By Dr Jyots Bhattacharjee
Disaster seems to be a part of life and it can strike anybody at any time. I think that everybody goes through some misfortune, major or minor, during one’s life time. Possibly none can get rid of misfortune or suffering sometime or the other. But most of us cannot face disaster calmly and boldly. When some misfortune strikes us, we get dejected and feel that providence has been unfair to us. Only the other day a lady told me sadly that she has never intentiolly harmed anybody nor has she done anything wrong knowingly, yet fate has not been kind to her. She has suffered in various ways. She also grumbled about somebody who apparently has always been in the wrong, yet she is leading a smooth and happy life. And her own life has been a chain of disasters. turally she has complaints against fate.
I suppose many of us feel that way. I myself often grumble that in spite of leading a reasobly virtuous life, I often have to face many disturbing situations, which really makes me sad and depressed. I think that I too have complaints against providence, though I believe that perhaps such problems are faced by every human being. After all life cannot be roses, roses all the way; there are prickly thorns as well. When something unfortute occurs, we become sad and often ask ourselves the question: “Why has this happened to me?” But after long experience and in my ripe old age I now feel that this is a wrong question to ask. The question should have been, “What can I do about it?” Suffering seems to be universal, and almost every one faces some calamity sooner or later. So we have to find the means to tackle it sensibly.
It is true that it is terribly difficult to remain calm and composed when disaster strikes. But what cannot be cured must be endured, as they say. I know that it is easy to preach and advise others to bear suffering calmly, but extremely difficult to do it for the victim of fate’s idiosyncrasies. Even the preacher may not have the strength to remain calm when misfortune strikes. It is also true, and very tural that at first we feel crushed and idequate, perhaps resentful too. The question repeatedly comes to the mind—“why me?” Often we feel incapable to cope alone and hence turn to family and friends for support.
It is a fact that when you share your problems and misfortune with somebody who you can trust and who is loyal, the suffering becomes less. But there is a limit to what other people can do for us. The remedy or solution really lies within us. Self-help is the best help, as they say. If we refuse to help ourselves, nobody can help us. I believe that we should try to find some new interest to absorb our time and energy. It may have no bearing on the problem we are facing and may not instantly heal the wound. But it will be a tremendous boost in building up our resistance, confidence and courage.
I know very well that sometimes we may feel that enough is enough and we cannot endure any more misfortune. I myself was subjected to several knocks dealt by providence. There was a time when I felt that I could not take any more. I resented fate’s inconsiderate decrees on my life and I too felt that fate was being very unjust to me. But time happens to be a great healer and forgetfulness is bliss. That is why perhaps I am still going on with life’s activities, though occasiolly I get depressed when my mind goes back to the past and remember some sad events.
I suppose every one sometime has to face some unpleasantness and there is no escape from life’s afflictions. As I said I do feel sad when I remember those unfortute events which occurred in the past. I try not to think about them, but the past somehow forces itself on one’s mind. You just cannot evade it. I know that what happened in the past cannot be changed and we have to make the best of the present and try to correct ourselves of the past mistakes. It is no use crying over spilt milk and I cannot possibly spend the remaining part of my life with sad thoughts of the past. After all, past cannot be changed; so what is the use of harping on something which happened in the bygone days?
It is much better to think about the present and deliberate on our course of action with an eye on the future. It is very true that we have no idea about the future, yet we have to prepare ourselves to face the future; come what may. We have to look ahead and not backwards. As John Steinbeck stated, “I guess—what may happen is what keeps us alive. We want to see tomorrow”. We all want to see tomorrow, however weary of life we may have been. There is no doubt that we hope for a better future and that is what keeps us alive and active. Life happens to be a mixture of joy and sorrow, pleasure and pain, happiness and unhappiness. They are relative terms and hence one cannot exist without the other. We have to accept them as two sides of a coin. Hence we must understand that in everybody’s life there are ups and downs. And if in one person’s case it is more downs than ups, so what? Life brings so many tragedies—but we have to cope with them.
Perhaps for somebody loss of someone has been fincial or emotiol. In one way or other someone’s support may seem to have been knocked from under him or her. These things do happen and some families go through immense hardship when the earning member of the family is lost. In this age of violence and terrorism, when people talk with bullets, we often hear of such kinds of tragedies. In many such violent incidents the bread-winner of the family may fall to assassin’s bullets or may lose his life due to bomb blasts or something else. turally the shock becomes too intense for the family. Under certain conditions we are entitled to shed a few tears and turn to friends for sympathy. But for how long will they help us? They themselves may have diverse problems. It is not really wise to turn to others all the time, whenever some mishap occurs.
The friends or relatives may help us for a short time. But one day we must shake off our lethargy and dejection and make every effort to confront life’s challenges resolutely. Of course we do not know for certain how it will turn out or what the future has in store for us. But it is also a fact that we would never know if we do not make the effort. We have to take life as it comes cheerfully. There are some people who take every problem very seriously and get into a morass of depressions. They are the pessimists, who see only misery and darkness all around. As Noel Coward wrote regarding pessimism in his “There are Bad Times around the corner”.
‘There are bad times just around the corner
There are dark clouds travelling through the sky
And it’s no good whining
About a silver lining
For we know from experience that they won’t roll by”
That is pessimism which spreads misery and sorrow. The pessimists are a depressing lot. They themselves are miserable and make others also wretchedly unhappy. The optimists always look at the bright side and they bring a ray of sunshine with their cheerful ture. As Robert Browning wrote
“The lark’s on the wing;
The sil’s on the thorn;
God’s in his heaven— All’s right with the world”.
We must have hope for the future and that is the way we can face the unknown. Problems are varied- major or minor. Yet some of us take each problem to heart, though it may not be a real problem at all. But some of us have the fault of magnifying any little thing and as a result lose the zest for life.
There are many courageous people, who have faced disaster, yet have emerged victorious in the life’s battle. I know a lady who has faced many blows in succession, yet today she is one of the most contented people I have ever met. It is no use moping around and waiting for the inevitable end. That way we not only bring more depressions to ourselves, but we also become dreary bores to others. Nobody likes bores, who are a depressing lot. As Yavgeny Yevtushenko remarked, “Life is a rainbow which also includes black”. I think that is the way to take life. Clouds sometimes cover the sun, but the sun shines again in full glory, when the clouds disappear.
Life is an activity—there is so much to do—so much to live for. We do have moments of pleasure and pain during our life time. May be, we should concentrate on the pleasurable incidents without dwelling on the painful events. As Soren Kierkegaard wrote in “Jourls and Papers” in 1843, “Life must be understood backwards, but it must be lived forwards”. I think that is the gist of the matter. Only from past events we can understand the true significance of life, but we must move forward with hope and confidence. Traditiolly Indian philosophers have believed soul to be different from the body. According to them only the body suffers, but soul is not affected by pleasure or pain. As Lord Krish stated in the Bhagavad Gita that soul cannot be cut by weapon; nor can it be burnt by fire and nor can it be dried by wind. It is immortal and nothing can touch it. As a person discards his old worn out clothes, so also the soul leaves the old worn out body and takes a new one. Plato also had said that when the body gets old and frayed the soul leaves it, as it cannot live in a broken machine.
According to the philosophers, pleasure or pain cannot affect the soul. They are related only to the material body. But these philosophical speculations do not help us the least. We are conscious only of bodily pleasure or pain and do not know the soul, though we do suffer from mental anguish when some misfortune strikes. Regarding the abstract soul we have no knowledge. We happen to be ordiry people and are not the least interested in the unknown and unseen self. Our only concern is the human body, which is ours and we know it very well. Pleasure or pain may not affect the soul, but that is philosophy and not our ordiry day to day life. We do feel pleasure and pain as all ordiry mortals do. It may be different in cases of saints and philosophers. But all we know is that we are living in this world for a certain period of time and one day we will have to leave this world and beyond that we do not know. Human beings are contradictory creatures. In spite of knowing for certain that death is inevitable, it still has the power to make us frightened. Yet it is a phase in one’s life and there is no way out of it. We want to live forever, though we know very well that it is not possible. The fear of death hangs over our heads like Damocles’ sword and we are sure that we will have to go one day.
It is very true that we do not know what the future will bring. But for that apprehension why waste today? For fear of an unknown and uncertain future we cannot sacrifice the present. All of us have something to give, we may not have any talent, but we surely have certain capability or some particular aptitude. It might be very rewarding to use whatever little ability we may have. It will give a new direction to our life and if we do something well, it will turally give us some satisfaction and a feeling of achievement, however meagre that may be.
We can neither forget our worries nor can we ignore the grief we may have suffered. But still life must go on. We can never come to a full stop as long as we are alive. It is said by the philosopher that God sends each of his creations to fulfil some purpose. So apparently each person has some specific duty allotted to him or her. The world needs our services, how can we possibly evade our duties?
Here a question arises—was the world created by God or was it a product of accident? Science, I suppose, will not accept the theory of creation. May be, for them the world is an accidental product of atoms and molecules. But philosophy will not agree. This beautiful world with so many beautiful things and beings cannot be an accidental mechanical product. The idealists support the teleological theory of evolution, according to which, the universe displays design and purpose.
Whatever that might be, I think that the world is a place for activity and each of us should go on doing work till the end. A friend of mine, who is a social worker, told me that in her work, rewards far exceed effort. She gets lots of mental satisfaction from her social work and that is her reward. We might take any project that interests us. Life is so interesting, so colourful, if we know how to lead it fruitfully. It is a flowing current and we must keep up with it, helping it to run more smoothly by means of our own special qualities and persolity. Life must go on. We can never come to a full stop as long as we are alive. Life implies activity. As long as there is life there cannot be any cessation of activities.
Indian philosophy advocates the theory of Karma or Karmavada. In the third chapter of the Bhagavad Gita, Lord Krish explains Karmayoga to his friend and disciple Arju. He asks Arju to do his prescribed duty. The Lord said that one has right to action, but no right to the fruits of action (karmanyeva adhikaraste ma phaleshu kadaca). I think in this sentence we find a deep significance of actions. Usually we suffer because our actions do not bring the expected result. Lord Krish has emphasized that it is our duty to perform activities, but no right to expect results. Our actions must be disinterested (Niskama Karma). Actually we become dejected when we do not get what we expect. But if we do our duty without hoping for any results, then there cannot arise a feeling of frustration. Hence Gita advises people to do disinterested action (Niskama karma). But it is not so easy for people like us, as all our activities are directed at gaining some result.
John Domie wrote, “No man is an island”. We are part of the great stream of humanity. By stepping outside our persol world and taking part in the world around us, we can do much to make life happy. We may suffer; after all suffering goes along with joy. We cannot have one without the other, and we have to accept it as a fact of life. But by stepping outside our shell we can lead a most rewarding life, full of joy and laughter. So we have to remain active as long as possible and there is not full stop.
(The writer is a former Head, Department of Philosophy, Cotton College, Guwahati)