Most religious people, specially those who are part-time Spiritual students, are always confused about how to interact with the world and the society. In absence of any clarity, asceticism has been held as extremely important in Spiritual pursuits. The more hard core the level of one’s asceticism, the more “Spiritual” s/he is supposed to be by default in people’s eyes. In this respect, therefore, it is important to know Buddha’s story of enlightenment here to get a perspective before we delve into the 3 paradigms of dealing with the society.
Buddha, in his search for Truth, went from one school to another, doing very hard penance. In the end, he had come to a point where he would eat just a few grains of rice to get by for many days. As he was crossing a small stream, he was being washed away – so bodily weak he had become. He somehow caught hold of a tree branch and came ashore. As he stood there, he realized that in his attempts to know the Truth, he had lost the ability to survive in this world and gotten nowhere in “that” world either. So that evening, he sat under a tree vowing to not get up unless he had known the Truth. Until then, in that state, he had gained a large number of followers who would follow this rather hard core ascetic around with the hope that he will deliver them as well. That night, when Gautama had lost all hope from this world, and hung in the middle – he attained to his Highest nature. He was Enlightened. It is said that the first thing he did was to enjoy a hearty meal. Much to the disgust of his followers. Who immediately left him thinking he had turned insane! When he could have really delivered them, they left him. Not because He had done something wrong, but because of this completely nonsensical relationship that has been popularized between asceticism and Spirituality.
The Three Paradigms
J. Krishnamurti said: It is no measure of health to be well adjusted to a profoundly sick society.
He was right and he was wrong as well. Society’s health or ill-health is of no consequence to someone firmly entrenched in Truth. You could be in any relationship with a society and yet find your way to the highest peak of Human Realization.
I find the examples from lives of Ram, Krishna and Shiva as illustrations of three ways one can interact with the society and be the highest.
Ram, the Maryada Purshottam (Highest way of living within Societal Norms) and “Living Within the Society as per the Societal Norms without questioning”: Ram was an interesting being. If one reads and “meets” him in Yoga Vasistha – one of the most profound treatise the writer has ever read in Spiritual realm – then one knows that Ram was Enlightened and Realized. Yet, he lived a very dutiful life. As a son, husband, ruler, and whatever he was asked, he would do without any questions. At times, one of his roles would over-shadow the other role. Nevertheless, he never did what he thought was the best for him and someone else in that situation. His actions were dictated by the duties that were aligned to the roles he was living. As a son, he left for the forest without questioning. His wife was determined to follow him, despite his thoughts that she shouldn’t, he went ahead. He helped people in situations, he may not have otherwise, but because he had promised them, he kept his promises no matter what.
This way of life, where what a Realized Being could often see with clarity but still did as per the Societal Norms – was very unusual. It showed his incredible patience and intellect to see through the uselessness of one’s own volition vs society’s dictates. It doesn’t matter which way you work. As long as you can do everything with complete equanimity and without regret then it still works Spiritually.
Krishna, the Sampoorna Avatar (Complete Being) and “Living Within the Society but Working Around every Societal Norm”: Krishna is considered to be the most complete Human Being that walked this planet. I would agree. Never before and never after has a Human Being been so complete in his life. He was also living within the society and its institutions. But he never followed the established norms of his times. From creating new festivals to celebrate folk life to unleashing celebration of life in dancing with the women in an unbridled way, to fighting the enemy absolutely ruthlessly and yet being the highest compassion that anyone came across – he did everything that seemed at odds with his time and those around him.
Shiva, The Mahadeva (The Greatest Dev or God/Great Being) and “Living outside the society, completely shunning it”: Shiva was never interested in the society. Everything that the society held as “Good” and “Pure” he mocked as much as he could. And, that which society held as the most filthy, impure or bad, he embraced proudly.
In only two circumstances he chose to interact with the society. One, when he met with complete Unconditional Love of Parvati/Shakti. And Two, when was met with Supreme Devotion of relentless students in terms of the Sapta-rishis.
With the rest, he didn’t care who came to ask what of him. He would see if the person had gone through the steps and he would get that because of being in presence of Shiva.
Shiva showed how to live at the peak without engaging with the society while treating things that have certain connotations in completely different ways!
Society and its Norms aren’t existential in nature, Life is
What these three examples show is that it doesn’t matter whether you choose to live within or outside of the society; whether you live by the norms, work around them or mock them completely. What really matters is how you hold yourself in your own being in any situation.
Equanimity and Balance is what matters.
If you understand that Life in its most existential terms is primary and Society and its norms have no existential reality – but mere colors that change – then one can touch the core of Life in very deep ways. Life is abound in every atom and cell. It knows no society and no norms.
The Life that throbs in the President of United States also throbs as beautifully and as wonderfully in the bacteria somehow living in the remotest galaxy of this Universe, where society and its norms are meaningless! Life, in its abundance and beauty, however, is common and Central!