How Humans Punish Themselves and Each Other

Shyamu with his son Golu in the garden
By chance, this morning, I examined the dining room cupboard that stores various items of crockery, cups and glasses etc. that are used on special occasions. The crockery that we use on a daily basis is kept in the kitchen. Probably more than five years have passed since I gave the contents of this cupboard a good look. To my surprise the cupboard has much unnecessary stuff, some that will probably never be needed during my lifetime. The story is not very different in the other cupboards, closets and stores of my home. Fortunately, the home is large enough so that all the stuff can be stacked away neatly, out of sight, and not cause clutter. I am also fortunate enough to have an extremely efficient domestic aide – Shyamu – who takes care of storing everything neatly and retrieving an item whenever required. However, now I am beginning to question the very basis of having acquired all the stuff in the first place. Everything that one possesses occupies a portion of one’s psyche, even if ignored. It is an unnecessary burden that one can do without. I do not deny that there are some advantages in owning stuff. One can produce the right cup or glass for the right occasion when the occasion arises – once in five years. It is also true that one does not have to run down to shop for more when an item of clothing or linen gets worn out. Another brand new set is found in the closets to replace the discarded item. But then, crockery can be improvised for an occasion, even a plastic cup would do and a home should really not be a shop. If a particular glass or cup is needed for a rare occasion it is not too hard to make a trip to the store once in ten years. Storing it at home means that the cupboards have to be cleaned and dusted carefully every so often. Rebb, has mentioned in her blog, how she has dealt with clutter wisely – just discarded it.

In contrast, one may envy a Buddhist Monk. His possessions are no more than a light cotton shoulder bag with which he can move from monastery to monastery scattered across the scenic Himalayas. It is not so with just monks. The newspaper recently carried a story of a highly successful financial analyst who possesses no more than a suitcase. He has to travel frequently and these meager possessions serve him very well as he moves from one hotel accommodation to another or a furnished dwelling for longer sojourns in a city. He is always nearly as well dressed as a Buddhist monk because he discards his crisp white shirts for new replacements as frequently as he can. The Buddhist monks too find clean new robes hanging on pegs outside the baths in their monasteries, whenever they need one. Another group of specialized monks manages that chore as all share in the duties of running a monastery.

Reflecting further on the rationale for my acquiring assorted possessions originally, I realized it was because of the widely held social belief that a happy home is one filled with stuff. With experience however, I realize that nothing can be further from the truth and that the Buddhist monks who proclaim that possession tie a person down and compromise happiness are right.

There are also a number of other beliefs that humans have propagated with gusto in order to punish themselves and each other. For example, a common blessing of one human to another they love is that they should have a long life – May you live for a hundred years. A good deal of money is spent on research and potions to enhance longevity and countries with the highest longevity figures are touted as those having the best quality of life. Observe a small child or infant though, and you will find how delighted they are with life and every new thing that they discover. My year old grandson (Shyamu's son) squeals with delight at every visit to the garden. Every flower, piece of stick, bird or insect he spots is an object of wonder and Joy to him. However, with every passing year this natural joy diminishes for a majority of humans. Certainly there are exceptions because every human life is different, but in the majority of cases the younger the person the more joyous life is. With advancing years come many sorrows, diminished energy and health so that for the very long lived persons even simple tasks like a visit to the toilet becomes a chore. In reality we do not bless anyone by wishing them a long life but rather punish them. If one believes in reincarnation, or a second life, as most mystics and spiritually inclined persons do, then the justifications for a long life are even fewer. It is best to enjoy the nicest parts of dinner on a plate and move on to a fresh plate rather finish the unpalatable side dishes.

In an earlier post I described how humans are afraid of heart disease and how the medical industry makes a great deal out of this fear. In reality there could be no bigger blessing than a person who leaves this world for greener pastures after a sudden heart collapse during sleep or otherwise. The alternative for others is to suffer a prolonged illness, pain and eventual cardiac arrest, as inevitable as the fact that we ever lived. Does it make sense to have a cardiac arrest after much pain and agony or suddenly without any pain or warning? Is heart disease a blessing or a curse?

Human Societies also make much virtue out of hope and expectations. Proverbs such as, “ where there is hope there is life” are widely circulated. Spiritual wisdom on the other hand suggests that at any given moment everything is exactly the way it should be and happiness lies in contentment. Expectations are the route to sorrow. Accordingly, the right way to live is to engage oneself in performing perceived duties and doing the right thing at all times, leaving the results and outcome in the hands of nature and expressing gratefulness and contentment with the decision of the Universe whatever it may be. Certainly one may come to the intelligent conclusion that a different outcome would have been preferable but then the route to it might be making a change within rather than without so that the universe leads one to a different outcome of an effort made.

The voice of the spiritualist is a voice in the wilderness.

More on the psychological and spiritual impact of our possessions is here


John Myste said…
Wow! You started a mundane discussion of stuff and it morphed into a profound piece.

"Everything that one possesses occupies a portion of one’s psyche, even if ignored. It is an unnecessary burden that one can do without."

That is a cost that no one seems to add to the acquisition of thing. As a recurring cost, it is the one that should be of primary concern.

"In reality there could be no bigger blessing than a person who leaves this world for greener pastures after a sudden heart collapse during sleep or otherwise."

It is because people long to live eternally and heart disease often truncates one’s life. If we could cure heart disease, the life expectancy average would rise, and with it, the pain of prolonged illness, as you implied. Most people are not wise enough to view the value of a life on the goodness of it. Instead it is evaluated too much on its longevity.

Ironically, often those who are most satisfied with their lives are the least desperate to preserve them.

Who was it who said:

“Millions of people long for eternal life who do not know what to do with themselves on a rainy Sunday afternoon.”
ashok said…
Thanks for appreciating some of these thoughts John.

One thing that most people have not realized about the end of a life is that it takes place when the heart stops i.e. a cardiac arrest takes place. I know that a heart that has stopped can be revived and start pumping again if it is a brief period. Therefore clinically death is described as brain death. Nevertheless, brain death to follows the stoppage of the heart in all cases finally.
Therefore howsoever much we may deal with heart disease we do not really do a great deal of good. The best intervention for a failing heart merely results in the heart giving up last i.e. after the failure of some other organ i.e. after agony.

I am hoping Vincent will find statements to contradict - he usually does - so that we can refine/ examine these thoughts further.

I have added another paragraph towards the end of the post in the same direction.

The desire to live forever exists widely (I have that desire too) but since spiritual persons believe in some sort of after life they may view death merely as a change of worn out clothing (of the body) for a new one (I too look forward to that change).
ashok said…
This comment by Raymond got posted in the previous post so I am repasting it here

Raymond said,

"the Buddhist monks who proclaim that possession tie a person down and compromise happiness are right."

Yes, it is a strange calculus. One would think: "The more tools, the more the ability to respond creatively to any situation that comes. And thus the happier we will be."

But when we look closer at the data, it shows just the opposite.
ashok said…
John there is much wisdom in your statement

"Ironically, often those who are most satisfied with their lives are the least desperate to preserve them. "

I think a similar irony lies with much else that is considered of value by many. My experience has been similar with some persons who have a lot of money. They care much less for it then others who have far less. Perhaps Bill Gates is one such example too.

It appears to be so with material comforts also. I have seen persons including some royal ones who have lived in great comfort most of there lives adjusting to harsher living conditions such as in a Jungle, camp, military etc then others who have led less comfortable lives.They appear to be able to improvise better.

Perhaps it is a way for Nature to educate individuals.
ashok said…
Yes Raymond it does seem that life is full of paradoxes as you say and as mentioned in my previou reply to John as well - and often people choose what appears to be the easier or more attractive option when in fact it turns out to be the more difficult one.
raymond said…
Yes. It is also interesting that asceticism can become an addiction. Spiritual materialism.
ashok said…
Keiko Amano said
(comment copied and pasted from previous post)

Raymond and Ashok,

If they are high Japanese Buddhist monks of today (or even the past), they must have a lot of possession whether they want them or not such as expensive silk robes, and if they live in one of the national treasure or important-national-property temples, they probably treat their dwelling as their own. So, I think the statement is a symbolic one, and it has deeper meaning. It's up to the person how he or she see and treat own possession. It takes discipline as any matters do. What do you think?
ashok said…
Certainly Keiko, It is not just possessions but one’s attitude towards them too that matters.

I am reminded of the story and an old king. He was approached by a monk to give up all and move to a monastery with him. The King agreed. However, after both had gone a little away form the kingdom, the monk realized that he had forgotten his bag behind. He began to worry and suggested that they turn back for it. The King remarked, “ You are more worried about your bag than I am about all that I have left behind. Let us go back and this time I will not come to the monastery with you.”
ashok said…
Raymond, for sure humans are creatures of habit and some habits become addictions. It appears worthhile though to consider from time to time which habits/addictions might lead one to misery and which to joy.
ashok said…
I am aware thoug that all this talk will do no good to the economy, retail sales will plunge further :-)
raymond said…
Yes Ashok, and another irony, a bad economy is good for the environment.

Hi Keiko, yes, I think it does go deeper.
Rebb said…
Ashok, I am struck by your surprise at examining the contents of your cupboard and how this ties in with your discussion of the psyche. As you know, I have been there too. Indeed it would be a useful practice to examine our literal and metaphorical cupboards from time to time. What’s interesting to me is how things, objects, start accumulating so quickly, and before we can wink any eye, we are consumed by these objects. How did they all grow so fast? Even though I have gotten rid of a lot when I moved, I still have some to get rid of. When I moved, I used a service called 1-800-GOT JUNK? I just felt so overwhelmed with all the stuff that I was looking at. I didn’t fill up a whole truck. I thought that was it, but on the last few days of my move, I realized I needed to call them back. In total, I think I did fill up a whole truck and for living in such a small space, that’s a lot, plus what I held onto. The good thing is they sort through things and try to donate what they can and then if one has trash, they dispose of it.

Also, presently, I am trying to get everything in it’s “right place,” so that I can find what I’m looking for. Have you ever organized so well, that you can’t remember where you put something? I do still have a few spots, especially the desk area that is quite cluttered, but that will just take a chunk of time to sit down and discard what is not needed and put things where they belong. I am very thankful for the store, IKEA. We were just discussing how we needed just one more organizing unit for things that didn’t have a proper place and we discussed where we would put it and the dimensions. When we walked into IKEA, which is an experience in itself, we saw one potential tall, but narrow shelving unit. We noted it. Then as we wound through the store and looked at the displays, we saw the perfect unit. It was just what we were looking for and not as bulky as the first unit we viewed. We purchased it and once assembled, we put things away in it and when we stood back, the closet did not look as cramped because we were able to take bulky shirts and fold them into the shelves. Just looking at the organization and order afforded by this small addition brought a calm to our psyches. Making order out of chaos is a beautiful feeling. I do need the chaos. What would we do without it?

I enjoyed your blog very much, Ashok. I’m glad you’ve tended to your cupboards. :)
ashok said…
Thanks for appreciating the post Rebb. Yers it is amazing how much we can accumalate if we do not take care. I am delighted that you have tackled your stuff too. Order is truly oenergising as opposed to disorder. A much older blog port - entropy yoga talks of this. If you click the older posts icon at the bottom of the page you will reach it.
ashok said…
Rebb, as regards our metaphorical cupboards of the mind we really accumalte a lot of junks there too. I find that as we sleep our mind tries to deal with that through our dreams and thinking about the dream and its source helps to resolve and clean that, I think.

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