In recent blog posts, I have spoken of easterners and westerners, as representative of thought, values and way of life. It should be then be obvious that I am not referring to geography.
The Indian way was codified much before the Sarasvati-Indus civilisation came to peak about 3000 – 2500 BC, through the epic periods of Ramayana (5500 – 5000 BC) and Mahabharata (3500 – 3000 BC), and through the later ages which saw diverse religio-philosophies flower and flow in otherwise much conjectured times of Nanda, Maurya and Gupta dynasties. Late disclosures about Vedic and post-Vedic times, in this historical continuity still passing over the Indian subcontinent, reveal evidence of prevalence of the individual-centered western-style values perspective for a long time before people gained the wisdom to choose moderation and align it along universal community and environment centered goals. It is this choice that is being lived today, which we today understand as the eastern or oriental way of life.
For instance, consider the singular inflexion when Life meets Death. Phenomenally, it is expressive of an emptying process conducted over a lifetime, of exhausting the drive powering this life towards its own zero kinetic state of lifeless being we intuit in a body lying dead. Of course, we use the term ‘life’ in its biological, physiological and existentential flourish. But its understanding amongst common easterners and orientals exceeds usage because of their regard for reincarnation. It reduces the any life-death unit as just one of several included by a much larger trajectory of the same individual passage, through several death nodes with life happening between any two.
Hence, for the Easterner, death is a mere pause in life, an extended interregnum during which life in its potential state continues its journey through a temporary freeze in afterlife before thawing in another body as a newborn. Life follows, albeit to an altogether different script, and the cycle repeats.
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A couple of markers in western thought would well etch the difference. The emptiness I speak is not the existential nothingness Jean Paul Sartre’s protagonist experiences with the realisation “Pierre is not here” when he was full of the expectation of finding him in the restaurant. Dostoevsky’s works are almost a continuous narrative of similar psychological phenomena, as are those by Kafka and Kierkegaard.
In addition to activity, application, work and attainment, there is a renunciation and continuous outgrowing implied in the emptying process, whereby one is exhausted of one’s drives and manifest desires. It is spiritual; that is, they are matters pertaining to the cumulative sense of oneself over the long term : past, present and future. The existential sense, in contrast, is occasional, circumstantial, and invariably immediate or short term. To cite, the giving up and moving on implied in spiritual context is far unlike Sartre’s well-known declaration — honest, without doubt — that he would spurn the Nobel Prize as easily and contemptuously as he could kick a sack of potatoes !
The songs familiar to most of us, “Goodbye, my friends…” or “This is the end…,” are still tentative, pre-announcements before the fact. We are yet to say our farewell to our own self, in the first quote; and, the second is an untruth made acceptable only as a dramatic expression of an imagined end.
To recount our present concern, one in the long term, we spend our lifetime exhausting all kind of drives inhering in our being, even though the potential for more of the same desires seems inexhaustible when we look within ourself. Universally, people are not free of their want for tasteful fare or desire for sensual indulgence. However, in the east, more people would read a desist and cease message for themselves with experience and age, as the body weakens and desires repeat themselves, than in the west. The Indian way actually recommends that people gradually take themselves out of worldly concerns and pastimes and, in fact, actively prepare themselves full time with the awareness of one’s own immortality in order to embrace physical death.
Yet, men seldom succeed in acquiring enough, or purging themselves clean, to be free of the desire for instituting and seeking a lasting memory of themselves. Understandably, they seek to raise a monument, write a book, create a piece of art, or have their names inscribed in a historical record, to mark their presence, anything that would over-compensate them in advance of their impending, helpless, vegetable departure.
And there is no end to what we may believe in order to thus fortify ourself for that singularity : death. Most people even believe in money, in the immensely deep and satisfying purpose it serves to bequeath it through their will. It isn’t just the “lady” then but most of us who believe in “buying a stairway to heaven” !
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For the last time then : the fact of the matter is that we are all trying to exhaust our drive for a whole range of experience : survival, perpetuation, sensual, physiological, psychological… And we each are being led to their respective opposites : death, to life; peace, to feelings and emotions; rest, to action and speed; and non-existence, to our individual being.
It’s one goodbye we all are preparing for, though the young and going are hardly expected to sense it, much less appreciate. We each are proceeding to that point in life when we must let matters to rest finally, after having given to them all we could. It is to allow all things, including our individual self, to be entirely given up for good, to be taken over, in John Steinbeck’s words, by a “god unknown.”
It is the total emptiness I now look forward to : done as earth, free as space. Buddhists long intellectualise about the ‘void’ and end up filling themselves with all the vividity contained in the Book Of The Dead. Not I, of the Eternal Way. It acknowledges the individual’s separation but, even before, informs us of our apriori unity with the infinite self : bliss, being, consciousness.