In our consumption driven world, a question like this typically provokes a chuckle or a snigger rather than a thoughtful enquiry. But for those who aren’t content to sleepwalk through life or accept Hallmark card-like exhortations to “leave the garden a little better than you find it”, here are my thoughts after jostling with this question for some time. While I’m heavily inspired by Yoga and Buddhist philosophy, I do believe that the paths are many but the truth is one. This is my interpretation of that truth:
- Man’s purpose is first, evolution, then involution: An eagle in perfect rhythm flaps its wings high, then brings them down gracefully. If it kept flapping higher, its wings would break. If it always kept its wings down, it would never experience flight. So must we first push ourselves to stretch, grow and experience the world, then detach from it.
- The path of evolution is to constantly push your boundaries: From the first single cell organisms which evolved into complex entities to the apes that became men, life forms that prevailed are the ones that challenged themselves to grow. Likewise, men who will reach the peak of evolution are the ones who keep learning, pushing their boundaries and adapting to an ever-changing environment.
- After reaching the peak of evolution, the journey of involution begins: Man is the only animal with the potential to reach the evolutionary peak of complete self-awareness. You know you’ve reached that when seeking more experiences in the world—travel, money, success, pleasure—becomes monotonous and unsatisfying. Now is the time to flap the wings down. Symmetrically opposite to the journey of evolution, the path now becomes one of letting go of the sense of self versus propagating it.
- Subsuming your sense of self while living in the world is tremendously satisfying: Involution doesn’t mean living in a cave and becoming unproductive. You still work, help, create and live; only you do so without a sense of do-ership. One holds on to nothing, no judgment, concepts or beliefs, and acts with complete detachment to the outcome of the actions as if he were just a vessel of the infinite, the universal energy. From my own experience of writing a much better novel than my previous efforts, a selfless attitude like this breaks down the distinction between the do-er and the doing, the actor and the action, galvanizing one’s work and art rather than inhibiting it.
Why I believe this?
- All ancient traditions support the above: They express it through different myths, stories and symbols; some call it the result of sin, others call it the problem of ignorance, but at their heart, all traditions indicate that man’s soul cries for the infinite in a finite world and nothing in the world of people and experiences can ever satisfy him. The all give remedies for it—worship this God or that, chant here, meditate there—but it’s the same idea at the core. Forget yourself. The one truth to finding bliss is to subsume your ego to a cause higher than yourself.
- Modern science validates it: After years of happiness research, modern science concludes that the only moments of transcendental happiness are when one is in “flow” or completely concentrated in an action without thought of oneself. This could be in work, in conversation with someone, playing with your child, helping others or anytime else when you lose your sense of do-ership.
- It correlates with my own experience: Each year, my desire for travel and outward experiences slowly diminish and get replaced by a need to become more inward. But it’s a progression and both flapping the wings high and lowering them brings their own kind of joy.
Inevitably, a question will follow. Isn’t the above a personal quest? What is the role of helping others? I have some views on this but I’d love to hear your thoughts.
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