The Ultimate Awareness
By D.C. Pathak
Awareness is a product of analyzed knowledge. Innocence is bliss, no doubt, given the complexities of life, but a brush with reality becomes inevitable even for Gautam Buddha – born as Prince Siddharth – and that was enough to lead him to Nirvana, which is synonymous with a complete awareness of the limitations of human existence.
Life has a beginning and an end, producing philosophical and scientific explanations for the same, ranging from treating it as a gift of God to viewing it as the span of functionality of machinery that must get worn out someday.
The entire body of precepts given out by the sages and lifestyle preachers alike revolves around how to take cognizance of the finiteness of life early enough and live it skillfully to remain free of ‘regrets’ and unfulfilled ‘ambitions’ as the journey of life comes closer to its destination.
All scriptures speak of the importance of a meaningful life, which basically means doing the right thing at any moment, not wasting time, and not letting the thoughts of the fear of failure come in the way of a total effort for achieving a positive mission.
It is singularly interesting that the profession of intelligence is attuned to this very set of lifestyle principles and is therefore likely to provide a certain satisfaction to the members of an intelligence organization that a set of purposeful work ethics is followed.
Taking decisions in exercise of professional autonomy in the interest of the nation, having an intrinsic understanding of the importance of time, and by training not considering anything as an absolute failure but regarding it instead as ‘an honest effort that did not succeed’ – these are the defining features of the intelligence profession.
A lifetime of work, morally regarded as valuable, a sense of pride in whatever has been achieved, and a conviction that one lives for a cause are the rare combinations that would work for the success of a person, both at work and at home.
This makes for a comprehensive awareness of life with two more points of understanding making that absolute – one that the life story of two people can never be identical, and secondly that comparisons are basically an illogical way of measuring success.
A life well lived – a case where the subject becomes a recluse by choice stands on a different footing – must be rooted in a set of variables: resourcefulness of the parents or wards who bring up the child, absorbed knowledge relevant to humanity possessed by the grown-up individual, scope for action or ‘karma’ made available to the person, happy and unhappy memories that are part of everybody’s life, and the ability to intellectually adjust to the fact that life is only a journey with an uncertain point of termination.
Man has free will, but the recipe for making life meaningful is to remain free of hallucinations, narcissism, and wild thoughts about one’s capability. No less a person than the greatest scientist of all times – Albert Einstein – famously commended ‘imagination’ as something that is even better than ‘knowledge’. He was speaking not of fantasies but of the ability of the human mind to see what lay beyond the facts in front, a capacity to visualize the wholeness of life, and a degree of awareness that helps reconcile with what is achievable and what is not in a given situation.
All of this suggests that the greatest act of philanthropy is to help a child get enough protection, nutrition, and exposure to education so that the boy or the girl can reach a stage where an understanding of the nature of the world to be faced and the opportunities, big or small, that are there to be availed of, become clear.
Translating the efforts of the individual into the expectations from a ruling dispensation that takes charge of the citizens everywhere, it can be said that the concept of a ‘welfare state’ must be enlarged to proactively offer the above-mentioned package of child’s care wherever needed, going beyond the politically motivated initiative of offering a competitive dole to ‘unemployed youth’.
The latter is important too, but the state must first be satisfied that it has done all that it could to generate employment through the ongoing development processes, carry out sufficient mobilization for raising defense and security forces that the country needs in this unsafe world, and ensure that there is an emphasis on self-dependence in every field.
Fortunately, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has the right understanding of economic development, defense, and security and the strategy of involving people in the initiatives taken by the state in these spheres through the call of ‘Sabka Saath, Sabka Vikas, and Sabka Vishwas’ that has worked well.
He has even made every citizen a participant in environmental protection through the new mandate of Life (Lifestyle for Environment) that he presented at the recently held G20 summit in Delhi.
Planting the new values of life in every individual’s consciousness through the dictum ‘Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam’ can give an enhanced meaning to life today, by creating a broader awareness about how to approach the issues of humanity at large.
It is a measure of insecurities felt by an average person that a search for the ‘unseen’ power capable of delivering in crises leads to the realm of God. But that discovery evidently brings in more conflict than a sense of support and strength to the people because it seems that while ‘religion’ unites its followers, ‘culture’ – an off-shoot of religion – tends to divide them.
Religion can be defined as the relationship of a person with his or her God while culture determines how the person is going to behave with the members of the society outside of his or her religion.
It would be fair to expect that every religion will encourage the display of good culture in that sense, but history has proved that people often fight in the name of religion because of the notions about a particular ‘faith’ being superior to others, and because leaders in public life chose to inject religion into politics for electoral gains.
In the Indian context, the dividing line between secularism and minority appeasement has always been obscure, and a narrative has been floated that the government of the day is moving towards ‘majoritarianism’ even though Indian democracy is run on the robust principle of ‘one man one vote’.
If the policies of the government apply to all communities in the same manner, then the fact of a country having the majority of one community should not be misused for politically ‘scaring’ the minority.
Moreover, the emphasis of the Modi government on nationalism has prompted many in the opposition to consider it as a bad word and even advocate for exemption for the Muslim minority from the practice of saluting the national flag or joining in the singing of the national anthem.
Overall, too much communal politics is taking away the people’s right to think of the quality-of-life issues first.
The learning is that an individual’s own personal development and ability to think of life as a rare ‘gift’ should not be allowed to be marred by lesser thoughts.
Advocacy of ‘supremacism’ of faith has led to politics of militancy and terrorism and created an environment of insecurity everywhere. Fortunately, India is leading the voice of sanity at world fora by warning the international community against the perils of ‘faith-based’ terror and highlighting the need for global peace.
India’s response to the recent terror attack of Hamas on Israel was in line with this sound policy.
Indian cultural thought highlights the need for reaching the ultimate awareness that life is a ‘finite’ experience which calls for a search for higher values lying beyond the trap of material entanglement or ‘attachment’ that bred many ills and wayward thinking.
The practical side of it is an emphasis on Karma or duty towards the family and society to be fulfilled with every bit of energy, enthusiasm, and consciousness.
This powerful moral prescription is meant to produce the best results in life for everybody. In today’s world, a sound mind is as precious as physical fitness, and hence adherence to a healthy routine, conscious devotion to duty, and a certain capacity to view life from a higher perspective are pivotal for maintaining sanity.
Invoking our civilizational strength can improve the quality of life as it promotes collective peace, fosters the feeling that ‘no one is left alone,’ and generally steers clear of conflicts.
So long as one does one’s best for the family and the society, believes in the Indian wisdom of treating children as ‘friends’ once they become adults with freedom to decide about their course of life and pursuit of interests, and realizes that there is no ‘one size fits all’ in life, one would find it easy to accept the flowering of different patterns of growth as part of the complete awareness of what life is all about.
Human beings are gifted with the power of recall, which is different from mere memories that many in the animal kingdom can retain. This is the capacity for not only going into the past in all its meticulous details but also to analyze the events in retrospect to formulate if any situation could have been handled differently.
None of the unprofitable throwbacks to the past should, however, be allowed to tarnish the present. Age is no bar to the formulation of a positive-looking ‘project’ that one can pursue for one’s inner satisfaction within the limits of one’s physical and mental wherewithal.
A broader awareness of what life is will always help bring dignity to the individual and a level of wisdom that would serve him or her well in all circumstances.
(Pathak is a former Director of India’s Intelligence Bureau.)