritual to the romance of the Capitalist market economics of the present. However, there are these sets of rules that govern the logic and pattern of the game that is disrupted if not observed in practice. Rules, we recognize are invisible (or visible as the case may be)–threads that govern, condition and control all sports and games. The rules themselves are arbitrary and not nor never absolute, and this is what makes sports and games entertainment. For instance from the long colonial structure of a five day test match (with a rest day in between) how far has cricket come these days!  When Kerry Packer invited major players to a fifty-over limited version of the game there was so much hue and cry over the sanctity of the test match structure and its disruption. Nothing sanctified was violated but the limited over cricket game evolved and attracted more viewers and audience. Commerce and market caught on and the television and technology supplemented the game. From there to the twenty-twenty rules and regulations have been altered and amended from time to time: nothing has remained inviolable, everything was open to transformation, change. All it required was convenience, consent and consensus. All rules are subject to change, very much like human history. We play on.

Jacques Derrida the harbinger of deconstruction—a veritable destructive and reconstructive practice of re-reading and reinterpreting interpretations themselves—initiated the whole issue of recognizing the play element in human sciences while delivering a significant address in the mid sixties in the Johns Hopkins University in the US [See Jacques Derrida, “Structure, Sign and Play in the Discourse of the Human Sciences,” Alan Bass, tr. Writing and Difference (1966), pp. 278-95)]. According to him, human history (read western history of ideas) has been one structured round the idea of centre and periphery. It has been a virtual centre that has potentially ruled, manipulated and conditioned the structured thinking of the human being (read western). The invisibility of a centre that could be transcendentally present within a system maintaining the stability of the system without undergoing any change in itself has been the mainstay of western history of ideas. There have been no doubt many attempts to overthrow or discard this centre but for the most these attempts have been toward replacements rather than any displacements.  As Derrida demonstrated, western history of ideas has revolved round such invisible centres. If one were to think of the idea of a god as the centre, one could almost logically close off all doubtful positions—all elements within the circle of the invisible structures are created, organized and maintained by god, and while he/she is at the indispensible centre all else is locked. The various elements within this system cannot bring any change to the centre, while they themselves could be changed. From Derrida’s reading the process of western structural change has been from god as the centre through science and rationality in turn replacing god as the centre.  There has been virtually no change in the system even when such transplanting take place. This could perhaps account for the system’s stability.  It is however when the element of play enters that a new discourse comes to be created. When the centre remains invisible and unaltered play is possible for all elements within a given structure. But this is playing within the structured rules of the game—playing fair and square. This element of play could be unending if one could imagine a structure without a centre, because then all the elements with and without the system would be constantly in a state of play!  This just like a kindergarten class-room without a teacher in the middle!  Utter chaos?  Sheer confusion? But a recognition of total freedom, no doubt! However, the moment the teacher enters the class-room the system is restored to its harmonious structure.

The implications of Derrida’s concepts can be seen in close examining a totalizing situation where everything is dictatorially controlled and maintained. Human freedom is at stake here. So then, play reintroduces the element of human freedom, the recognition of the very condition of human existence. This is play at its extreme. When all totalizing systems collapse (like the state withering away) then the extreme conditions of entertainment and ecstasy would be revealed in play. We have come very far from the idea of play we started out with.  But we are armed with new insights.  When Tendulkar walked away from the crease he probably never even dreamed of all these possibilities. He was playing fair and square on the green fields! But he was also making a statement that rules and regulations are invisibly present in the game and this sport is essentially a play that needed to be played out within a structure– an arbitrary system– that is always open-ended. Many new transformations could be padded on to these rules—much could be changed, but for the most there is an implied idea of entertainment and ecstasy within a set of rules at a given time—all players have to adhere to that. Some of course play fair and square, others might wait for the umpires to dismiss them—still others would appeal to the third umpire loaded with his techno-tools and rule-books and strategic calculations. But the point of it all: heroes are made within the set of invisible rules–  to play well is sometimes strategically to break the rules, to go beyond the boundaries, but the play within the imaginary rules is sometimes even more magnificent.

smurals@gmail.com

https://smuralis.wordpress.com

Anguish and After

When I was thirty I wrote a poem and called it Autumnal.  I thought that was the end of the world. I was facing the worst critical intellectual dilemma in my life so far and didn’t know where to go, which way to turn. I even considered terminating my life in a philosophical manner. My greatest passion then was the works of Fyodor Dostoevsky. And Kirilov who appears in The Possessed was one character whom I totally identified myself with.  At one stage in his life he states categorically that life offers barely two options: either to kill oneself or the next immediately obvious one – to kill the other. Suicide or homicide would lead to some definitive action and thus provide meaning to one’s life. This was indeed crazy and the more I reflected upon this logic the more crazy I felt within. There was no essential morality no essential ethics. In fact, faced with a philosophical existentialism I realized there was no valuable essence as well. Existence precedes essence—that was Sartre’s dictum. And I then wholeheartedly believed it too. However, there was action, the possibilities of commitment to life in the real world, some ideological yearnings that my thirsting mind was egging me on to. What about the world out there that held me and everything else? What about my fellow creatures? What about earth and nature and all that beautiful world of sun rises and dawns long bright afternoons and awesome evenings leading on to silent star-studded night skies? How could I terminate my life? Shouldn’t I seek out the answers to those million questions of existence and being that my thinking brain churned out second by second? What am I? The passionate nature of my quest led me on from question to question. And no answer came up. It was interminable anguish.

Readingwas one way. Meditating, another. I would spend long silent hours lying under the shade of my favourite tree on a hill slope overlooking the border of our city. Many of my friends thought I was foolish and was simply wasting my time avoiding work and entrepreneurship. Of course I had also indulged a great deal in my other passion of sketching, painting and writing poetry. And then there were the innumerable birds. I had taken ornithology quite seriously and kept a small bird note book. Wherever I went I had it in my sling bag along with a copy of the Bhagavat Gita and my other favourite books by Jean Paul Sartre and Albert Camus and Nikos Kazantzakis. The world held the answers to all my questions, some how I was sure of all that. But then how does one go about getting the world to spill them all out? On the one hand there was this nagging anguish that was like a deep unquenchable thirst that left the throat parched and dry always—existential questions that loomed large like some lilac mountain, solid, unrelenting, mysterious, and yet tempting, tantalizing…on the other hand there was this tremendous feeling of an oceanic nature, beautiful, bounteous, wholesome, that was on an aesthetic and spiritual dimension—this was never fulfilling though; however, it is the experiences of this second kind that held greater promises of a holistic kind that was as yet probable and possible.  There is bound to be some order, some harmonious rhythm that would set the heart and soul at ease and satisfy the deep yearnings of the inquisitive intellect. Poetry and art gave some hints of such possibilities. The natural world of beautiful creatures and exquisite experiences delighted the sensuous aesthete in me and prodded me on like a passionate pilgrim in an eternal search of stars and sonnets. There was Rilke, there was Yeats, there was Herman Hesse, and above all there was KCS Paniker and Pablo Picasso, Ravi Varma and a multitude of like minded souls who appeared and disappeared perpetually taunting the mind as though they were equals and kindred spirits who also underwent such distressing moods of depression and loneliness and who also somehow survived to set everything right. However, there never was anyone who in my view succeeded in finding some permanent solace to the yearnings of the heart. Each encounter only served to deepen my troubled mind and dampen my creative self. Not in poetry not in art, not in nature, then where in the world was I to seek recompense for my self-quest? Nikos Kazantzakis and Freidrich Nietzsche and Herman Hesse spoke about the torments of the self and soul—while on one side the flesh with its pounding heart and sensuous skin held multitudinous desires of the self that throbbed for unending gratification, the soul that gleamed like a distant star uncontaminated and untainted by any of this tumult and turmoil, held the profound promise of a spiritual fulfillment. The split with in was so deep and I could feel this eternal battle raging in the apparent silence of the dark night of the soul! I empathized with Zorba, the Greek; Narcissus and Goldmund; Zarathustra and a dozen other great existential heroes of the world literature. This, I realized, was not the sheer romantic tensions of an immature soul, they were abiding passions of the human mind.  W.B Yeats has immortalized this in one of great poems: The Dialogue of Self and Soul.

When such as I cast out remorse

So great a sweetness flows into the breast

We must laugh and we must sing ,

We are blest by everything:

Everything we look upon is blest.

However, I believe he has given a more touching poetic expression in his Wild Swans at Coole. This could work like the Arnoldian touchstone:

Passion or conquest, wander where they will,

Attend upon them still.

This not withstanding, my greatest humbling fear was that what if all these torments were merely another aspect of the human mind, the trickster? Then this great human tragedy would become nothing but the human comedy of errors. I was hooked on to The Tragic Sense of Life by Miguel de Unamuno. I identified with that great pessimistic philosopher and the prophet of the will: Schopenhauer who also remarked that “life is essentially tragic and I am willing to make it more tragic by reflecting upon it!”

On my book shelf I found Schopenhauer and Nietzsche and Immanuel Kant resting side by side with the Gita and the Koran and Khalil Jibran and Gurudev Tagore. I rode with angels and demons. Recited the Lalitha Sahasranamam, chanted the Gita and relished the immortal lines of Omar Khayyam in Fitzgerald’s classic translation.  The Buddha spoke to me and so did Christ. Lenin and Mao and Che Guevera found equal place in my inside. I was like Hesse’s Siddhartha meditating on the moving river all day and night. Sri Aurobindo and Ramana spoke to me. I lived through the struggles of these great minds. While Ramana sounded simple at the outset he made me pause and think. Sri Aurobindo was tough. But then I was fortunate enough to read through all that he wrote, not missing out any single line. His complexity I found was only at the outside, while deep within he was like I was, confused and bewildered, confronted with a million existential questions, relishing the great aesthetic experience of being and becoming, at one with the universe. Of course it took me only a little while to recognize his great and steadfast will that gave him the continued impetus to forge ahead in the supreme quest of the spirit. I felt I understood the reason for his overt withdrawal from the world of politics into the silence and solitude of the ashram. It was not a withdrawal at all but an all inclusive immersion into the larger being of the cosmic spirit. What delighted me most about this amazing intellectual yogi was his continued openness to the questions of the body and the intellect. Someone had called him a radical mystic. Yes, Sri Aurobindo gave clear cut answers to many of my questions. However the greatest challenge was in unlocking these observations in the laboratory of ones own mind. Behind every Jelkill there is this Hyde. It might be one thing to follow these teachings of these noble masters as teachings but another to experientially encounter them. My questing mind was always alert and devious, mischievous. I wanted the cake and to eat it too. Yoga and spirituality demanded great disciplining of the senses and the mind. I was worried whether these might lead to an incarceration of the sensuous self. I wanted the passions of the body and the soul to be equally well balanced. It was a virtual impossibility.

There are among the many possibilities of life two major options: having or being. The desires of the physical self are only gratified by the possession of material objects and other things relishable through the physical senses. The hungers of the higher self are not easily satisfied: the entire being has to be transformed. Now, the most wonderful aspect of existence as I came to understand aesthetically is the inexhaustibility of life. There is no end to what you can, have or be. The craving of the self can never be abated; the desires of the soul are equally well unsatisfiable. One can go on possessing the endless riches of this world and still feel the emptiness that only becomes vaster by the second. The physical being is like a hole in the ground the larger it becomes the more emptier it becomes. The soul on the other hand desires completion of being, as Sri Aurobindo has rightly pointed out in his The Life Divine. Aspiration rises up and grace comes down– the final union results in a transformation of the being. The physical ceases to be itself and the encounter enhances the human being. The process, as I understand it, is never complete in a stasis, but results in a dynamis—a constant process of becoming. Being is becoming. The passions of the mind are not mere freaks of the imagination but they are the beacons of the divine becoming.

This is the point where the Nietzschean superman recognizes that morality and ethics are for the commoners. This is devious turn of events; leading only to fascism and eternal perdition. This is anti humanism. But reading Nietzsche closely revealed to me that he was not so naïve as to lead humanity into eternal damnation. If I were to state that he was a self-realised soul it might raise many an eye brow and even raise the hornet’s nest against me. But then the man who debated music with Wagner and pried open the philosophical positions of the western rational enlightenment grounded on binary opposites only to reveal that there are no contradictions but only complementarities, could be no simple intellectual philosopher but only one with a profound insight gained out of rigorous self analysis very much in the lines of the Upanishadic Rishis. Blake had claimed : without contraries there is no progress. Nietzsche propounds: there are no contraries but only complementarities.  Not in complete possession but in complete surrender lies the ultimate becoming of the cosmic spirit.

I have come to understand that the intellect never gives up. It always craves for more. The mind never is satisfied. It is always questing. The passions of the self are uncontrollable. Well, why should one try to do the impossible? Living is its own becoming. Love and compassion, understanding and tolerance swell forth from a completeness of being, that is forever becoming. Not in having, that is for sure, but in becoming is the greatest satisfaction of having lived! A life that is free from regrets and misgivings, free from intentional acts of evil that bestow pain for the other, relishing in the completeness of being, is spiritual indeed.

To believe the poet: after such knowledge what forgiveness? Once you have looked into the heart of anguish there is no escape. Knowledge is pain. The more one comes to know the more one feels burdened, until one learns to empty one’s intellect like unwinding a taut spring. My passion for the unknown that used to torment me then is with me still; however, I have learned to look upon those tensions with more controlled ease. The Upanishad speaks of two birds sitting on a tree. One calmly looks on while the other eats the fruit. I am sure this is to be seen in the symbology of the Upanishads as the self-aware soul reflecting on the self. There is a certain calm that befalls one as one enters a huge cathedral or a temple or any religious site, and provided one is able to maintain the same calm one can come away with it. Just like the sannyasin who returns to the human habitation after sojourning the jungles as a vanaprasta, with a calm that passes all understanding, the tormented intellect is smoothened after it allows itself to be percolated by the spiritual.  Perhaps this is the self same condition in which Dostoevsky’s Kirilov comes to decide that he is ready to quit the world. It does no more matter whether he exits this way or that; no more is he a vassal to the flesh, nor bound by the lesser moral laws of the mortals.

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