Beggars, runs the adage, cannot be choosers. The end of choice comes at the end of life. Our ancients believed that there was existence beyond the purely physical one that was bound within the five senses. Breathing,eating, drinking, sleeping and procreating are activities that human beings share with their so-called lesser animal brethren. The human mind can, and sometimes does, go much beyond the five senses, which is why the ancients held that the human being could transcend beyond what we describe as life. As for choice, the greater the menu of options, the more the sensitivity, the depth, and indeed, the luxury of life. For example, a starving man can continue in hunger mode or choose to accept whatever food comes his way in charity. However, his choice is limited to whatever is on offer. He cannot afford the luxury of deciding whether he would like masala dosa or venison cutlets, as he is unlikely to get either! Settling his hunger pangs, rather than satisfying the tastes of the palate, is his obvious choice. A person who has just been paid his salary, on the other hand, can deliberate whether he is going to buy hilsa fish and vegetables to be cooked at home. Someone fixated on price who googles the most expensive restaurant in town and pairs it up with pricey vintage wine and gourmet food that takes half a day to prepare, exercises a much greater range of choices. Getting fresh strawberries flown in to accompany the champagne is yet another means to titillate the palate.Yet, the reality remains that the basic function meant to be served by all these extremes of choice is to destroy hunger!
When a child is born to a certain family, it is natural that it imbibes the protocol its family follows. Exposure to the habits of the family ensures familiarisation and, usually, eventual adherence to them. This is why a child who grows up hearing the vigorous riyaaz of its parents, is likely to become a musician herself. This kid born of musical parents aged five,normally knows more of music than an average 20-year-old.
The hidden root of castes, not as originally conceived but as developed in India, has been based on the circumstances of growing up. Vedic chants are often a lullaby to infants in traditional houses. This writer learnt the Shri Vishnu Sahasranaamam as a child because of hearing it daily. It may be noted that learning by rote a catchy advertisement jingle such as ‘Washing powder Nirma’ uses the same set of brain cells! This is NOT to equate a catchy ditty with the much-revered Sahasranaamam. This is merely to point out that the area of the conscious that is used to memorise the two is the same. It is important in this age of proliferating communications that nuances are not lost in the sheer volume of information.
Birth is purely a chance of biology. No person is born into a particular nation, religion, caste, or any other group thanks to any decision of theirs. The conflict stems when any person or persons deem themselves to be more entitled than the rest just because of the accident of birth. When the mother’s ovum fuses with a particular sperm among the millions discharged into her, it becomes a zygote which, hopefully, comes out as a healthy child. It has been scientifically proved that a single drop of semen contains many potential offspring. It is this chance that places an individual in a biologically ordained setting. The family setting determines the religion, sect, language,nationality, etcetera, of a newborn, and these choices normally continue throughout the life-span.To argue that an individual or a religion is superior (or inferior) to another is to completely ignore the reality of science and the chances and outcomes it generates.
Such a fixity of the marks of identity should be valid only for the primary incident of birth. Otherwise,using a similar analogy, it would be logical to state that the quality of a Kalidasa’s or Goethe’s or Shakespeare’s work of literature is that of a gossip broadsheet. It is very strange that society, which insists on the equality of mankind, omits to look at the reality of the condition faced in the lives of so many in that very same mankind. Rather than judge an individual on the basis of the privilege of birth, inverting this tenet would be extremely beneficial for the world at large.
The ancients held that each human being, by virtue of the fact that she or he is a single entity(even twins are born singly, one after the other), embodies a single bit of that great Divinity. There are to them in reality as many Divinities as there are beings in Creation. This while accepting that the source of all such variation is One.Just as Adi Shankara was his mother’s son, Shiva’s (and other Deities’)devotee, composer par excellence, just as Swathi Thirunal was a composer,king and Shri Padmanabha Dasa, one can see that each such facet is a specific label given to the same person! This is exactly the same with Godhood. When there are multiple believers of the same God, they together form a religion.
It is the practitioners of belief systems who veer between the chants of victimhood (look how oppressed we have been in history) and smugness (we are the best and the others better acknowledge us to be superior) who do disservice to the tenets they profess to believe in. Such as concentrating on historical wrongs and in the process, ignoring the present. Rather than seek to change history, what is desirable is to learn from them and to ensure that they are not repeated.
Victor Hugo’s maxim that one man’s rights end where another man’s starts is a golden rule to end unnecessary conflicts. There are umpteen challenges thrown by the mere existence on earth. It would benefit everyone if those man-made conflicts, which could be and need to be avoided, are done so. It is understandable to think, and even proclaim, that there is only one God. Divinity is the universal force that pervades all space and matter.However, to this must be added the self-confidence for each individual to think and proclaim equally vehemently that while this belief is sacrosanct and important to every single being, each has an equal right to the choice he accepts as his own.