As I was reflecting on the forthcoming birth anniversary of Swami Vivekananda, 12th January (he was born on 12th January 1863), I remembered one of his quotations, namely that the whole of religion is to be good and do good. All the rest about religion is secondary.
The greatness of great people is that they are able to put in simple words great truisms, which become their messages. When I came across that saying of Swamiji for the first time many years ago, it appeared so blindingly obvious but at the same time too utterly simple. That was perhaps because our contact with religion through preachers and priests, temples and rituals leave us with a rather forbidding and complex perception which covers up its core message(s).
Hence the appeal of Swami Vivekananda’s words which are so direct and so clear that they do not require any elaboration: everyone knows what is good and wants good for himself, implying that he does not want to be harmed. That being the case it is the most potent argument for doing good. As a science student Swamiji was naturally very scientific-minded in his approach to life, and he would have been very happy to learn what today’s science has found about doing good. This was alluded to in an article published in the ‘Tree of Knowledge’ feature of this paper’s last issue in December 2013.
It is that doing good to others helps the individual too. In fact science tells us that when we interact altruistically with others – doing good to them without expecting anything in return – a chemical called oxytocin is released in our brains that makes us feel good, improves our health and increases our sense of well-being. It is what in today’s technical jargon – which has infiltrated our daily lives – would be called a ‘win-win’ situation. Well I would say, so be it then!
I had occasion to quote that finding when I was requested to address the gala evening of Miss India-Mauritius held at Plantation Hotel on Sunday 29th December 2013 on ‘Cancer Awareness’. That function was held in collaboration with the Cancer Association of Mauritius (CANMA), and the smart finalists have all been regularly engaged in imparting information about cancer across a varied audience all over the island. This is a very laudable action indeed on the part of these young ladies, and their involvement in such a noble cause will no doubt have a lasting effect on their lives, along with furthering the equally commendable object of CANMA.
Ex-Minister and ex-UNESCO Director Mr Armoogum Parsuramen, who was present that evening, was very touched by that phenomenon of individual altruistic good leading to the larger good. He decided to refer to it as well on the occasion of a function held last Wednesday at the Swami Vivekananda International Convention Centre – perhaps a karmic coincidence — in connection with the week-long camp held to fit over 170 amputees with artificial limbs, the Jaipur Foot which has worldwide recognition. This is the major project of the Global Rainbow Foundation of which he is the Founder-President, and it fulfils a much-felt need of the local population. We shall have occasion to come back to this in future.
That’s the way that human society progresses, with dedicated individuals taking up a cause and pursuing it selflessly. In fact, since action proceeds from thoughts which first need to be articulated in words, a moment’s contemplation will make us appreciate the profound implication of a very simple calculation. If everyday we entertain one good thought, speak one good word and perform one good act, that adds up to a lot over a lifetime. How much?
Well, let’s assume that a lifetime is the traditional three-score and ten, and let’s further assume that we start our ‘goodness journey’ from the time we reach the ‘age of reason,’ say 20 years. That means 3 good things per day for 50 years: that is, 3x30x12x50 or 54,000. Making allowance for lapses and contingencies, let us put the figure at 50,000. That means one thousand good things done for each year of one’s life. How many lives would we have thus touched if we factor in the multiplier effect? And just imagine if even ten per cent of the population of each country were to undertake that journey of goodness – the amount of good that would accrue to the world would no doubt be enough to eliminate all the misery of our own doing that stalks mankind.
Perhaps those of us who have not taken any New Year resolution may think of doing so now, namely, embark on a ‘goodness journey’.
* * *
About New Year resolutions…
I plead guilty: I did not formulate any for 2014. Looking back, I did lag behind or faltered on some I had taken. So I decided that instead I will be more modest and prepare a ‘to-do’ list, which contains some items carried over from last year. The good thing about a ‘to-do’ list is that as one ticks off one gets an immediate sense of (mini)-achievement, which makes one feel, well, good! The other good thing is that one can add to the list as one completes an item.
This said, I do try to stay course on my goodness journey….
So simple, really, doing good. But so vital, for the sanity of the individual and of humanity. Goodness knows that we all need to have our sanity about us for the good of the world. We have no other option.
* Published in print edition on 10 January 2014