Sunday, June 12, 2005

Matters at hand...

"Far is such a thought from my mind," exclaimed Siddhartha. "I wish that they shall all stay with the teachings, that they shall reach their goal! It is not my place to judge another person's life. Only for myself, for myself alone, I must decide, I must chose, I must refuse. Salvation from the self is what we Samanas search for, oh exalted one. If I merely were one of your disciples, oh venerable one, I'd fear that it might happen to me that only seemingly, only deceptively my self would be calm and be redeemed, but that in truth it would live on and grow, for then I had replaced my self with the teachings, my duty to follow you, my love for you, and the community of the monks!"
With half of a smile, with an unwavering openness and kindness, Gotama looked into the stranger's eyes and bid him to leave with a hardly noticeable gesture.
"You are wise, oh Samana.", the venerable one spoke."You know how to talk wisely, my friend. Be aware of too much wisdom!"
[Siddhartha, Hermann Hesse]

Not often do I come across a short phase in my days where I am confronted with a singular matter brought forth with least design and cunning. It is interesting to watch, in a span of few days, intricately related matters bloom before my eyes and make me wonder why? Why do these things come forth to me? Am I supposed to do something? Am I supposed to realise something?
Such a bundle of days started out with a post on an acquaintance's blog where a small discussion about choices and one's worth in the context of the world ensued.
Later, I saw a post on Meera's blog about mediocrity and the like.
Dheepak Ra's blog had this post about love (why? oh why? :-) and there was some interesting points being raised there about expectations and reciprocation.
Misha's blog had a post about nothingness and doing things for their sake.

If you are wondering where the link is, here it is. The link is about volition and how we see ourselves in the context of the world. I suppose this is very essential to our thought process as well as our lives. It isn't as glamorous as "Ego" or "Esteem" or some of the other stuff that fills volumes of books on "philosophy", but I think it is most essential to our understanding of things around us and our purpose, or rather the absence of it, in this world.
I shall try and present this step by step, ever mindful of the growing dissent against lengthy pieces of writing!! ;-)

1. Why do we choose?
2. Why do we wish to walk our path and not just some path?
3. Why do we need to have an ambition?
4. Why do we think we have a unique purpose in our lives?
5. Is expecting inevitable, given that we choose?
6. What is a successful life?
7. How do we affect the world through what we do?
8. Should we live in order to create an impact on others, on the world?
9. Hence, what is the point of living?

Oops!! I think I would need to spread this across a few posts. There is no way I am going to manage all of this in a few lines and one post! Let's flow.
I would request the reader to enquire along with me. It is quite likely that I may learn something new or gain a new perspective. We aren't dealing in theories here, nor do we wish to proclaim and accept ideals. THAT I would be able to do in a few lines!!

1. Why do we choose?
I would start with 2 other, but related, questions. When do we choose? and what do we choose between? A very important thing we need to remember is, we aren't talking about trivial choices like "should I have Honey-Nut-Crunch or Choco-Rum-Delight." I don't think people fret over such incidents of choosing. What we are considering are incident where choices seem to be disturbing and/or have far reaching consequences. Are we together on this? So, what do we choose between? We choose between equally desirable things, is it not? If you were asked to choose between living in Switzerland and living in a cave in the Himalayas, there might not be much of a choice. If you were asked to choose between a life of wealth and pleasure and a life of ill-paid work in a cement factory for 17 hours, there really isn't much to choose from. We aren't going to argue for the heck of it, so don't flip over and tell me that "Why? Maybe a life in a cement factory for 17 hours everyday and earning 200 rupees a month is paradise for someone." So we choose between equally desirable things. When do we choose? Would I be wrong in understanding that choices are made to ensure a desirable consequence (usu. in the future)? If the consequences were to be the same, the choices might be of little relevance, at least the choice itself wouldn't trouble us for long. If the choice was between a career as a fighter pilot and a mason and both of them give you the same thrills, security, job satisfaction, etc. although you might hold a penchant for flying now, were you to become a mason the consequences might allay your ephemeral disappointment of not flying. This is usually not realised in a couple of days or months but usually over a longer period of time. Hence, (if we nod together on this) we choose when we need to ensure the circumstances and environment of our future. Basically, ensure security (not merely monetary) of our future lives. I shall leave this at that...

2. Why do we wish to walk our path and not just some path?
It is often heard from people who have chosen that "I'd rather choose and be wrong than be stuck with someone else's choice". It seems that the suffering is not a primary concern as much as who is the perpetrator of the suffering. If you hurt me, I don't like it, but if I go and hurt myself, it is ok. This seems to be irrational to me. I am interested in tackling my pain. How does it matter who caused it? I think I want to be a painter, my parents coax me into doing engineering. I get a job and soon I realise that I have no mental peace and long working hours and no job satisfaction. So I blame my parents and throw a tantrum. Had I become a painter and spent endless days without money and borrowing money to buy canvas and trying my best to put up gallery shows and being forced into selling my paintings for Rs. 500 so that I can pay off my debts, then such a life is fine? Now I am not suffering? This suffering is acceptable to me? Does the path matter so much rather than what we do on that path? If the goal is being happy, then does it matter which path we take? If the goal is being financially successful, then does it matter which path we take? Is the mind tricking us into identifying ourselves with a path purely on the basis of being the designer of that path?

3. Why do we need to have a goal, an ambition?
I am yet to figure this out. I am a criminal too and while I indulge in this I keep wondering (and this is ever since I stepped into my teens) why? What is the point? When I ran for the school and state athletics team, I wanted to be the best; when I got on stage, I wanted to be the best actor; when I did my homework I wanted my teachers to announce that my submission was the best (I still remember once when we were asked to find out the value of 2*2*2, everyone said 6 and I had said 8 and the teacher said "No, 6 is the right answer". When I proved it to her that I was right, she didn't bother to announce it. Notice that I still remember something that happened in 2nd or 3rd. I was so intent on being noticed then!!); when I got to sing in a choir, I wanted my voice to be recognised as the clearest. Fortunately I never felt that way about the writing that issued out of my pen. Even in wanting to lead a simple life I wanted to be the best. The point is: How does it help at all? Why do we need an ambition? Is it to fill the lack of passion for the task at hand? Is it goad us on towards stardom or perfection? But why? I am passionate about teaching and philosophy (amongst a hundred other things), and the passion is so overwhelming that there is no place for praise or criticism. Honestly. The prizes I won for my essays on pedagogy didn't affect me at all. Its like when you are running away from a lion; you do not want to run in the most elegant fashion nor would you care about whether you are the fastest person on earth: you need to be faster than the lion! Simple. And that is not ambition, that is pure necessity, urge, passion. The analogy ends here. Please do not take it further. If I am in love with something/someone I wouldn't measure it nor attempt to surpass anyone else in their love for a similar thing/person. If accolades and recognition is your thing, then do we agree that you do not love the task/object/person as much as you love yourself and exalting yourself in the eyes of the mass and the intellentsia/elite? When there is no love, why should you be recognised for something? When you truly don't love music why do you wish to be the greatest singer?

Let us spend some time on our discussion about these matters before we proceed with the other 6 concerns that we have raised...
It was a pleasure talking to you.


  1. I think, For the first two questions,U urselves have the is the consequences of ur choice that affects ur choice, rather than the choice if the results of the two choices are same, u wud be better off with either of indifferent to either of them..but the degree of satisfaction might be a factor of consideration, if u need to choose between two choices that might not produce same results, but similar results..this would lead you to prioritise ur needs and as you had rightly said, then the future holds much of the reason for the choice rather than the present.
    The third question...well...I think we both have same thoughts on this issue.

  2. Heavy for a Monday morning. Or for that matter, any morning. Interesting, the question of choice. Something I was pondering over the weekend. The answers it threw were disturbing....later

  3. Dear Krish,
    Honestly, I didn't have the answers. But when you work together like that the answer is unmistakeably there... So we do agree that it our desire and drive to secure our future and hence ourselves that makes us want to choose?

    Dear Ammani,
    Never heavy. It can only be heavy if you had had a 12 course dinner!!! Would love to hear about the answers that came to you...

  4. E,
    Why do we wish to walk our path and not just some path?
    Its not the question of our path. The question should be why should we walk the right path and not just some path? If ever one make choices randomly the world becomes a chaos.

    Someone stole my house. The guy wanted to be financially happy. He choose a path of being financially secure.
    I was walking on the road the other day. I saw this kid in his new car. He wanted to have fun and he drove over me and I got killed. He found a way of being happy. So it is not a crime.
    My friend was a drug addict in a socially accepted way. He was addicted to prescription drugs. He stole his grandma pills which she had bought by borrowing money from her neighbour. Does it matter because the worst thing that happens to her is she might die. We all die in some way or other. Does it matter how we die.My friend was happy. Does anything else matter?
    Osama killed thousands of innocent people. Does his path matter??

    Your theory gives a rational to all the crime committed to the world.

    So don't you think the choice matter. Advise me if otherwise.

  5. Hey I am reading this at 1am and its still heavy :-) Anyway here goes my sleepy (or should I say sloppy) attempt to reply.

    2. Why do we wish to walk our path and not just some path?

    Its a matter of taking the risk. Should we settle down for well troden but safe path or should we take the road less travelled and hope for higher returns? Some prefer to take the risk hoping to hit the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow whereas some prefer no-risk approach. Its the difference between an enterprenuer nurturing a startup and a software engineer in an established company.

    3. Why do we need to have a goal, an ambition?
    Life without ambition, is like a ship without a rudder. It drifts with the tide and hoping that things will reach the right destination or take the destination which we reach as the right one.

  6. Dear GI,
    Your comment was posted twice so I am removing the anon comment.
    The correctness of a path is ever debatable. Couple of things: One, I am not theorising and two, I am not recommending random choices; I am questioning the very need to make a choice. Osama, your friend, the thief all MADE CHOICES. I am wondering whether there is any point in chasing (more than making) a choice. Most importantly I am not concluding this topic, I am still enquiring, along with you and a few others. We need to go slow as I am not that intelligent. As happened earlier, the words are being misinterpreted (which is the usual fate of words). I am simply wondering as to why do we choose something over another. Most people are intent on being the master of their fate, their life and their will. We say "free will" but how can willing be free as long as our will, our choices are based on what we hypothesise as being the right thing for our future as well as our fears and trepidations. If you did something because it was instinctive for you, then it is not a choice. Try as much as we did and talk as much as we want to, a congenital thief will remain so. You can teach him to control his urges, but it will burst out someday. That is why we call them different things like psychotic, neurotic, compulsive, etc. The legal system of our "choice" also recognises these people as special cases. So let us not bring them into the conversation. We are talking about normal (in the popular sense) people. So why do they choose? If walking the right path is all that matters then why do you need to choose? Let your parents choose, let your teachers choose, let a jury assemble for such choices. Would you be comfortable with that? If you would be, I rest part of my case.

    Dear Baejaar,
    You and GI provide fairly interesting arguments. Your view is the currently popular view so I am glad. When you mention risk, then we cannot help but bring in security, for risk is challenging that security. Do we agree? So we make choices to ensure our security (be it of the present or the future). Can we settle at that?
    No offence meant, but statements like "ship without a rudder" and other cliches make me flip over and bite the closest leg. What is there about being rudderless? Do you realise that you are actually supporting the initial premise of being ambitionless? A ship to whom the rudder belongs, doesn't control the rudder. The rudder is controlled by someone else. Effectively, a ship is always rudderless (without its own will). Ambition secures your future (if things go well) or raises a lot of conflict. Ambition, which is fed by comparison, does not help the tasks completion. It helps in self-propagation.

    The next valid question would be: Why do I need to be involved with a task or be passionate about it? Can't I simply go about being mechanical and ambitious and complete my task with the fuel of ambition and excel/survive/prosper? Why must I love something or someone?

    Hmmmm. I should stop arguing with myself... :-(

  7. E,
    If walking the right path is all that matters then why do you need to choose? Let your parents choose, let your teachers choose, let a jury assemble for such choices

    I would be happiest person in this world if all my choices were made for me. But that will not be the case. At some point parents and teachers will no longer make choices for us. For example; I ask my dad every time I call him "Appa, I don’t like to live here, I want to comeback. But I am in a dilemma. My field of expertise is not very popular in India. It might be hard for me to find a job which matches my credentials. So you tell me what I should do. I will do whatever you say” and Appa as usual replies;"Puttu you are a grown up kid. I am happy with whatever decision you make. I would be very happy if you come back, but your career is important to you too. SO you choose".
    It is not that easy to let others make our choices once we are adults. We will be a parent someday.
    If it is always as simple as making the right choice life would be much less complicated than as it is right now. When the choices weigh the same you are forced to choose one over the other. I will stop here before you banish me from your blog.

  8. Dear GI,
    Good morning! I don't intend banishing you (or anyone) from my blog... :-)
    How I wish I could talk to you to explain the point I am trying to make. I always seem to miss you by a mile! :-(

    What you mention is absolutely valid. We do make choices, as we cannot outsource that job! Agreed. My question was, would you be fine with someone else making decisions for you?

    Secondly, there are situations everyday where we need to choose between things. Totally accepted, but are we equanimous with all of them?

  9. I have been thinking (a fairly on-going process) about choosing in the context of my daily life. I was maintaining a log over the past few days and was analysing it. I suppose there are lot of choices we make in our professional lives and choices which we don't even recollect (like what I went through while choosing clothes to wear). I remember a Zen story about paying attention to everything we do, but lets not get into that.
    My point is, do these things matter in the long run? Things like which algorithm I picked for the buffer cache mechanism (currently working on that one), and which company should I move to, or where should I settle down and build a house, and things like that, do they matter in the long run?
    So what does matter in the long run? When do choices matter? Do choices matter? Aaaaaargghhhhh!!!

  10. "A ship to whom the rudder belongs, doesn't control the rudder. The rudder is controlled by someone else."

    someone else->consciousnes/mind

    Just replace them and I am sure you will know what I mean.

  11. Dear Baejaar,
    :-)) Interpretations are so plenty, aren't they? Nice one. You really are clever.
    I agree, that with that interpretation, it does seem to fit in, but the mind is not external to oneself. If it is then we need to recognise that and never blame the ship for its fate, like I can't be blamed/held responsible for the choices in my life. But that is not the case, is it? We are all held responsible for our choices.
    When I say do not make a choice, I do not mean that we all sit on our favourite couches (or rather any couch, as we aren't choosing) and just sit... I do not mean that. Nor do I mean (as GI seems to glean off the statements earlier) that we get whimsical and do as we please.
    Let's go into the process of choosing and the psychology behind choosing and not the consequences of jumping to another extreme and start wondering "what happens if...". Please. :-)
    I was hoping that if we understand the whole .... concept of choosing and the why and the how and the when and the other things associated with it, we might be able to figure out whether choosing makes sense in a life, or have we gotten to accept it as being so vital that we are shrouded. It is very likely that we might realise that choosing is inevitable and practical. I am open to that and any other understanding. So be it with ambition and its role in our life.
    I am clearer about ambition and its role (maybe the time spent on it helps me) but I wish to enquire into both with all of you...

  12. "If I am in love with something/someone I wouldn't measure it nor attempt to surpass anyone else in their love for a similar thing/person."

    The clay speaks to me and I listen.
    Every choice is an assemblage.

    Just like this moment...

  13. dear eroteme,

    i observe a strong influence of jiddu in your writings and beliefs.

    I think we all should play the game for the love of the game.
    That's all. There's nothing else to add.

  14. Dear NoTR,
    So true... if that be realised, then a lot can be left unsaid as there would be no necessity for the same...

    Dear AW,
    Maybe there is an influence. I am not sure. :-) It is surprising that you bring this up. Of late I have been growing disappointed with JK and some of his statements and contents in certain speeches. Anyway, what you say is valid, but what is wrong if I wish to play the game for the sake of winning it? What if I don't love any game but wish to play them in order to win them all? What could be wrong with that?

  15. Parvati12:02 AM


    1. Why do we choose?

    Man, as he is, with this faculty called mind that characterises him, chooses from morning till night. Whether consciously or unconsciously, like breathing in and breathing out, he compellingly prioritises the millions of options available and chooses one.

    He chooses because that is his nature. To even breathe, he decides to do so - otherwise he could have chosen the other option of not to breathe and could have killed himself.

    2. Why do we wish to walk our path and not just some path?

    Again you prioritise according to your nature, your sensitivities, your sensibilities, your intelligence, your vision, its depth, your grasp of the common sense. Individuality is as much a compulsion as making a choice. It becomes ego and narrow when you refuse to take input from well meaning , sensible, experienced and mature people like parents, family etc; and it becomes spinelessness, a wimp like personality if you ignore your person and its great or small needs and desires and ambitions and are always a yes-man to parents or family. One should know oneself well, be able to judge others' advice well, and then decide on the course of action.

    Our path is unique to us, hence beautiful and precious; let us make it a wide one, comprehensive one, a fulfilling and longstanding one, by gathering valuable input from other peoples' paths too.

    3. Why do we need to have an ambition?

    Otherwise, we are just like non-human beings that just eat, sleep, manage to earn a living - like a cow tied to a pole and being unable to look beyond the radius of the rope. Ambition, whose span we constantly renew as we keep fulfilling one after another of the ambitions, makes us know the joy of greatness, of achievement, of a self confidence that has marked targets for oneself and has managed to reach them.

    Ambition, choice are again, traits of HUMAN INDIVIDUALITY.

    4. Why do we think we have a unique purpose in our lives?

    A more individualistic person is very clear of the way his life has to go, the unique purpose could be his work, way of living, way of loving, way of connecting anything at all. He could have a unique purpose for each and every aspect of his life.

    Otherwise we are just like jello, amorphous, shapeless, marked by nothing or nobody, or every thing and everybody.

    A Unique purpose gives direction to our life, a concreteness to it. Otherwise we become non-specific replaceable characters in this world. What is one more or less of a NOBODY in this difficult world?

    5. Is expecting inevitable, given that we choose?

    The human mind automatically chooses, automatically sees what would be a better condition of things. This might seem like expectation and indeed it is. Always, betterment, always a craving for perfection, and always the vision of what can be changed and transformed - this is typically the attitude of a normal minded healthy human being.

    So, yes, expectation is the deciding factor behind prioritising and choosing. I expect that this will be the effect of this particular choice. That's why I choos it. No other reason. All are one with mind, individuality and man..

    6. What is a successful life?

    I have these goals regarding the many aspects of myself. And I achieve these goals. That is a successful life. And once I do achieve these goals, I dont stagnate, but quite naturally chalk out more and more goals, with a childlike enthusiasm, always growing, with the flame of aspiration burning bright. That too is a successful and beautiful life and attitude methinks.

    7. How do we affect the world through what we do?

    Everything matters, every thing affects the world in a small or a big way, in an overt or a secret way, in a positive or a negative way. We too are a part of the world, and depending on what strength our actions have intrinsic of them, we automatically have a great or a
    lesser effect on the world.

    8. Should we live in order to create an impact on others, on the world?

    If we are other-people minded, other-people oriented we can live so. I am not; and wild horses cannot make me live for others or for the world. People are different. Others are not more sacred or holy than me, for god's sake! Why make so much of them and so little of poor or rich "I"? All are valuable; and if I care for others, I will live so, otherwise I will be defined by what interests me, where others might have no place at all, at least not of my own volition.

    9. Hence, what is the point of living?

    Frankly, as things stand, no point at all - especially for an individual. We will never buy a share which we know will definitely fall to a miserable price in two weeks. We will never invest our time, money and effort that way in a waste. But we are doing that precisely in this misery of a human life. We all know we are certainly going to die; but still put our mind, heart, life and soul into this waste of an interim period.

    So long as death is there, there is no point at all. When death disappears (if and when of course!!), we can speak about the point of life.

    Until then, we do as we please to , if and when we can do so!