Except for the bare minimum so as to keep abreast of events, I have switched off watching the news about the war in Ukraine, so sickening are the graphics of death and destruction, both of which were totally unavoidable and unnecessary. Except for a leadership that a large body of sane opinion increasingly considers as having been trapped in a proxy war which is benefiting only the military industrial complex, which is made up essentially of five big global companies that have seen their stockmarket shares and profits going up from very soon after the war began.
Death and mourning in Ukraine: Mountains of corpses found in devastated cities of Ukraine. Pic – PressWire18
The biggest losers in this war are the people of Ukraine and their devastated country. Putin, contrary to all the rumours that had been circulating about his presumed illness, looked quite healthy when he gave an address recently as Russia paraded its military might. 75 days into the war and despite setbacks, he appears to be more than ever determined to continue pounding Ukraine and will not stop at anything until he feels that he has won, never mind that Ukraine might be completely razed at the end of it all.
Zelensky, who better than most should have had the farsightedness to gauge Putin, still believes that he is fighting for liberal democracy, for liberalism. When he surveys his destroyed country, will he still feel like that? Will the parents who have lost their children, the wives who have become widowed, the children who have become orphans, the women and children who have left the comfort of their homes to overnight become refuges in alien lands – will they too feel alike, that the desolation that is left was worth the sacrifice and loss that they have suffered? It will be too late then.
But liberalism itself, like the other ‘-isms’ that have preceded – such as socialism, capitalism, communism, nationalism — has been found to be flawed. Reference, for example, the article ‘Liberalism Isn’t Dead—but It’s Very Sick’ by James Traub, columnist at Foreign Policy and non-resident fellow at New York University’s Center on International Cooperation.
It is therefore better to leave these confused minds to their own devices and focus more on how beautiful life is.
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The Truth of Life
This is what we did a couple of weeks ago with Brahmachari Vignesh of Chinmaya Mission Chennai who has come over for a short stay to conduct some sessions at the local branch of Chinmaya Mission. The hostess had invited a small group of friends for a satsang to be conducted by Br Vignesh – sat means truth, sang means together: the topic was therefore an enquiry into the Truth of Life. What is life, how do we go about discovering its ultimate purpose?
There was no prescription, only exploration and an invitation to share views and thoughts about life, in the spirit of the Hindu scriptures, the Vedas, to wit that vade vade jayate tattvabodha; through dialogue and debate the truth emerges. Br Vignesh only made comments and guided the discussion in a process that would allow everyone to discover the truth of themselves by drawing from the crucible of the veritable fragrance of ideas that were presented. Everybody came out enriched and a better person, with a clearer perspective and an urge to explore further.
As I reflected on our exchanges afterwards, I could summarise for myself four categories into which one could place definitions of life:
physico-chemical, according to Irish physicist JD Bernal as far as I can recollect: ‘life is a dynamic equilibrium in a polyphasic system.’
biological, as it is now understood: at its most fundamental, life is simply the capacity to self-replicate, that is to make multiple copies of oneself by oneself. Any organism that can do that is said to be living. That is why viruses baffle us: they are neither living nor non-living, lying at the intersection between the two realms. The advent of Covid-19 has upped the debate about whether a virus is living or non-living – because it cannot replicate by itself but needs to use another living organism to do so, by hijacking the multiplying mechanism of the latter that is found it its cells. The Covid-19 virus does that using human lung cells.
existential: everyone, educated or non-educated, at some stage in his life journey asks: who am I? where do I come from? what happens after death?
experiential – perhaps the one which has the widest range of perspectives because every individual can frame a definition from his/her own experience.
In fact, the experiential dimension is the usual starting point for any enquiry into life, from what we observe in the world around us and what we undergo within as we use these observations to organize our lives at individual level. From that vantage point scientists delve into the biological then the physico-chemical level to bring knowledge that leads to the development of technology and practical applicationswhich enhance material comfort.
Thinkers such as our rishis (sages), poets and philosophers surf on other planes and come up with gems that induce deep reflection. These two among myriads will suffice as examples:
‘Life is what happens to you when you are busy making other plans.’
‘Life is a series of moments, miracles and experience. Enjoy every moment, Enjoy the miracle, and Learn from the experience.’
The life well lived can only be about shared joys and happiness, selfless service whenever possible, and not causing willful harm. It is love that is the driving force for these sentiments and actions. Unfortunately, it is the missing ingredient in a world soaked in hate and bent on wars and their killing fields.
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