How to pay the credit card bill next month? How do I get that promotion? How can I afford that house? How to patch up with my manager? Where should I travel with my partner? We are all plagued with these kind of questions every day. We all worry about bills, success, future – a level where we are concerned with day to day living, about gaining material goods, about social status, about mending or forging relationships, about day to day existence, about finding happiness & comfort. This is one plane of our existence. But, we do think a lot more than these materialistic questions; we ask a lot of existential questions too – who am I? why do I get up in the morning? why should I do what I do? why is there so much suffering in life? is comfort & luxury the ultimate goal of life? or is it god? if he/she/it is, then why god? What is truth? Why truth? How can I help others out of pain, etc. another level, which according to me is the second plane.
I read in a paper that in some beauty pageant, a contestant was asked, “If ignorance is bliss, why do we search for knowledge?”. I do not know what the contestant replied, but the question stuck with me for a very long time. When I was a kid in school and used to goto the school library, I would often stop on the library veranda and stare out at what looked like a vast empty unused space filled with wild shrubs and trees. The world I knew ended on the veranda for me. The empty space was where magic and mystery started. Who knew what lie beyond the horizon, what great adventure waited if only you could venture out into the wild. The land pretty much remained the same till I passed school and joined college. As fate would have it, the college was adjacent to my school. And, one day en route to college I took a bus which took me to a new road which was exactly on the other end of the ‘waste land’ – just another abandoned plot in the middle of and surrounded by a bulging and growing city. Nothing magical at all. That was it, my dream came crashing down. The vista I imagined was the starting of adventure started and ended at with the horizon itself. I sometimes wish I could go back to believing in that dream which knowledge ruthlessly killed. Ignorance is not bliss. It is not, ’cause its not the truth. Then, why do we keep ignoring or sidelining one plane of existence and try to live only on one? Many folks I know don’t question, or sometimes simply give up on/conveniently ignore asking the ‘why’ of life, on the ‘why’ of existence. They are concerned only of ‘how’? Comfort or ‘running away from pain’ seem to be the only goals and the ‘end all and be all’ of existence. Blessed are these folks I sometimes think ’cause they don’t have to think.
There are other kind of folks who base their existence on the second plane – who only think ‘why?’ (there is no answer to this question. Religions, philosophy exist I believe to answer these various ’why’s of life and keep existing ’cause either the answer is not found or varies from person to person). These questions generally take a long time time to answer (if at all they can be). So, it is easy to get lost in the labyrinth of ideas generated and go mad considering the oxymora, opposites and contradictory ideas. You’ll have to fight to remain sane and find a way towards the illusionary goal. These folks ignore the questions of the practical plane. So they give up on ‘samsara’ and devout their lives to the truth like sages/ascetics. Unless you want to follow this path, surviving on this plane only is not a good idea.
If ignoring the ‘truth’ is not a good idea & taking up the path of ascetics is not to your liking then what should one do? My uncle worried – when he found me immobile with the contradictory ideas, thoughts running in my mind – if I’d give up study and stay home shouted at me, ‘‘think when on your feet’’. (No, not the same as thinking on your feet).
Ignoring the higher questions of life (that’s what I call them) condemns us to live a life whose meaning seems to be only “in pursuit of pleasure (albeit varying in degrees)”. But, somehow, it seems incomplete to me. But, dedicating our lives to understand the ‘why’ of life might leave us at the brink of madness at the expense of our existence. Then, what should a pragmatic do? Find the middle ground – Think by all means, don’t shy away from it, don’t be afraid to, but, do it while supporting yourself (and a family if you have). I don’t think ignoring the higher questions of life is a right path, so is abandoning everything. Find the middle ground, plant your feet in the materialistic and your head in the existential; exist in both the planes.