Monday, August 30, 2010

Choosing your friends

How to choose the set of people around you whom you call your friends and who are the most dear to you? Honestly, friendship is not a matter of pure rational choice, but a matter of the heart. But, sometimes, your emotions mislead you to disappointments too. So, firstly you can choose the set of people you wish to be friends with intuitively. But, at the same time, there is one important thing that can be taken care of to ensure you so not end up disappointed.

The most important thing to take care of while choosing your friends is your personal value system. Some people, who introspect, start developing their value systems and basic philosophy in life which they wish to adhere to. Personal value systems are above people - its one's closest set of personal beliefs which one attempts to follow, irrespective of circumstances and people around. Any person whom you call your friend MUST respect your deepest beliefs and value systems.

I would classify people into 3 categories - people who follow similar beliefs as yours, people who have different belief systems yet are respectful of yours, and people who disrespect your belief system. The first set of people cause synergy. It is a great experience to be around such people as they help you get a better understanding of your own system of thinking. The second set of people are very important to keep around you. They may disagree with your belief systems and help you rectify your course of action with their viewpoints. But, this set of people are not imposing. They acknowledge the fact that although the personal value systems of two people are different, each of them deserves respect and not mockery or criticism because one personally does not believe in the other.

The third category of people who criticize your value systems because of their disagreement with it tend to superimpose their expectations on you - expectations which infringe on your basic values which you hold dear. This third category of people should not be made close friends with because it would lead to a lose-lose situation where both parties are unhappy - one because his or her own value system is not given due respect and the other, because he/she does not find his/her expectations satisfied from the other individual.

Also, an important point to note here is the implementation of one's belief systems. Each individual's belief systems are marred by a number of constraints. For example, I do not like to eat in a place where veg and non-veg food are cooked together, but I dont have an option other than eating in my college mess which cooks both meals together. So, what does one do in this case? Each person who tries to follow his/her value systems strictly might also need to accommodate for such situations irrespective of his/her personal wishes. A friend would be able to understand that the implementation of the belief system is not ideal and may help you to improve on it or will understand the situation instead of making a fuss about it. But, the third set of people would call you a hypocrite because you cannot perfectly implement your belief system.

It is my personal belief that a hypocrite is one who has a belief system which contradicts itself and one who manipulates his philosophy to suit different situations. On the other hand, someone with a consistent value system who finds it difficult to implement his philosophy under all circumstances is not a hypocrite, but is in a sense, constrained by the environment.

If friends start imposing such constraints on you or expect that you adapt your belief systems for them like you adapt them for other environmental constraints, then they are no good. It is good to keep such people as part of the environment instead of keeping them in the close set of people around you. Friends should help you realize any inconsistencies in your basic philosophical premise, if any, and also understand the problems encountered in its implementation.

Your friends will understand and respect your belief systems and will also attempt to understand the difficulties you face in implementing them fully, even if they follow a different value system than your own. Friends need not be similar - but they should be able to respect the differences!

PS: A word of hope - People do change and hence, it is a good idea to not close yourself from anyone. But, you can maintain adequate distance from people till they start respecting your viewpoints and values.

A special thanks to Ramana Krishnan for the enlightening discussion which led to this blog post.

Saturday, May 01, 2010

Atheism, redefined

All of us strive to attain certain goals in life and are accordingly driving our life in certain directions. But, what is the purpose behind all these goals and aspirations? As sufficiently elaborated in previous posts, the idea is to achieve inner bliss and happiness.

Also, we have discussed that most sources of joy are temporary and end up making us more miserable than before. The more we achieve the pleasures, the more we crave for them.

Thus, we established that we are seeking happiness, which is everlasting, one which can be only be derived internally and not from external objects. Taking this assumption as the starting point, we would try and look at a new definition of atheism.

We are all seeking eternal happiness. One question that remains to be answered is if this quest is possible. Is freedom from pleasure of the senses and detachment from objects and people a possibility? Is such an ideal state, devoid of any attachment, attainable? Mahavira, Buddha, Adi Shankaracharya and many other saints of the past have attained enlightenment and reached this state of moksha or nirvaana.

Do we believe that the possibility of detachment exists, for some great soul in this world? The question is not of whether you find it possible for you, the question is whether you find it possible for any one - is this state humanly possible - whether it is for Buddha, Mahavira or anyone else. If you believe in the possibility of the liberation of even a single soul, then you are a believer. If you believe that Buddha and Mahavira who were mere mortals attained enlightenment, you are a believer.

In my opinion, the role of religion is just to instill faith in people that such an ideal is possible. All the idols made for God are just human ways of expressing an ideal. The rites and rituals are meaningless if they cant fill one with the belief in the possibility of perfection that lies within oneself. Surprise surprise, but Buddhism is an agnostic religion while Jainism an atheistic one, where there is no belief in the presence of an external God. But, both religions believe in the existence of infinite possibilities within oneself.

It is an unfortunate thing that rites and rituals today have attained more importance than the ideal behind them. An idealist is a very strong believer who believes that she herself can attain this state of perfection. But, there also exist people in society, who believe in the ideal but not in their own possibility of achieving it. Even these are believers.

But, people who do not believe in the idea of such bliss and peace, the one who term themselves practical and realists, are the ones whom I term as atheists. Atheism is the lack of belief, not in God, but in that principle to propagate which, God came into being. God is nothing but a human soul, devoid of attachment, pain or pleasure. Realism or practicality is nothing but a euphemism for atheism.

Thus, all those atheists who dream, who believe in the concept of a "purpose", are believers while all those believers who are "practical" in thinking and who make cuts and corners to achieve their own ends are atheists.

But, can one really be an atheist - a believer in the purposelessness and uselessness of her ownself and that of others. Someone who doesn't believe in a purpose and hence, believes in nothing. If there was ever such a soul on earth, she would be too depressed to live. Thus, all people who commit suicides are atheists, but if you can feel the air coming in and going out of your nostrils, you are still in some sense, a believer :)

Thursday, January 28, 2010

The seeking of joy

Some days one feels unhappy and miserable. What causes this misery? Frustration, anger, jealousy, greed make one feel low and unhappy. If one was satisfied with life, how could he/she be frustrated, angry, jealous or greedy?

All these emotions are associated with dissatisfaction. But what lies at the core of these feelings is the same as what lies at the core of happiness, harmony, empathy and love - eternal peace. For example, one is greedy because he/she feels that getting that object of desire would make him/her satisfied and content. One is jealous because one feels that getting a particular person/object/skill that someone else has will make him/her more joyous and peaceful.

The need for being self-content makes one go into lower emotions as the person believes he or she is not content right now. On the other hand, the highs are expressions of inner peace. When one is really happy or in love, he/she can hardly find faults with the other because he is so content with his/her own self. The emotion of caring and understanding arises when one is content with his/her own inner emotions and is open to listening to others.

Thus, every low represents the need for inner peace and every high is an expression of the same. Furthermore, there are some highs which represent immediate gratification which represent contentment for a temporary period in time. But, what we seek is of an eternal nature - true solace.

And such solace does not lie in sporadic highs and excitements. That which gets one excitedly happy is what is capable of making a man miserable. Excitement is an expression of a fulfilled desire whereas misery, an expression of an unfulfilled one. They are but the same. True inner peace does not lie in a few moments of excitement and pleasure but is long lasting and is definitely a function of the decisions one makes in life in the longer term.

Thus, the seeking of joy is nothing but the seeking of inner peace which is eternal in nature. To avail of this peace, let us look beyond desires as they can bring misery or temporary bouts of joy, but not ever lasting ones. Let us find true inner solace by looking within and realizing that we need to make decisions for long term peace and yet, be happy in each instant that passes by - irrespective of all the mundane things that go around us! We lie beyond them.