My Dear Abhishek:
You, like all newborns, are a Little Buddha.
Welcome to the world and may you have a long and happy stay here. In this letter I will try to tell you a few things that may help you along.
You are just a month old. The universe you are born into is infinitely older than you. I hope someday you would learn what the relation between you and the universe is and appreciate the unique place you occupy within it. You will spend quite a bit of time making a living, but to truly make a life, you will have to comprehend who you are in the larger scheme of things. We will talk about this at length later.
Narrowing our focus, we now move on to the world we inhabit. Our world—the earth—is almost, but not quite, as old as the universe. Also, compared to the universe, the earth is infinitely smaller. While our concerns are mainly focused on the earth, don’t forget that there is a larger universe out there. Why? It will lend perspective to whatever you do. The most important feature of the universe—and therefore all that is in it including the earth and you—is impermanence and change. This realization is the most profound that you will ever achieve. The rest is all details. Whatever you do, great or small, is of no consequence in the larger scheme of things. Relieved of the burden of having to worry about consequences, you can then focus on what is your duty without being distracted by the inconsequential. For us the big over-arching task is therefore to figure out what our duty is. Each one of us is unique and therefore our tasks are unique. The good life, not merely a good living, is guaranteed to one who is able to figure out what that unique task is. It is an infinite uncharted plain out there and you have to figure out your own path. You cannot follow anyone else’s path. Others have walked that plane but their path is not the path for you.
To figure out your path, you have to comprehend the world. To comprehend the world, you have to know it. Acquiring knowledge is hard work and it involves sifting through vast amounts of information. You will read breathless prose about how stupendously amazing amounts of information is available to you at your fingertips. That is good but don’t make the mistake of confusing information with knowledge. It is important to make that distinction to avoid fundamental costly mistakes. Remind me to explore this distinction later. That brings us to an important point: the ability to make skillful distinctions is very crucial to thinking and consequently to comprehension.
The more sophisticated a consciousness is, the more distinctions it can make, and thus be able to comprehend the complexity of the universe more acutely and comprehensively. To illustrate what I mean, an intelligence which is only able to distinguish between one and many is not as sophisticated as one that is able to use the counting numbers 1, 2, …, etc. Our ability to distinguish is directly related to our ability to learn vocabulary. In a sense, all education is about learning vocabulary. Each word stands for a concept, and each concept is made up of simpler concepts and each of these simpler concepts has a one-to-one mapping with simpler words. The hierarchy of concepts is reflected in the hierarchy of words and in a strict sense, what we know consciously about is limited by our vocabulary. As our vocabulary grows, so does our comprehension of the world. The Word is primary; all else is merely an elaboration of the Word. What is that word, you ask. Some call it the Om, others the Tao. We will explore this a little later.
You must have noticed that I keep hinting at things and do not go into details. That is because this one is only the introduction, or even the introduction to the introduction. I promise you that we will discuss at length all the points mentioned above and more as they arise. Our exploration will be bounded only by our bounded rationality and our limited comprehension of the world.
I will close this one with some words from The Desiderata: “You are a child of the universe, no less than the trees and the stars. You have a right to be here. And whether or not it is clear to you, no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.”
With a deep bow to the Buddha within you,
Categories: A Letter to Abhishek