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.