The time goes by like this river, swirling around my legs, making small vortices, chuckling at my beating around. I dint know how long I had been watching this. It seemed a long, long time; may be for aeons together, perhaps. There was this strange feeling; someone pulling at my heart; a soft voice whispering somewhere around, beckoning me to follow her back home; or to some place she wanted me to see.

The sun was high up over the deep green foliage behind me, along the bank. In the distant, over the bridge that hangs over the river, I could see vehicles rushing along. Men in hurry, restive and high-strung, always going some place, always. Sitting there along the riverside, my own worries seemed like some absurd emotions, which held to the self like an excess baggage.

Everything seemed so distant. Life had suspended all her antics. She was just there, sitting along, hand in hand, dipping her legs in the muddy green water. And she looked so beautiful. Ah! I guess it was the wine that had hit my head. Wine and the warm autumn sun. [1]

For, how could she drop all her veils and reveal to me her grand beauty, so serene and splendid? And if this is all what she is, why cant I have her, always, like this? I had wished that those moments should never pass. But like those dried leaves and flowers, carried along by the river, she too passed into something ludicrous and absurd, horrifying and ugly.

Absurd, yes, that is what I could think of looking at her then. Absurd and ugly, with my blood smeared all over her face, and wanting for more, like the goddess Kali, dancing an intoxicating dance celebrating death.

Absurdity spreads over life like a shadow of a great falcon. It is always present.

We have built statues in honor of our own greatness. All our lives we strive to rise against nature. From the daybreak till nightfall, we struggle to draw our dreams on the canvas of reality. We keep beating the hammer on the chisel, till the image morphs out of the gray rock. But with time, we fall off with tiredness creeping into our bones, leaving our unfinished sculpture on the pedestal of life.

We had erected tombs that stood the winds of thousand years. And, then we had paraded men into the graves of our kings and pharaohs, to accompany them in their journey across the Styx.

And goddess Kali continues her dance. And like Sisyphus, we continue with rolling our rocks over the hill, only to see it roll back to the bottom of the mountain.

Now this is a myth, this Sisyphus. But the Greek who clothed this tragic hero must have looked absurdity in the eye. And must have felt in his very bones the terrible sense of despair when faced with the incapacity to alter the course of his fate.

What would, then a Man live for? Since his desires are incapable of satiation, and his life filled with tasks that do not seem to have any goals, and he himself reduced to mere ‘mote of dust’ – a mere instrument to something beyond. Forget the grand goals of life, even our every day life seems pointless and without any purpose.

So then what is the point of living a life when one is doomed to a life of endless task?

Camus had once written, “There is but one truly serious philosophical problem, and that is suicide.” But again, suicide is an attempt to end ones life pre-maturely based on the sole singular belief that one would be released of the drudgery that life is. But “who knows if to live is to be dead, and to be dead, to live? And we really, it may be, are dead; in fact I once heard sages say that we are now dead, and the body is our tomb…”[2]

So even suicide seems futile. Is it not?

In the Pali Canon too we find the idea of the endlessness of our tasks: the most developed expression of this theme is probably that of Cúlavagga VII,I,1-2 (of the Vinaya Pitaka), the story of the going forth of Anuruddha. [3]

At the time of the Buddha many families of the Buddha’s clan, the Sakyans, were sending forth one son into the monastic life, in imitation of the Buddha. But in the family of two brothers, Mahánáma and Anuruddha, as yet no one had gone forth. Therefore, Mahánáma thought, either I should go forth or Anuruddha should do so. So he went to his younger brother and he told him of his thoughts. But the idea of going forth was not pleasing to Anuruddha. He had been raised very luxuriously, he told Mahánáma, and described his upbringing — a life of pleasure devoid of hardships and responsibilities. And the monastic life of the homeless ones was difficult; Anuruddha was not used to bearing up to such burdens. “Therefore,” he told his brother, “I am not able to go forth from home into homelessness. You go forth.”

“Very well,” Mahánáma agreed. “Then come along, dear Anuruddha, and I will instruct you in the duties of the household life.” And Mahánáma (who had apparently been managing the family estate while Anuruddha amused himself) explained. “First the fields must be ploughed. Being ploughed, they must be sown. Being sown, they must be irrigated and drained. Being irrigated and drained, they must be weeded. Being weeded, the crop must be reaped. When it is reaped it must be harvested. When it is harvested it must be sheaved. Being sheaved it must be threshed. Being threshed the straw must be winnowed. The straw being winnowed, the chaff must be winnowed. The chaff being winnowed it must be sifted and then brought in. Having brought in the grain it is to be done just the same the next year, and the year after that.”

“The work is endless!” exclaimed Anuruddha. “No end to the work is apparent. When does the work conclude? When is an end to the work apparent? When will we be able to indulge ourselves carelessly in the pleasures of the five senses?”

“But, dear Anuruddha, the work is indeed endless. No end to the work is apparent. Even when our fathers and grandfathers died the work did not cease.”

“Well then,” decided Anuruddha, “you know about the duties of the household life. I will go forth from home into homelessness.”

Thus it was by perceiving the endlessness of the tasks we have in this world that Anuruddha was persuaded to follow the teaching which leads to “laying down the burden”.

From the fact that “the work is indeed endless”, which is perceived directly, there arises this belief that surely one must be allowed to ‘lay down the burden’. And so begins the quest towards the unknown.

But it is the same thing, is not so? Only this time Anuruddha carries the burden of ‘laying down the burden’. That’s the purpose now drives him. That’s the desire that sets his heart on fire. Desires still persist, only the nature has changed.

And thus the travails continue. Sisyphus set to a new task of ‘laying down the burdens’. Does that guarantee Sisyphus’ release? What is it Sisyphus is longing for? What is it we are yearning for? We do not seem to look past this very moment, and we believe that there is a world beyond this world where our tired souls would be redeemed. A fool’s paradise!

Our beliefs are our adamant refusal to accept what IS. And our Gods are our own creations, more powerless than what we are. And our religions are more institutions to cater to the insecurity of human mind faced with such a meaningless life. And our philosophies are mere attempts to touch that Fool’s paradise we so soulfully love, because every philosophy is nothing more than unconscious expression of one own beliefs and views about this world and life. When all the while the writer thinks that he or she is creating a world view; a concept independent of al existence; that his philosophy is a statement of God, that it exist in itself.

We suffer because we think we deserve better. We suffer because we have these beliefs. We suffer because we judge life. We suffer because we choose to.

We suffer because we seek the meaning of life.

We want love to last and we know that it does not last; even if, by some miracle, it were to last a whole lifetime, it would still be incomplete. Perhaps, in this insatiable need for perpetuation, we should better understand human suffering, if we knew that it was eternal. It appears that great minds are, sometimes, less horrified by suffering than by the fact that it does not endure. In default of inexhaustible happiness, eternal suffering would at least give us a destiny. But we do not even have that consolation, and our worst agonies come to an end one day. One morning, after many dark nights of despair, an irrepressible longing to live will announce to us the fact that all is finished and that suffering has no more meaning than happiness. [4]

Nothing has any meaning whatsoever. Happiness cannot really exist without the dark cold presence of sufferings. And as light always seeks out the darkness, happiness seeks out sufferings.

Like the river, our lives flow to reach out to the great ocean, to offer itself to that great mass. Some flow through the great mountain slopes, some through great vast plains. Some have neared the delta and some are still forcing their way through hilly slopes.

And the ocean holds forth no promises. The river becomes the ocean. What else could it become?

Footnotes:

1. The incident happened one day in September 1998. I was sitting along the banks of river Yamuna, in a state of mild inebriation.

2. Socrates. Plato, Gorgias 492e

3. The translation is adapted from I.B. Horner’s The Book of the Discipline (London: Pali Text Society).

4. Albert Camus: The Rebel translated by Anthony Bower (London: Hamish Hamilton, 1953), p. 227.

//Sometime in 2002

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