Thursday, April 07, 2016

On Change

A previous essay on this.

The whole of eastern spirituality is about renouncing any interest in changing outward conditions to achieve happiness.  The focus, instead, is supposed to be on the "inner".

According to spiritualists, to focus on changing the outer is to miss the point.  It is proclaimed that favorable outer conditions can never provide "lasting happiness" (whatever that may be).  That only detachment from the outer can lead to "bliss".

On the other hand, an ideology like communism regards any focus on inner as complete bullshit, and states that only by changing the living conditions and the society can individuals ever hope to evolve.

The dichotomy is straightforward: in the face of unhappiness, should one attempt to change the conditions, or oneself?
What is the relationship between yourself and the misery, the confusion, in and around you? Surely this confusion, this misery, did not come into being by itself. You and I have created it, not a capitalist nor a communist nor a fascist society, but you and I have created it in our relationship with each other. What you are within has been projected without, on to the world; what you are, what you think and what you feel, what you do in your everyday existence, is projected outwardly, and that constitutes the world. If we are miserable, confused, chaotic within, by projection that becomes the world, that becomes society, because the relationship between yourself and myself between myself and another is society - society is the product of our relationship - and if our relationship is confused, egocentric, narrow, limited, national, we project that and bring chaos into the world. (J Krishnamurti, The First and Last Freedom).
Does the individual create the social conditions, or vice versa?  To have change, should one direct one's efforts outwardly, or inwardly?


Both the "individual" and "society" are sets of patterns of thought and behavior.  They influence each other.  An individual born into a society is shaped by it, whether to become conformant or to rebel.  A society made of certain individuals is nothing but the collection of their individual patterns.

If an individual is suffering, in most cases it will be found that his conditions have deteriorated to the point where he can no longer afford to have joy or pleasure.  If those conditions cannot be improved, then the least stressful course is for the man to accept his situation. 

Suffering is easier to endure if one accepts one's fate.  A prisoner on death row might have an easier time if he accepts his punishment and stops praying or pleading for relief.  This ease is squarely that of giving up the desire to change the situation, since that desire is bound to result in frustration.  The suffering of the situation still remains.

This "acceptance" of one's fate is a last resort, when all efforts have failed.  But spiritualists, instead of coming to this resignation after strenuous action, start from this acceptance.

Spiritualists are fond of the hoary but false adage that a problem exists only if you want to solve it.  No, the problem of poverty is still there even if you disregard it, because very soon you will find yourself evicted from your premises and hungry and cold.  The problem of an unhappy spouse is usually because one is not paying attention to the problem.

On the other hand, while the problem will still exist, giving up on solving the problem can lead to a curious sense of relief.  It is akin to filing for bankruptcy because one no longer believes one can discharge one's loans.

A wise individual will look at a situation holistically: he will evaluate his circumstances, and also one's reaction to them.  And he will seek to change the circumstances to the best of his ability, and also improve the way he reacts so that he is not hindered or debilitated by himself.

Spirituality, as a retreat from life, is a philosophy for losers.  And eastern spirituality is all about retreat.  The "karma yoga" described in Bhagwad Gita is not about creating circumstances for happiness, in fact it is the exact reverse: to not worry about the outcome of one's actions.  Even in Sikhism, there is no verse exhorting people to change their circumstances for the better.  A famous verse purporting to ask Sikhs to work hard actually means that after reaching the Lord there is no more work:
ਜਿਨੀ ਨਾਮੁ ਧਿਆਇਆ ਗਏ ਮਸਕਤਿ ਘਾਲਿ ॥ਨਾਨਕ ਤੇ ਮੁਖ ਉਜਲੇ ਕੇਤੀ ਛੁਟੀ ਨਾਲਿ ॥੧॥
The brave face their predicament head-on and try to change the world.  Yes, there will always be suffering.  No change will lead to lasting happiness.  But the very goal of "lasting happiness" is a chimera created by the spiritualists as a rationalization for losers to look down upon those who are engaged in worldly change.


To attempt change in one's psyche is admirable but just a start.  To attempt change in one's fortunes is a worthy effort.  A change in society and its structures is a political movement.

A well-rounded individual is engaged in all three.


Anonymous said...

This piece of writing stems from a lack of understanding of "happiness". :)

Pankaj said...

i concur. nicely written.