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What makes the idea of Enlightenment come close to an advanced state of awareness of how the journey of life should be led is the stipulation of Buddhism that in some cases this awareness could be struck all in one moment in its entirety, landing the individual in the bliss of total wisdom.
Enlightenment is more about understanding human life than probing into the origins of the universe – the latter has been left to the realm of science and the imagination of the sages. Buddhism, therefore, has a practicability about its concepts.
Since the awareness of what human life was, is the essence of Enlightenment, it is possible to enumerate certain dimensions of how a wise person should construct the pathway to leading a life that would give him or her a sense of complete satisfaction at the end of the course.
Deciphering Enlightenment is a legitimate endeavour for any thinking person today. Five aspects of it come to mind.
First, awareness must begin with the interpretation of birth itself. All religions talk of God as the ultimate creator of life but since no one would see one’s God, one must give full recognition to his or her immediate creators – the parents – and appreciate them for bringing you in this world and that too with best of intentions and love and care. A life well lived would therefore entail a willingness to do whatever one could, to take care of the parents till their end.
Logically, special consideration should be shown also to one’s siblings as they are in the nature’s first of the various concentric rings that would form around you both in your private life and at your work sphere – as you grow and progress. At the same time, wisdom demands that relationships within the family or outside should rest on merit. Within the family, there should be no ‘rivalry’ or competition but at the same time no accommodation needs to be made where it is undeserved.
Secondly, having got the bearings of the life’s beginning right, awareness is all about being able to see human life as a journey in progression – all cultures emphasised the mixed character of the same – with fleeting happy and unhappy moments traversing it. The challenge of life in fact is presented as the inevitable facing of disappointments, loss and grief – happiness is always intermittent and regarded basically as a ‘perception’ – so that it is the capacity to deal with adversities that was kept in focus, instead.
Except for your childhood when someone else was taking care of you, life is a tedium exposing you to the complexities of class, interactions with good elements and the bad and uncertainty about the outcome of your endeavours – that is why childhood is always a happy time for every child, rich or poor.
A third dimension of life is for the individual to be able to see that it means ‘movement’ and ‘action’ pursued with right intentions – in seeking one’s own progress without causing harm to someone else. In Hindu philosophy, legitimate earning of money involving long journeys away from home to secure it, is kept at par with Dharma.
When young Gautam Buddha meditated to explore what life was, the total awareness about life came to him all in one moment suddenly – the light of Nirvana – in which he could, among other things, see ‘action’ to run life, in its proper perspective. He did not cease to act after Nirvana and saw the importance of shedding ego, expectation and stress while performing any activity as part of life. It was no different from the teaching of Gita on the approach to life wherein one was mandated to pursue action or Karma without getting unsettled by an outcome falling short of expectations.
The fourth component of enlightenment takes you to the doorstep of Nirvana – it marks liberation from the triple affliction of greed (Kama), aversion (Krodh) and attachment (Moha). Awareness of what life is calls for an understanding of these three paradigms that determine its course. Though everyone’s journey of life is a distinct experience of the individual, these three precisely are the markers of Nirvana, the final destination.
Enlightenment conceptualised that there could be part success first and linked the ‘unfinished business’ left behind with the idea of ‘rebirth’ – that might enable the individual to complete the mission. Temporal objectives driving one’s life produce desire and anger and also attachment with what is deemed to have been gained. Reaching the point of total awareness is possible if there is realisation that these three negatives are interlinked and that if the individual achieves the status of an ‘observer’ of one’s own life, they could all be shed at one go.
Lastly, attainment of Nirvana is described in Buddhism as the freedom from the cycle of rebirth – a thought expressed by the word ‘Moksha’ in Hindu belief system. Getting out of the conundrum of this cycle is the Buddhist way of saying that the ultimate awareness that Nirvana brings to an individual is that life could be viewed with an enlightened sense of conscious aloofness which makes the individual look at life as a one time event.
Equanimity towards pain and gain, freedom from desire and active pursuit of duty without fear of failure are covered in the implicit messaging of Nirvana and all of this can be understood through the process of meditation and ideation. The moment of total awareness or the ultimate wisdom could arrive all at once and make the individual a different person like Buddha was in Enlightenment – a giver not a taker, a person of poise both in success in a worldly achievement or at the time of a personal loss and an individual who was active on personal and social fronts without indulging in self-glorification or developing conceit.
Nirvana is a call for becoming a practitioner of living life with a sense of complete awareness of what it would or would not bring to you. One could attempt to develop this outlook at any point of time and could reach that total awareness Enlightenment alluded to, as the achievement of a sudden moment.
In the ultimate analysis, every individual’s life is his or her exclusive story impacted by worldly circumstances. A kid born to parents of means has a certain course of life in the initial years that is not replicated for another child from a poor family. Experience of life for those with physical or mental infirmity is entirely different from the life of those blessed with normal health. For everyone, life is replete with set backs – big or small – and the spells of happy abandonment are fewer and interspersed.
Life is essentially a struggle or striving for coping up with the challenges of one kind or the other. A support group of family and friends is needed by everyone and it is also a natural thing for a human being to seek divine blessings to get past a test in life. It is human nature to opt for a morally upright course in life and those deviating towards unscrupulous ways do feel the troubling weight of the same somewhere.
All cultures consider the human being as the highest form of existence in the animal kingdom and promote the mandate of morality in action, including charitable deeds. Man has the gift of memory but it is in the nature of things that unhappy memories would fade with the passage of time. Essentials and luxuries have a dividing line howsoever hazy and this is understood by all.
Finally, every human being has the fundamental understanding of life as a variable span between a beginning and an end. All of these practical aspects of human life, if taken cognisance of, will give anyone the ‘observer’s view’ of the same – rising above personal or subjective tints.
If there is awareness that everybody is sailing in the same boat in this life, there will be little left to harbour an aspiration for rebirth or a second life. This is the state of total wisdom – call it Nirvana if you like.
(The writer is a former Director of Intelligence Bureau. The views expressed are personal)