Sunday, August 20, 2017
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Human beings take great pride in vaunting their ability to take offence at the slightest provocation, and then justify churlish behaviour by labelling it as due to a “sensitive” nature. Often, the cause is unintended and without malice; and the effect, nothing more than a childish display of a bruised and over-inflated ego.


Everyone has experienced the “say I am not at home syndrome” whether as its author or its recipient. There are times when one wishes to avoid meeting, or talking on the telephone to, a particular individual. However, one must view this situation in a larger perspective. The provocation might be a pesky salesman determined to wear down one’s sales resistance for an item one does not need or it might also be a close friend. If the latter were to take umbrage at an isolated instance, it would be unfair. One does not break off a friendship of many years, discarding the bonds of times shared together, both of joy and sorrow, merely because a friend chooses to avoid meeting one at a particular point of time. The reasons may be many. A quarrel at home, a nagging toothache, or, perhaps, just the desire for privacy. Certainly, if the situation recurs, due thought must be given to the reason. One should not inflict one’s company where it is unwelcome. But, caution has to be exercised, and hasty conclusions avoided. The line between egoism and self-respect is thin. The former is as avoidable as the latter is to be desired.

There is an old fable about three friends who lived in a small kingdom, far away and long ago. They were a prince, a vazir’s son and a vagabond. The prince was brought up in the finest traditions of royalty, with all the graces and manners that were an integral part of his background. The vazir’s son had learnt to be loyal to the prince and to keep the name of his royal benefactors unblemished, whereas the vagabond’s grandfather was a pirate and his father was languishing in prison for murder.
The three, being young and impetuous, liked to spend time together, and each secretly envied the other for what he perceived as lacking in himself. The prince, for instance, often brooded over his lack of independence, fettered as he was by royal dictates, whereas the vagabond did as he pleased. One day, the boys were caught gambling, doubtless at the behest of the unsavoury member of their group. All three were produced before the king. The prince was reprimanded gently and told to go and stay in his room, as his behaviour was unbecoming of the heir to the throne, hence unacceptable. He would be spoken to later.
The vazir’s son was given a stern warning and publicly scolded for leading the prince astray.
The vagabond was whipped in the market place, and then paraded on the streets, astride a donkey, with his face blackened, and a garland of shoes strung around his shameless neck.

The prince committed suicide, and was found hanging in the royal bedroom. The vazir’s son left the kingdom for a long time, on a self-imposed exile, but the vagabond, as the donkey carrying him passed beneath his home, shouted to his family members “get some hot water ready, I shall soon be coming home and taking a bath. What is cooked for dinner?”

These are levels of sensitivity. All extremes are bad. The prince could not bear the thought of facing anybody after his token reprimand, whereas the vagabond who had been humiliated in public, obviously could not care less. Buddhism preaches moderation, or the middle path. In normal situations, to be temperate in one’s behaviour and approach is preferable. In social interaction, while maintaining one’s dignity, one should be considerate towards the needs of others.
However, when the desire for material wealth or worldly fame transgresses the realm of reason, the self, or ego, commences its predominance. This is highly reprehensible and subtracts from the quality of the person’s action, no matter how noble it may be. It is said in the Upanishads,

“mana eva manusyanam karanam bandhamoksayoh;
bandhaya visaiasangi mokse nirvisayam smrtam.”
(Maitru. 6. 34. Amrtabindu. 2)

This means that the mind of man is the only cause for him either to be bound (by Karma) or being released, and when his mind is enslaved by objects of pleasure and the pompous desire to appear important in the eyes of others, he shall remain bound. He begins to see himself as being at the centre of everything and others become unimportant. However, when it becomes desireless (niskama) or unattached (nihsanga) then he will respect others and, in himself, he will experience the bliss of release from suffering.

It is not expected from ordinary human beings to attempt to become hermits, or attain the lofty mental level of monks and saints. What is worth striving for, however, is the imbibing of a sense of values that do not mock at claims of civilized behaviour.

In the Mahabharat, Prahalad advises his grandson, Bali, as follows:
“na sreyah satatam tejo na nityam sreyasi ksama;
tasman nityam ksama tata panditair apavadita.”

This means that forgiveness in all cases is as improper as it is to be warlike in all cases. Therefore, the wise have mentioned exceptions to the laws of forgiveness. (Vana.28.6, 8.)

Normally one judges others. We are quick to righteous indignation at the words or actions of others, because we are “sensitive.” But, there are times when one has to pass a sentence on oneself.
Whenever there is an act of mindless violence that takes an innocent life, it tears asunder the family of the victim. It also shreds the fabric of a culture that has been steeped in tolerance and secularism. That is the time for every citizen to feel scorched by shame and to indulge, apart from soul-searching and introspection, in self-chastisement. It would, in this context, be wise to remember the relevance of the reaction of the prince, in the story narrated earlier.
That is also the time to awaken one’s sensitivity, to abrasive degrees of remorse, and for a promise forged by steel, never to forgive oneself for past misdeeds. This must be accompanied by an unshakable resolve to prevent their recurrence.

That is the only way to ensure that a nation’s vision for a peaceful future, is not imprisoned in the darkness of bigotry, or cast away in a barrel of shame on the river of time.

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