Every Monday morning, there's a universal outpouring of groans — that it's MONDAY again! It's as if everybody's mom-in-law AGAIN was about to come to visit them on Monday. This deafening noise is heard in specific parts of the world. It comes from the office-going class of people. In India, the young generation of IT and other professionals make this noise through all available means such as Facebook and Twitter. I suppose it's the same in the developed world where people have been caught up in this vicious cycle for a generation or more now.
I don't know about rural America or rural Europe, but in rural India, villagers don't start groaning on Monday mornings. There's hardly any difference between Mondays or other days of the week. Their life-cycle is not a weekly one.
Conversely, there's invariably an exuberant outpouring of joy come Friday. It starts in the morning itself and rises to a crescendo by the afternoon by when the youngsters in their office cubicles can hardly contain their joy — this is almost akin to the joy a prisoner might experience on the day of his release after completing a long prison sentence.
"Keep looking." That's what Steve Jobs advised in his famous Stanford commencement address. "You got to find what you love to do." Or words to that effect. Many have expressed similar sentiments — in inspirational speeches and inspirational books. I'm sure that's what Oprah would exhort. J.K. Rowling talked about the importance of failure in her Harvard commencement address but truly what her success shows is that she found her calling at last and devoted herself to it entirely and found success.
But I wonder how many people really are lucky enough to discover the purpose of their life. Was becoming the President of the United States Mr. Barack Obama's lifelong dream and does he feel that he has fulfilled his dream now?
New Age gurus are laughing all the way to the bank apart from laughing at their gullible devotees. There are the old stalwarts such as Deepak Chopra who peddles meaningless mumbo-jumbo that merrily combines quantum physics and DNA and microbiology and endocrinology and other ingredients to make the soup look suitably exotic to persuade the masses. Perhaps his heyday is over now. Everyone has a sell by date. Mr. Chopra is probably expired. But do not despair — or DESPAIR. Depending on your inclinations.
There's no shortage of seekers with money who are willing to spend liberally for simple and appetizing answers to questions about the mysteries and meaning of life. So you have the double Sri guy who claims to have followers all over the world. His particular crap teachings contain much nonsense to fill several small books. Being from a Hindu background, there's no escaping the presence of the micro-managing, all-seeing god in Ravi Shankar's ramblings.
He essentially teaches like Deng Xiaoping "to make money is glorious." Thus the rich people breathe a sigh of non-guilty relief. In a country like India, there's much social inequity and inequality, much squalor, much horror, much cruelty. And therefore, there's scope for doing good. The rich might once in a while feel in some moral dilemma. Their inner voice might question the way they oppress the poor. Ravi Shankar provides the soothing balm. "It's all god's fault, my child," says Sri Sri.
Ravi Shankar is not sui generis. Osho and Maharishi Mahesh Yogi before him peddled their own unique versions of the truth and mixtures of nonsense to believers who chose to believe for various reasons. All these godmen smart, incredibly self-centered, conceited, megalomaniac charlatans. Some might think of themselves as incarnations of a non-existent god — this is again something which is particularly possible in a country with a Hindu way of thinking. So the most charitable thing one can say about someone of their tribe is that they are probably deluded, perhaps suffering from some strange form of mental disease.
But the fact that these godmen have millions of devotees — inside and outside of India — is perhaps proof that millions of people have not found their calling in life and are hoping that they will find some meaning and make some sense of life with the help of the bearded bastards.
This is unfortunate. Where there's a sucker, there'll be a charlatan.
It's quite clear from the popularity of these providers of faux wisdom that millions of people are searching desperately for answers. Also, considering that there are probably millions of accountants in the world, it's probably safe to say that all those accountants probably did not dream as children that their Holy Grail in life was to be a perfectionist in the art of double-entry bookkeeping. Many, many people are slaves to circumstances in life that determine the route that their life takes. Lawyers, whether they be tax attorneys or plaintiffs attorneys, it can be safely surmised, probably do not derive much deep inner satisfaction from their professional activities.
Some careers would appear to be better than others in terms of providing a sense of satisfaction. The childhood dream of every child it seems to me is to grow up to be a pilot. This is true of many or most parts of the world. The second most favorite childhood dream of kids tends to be to grow up to be a sportsperson. The nature of the sports varies from country to country or continent to continent.
But do actual sportspersons lead a very fulfilling life? I have doubts.
Those who do grow up to become real airline pilots seem to have good careers — it all at least appears glamorous from the outside to those of us who don't have much insights about the profession of piloting. I'm sure professional pilots go through life crises just as others do.
No profession makes me feel more reverential towards its practitioners than medicine. Medical science is about saving lives. Modern medical science is a story of many miracle technologies and cures. Emergency medicine does wonders. The fight against cancer is truly a fight though still, in many cases, it's unfortunately a losing battle. But infectious diseases have been mostly consigned to history. So, perhaps, medical doctors get a lot of satisfaction out of the job they do.
Teaching is the other line of activity that has a lot of scope for deriving satisfaction. Whether you're a teacher to young kids, or school-going kids, or college students, you have the ability to transmit knowledge and understanding to a new generation and an incredible opportunity to influence their thought process and belief system. Teachers probably can sleep well at night knowing that they do a job that matters a lot.
Firefighters also get much-deserved appreciation for the crucial contribution they make to society. They too are a passionate bunch of people and perhaps satisfied about having achieved their dream.
But that still leaves millions of others who are stuck in dreary jobs of various kinds. When I think of people of my parents' or grandparents' generation and try to analyze their lives and look for some meaning, all I can see is dreary repetition and an unerring herd instinct. The purpose of life for many would appear to be to perpetuate their gene pool. People go through the motions of acquiring an education in school; then, when they're of an appropriate age, they get married and promptly start producing children; then, they're caught up in the whirlpool that they themselves have created; the children start growing, their needs grow, and life becomes an endless marathon run in circles. Often the children grow up, then get married, and then have children of their own. And this can happen with an astonishing, mechanical, unwavering regularity that takes one's breath away.
Of course, in the meanwhile, Indians keep themselves busy through participation in various social and religious activities. There's a peak season when a variety of gods are remembered in quick succession. This leads to much excitement in the lives of the worshipers. So, perhaps the chief beneficiary is not god, but the supplicants themselves. There's a season for marriages when people get busy marrying each other and having celebrations and rituals that go on for days if not weeks. This also makes people giddy with happiness as it brings some color to their usually colorless lives.
Religion and its many unending, dreary, meaningless, stupid rituals have a key role to play in the lives of the believers. Most of all, these rituals provide a scaffolding that holds up the structure of their life. So the ladies can spend anything from 15 minutes in the morning to 2 hours if they so choose in performing various ritualistic actions such as reading some meaningless book repetitively sitting in front of the image of some god or gods or the other. Well, men can do this too. I know some who perform this daily nonsense that lasts hours.
You can spend more time worshiping a plant (perhaps a tulsi) if you so wish. Since more the merrier, you can spend more time in paying a visit to some god or the other. There are temples aplenty in towns and villagers small and large. You can pay your visits daily or weekly as you wish. Particularly stupid (otherwise known as 'extremely religious') people can pay daily visits (or twice daily). I think this is kind of reflective of the idle time people have available to them.
If people are able to devote six waking hours everyday to religious stupidity, it shows that they're clearly engaged in some very nonsensical activities otherwise. It could be that they have so much inherited wealth (or stolen wealth) that they do not have to worry about making a living, or they could be holding some low-level government job that is perhaps at the opposite end of the spectrum from what is known as a 'mission critical' job.
So how many people live their dreams. Not many, would be my answer. Not many are propelled by any great sense of mystery about the purpose and meaning of life or the vastness of the universe or the sheer absurdity of this random occurrence of the very existence of all at this particular moment in time. Not many reflect or try to make sense of the fact that billions of years went by before we came along and after we have spent our few decades in existence here on Earth, billions of years will still lie in the future when we will no longer exist.
Men (and women) are more inclined to think about more prosaic thoughts. They are propelled by jealously or a sense of competition with the neighbor or a herd mentality — just do what everyone else in the family is doing or has done or what elders have done preceding me.
So people look for a job, look for sex, make babies, own stuff, show off, feel superior, jealous, are inclined to be easily persuaded that the very average kid they have made is sure to follow in the footsteps of THE, one and only Albert Einstein (or Bill Gates — as the case may be).
Looking for answers, asking questions, is a difficult and mind-bending affair. Particularly since, some questions may be bereft of answers. What is the meaning of life, one might ask. The most current answer that science seems to suggest is precisely that life has no meaning. As Steven Weinberg had famously simplified: "the more we understand the universe, the more it seems meaningless."
If you ask the deep questions, you risk getting such bewildering answers. Better perhaps not to ask those question. Or you could ask those questions to the godmen, to the purveyors of easy answers, to the charlatans, to the peddlers of placebos. Their answer will appeal more to the unthinking millions. The answer that these ignorant buffoons will give is that each of us humans is central to god's creation and design and operation of the universe. We are doing great with our lives, with whatever miserable circus we are running in our personal lives, we are doing exactly what god wants us to do, god is watching it all and will be awarding us accordingly. Which believer won't be soothed by such sayings?
But of course it is noticeable that the world is influenced and changed in different ways by very few individuals and these individuals tend to ask such questions of themselves.
The people who bring about real change or make a real difference do not do so by accepting easy or hand-me-down answers or the stupid answers of traditional religion. Very few thinking men (and women) believe in the nonsense that is peddled by religion.
All of us have a choice: whether to live our lives without bothering to go near the precipice and taking a look at what lies beyond the edge or to bother to do exactly that. We should choose to survey the unknown. We may find some answers. We will not find the answers to the unanswerable questions. But jumping into the abyss is the fate for all, whether we look or not.
The religious believers are as dead and as much reduced to oblivion as the skeptics. The skeptics at least would appear to have put that marvelous thing known as the human brain to some respectable use rather than showing characteristics that might be more appropriate to other members of the animal kingdom.