Thursday, June 08, 2006

The Universe of People

The Universe of People

It is interesting to see people as being different, diverse and full of surprises. I see the people around me as unfinished paintings. The picture within each painting is always emerging but yet never fully complete. Everytime someone does something or utters a word, it adds another dab of paint, another artistic stroke onto his personality canvas. I see a fuller picture. But I always assume that it is a work-in-progress. What a joy to see these works of art coming fuller and fuller to life everyday!

People are extremely dynamic systems. When a person makes a decision to do something, I am always intrigued by the process that led him to his action or decision . What is his worldview? What is the paradigm that he is adopting? What are his assumptions?

How a person comes to a certain conclusion is more interesting to me than the conclusion itself. Sometimes we call this the "thinking process", but thinking is only part of the total picture. Most of the time, all our actions are the consequence of a combination of thought, emotion and instincts.

When we decide, say, to marry someone. How do we come to that decision? What are the emotions that are involved? What is the "thinking" behind it? Do we always marry someone we love? How much of that decision is guided by fear ( of old age, of being lonely, of not conforming to society) and how much of the decision is determined by practical considerations? Or are we just reacting to our biological instincts?

A convenient way of looking at people is to see them as four-layer stacks: the physical layer, emotional layer, intellectual layer and spiritual layer. People have needs on all four layers; they seek fulfilment by bonding and making connection with other people. Very rarely do you see married couples bond on all four layers. The interplay of forces on all these layers will take them an entire lifetime to resolve.

Bear in mind that each layer is "thick". There are "lower" and "upper" strata within each layer. Biological instincts operate on the physical and the lower emotional layer. Hunger, sexual desire and the need for companionship are examples of instincts that operate at these layers. Education, culture and upbringing develops the higher emotional layer and the lower intellectual layer. The spiritual layer is not easy to discern as it is usually not fully developed yet in most individuals. Some people choose to ignore it completely. But it is only a matter of time before it materializes.

One must also be careful here: the lower spiritual layer is where most people get stuck in. Like I've mentioned before: spiritual awakening is like first love (lower emotional layer)--it can be very dazzling and overwhelming, because you are crossing one layer to another. But hey, you've merely touched the lower stratum, there's much more to discover further up within the spiritual layer!

Allow yourself to grow spiritually first, just like how you have allowed yourself to grow physically, emotionally and intellectually. Take your time. Let each stratum firm up before depositing the next. Over-enthusiasm often leads to fanaticism. And this has caused mankind a lot of grief.

Similarly don't assume that there are only four layers involved! This we've-figured-out-everything attitude has proven to be the greatest intellectual trap of all. To quote astrophysicist Sir Arthur Eddington: "Not only is the universe stranger than we imagine, it is stranger than we can imagine."

So let's also approach the mystery of people with awe and humility. Every individual is a universe that begs exploration. And the things that one discovers within is often stranger than we can imagine.

Sunday, June 04, 2006

The Act of Acceptance

The Act of Acceptance

Plant a seed. Fertilize the soil. Water it. Ensure that it gets good sunshine. Nurse it daily. That is all one could do. Nature does the rest.

The garderner cannot determine how many branches, leaves or flowers the seedling that he is nursing will sprout. But through his care and constancy of purpose, the plant realizes its full potential, whatever it might be.

The garderner does not micro-manage. He does not "hurry" his plants. Instead he lets them find their own rhythm of growth. He merely protects, nurtures and nourishes. He works hand in hand with nature.

Most tasks in life should be tackled that way. Constancy of purpose. Diligence. An awareness of one's direction and surroundings. Of doing one thing at a time and putting one's full concentration in it. That's all that one could do. Providence does the rest.

Yes, a garderner might envision a wonderful garden in his mind; one lush with shady trees and blooming flowers, bursting with colours under the sun. But he cannot construct a garden like how one would build a house or a bridge. A gardener has to work with nature. He is not an engineer, but an artist, whose medium is nature.

He uses both logic and intuition, honed by years of intimacy with nature. He respects its moods and idiosyncracies; he works in complete harmony with it, with his heart and his mind.

It is good to have ambitions in life, to pursue worldly success and to go after all the opportunities that life has to offer. But one cannot engineer every tiny detail of one's quest. Go ahead and dream of that magnificent garden of material riches, but also allow room for nature's creativity to do its work.

Having goals and ambitions does not mean one has to be aggressive, greedy and manipulative. The vision has to be there to guide one's energy, to give one focus. Within the direction that one has set forth, one can then work around obstacles creatively, with an economy of means, harnessing the natural forces that are present.

During the course of one's life, one will certainly meet people whose actions you disapprove of. One will find oneself in situations where confrontation is inevitable. Sometimes battles will have to be fought. A gardener has to eliminate pests that attack his plants. But there's nothing personal in it. It's just nature's way of ensuring quality.

In the Indian epic of Mahabharata, the warrior Arjuna is plunged into despair when he finds himself having to fight his own friends and relatives in the battlefield of Kurukshetra.

It is during this climactic scene that Lord Krishna reveals himself to Arjuna in his divine form and gives him a discourse on the nature of the soul, the law of karma and the paths that lead a soul to salvation. This much beloved discourse is known to us as the Bhagavad Gita (The Celestial Song)

Like what Arjuna faces, there will be moments in life where we have no choice but to let karma work itself out. We must realise that we are in the very position that we find ourselves in because of the cumulative result of the many choices and decisions that we have made up to that point in our life.

Sometimes Nature delivers a perfect storm. In such a situation, we have no choice but to face it head on. Accept it bravely. Take the pain. And in the act of acceptance, we dissolve the karma. Only then do we find peace. In that moment of peace, the soul finds its deliverance.