‘Happy Divali,’ said my fellow walker friend, ‘is, or should in fact be a matter of our daily life. I believe its strongest message is rather the “victory of the forces of good over the forces of evil” instead of, as is commonly stated, the “victory of good over evil.”
Happy Divali comes once in a year to remind us collectively about this message, but you will agree that this struggle of the forces of good over the forces of evil which are present all the time has to be a daily affair.’ And he went on to cite several examples of ‘evil’ things happening locally and around the world everyday to support his thesis.
‘Evil’ here is not used in a religious sense but points to the range of bad to worse in our thinking, speaking and doing. It is, however, an undeniable reality that much bad continues to be perpetrated by the use and misuse of religion. Besides, religious intolerance itself – including of the sectarian variety within the same religion — has been at source and in practice the cause of innumerable conflicts which have led to preventable deaths of innocent lives and destruction of property representing the genius of humankind. The contemporary world harbours several such theatres and pockets of warring where common humanity has all but disappeared. The ongoing carnage in the Middle-East, a graphic illustration of what extremes of such warped thinking can lead to, does not need any further elaboration.
On the other hand, even on a daily basis at individual level we can see, cite or think of any number of examples of evil that haunts societies. Families and siblings confront each other, at much emotional and material cost, over what objectively are – from a larger, existential point of view – comparatively minor things, in the sense that the assumed gains(s) would hardly make any difference to the lives of the parties concerned.
All manner of crimes, from petty larceny to major thefts and attacks with indescribable violence against children and women, are daily currency in civilian life and gain headline space in the front pages of newspapers, becoming lucrative fare for them. Drug-related crimes are another type of widespread evil in civil society, some countries being more notorious than others in this respect, while elsewhere repression and killing for political or ideological reasons is much cause for concern. I am thinking of the recently discovered mass graves in Mexico, and which contained the bodies of students presumed to be protesting against the authorities and who had confrontations with the police. It is yet to be confirmed whether the bodies are those of the protesting students, but the sheer fact of finding unexplained (so far) mass graves is very disturbing, to say the least. And when one sees scenes of weeping mothers and relatives on the TV, one cannot help wonder about what’s happened to the Shakespearean ‘milk of human kindness’? It does not seem to flow to one’s own kind in many, many cases, not to speak of reaching others.
If we are not to despair, therefore, there are no more relevant words than the wise ones of my friend, that the message of Divali must be lived out daily, with Divali Day being a reminder. It is similar logic that has perhaps led to the United Nations proclaiming different ‘World Days’ (for peace, for human rights, for health and so on), because we tend to live intensely something for a short while and then get back into our usual – read bad – habits. This is true of all the festivals we celebrate. Frailty, thy name is woman, it is said. Perhaps we should rephrase this as ‘man, thou art frailty.’ And undertake to daily build up the inner strength we need to overcome our frailty and the weakness that leads us from good to evil.
Once again, Happy Divali: but remember, it’s everyday…
What we need is peace
In the same line of thought, let me use this opportunity of Divali to share some more messages of wisdom.
An apt quotation, by Herodotus, in light of some of the realities pointed out above, is: ‘In peace, sons bury their fathers. In war, fathers bury their sons.’
Herodotus was a Greek who lived from 484 to 425 BC, and was the author of the first great narrative history produced in the ancient world, the History of the Greco-Persian Wars. He thus knew a thing or two about wars, hence this saying of his. No further comments are required: we just have to look at the current scene in some endemic regions of conflict to testify to its veracity.
The Dalai Lama says: ‘We live very close together. So, our prime purpose in life is to help others. And if we can’t help them, at least don’t hurt them.’
Help takes many forms. Perhaps the easiest and simplest is a kind word, a smile that opens hearts to each other, that induces politeness for a start, and then facilitates mutual understanding. Taken further, this can lead to empathy and then transform into actual material help should this be needed. Though, in extending help, sometimes we get cheated or betrayed. We have therefore to hone our sense of judgement and discernment so as not to fall into such traps. But just the willingness to help can, at a very minimum, smooth the cogwheels of society.
There is this beautiful ‘peace mantra’ in Sanskrit which is chanted at the beginning and end of prayers in Hinduism, but is meant for all:
Om Dyauh Shantirantariskshah Shantih Prithvi Shantiraapah Shantih roshadhayah Shanti Vanaspatayah Shantirvishwedevah ShantirBrahma Shantih Sarvah Shantih Shantireva Shantih Saa Maa Shantiredhi. Om Shantih, Shantih, Shantih, Om.
In English this reads:
Unto Heaven be Peace, Unto the Sky and the Earth be Peace,
Peace be unto the Water, Unto the Herbs and Trees be Peace,
Unto all the Gods be Peace, Unto Brahma and unto All be Peace,
And may We realize that Peace,
Om Peace, Peace, Peace, Om.
* Published in print edition on 24 Ocotober 2014