The Lights to Navigate By

In a comment to the post on political parties launched by entrepreneurs, “Seven Times Six” wrote:

I don’t think renunciation and self-sacrifice is necessary for a nation to prosper. What is required is the exact opposite — a strong avarice and ambition to promote one’s well-being.
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In search of equanimity

Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow,
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day
To the last syllable of recorded time,
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!
Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage
And then is heard no more; it is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing.

Those lines from Shakespeare’s Macbeth are a sure-fire way of deflating any false sense of importance one might have while going about one’s business. Blogs, especially, are tales told by an idiot, and this one is no exception. All this strutting and fretting does not amount to a hill of beans. In equal measures I get hate-mail and praise-mail. To prevent the emotional swings between highs and lows in response, I try to recall Shakespeare’s lines above.

Equanimity is not something that is easy to achieve and I think I fail fairly miserably on that front. There is a story, a Zen story, which exemplifies equanimity to me better than any other.

Once upon a time, in a certain village, it so happened that a pretty young unmarried woman became pregnant. The parents were furious and upon questioning, the young woman confessed that the old Zen master in the village was responsible. This enraged the parents and they went to the Zen master and berated him without restraint. They told him that he has to take care of the woman and the child. The Zen master listened to all the abuse without a word and when they had exhausted themselves he simply said, “Is that so?”

He took the young woman into his home, looked after her, and when the child was born, took care of both mother and child. Then one day, the woman was overcome with remorse and went to her parents and confessed that she had lied and it was not the Zen master but a young man from another village who was the real father. The parents were absolutely horror stricken: they had falsely accused and then burdened an innocent man. So they went to the Zen master and fell to their knees and took a long time telling him how sorry they were for what they had done to him. The Zen master listened to them patiently and all he said was, “Is that so?”

I know that I would like to have that Is that so? attitude. But I also know that perhaps in this lifetime, I may not get there. The poem IF by Rudyard Kipling does have a bit where he talks about treating triumph and disaster as imposters.

A close friend of mine drew inspiration from the poem when he was struggling with his PhD thesis. You can see reflections of the lessons from the Bhagavat Gita in Kipling’s poem. For the record, here is the poem:

If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you
But make allowance for their doubting too,
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,
And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise:

If you can dream–and not make dreams your master,
If you can think–and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same;
If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
And stoop and build ’em up with worn-out tools:

If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it all on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breath a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: “Hold on!”

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with kings–nor lose the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you;
If all men count with you, but none too much,
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
And–which is more–you’ll be a Man, my son!