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Saturday, August 31, 2013

Common sense from an ancient culture

The ancient Indians had life nicely thought out, in theory at least. We could learn an awful lot from them.

   They figured that life had four stages: studentship, then what they called a "householder", withdrawal from worldly matters, and freedom.
   Now, I know a lot of people don't have marriage or its equivalent on the agenda these days, but you can happily substitute the style of your own working life at that spot, whatever it may be. You still have to give yourself some security for old age.

   The four-stage formula makes sense, regardless of where the person is on the social scale. The first is a time of learning; the second when they put what they've learned into practice; the third, as they got older and more free of responsibility, to rid themselves of material things; and the last, freedom in every way from all bonds – even of obligation to family and friends.

   Hinduism has always been based on a flexible philosophy, and none of this was really set in stone. If you go to the ancient texts of Hinduism, it may seem like it's prescriptive, but that would be a mistake. It's not a discussion I want to get into here. The point is that each stage of life follows a sensible pattern.

   Take that second stage, for example. Other religions may make people feel guilty about having possessions. Hinduism's view is that in life there is a time for possessions and money which went beyond a right – it was a duty, to yourself and any dependants. If you're going to settle down and have children, then you must have a house or some suitable place to live and you must be able to provide for your family in every way.

   If you acquired wealth in a morally correct way, all to the good of society. You could employ people, and give them an opportunity to support themselves as well. So there was no need to feel any guilt about this at all.

   To bring this to the present, the big danger is getting lured by money, power, or possessions, and being trapped by them. Western-style teaching from cradle to grave is about these three. This makes it hard for some in western style society to accept the third and fourth stages of life, but they make profound good sense to me. 

   From a purely selfish point of view, the only material things that matter to me now are those that allow me to do what I'm doing at the moment, and to stay alive. If they're useful to other people when I'm gone, that's perfectly okay with me. I won't be using them.

   As it turned out, I'd been forced to accept that position of renunciation anyway. Necessity has turned into virtue. My beautiful video cameras, which you'd have had a great deal of trouble prizing from my grasp four years ago, I can't use any more. For months, it's been the same with the most powerful computer I own. I've given away a collection of 50 years' worth of books, or at least those anybody wants to have. The ones no-one else wants sit there sadly on the shelf, and whatever happens to them after I'm not around is not my business.

   I doubt if anyone would want practically anything else I own, unless you're crazy about well-washed tracksuits and the now-famous drop-crotch PJ pants.

   Tracey has done an excellent job over the last years in getting rid of all the things that I've collected in the garage that are of no use to anyone – even to me. Maybe, especially to me. I couldn't bear to throw them out myself or to dispose of them in some other way, but most of them are long gone, and I simply feel relief at that. I don't even remember what half of them were.

   But it's that last stage of life which is the most difficult – the one where I'm supposed to come to terms with attachments of all sorts, and that means to people as well. It's the time when I examine and clarify thoroughly my relationship with everything that has meaning beyond and within my current existence.

   It's all about being able to let go of what you can't have anyway. My definition of grief is failure to do that.

   I am comfortable with that last part. But what I know for sure is that, if things go in the way I hope, I'll have the images of those people who matter to me most in my mind at the end. I don't mean a physical presence I mean I hope I'll have the mental capacity to conjure up my image of the faces of those people I love from all parts of the globe. 

   If you get to read this, and not everyone will, you know who you are.


  1. 'Common sense from an ancient culture" -

    You are young, my son, and, as the years go by, time will change and even reverse many of your present opinions. Refrain therefore awhile from setting yourself up as a judge of the highest matters.

    There are only two mistakes one can make along the road to truth; not going all the way & not starting ~ Buddha

    Thank you, my friend.

    1. The words from Plato sound straight out of Siddhartha, which means great minds surely do think alike.

  2. Couldn't agree more Denis. Once you have passed the middle years of responsibility, a degree of renunciation is unexpectedly liberating. Once you withdraw from the hierarchal scramble for promotion, and are no longer a threat, your relationships prosper. Downsize your material possessions and you no longer worry about losing - or even maintaining them. The Four Noble Truths make sense as soon as we hear them ... and then happily follow them within the framework of the world in which we live.

    1. "...then happily follow them within the framework of the world in which we live."

      I think that's the bit people often miss.

      Thanks, Bob.

  3. Bob has said it all for me really. Just wanted you to know that I'd read it too and with total agreement. We had undertaken our own kind of sannyasi without leaving home - but then our new home itself is a form of renunciation of all that's unnecessary in life and yes - it IS liberating and I don't just mean because I haven't got all that silver to clean any more! In a way, life feels SAFER. If you don't have it to lose, you don't care about losing it. This works with people too; though I don't want to appear cold-hearted here by this age (and I'm not THAT old) you have already lost so many people from your life that you do become not so much resigned but accepting. As you should, unless you are overly maudlin and sentimental. You learn the ability to say goodbye and live with the loss. I'm not on any deep spiritual journey here - not my style - but my particular "sannyasi" is being able to focus on just what I want to do with my day rather than what I used to think I ought to do, without the clutter that comes with ownership. And being bloody grateful that I can do just that! I AM sorry about the cameras Denis but having got rid of our thousands of books (most of them; a very few precious ones are kept so we are not totally non-attached!!!) I can tell you that you don't miss them - not in the digital age where the written word can be so easily summoned with the press of a key! Thinking of you...

    1. Hi Julie - I wrote a response to this and was shocked to find it had disappeared. I think everything changes when you find that what you've really got are the ones you love and not a thing else matters – and yes, you have to lose some and sometime it's going to be you. Do you ever think how few of your books you really go back to? When it comes to it, I keep coming back to a select few. They're the only ones you don't want to be without but one day not even they will matter.

      Question: if you had just two books to keep and read, what would they be?

  4. Your thoughts here make complete and perfect sense to me.
    They resonate with a conversation Dave and I were having last night. We came home from having spent a delightful few hours with our eldest (38 year old) son at a very swanky restaurant in Kyneton. There were a dozen of his friends there, all up for worthy conversations if we could have heard them, as well as other adult members of our family.

    As we recaptured the day last night, we both agreed that we understand how it is, as we come closer to the end of our lives, that we will be ready to leave this world.

    In so many ways, what matters to the next generation no longer matters to us - the ambience of the restaurant, the tepid temperature of the coffee, the delicious, over-priced, pretentious food, the careless lack of disabled toilets, the letter "t" being added to the word "Bistrot"....
    We'd have given all that pretense and flummery away, all that material opulence. to sit at our local pub for $14 a meal, rather than a $90 one, or around our dining room table - and to be able to talk without the clattery racket of a modern restaurant, and just be together. We just don't have the energy to care about all that other stuff any more. None of any of it matters except the"....faces of those people I /we love from all parts of the globe."

    Thank you again for your profound and beautiful poetic prose, Den. xx

    1. Ros your words are just as pitch-perfect as Denis' own. I really do hope you and David follow his past urgings, and make a space to share your own thoughts on life as it is lived.


    2. Thank you KVD - your words move me.
      I often feel reluctant to write comments on Den's blog, such is the awe, the admiration and the respect in which I hold him, and it. But his total acceptance and encouragement - and complete lack of judgement (I'm a little dyslexic, so quite anxious aound spelling mistakes - inspite of my degree in Education) gives me the freedom to do so.
      Dave and I are so inspired by Denis' example here, that we will one day soon be taking the plunge. I hope you will assist us with your presence.

    3. This is what I wrote, before I read either KVD's comment or your reply to him:

      On the contrary, I think you are the one writing beautifully, as I find things harder and harder to express. I still would like to see the Ros and Dave blog – or, if Dave finds it too hard to handle a role in two vital blogs – which would perfectly reasonable – maybe the Ros blog would have its own flair.

      So true about the pretentious meals that are now served at a ferocious price – but of course, you are zeroing in what matters, and that's the people you are dining with. We always come back to people, and those in our lives who matter.

  5. "But it's that last stage of life which is the most difficult – the one where I'm supposed to come to terms with attachments of all sorts, and that means to people as well. It's the time when I examine and clarify thoroughly my relationship with everything that has meaning beyond and within my current existence.

    It's all about being able to let go of what you can't have anyway. My definition of grief is failure to do that. "

    You know, up until now, I never really understood some of the attitudes my friend had towards the end of his life, but seeing it like this, it makes perfect sence.
    Thanks you!


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