Tuesday, November 21, 2017

To be or is there another option

November column for AZIndiaTimes:


On Diwali night, while driving with my wife, we saw many dogs running helter skelter and one almost came under the car which had me exclaim what was wrong with them. My wife then told me that dogs are very scared of crackers and the noise on a Diwali nights makes them go crazy with fear. I felt bad for them but that didn’t stop me from bursting crackers because my enjoyment was more important to me than the suffering of tens of animals. Still, I felt guilty for not showing compassion and sacrificing but then also proud because I was feeling guilty and thus was more empathetic and humane than other indifferent ignorami. In addition to being an armchair activist, I’d also turned into an armchair human.

They say you can’t change the world in a day. If one disregards the innate arrogance in that desire, it can be seen that it’s true. Our actions, on a cosmic scale, are too futile. Yet, mainstream films continue to show us that one man, by sheer diligence and perseverance, can indeed bring about a change in the world. What mainstream movies do not answer is the question of What exactly is Good? If I save a person from drowning, is it good? What if he later kills 15 people; Am I responsible for their deaths? Is life always better than death? Debatably not (https://aeon.co/essays/having-children-is-not-life-affirming-its-immoral). We live in a very complex world, full of unintended consequences. Should the virtue in actions be judged by their intentions or outcomes? What about our irrationalities then? Should we be blamed for acting upon the advice of the incessant whisperer in our head? But then does that mean we have no free will at all? Isn’t that claim the first step down the abyss into hedonism and madness?

“We fight over an offence we did not give, against those who were not alive to be offended.” -Kingdom of Heaven

Karma answers a lot of these questions. Once you accept the assumption that there is a public ledger somewhere that keeps track of all your actions across lifetimes and gives you a net score, thereby making your life easier or harder, a certain fear is instilled within you to be ‘good’. My problem with this ideology is that if we are judged by our actions and their consequences, should we not be given the complete picture and trace the outcome before making the choice? Why should we be forced to participate despite having only incomplete information? Assuming you are paying for your sins now that you had committed millions of lifetimes ago, why were you instigated to walk down that path in the first place? Why was evil created? Karmic philosophy, atleast to the extent I’ve explored, gives temporary solace but does not assuage deep-rooted doubts.

“'Heaven and earth are ruthless, and treat the myriad creatures as straw dogs.' If humans disturb the balance of the Earth they will be trampled on and tossed aside.” -John Gray

Think about it. We, humans, both consciously and otherwise cause so much suffering to every living organism on the planet and to the planet itself. Maybe the Earth is way more intelligent than us and we are part of its plans; Or not. What cannot be denied is the fact that we are making life, in our greed and stupidity, more and more harder for our future generations. Admittedly it’s not entirely our fault. We did not ask for this life nor the world we are forced to live in and make amends to. Should we feel guilty for all of humanity’s mistakes? Or take pride in the little achievements that someone somewhere pulls off? Should we be indifferent or attain Nirvana Delusion?

Na tha kuchh to khuda tha, kuchh na hota to khuda hota
Duboya mujh ko hone ne na hota mai to kya hota. -Mirza Ghalib

What is the meaning of life? 42? What will I achieve even if I know the answer? I have found ways, or maybe the ways have found me, to find temporary bliss. Is that all there is to it then? Should I keep walking down the dark tunnel, with a flickering torch in hand, hoping the voice will guide me to the place I’m supposed to reach? What other option do I have anyway? Are we condemned to be puppets that are wired to question their free will?

It’s bizarre, it’s joyful, it’s bewildering, it’s heart-rending- One heck of a life life is.