Category Archives: philosophy of life

Life is

Life is about these intense bodily pleasures and unbearable pain, sense of exhilaration and dejection, agonizing endlessly, suffering anxiety and feeling ecstatic and thankful, being merciless and showing infinite forbearance. It is about a creeping hint of futility amidst the growing mounds of what the insatiable acquisitiveness of mankind is geared to accumulate days in and days out.

Life consists of these quicksilver moments of brilliance and joyous exuberance strewn insouciantly on a seemingly endless landscape of unrelieved inertia of the drab and the mundane. It is about impermanence, random discontinuities, break with a foil what one had assumed one could not live without. It is of surprises, heartbreaks and also of unremitting hopes and nagging hopelessness.

Life is nothing without the tools and techniques one has acquired and learnt over the years by practising them almost daily to help make survival easier. It is about maximising one’s advantages, looking for opportunities for favourable outcome of an action. This does not imply opportunism as a value intrinsic to life.

Life is built on our perceptions, right or wrong, about the objective reality that lie outside and irrespective of us, including the inanimate objects one comes to acquire and other human beings one is associated with. It is about being conscious of the significance of their presence in the larger environment around us. And, at least occasionally, aspiring to be conscientious in relating to, interacting with and using them.

In the ancient Indian philosophical literature, five key elements (‘Pancha Bhuta’) in our surroundings have been held to be critical to our being – ‘Khsiti (earth/soil)’, ‘Ap (water)’, ‘Tej (fire/energy)’, ‘Marut (air)’ and ‘Byom (sky/atmospheric envelop of the earth)’. One can only be amazed at the perspicacity of those early thinkers in identifying exactly the same elements in our immediate universe that are acknowledged to be severely strained, if not endangered, which many reckon, if unmitigated, may lead to eventual extinction of our species.

Sustenance of life (and the growth of its prosperity in terms of metrics which are at least debatable) as an end does not justify any means, blind, brutal, self-seeking, opportunistic despoiling of those five elements. Because this will, surely, lead us to the opposite end.

And of course life derives its form and meaning in the reflection and the record on a shared pool of memory of our thoughts and actions as individuals and community and as the humanity over time. Any attempt to monitor, manipulate or mould the memory according to a pre-defined plan or a paradigm, in bouts of super-human overreach, invariably denudes life of its meaning till it sprouts once again like the frayed and yellowed grass from around and under the heavy designer templates and acquire its natural vitality and colour.

Indeterminate life and a way to live it

Life is inherently subversive. Human beings, whether at individual plane or collectively at the family or some organizational level or in other social and political spheres, try to impose some kind of order. We are generally conditioned to become aware of the many facets of our own life and those of others, including non-human species as well as inanimate matter, in terms of certain orderly relationships, even apparent dependencies. The sum total of the generalizations about these relationships that are either handed down over generations or arrived at by ourselves in course of the unfolding episodes of our existence, constitute what can be broadly termed as our individual or collective worldview.

But since individual species are living beings and not static factors/objects/nodes within this maze of relationships, they are subject to constant fluctuations and dynamic changes in natural course. And to that extent so are the network of relationships that are supposed to hold the concept of life together. The stability of such a network is, therefore, not guaranteed. The myriad ‘life processes’ comprising the dynamic development of parts of the network of relationships have specific logic leading to their own dénouements, as a part of the natural phenomena, without any ‘emotional’ considerations about the consequences vis-à-vis the overall or the entire system. Though the conceptual basis of ‘life’ lies in our subjective awareness of this gamut of relationships and the assessment/projection about how that might evolve, the actual ‘destiny’ or the fall out in the real life would depend on the objective dynamics of the interconnected and parallel life processes centered on or around individual living beings. This dynamics is not merely stochastic in nature, but probably even be indeterminate and not always fully understood in terms of the present scientific knowledge.

The worldview (whether a very individualistic or a shared one) creates an illusion of ‘order’, expectation, impression of ‘causality’, at best heuristically confirmed in an apparently large number of instances. Nobody keeps track of or quotes the cases indicating refutation or those generating ambiguous results. Steeped as we are with this inductively acquired sense causality, which could be a chimera, we feel shattered when this expectation breaks down inexorably in finite number of life processes and if we happen to be the close observers/participants of any such process.

If we accept the above deficiency of the concept of life we generally entertain and share, it might be more understandable as to why all of a sudden one’s life is believed to undergo an upheaval, say, when one comes to know of a major health issue concerning a close family member or about an accident suffered by a friend, or our town suffers an unprecedented earthquake or a flash flood bringing in its wake death and devastation. However, this realization does not make the feeling of pain or helplessness, a sense of being subjected to some kind of subversion (even ‘betrayal’) by some shadowy unknowable forces any less acute. That probably shows the grip on us of what we grow up to believe as the ‘life’, which most of us would be hard put to define. But the truth is that there cannot be any such ‘design’ on you or me anywhere in the universe. We just do not count. Nor as much does any matter, living or non-living.

An added complication is the way our perception is often clouded by degrees of moral value judgment about this or that incident many of us tend to associate with it and often try to ‘rationalize’, worse even justify, the same. For them, the very best among them, who probably have an inkling about what a game of chances the life really is, an enlightenment that may disturb the sense of causality and order in the minds of ordinary human beings is potentially inhuman and should best be monitored, controlled, disputed and avoided. This strand in the history of human thought invariably has led to the rather common and tested self-serving idea of dividing the human kind into two neat groups: the wise, sad enlightened few holding up the sky of hope over the rest of the ignorant simple hearted multitudes who would otherwise have perished with grief and loneliness knowing themselves to be derelict in a universe without a cosmic purpose. And there is no reason to believe that regimentation of mankind for even an apparently noble purpose did achieve its stated goal, peace.

In an alternative approach, one may try, inasmuch as it is practicable, and accept with equanimity the peace and the precipice as two among the constellation of transitory states of life. Of course, this is easier said than done. Call it the inertia in our mind space. Not just from light to dark, white to black but equally for the reverse process. But I would like to suggest that we might be able to achieve the balance some day by trying to make ‘informed’, ‘engaged’ and ‘moral’ choices during every act of our living that is essentially an act on the nature – mostly in concert with it but sometimes in dissonance or with ill-conceived antagonism.

How about facing the facts? Our existence as just a tiny strand in the complex tapestry that the universe is executing, or a small note on a page of score that is going to be turned over seemingly endlessly. Hopeless and incomplete, as it may seem, human beings over the centuries and across civilisations, in an act of magnificent unselfconscious co-operation, have diligently and objectively accreted a huge treasure trove of facts about this tapestry or the score. We will do ourselves a favour by being as objective in acquiring facts of our existence in the universe. One has to be informed as best as one can, with sound knowledge, scientific or otherwise. I am not even discounting mysticism as a way to gain knowledge as long as that is not part of a programme of regimentation or a profit-making proposition. But certainly not dogmas, entrenched pre-conceived biases coloring ‘facts’, spurious dregs floating around in the new age information space. Also in this age of a proclaimed information revolution one should be aware of and resist a very real information apartheid that is often practiced if not even preached. Everybody, without exception, should have information that is verifiable, unrestricted and possible to negotiate with a critical spirit. And try and convert information into knowledge.

It is necessary to engage with all aspects of nature. Not in isolation as a competitor or an adversary with narrow immediate material advantages in view but in wonderment as one with or as an integral, if somewhat exceptional, constituent of it. This speciality relates to human being’s natural ability to perceive and think, be conscious about itself, the surroundings and the intricate relationships holding the entire existence of the material world together. This gift is an unusual opportunity for the humans, perhaps the only species on earth who have it. Nature does not tell us anything, nor does it hide anything. It is up to us to engage with it to get some clues about how it works and what it has in store for us.

I use the term ‘moral’ choices in a specific context and for a restricted purpose. This moral or ethical view of our relationship with nature enjoins us to remember our true position, neither insignificant nor one bloated by some misplaced ego, vis-à-vis the material world existing outside of ourselves in all its splendor and complexity and despite our fleeting perception and attempted simplification of the same. It suggests the futility and danger of human attempts to dominate, harness and exploit nature for narrowly conceived material benefits without realizing or acknowledging the cost human beings all across the globe are already suffering even today, and making the future generations shockingly much more vulnerable to increasingly unpredictable response of nature to some of the current actions impelled by greed and brazen self-interest. The ‘self’ includes individuals, communities and nations.

In the end, if more and more people are able to make such choices in a consistent manner, some of the ‘subversion’ of life that we tend to suffer with a frequency that has shown an upswing, be it at the individual or at the community and the national levels might become gradually more predictable, even manageable, and hence may no longer qualify for the epithet.