By Suma Varughese
Our present culture revolves around comfort and convenience when the purpose of life is inner growth
If one were to look at the driving force behind modern civilisation, it boils down to just one goal – convenience (or comfort). All the mighty efforts of science and technology, all the great achievements of modern times are fuelled by this one goal. Think the steam engine, electricity, television, washing machines, computers, mobiles, microwaves and everything in between. Think ATM, online banking, fast food industry, malls and multiplexes.
This makes absolute sense if we believe life to be an entirely material affair. In this scheme of things we are born and we die – in the meanwhile we have to try our best to live as well as we can, accrue as many experiences as possible, and achieve as much as we can, from money to fame to possessions.
However, once we recognise that we are actually spirit and the purpose in life is to achieve self-realisation, this huge edifice of effort and expense can seem at best, a distraction, and at worst, against our best interests. Because the truth is convenience and growth (which self-realisation hinges on), point in two different directions.
It is convenient to buy all the mountains of ready-to-make food but is it really good for our body, mind or souls? We are what we eat, and packaged food is so full of preservatives and additives that it cannot but affect our well-being.
It is convenient to travel in cars, but the body is meant to be exercised. Not doing so creates all sorts of health problems, including obesity.
It is comfortable to sit in air-conditioned homes, vehicles and cabins, but they affect our health and destroy the environment too.
It is convenient to use the mobile, but there are increasing reports that it has negative impact on the brain cells, a truth that the manufacturers are trying their best to suppress.
The Katha Upanishads have two concepts that illustrate our present plight: preya and shreya. Preya stands for what is pleasant and Shreya for what is good. In the beginning Preya is alluring – like a McDonald’s hamburger or a face lift, but as time goes by, Preya actually gives us a harvest of pain. On the other hand, Shreya is daunting at first – going on a diet, taking up meditation, kicking smoking or alcohol. We writhe in discomfort, but as time goes by, we reap a harvest of joy, happiness, and fulfilment.
Our civilisation is based on preya – endless material satisfaction. And now we are paying the price for it: stress, depression, loss of meaning, a host of illnesses and conflict, competitiveness, a degraded environment.
What would happen instead if we were to collectively organise a society around the goal of shreya?
I think the first thing we would recognise is that if we are indeed one, then anything that we do, say or think has to have the welfare of the whole welded into it. We cannot act in a way that damages others or society. We would need to act from a holistic perspective, which means that reliance on science and technology would be considerably less, unless of course all scientists were also mystics.
Secondly, instead of investing in technology, we would invest in ourselves. For instance, instead of upgrading computers, why not develop our own limitless potential, such as memory? Instead of expecting air-conditioning and central heating to keep us cool or warm, we could actually control our temperature from within, as yogis do. Cultivating ESP is another way to go – think of all the communication devises we would be spared.
Thirdly, focus will shift from the mundane business of earning a living, which is today the very basis of human life, to the much more fulfilling task of realising one’s highest potential. The arts would thrive and so would sports, as well as innumerable creative and human activities as we went about the fascinating task of discovering what exactly we are capable of.
Inequities and social intolerance would cease. Since the focus would be on inner growth, each of us would strive to rise above our prejudices and negativities. We would strive to minimise our needs and desires, which in turn would ensure that everyone has enough and no one has too much.
I, for one, am confident, that we will see this unfold in the coming future.
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