December 06 is a special day for the republic of India. Remembered as the ‘Mahaparinirvan Diwas’, Dr. Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar, the towering personality of the era of modern India, breathed his last on this day.
The term ‘Nirvana’ is associated with Buddhism. When a person gets the awareness of the ‘noble truths’ of this worldly existence and gets equanimity or enlightenment, s/he is said to have got the ‘Nirvana’. When such an enlightened soul (Buddha) leaves this world, it is called the ‘Parinirvana’.
Dr. Ambedkar had a unique connection with Buddhism. For him, Buddha’s teachings has the force of revolutionary social transformation and emancipation of the poor and those who are downtrodden and have suffered the history of injustice, deprivation, enslavement and inequality. He converted to Buddhism from Hinduism and gave a new dimension to Buddhism in the country of its own origin.
For Babasaheb, Buddha was a liberator. He was satisfied being a teacher. Buddha was the path giver (Margadata) and not the the salvation giver (Mokshadata). He never claimed for himself any authority of having some revealed knowledge. Rather, his teachings are purely grounded in reason and rationality.
So, why not to use this great day to remember some of the teachings of the Buddha, I thought! Leaving the politics and religiosity aside of this historic day, I intend to dwell upon the teachings of the Buddha and reason out as to what we can learn from his teachings and how they can contribute to our collective and mental well being.
When prince Siddhartha left his home, he wanted to get the answers of this worldly existence as he was struck on seeing an old, sick and dead person. After years of wandering and meditation, he got the enlightenment and became ‘Buddha’. He gave his first sermon in Sarnath and this event is referred to as the ‘Dhammachakraparivartana’ or ‘turning the wheels of the law’. Later, all the teachings of the Buddha were compiled and codified and it all took the form of a new religion.
Buddha gave ‘four noble truths’ about life and existence. Firstly, the life is full of ‘Dukkha’ or sufferings. Secondly, ‘Trishna’ or the endless cravings are the cause of all sufferings. Thirdly, there is ‘Nirvana’ or liberation from this state. Fourth is the way to get the nirvana which is by following the eight fold path (the Atthangika Marga).
This eight fold path consists of:
- Right view
- Right thought
- Right speech
- Right action
- Right living
- Right endeavour
- Right mindfulness
- Right concentration
This eight fold path is centred around the middle path or the ‘madhyam marga’. Because what is this ‘right’ in above eight fold path is to be determined by the ‘middle path’. It is somewhat similar to the Aristotle’s idea of the ‘golden mean’. For Aristotle, the golden mean is the virtue and lies at the middle of the extremes.
Buddha realised that the wisdom lies neither in absolute individualistic asceticism nor in mindless materialism but in the middle path. As there is no running away from this world and the wisdom one cultivates should be of use for the social emancipation.
From this learning, even if we are able to internalise just the first noble truth, our most of self imposed miseries can be eliminated. Let us examine this and see what it has to offer for our well being.
Buddha wants us to realise the truth that the life is full of sufferings or sorrows. Thus we cannot get rid of them. For me, accepting this simple yet difficult truth is the most liberating experience. It makes you happy and makes you courageous and fearless to face the challenges of life head on.
Let us dwell more on this. Just think for a moment. Isn’t it true that most of the people want to have no sufferings. We keep on running mindlessly in our lives in a sort of rat race to outshine others thinking that outsmarting others, we would be more successful in this utter competitive world. In this modern world the conception of good life is at a new low. It is fuelled by our materialistic desires. We want more of all comforts we have.
We want no pain in our lives and want all happiness only and no sorrows. Life then becomes a pursuit not to freedom and exploration but to avoid all pain and play safe. I think that this stops us from thinking big and thinking holistic. This mentality is causing much damage to the humanity I believe.
Want to avoid pain? Earn mindless money by any means. Pray more and more to god. Do all sorts of religious rituals to ward off the sufferings and to bring the celestial bodies in our favour. Hoard more and more wealth and refrain from giving to others anything you have. We see so much of the superstition and blind faith on the self styled Godmen. Why? Just because they believe that all this would keep all pain away from them and their family.
But look what happens. Exactly the opposite. The more we try to avoid sufferings, the more we suffer. If we just realise that it is but natural to get all sorts of unpleasant experiences in life, we stop cribbing about the state of affairs in our life. Rather we start preparing ourselves to tackle this inevitability.
It is similar like knowing that the cyclone would come. You have two options. One is to think that somehow, you would not be affected by the cyclone. You have this faith. Somehow, be it a messiah or god, you presume that only good will happen to you. Second option is to accept the fact that cyclone will affect all and you are not special. You start preparing yourself for the disaster and when it hits, you take it naturally and recover fast without facing a trauma that something unnatural has happened to you.
Similar should be our attitude and approach towards life. Only death can make you avoid all problems of life. If you are living full of life, life will be full of challenges and obstacles. But you would have the inner strength to fight these challenges every time because you are not afraid of the consequences. You are ready to take all pain for your dreams. Isn’t this realisation liberating?
Buddha rightly points out that mindless craving is the cause of all sufferings. This is so much true as borne out by the state of affairs we are in today. Right from our personal lives to our family and communal lives and even the professional lives, all are messed up because of the cravings.
Parents have mindless expectations for the children. They think that by being a ‘successful professional’ like a doctor, engineer or an IAS, their child would be happy and avoid all pain in future. But see what happens. Families suffer. Do you notice the headlines of rising mental illness and suicides rates in youth of this great nation?
You can see all sorts of complaints in lives of the people. If I was born to the Ambani, I would have been happy. If I was rich, I would be happy. If I marry this person, I would be happy. If I get this job, I would be happy. If my boss was a nice person, I would have been happy. And the list is never ending…
We worry so much for the results, that we often do not put our best efforts or worst, we don’t even start on our dreams at all, fearing that if we fail, it would cause huge sufferings. What the society would say? What if I leave my ‘safe job’ and start my business and do not succeed? What if my lover leaves me? Blah! Blah! Blah! So, if we realise the truth that sufferings would be there anyway and they are very much a part of life, we would stop worrying and start living.
We can see how this plays in our organisational setup. How much organisations suffer for this. In teams, some people do not open up their ideas as they feel that someone else would get the credit and they want it all for themselves. Result is that the team never achieves what it can. Juniors won’t point out the flaws in the approach of the boss to be in their good books fearing that any contrary opinion may upset the boss and your promotional prospects.
This approach towards life is destroying our civic and national fabric also. Problems we face today; be it corruption in public life, black money, hoarding wealth in tax heavens, organised crimes, criminalisation in politics et cetera is all because people are seeing happiness and ‘sukkha’ in silos and as a concrete object which will be achieved as a reward for material pursuits. We forget that happiness and sufferings are a state of mind.
We often become so selfish that we do not even raise our voice for the cause we believe in if the issue has no direct consequences for us. We think that the wrongdoings are happening in some other world with some ‘other person’. So, why to put my foot down and raise my voice for the cause of gender justice or the climate change. After all, it is not impacting me in my lifetime. Why should I lose my comfort zone? Just think what we are making of the great democratic setup we inherited from the legends of the likes of the Babasaheb.
Our cravings and desires in pursuit of aversion of pain and suffering is playing havoc and creating global problems of epidemic proportions. One country encroaching on the territory of other, exporting the pollution industries, trade wars, beggar thy neighbour policies, competitive techno nationalism, ideology fuelled extremism, radicalisation and terrorism. This kind of irresponsible attitude is largely responsible for the mess we are in, in this world.
Why? Because of our pursuit to avoid our own pain and sufferings at any cost have assumed dangerously selfish proportions. When I have the only interest in “I”, how can I talk for “OUR” interests? And what we see as the fragmented world today, is just the mirror reflection our broken self or our broken within.
But Buddha has shown us the way. It is a very powerful tool at our hands to transform the humanity. For enlightenment, we need not to spend our lives doing religious rituals, rather a state of mindfulness where we realise this simple truth that life is full of sufferings and there is no wishing away.
So why not to be fearless. Why not start a pursuit to realise our fondest of dreams? Why not think of the great dreams to uplift the planet? Why not to see our good in good of all? Why not to convert our desire for avoiding death to the desire for living to the fullest?
So, now on, we will not demand from the almighty to not to give us pains. Rather we would demand the strength and willpower to meet all the challenges that this great life will throw at us.
That will be great. Think about it. Would that life be a worthy life, where you have not met any difficulties? Would such a life story be inspiring for the starving millions? Has there been any great personality in the history of the planet where there were no struggles in their lives?
Then we would not suffer the workplace stress or the burnouts. We would feel less the negative emotions like lust, envy, hatred and anger. We would take everything as a part of life and would not compare ourselves with others. We would set our own benchmarks and be ever optimistic in their pursuits.
This I see in the timeless message of ‘Bhagvadgeeta’ also. It advocates, ‘Nishkam Karma’ without having any ‘Aasakti’. It means that keep doing our work without worrying for the end result or the consequence. Keep doing what you think is your duty. Geeta also advices to avoid; Kama (excessive materialistic desires), Krodha (anger), Raga (attachments), Dwesha (aversion). The moment you get attached to something in life, you have the potential to suffer in life through this. But if you realise that nothing is permanent, you do not get attached to it.
Bhagvadgeeta gives the metaphor of the lotus flower for this. It advices to live life like lotus flower. As we can see that its leaves are in the mud and water but still, not even a particle of mud gets attached to its leaves. Similar way we should live our lives, doing our karma or actions yet remaining detached from them.
Hahaha! See we are digressing. So yah! Now we see! Realising that there would always be sufferings in life, we reclaim our own happiness from our self imposed worries and miseries. Everything happens in mind. Happiness is a state of mind which you can create anywhere at any time.
And I have the firm belief that once we walk on that path, we would be paving the way for a just, inclusive and egalitarian social order. It would be our little step as a responsible citizen to realise the grand vision of Babasaheb as reflected in our transformative and inclusive constitution. As Babasaheb echoed in the constituent assembly that if we continue to deny for long the equality in our social and economic structures, then those who suffer from inequality would blow up this structure of political democracy so laboriously built up by this constituent assembly.
It would also contribute to the fulfilment of our fundamental duties as laid down in the constitution. It calls to all citizens to develop a spirit of enquiry, scientific temper and humanism. Teachings of Buddha are a result of reasoning and propel us to a journey of cultivating scientific temper.
Above all, it makes us self confident. It makes us believe in our own. Thus it is also in tune with the contemporary call of the nation to be ‘Atmanirbhar’ or to rely on our own.
In the end, i conclude with what Buddha had to say in the “Mahaparinibbana Sutta” –
“Atta dipo bhava attasaran” i.e. “Be a lamp unto yourself, be a refuge of your self”.-Buddha
My tribute to my Babasaheb!
Mahendra Kumar Gupta says
Excellent reading Dear Tarun. Keep up the spirit.