Chapter 3, Part 2
“Wisdom, the Great Redeemer”
A fine perception of such deeper understanding and right relationships in the family is contained in the observations of Thich Nhat Hanh, a Vietnamese Buddhist monk, as he speaks about a son who has become a problem to the parents by his wayward behaviour. He asks—when you plant a tree and that tree does not grow well and healthy, do you blame the tree? and suggests that instead of blaming the tree, you should look into the reasons why the tree is not growing properly. Is it due to lack of fertilizer or water? Is it due to lack of sunlight or too much of it? The same should be the case with the son. Do not blame him. Try to find out the reason why he has become like that and let him feel that you are trying to understand him and his problems with deep love in your heart. The more you see, the more you will understand. No argument, no reasoning, no blame; just try to understand with love! Situations often change dramatically this way.
Wisdom is thus not a self-enclosing happiness. It is a vision of wholeness, of deeper understanding of life, of tolerance and goodness. Wisdom and life are, therefore, not separate from each other. In fact, wisdom is life – and rightly understood and lived, it ennobles all thought and activity – be it in the field of religion, social relations, economy or politics.
For the wise, religion does not divide, it unites. Religions named after various great beings, may vary in form, in rituals, in prayer, in language, in structures of places of worship, but the core of all these religions is religion per se, which is the same in all. That core is selflessness, love and service of others. For lack of time let us take only three. The Gita says:
As the ignorant act from attachment to action, so should the wise act
without attachment, desiring the welfare of the world.
The Bible puts it thus: God is love, and he that dwelleth in love, dwelleth
In God, and God in him”, and again: “He that is greater among you, let him become as
The younger, and he that is Chief as he that doth serve…I am among you as he that doth
The poor, the orphan, and the captive – feed (them) for the love of God,
for the sake of Him alone, desiring no reward, not even thanks.
Unfortunately, narrowness comes in understanding religion and, sad to say, often those who put themselves in charge of propagating and expounding a religion, use it to gain power and authority for themselves. The ignorant, “the faithful flock” get carried away and what gets preached and practiced is often not religion, but narrowness, division, hatred, strife, animosity, riots and violence. Wisdom demands that we stop being led blindfold by others, start thinking for ourselves and ponder carefully over the basic truths of religion – our own religion – and then decide our course of action and conduct in life. If we do so even in a small measure, things will begin to change for the better, not only for us individually but for the society as a whole as well – for a life of religion is truly a life or purity and compassion.
At the core of sound and healthy social relations is integration, and integration brings about justice and goodwill in social life. Distinctions that have arisen in terms of communities, castes, tribes and clans go against the basic principle of a sound and healthy social order. Castes, initially based on difference in capacities or division of labour in ancient India, have lost their relevance and become a disintegrative factor today. The unequal status of women in society has been another major irritant creating tensions therein. Social stratification on any basis – whether it is caste, class, wealth, colour, or sex – gradually undermines harmony, and leads to the decline and decay of society. History gives us ample warning that all great civilizations of the past declined and even disappeared when great disparities and injustices got perpetuated between different classes of citizens. It has been wisely said: when brotherhood is ignored, it breaks that which ignores it. The wise in all communities have, therefore, to work for an integrated social order- an order which is not based merely on legal sanctions and punishments, but on a deep-seated perception and conviction of the oneness or brotherhood of all mankind.
The values which hold good in religion and social relations equally apply to the economic and political life of any community or country, for these are the values of care and concern for all – not for the privileged few. Equality, fraternity and responsible freedom begin to grow in a community which attempts to guide its affairs in a spirit of non-selfishness and love. Whether it is religion, the social fabric, economic order, or the political structure, the important thing in the life of a community is concern for the whole and not for the few. Carl Sagan, the well-known astronomer, in his book Cosmos which was serialized on the television worldwide some years ago, wrote:
“Human history can be viewed as a slowly dawning awareness that we are members of a large group…If we are to survive, our loyalties must be broadened further to include the whole humanity, the entire planet earth.”
J. Krishnamurti similarly warned: “A materialistic humanity will destroy itself unless the self is wholly abandoned.” And only from this revolution a new society can be put together. The abandonment of the self is love, compassion; passion for all things – the starving, the suffering, the homeless and even the materialist.
The responsibility of thoughtful and wise human beings is not merely to the present generation; it is an inter-generational responsibility. What sort of a world are we going to leave or hand over to our successive generations? What will they think of us and our actions? Will they remember us with some respect for the long-term good we planned and the foresight we displayed, or will they think of us as short-sighted, self-centered, narrow-minded ancestors who were concerned only with their lives and their own temporary interests?
Things, on the whole, are however not as dark and depressing as they often appear to be. There is a brighter side to the picture as well which gives us hope. Despite all the ugliness, narrowness, and violence that one sees in the world, one does not also fail to notice indications of some welcome change in people’s perceptions. The technological revolution in communications has made for much closer contacts between peoples living in different parts of the world. The satellite TV, the radio, the cableless telephone, the super fast jet plane, have all led to a shrinking of distances. The morning paper now contains news and even pictures of a flood or cyclone havoc or an earthquake disaster that had occurred yesterday in what were considered far-off countries in the past. One feels heartened to note that today there is in evidence a growing sensitivity about the sufferings of other people, howsoever removed they may be in distance. When famine occurs in a country, help comes, meager and sometimes halting though it may be, from governments, non-governmental organizations and private individuals living in distant parts of the world. When sometime back there was an earthquake in a part of the erstwhile USSR, food, medicines, clothes, etc. poured in spontaneously from all over the world – irrespective of political or ideological differences. I felt encouraged the other day perusing the report of a voluntary organization which is looking after the education of Tibetan refugee children who have come, and still continue to come, to India. It showed that donations for that noble cause are coming from many individuals living in all the continents of the world – individuals who will never see these children and with whom they have nothing in common except the deep bond of humanity. I consider this to be an expression – howsoever imperfect or marginal it may seem to be – of a growing sense of closeness, of concern, of care, arising from a shared consciousness of all mankind. And let us not minimize in this context the role that the various Agencies of the United Nations are playing in serving humanity, since funds for the work of the United Nations, after all, come from the governments of its member countries, and the governments generally represent the will of the people. Much useful work is being done by several Agencies of the United Nations in rendering assistance in spheres like food, health, child care and education in different parts of the world.
The beginning of any good work for a community is often made by a few dedicated individuals and, then, if the spirit behind the action is pure and selfless, it catches on like fire lit by a small flame – a fire that does not consume but rebuilds, reshapes, and redeems.
The role of the individual in bringing about transformation in society should not be minimized. Referring to the importance of a few or even a single human being in this movement towards the good of the larger community, Confucius once observed that moral power never dwells in solitude. It will always bring neighbours.
One person or a group of persons start thinking in the right way about a problem and the solution to that problem, and if the thought-currents are pure, persistent and powerful, they gradually build up a strong thought-atmosphere which imperceptibly begins to influence many others, and a mighty movement starts.
It is the individuals who make the world and therefore it is each individual’s loving, caring thought, feeling and action which help in transforming the world.
Let me end with a beautiful piece from a well-known mystic of the fifteenth century, Thomas a Kempis. He says:
God regards more with how much affection and love a person
performs a work, than how much he does. He does much who
loves much. He does much who does well what he does. He
does well who regards rather the common good than his own will..
He that has true and perfect charity seeks himself in nothing but
desires only that God be glorified in all things.
This is wisdom in action and it can redeem us as individual human beings and help redeem the whole wide world as well.