Prabuddha BharataLatest Issue


EditorialEditorial : The Manuals of Life


Religion and spirituality are for the old. That is what the young generally think. They think that spirituality is a postretirement plan; something which has to be enjoyed with the gratuity, provident fund, and pension that you get after retirement. This is not true. It is not only the fault of the youth that they think in this manner. Parents guard their children from anything even remotely religious or spiritual and encourage them to first get ‘settled’ in material life before starting a spiritual life.


All that a child learns from society, teachers, and parents, is an unwarranted and unconcealed abhorrence for religious and spiritual matters. They are at best seen as elaborations of a straitjacketed and non-consequential thinking. The result is that the moment one sees a devotee, monastic, a place of worship, or a religious text, one tends to look away much like one would do on sighting garbage. Why so much aversion to matters spiritual? This is the outcome of years of unsettling an individual and making one insecure through what is supposed to be education and cultural grooming.


Contrary to popular perception, spirituality is something we need when we are in the middle of our life, not just at the end of it. It is what you need when you are in the heat of the moment, when you are juggling with alternatives, when you are at a loss what to do, when you want to take a road but are still standing perplexed at the crossroads. That is when you need spirituality. That is when you need to get a hold on yourself. Not on your puny self, the construct ofyour body and mind, but on your true self that is beyond time, space, and causation. Imagine the endless possibilities that would open up if you were aware of this true personality of yours and when you realise that you cannot be limited


Spirituality is something we need when we are in the middle of our life, not just at the end of it. It is what you need when you are in the heat of the moment.


by anything, not just as a figure of speech, but literally, anything. That is when your life begins. And that cannot happen without contemplation, without some soul-searching, without putting behind your body and mind—essentially everything that you presently consider to be you.


How to accomplish this? How to know what is the best course to take when one is flooded with choices? When you purchase a computer, a car, a refrigerator, or any other appliance or equipment, it generally comes with a manual. This manual tells you how to handle the equipment—this instruction is meant for those who do not know much about machines—how to operate the equipment, and so on. It also tells you what to do when something goes wrong; it helps us troubleshoot. In practice, when we unpack an appliance or equipment, we hardly go through the manual. That manual gathers dust till the moment we cannot do something with that appliance or till we face some problems with it. That is when we search for the manual, for solutions to the problem at hand.


However, how nice it would have been if we had read the manual beforehand and were prepared for such situations. As far as our life is concerned, we can be prepared. Through our traditional heritage we have been handed over such manuals, manuals of life by our predecessors, in the form of texts like the Bhagavadgita and the Upanishads. They teach us exactly what manuals of equipment teach us—they tell us what to do when things go wrong in our lives. They also teach us how to go about our lives in such a manner that no problems would arise in the first place.


But unfortunately, thanks to our wonderful education system, we keep all these manuals somewhere comfortably out of our reach, and then break our heads when some problem occurs in our life. Some of us try to commit suicide, some become mad, and some others get depressed and desolate. We need to remember that these manuals are to be used when we are alive, when we are battling with the crises of our lives. They are to be used by all—not just monastics, the believers of a particular creed, the religious, or the spiritual. These manuals have to be used by all human beings. This is probably why Sri Krishna told the Gita to Arjuna in the midst of the battlefield. It was not told in an ashrama. It was not told in a retreat. It shows us that it is when life is happening and when you are living it that you need these manuals.


What are we doing today with these manuals? We are relegating them to a secondary, tertiary, or worse, the last place in our lives’ list of priorities because some shallow-minded people have decided that these texts are not conducive to life in society. Of course, this conclusion they have arrived at by not even reading the original text, a task beneath their great personalities! Some skewed translations, wrong interpretations, and hearsay have led these guardians of society to believe in the meaninglessness and uselessness of these timeless manuals. So much for wisdom!


The biggest hurdle in accessing these manuals is the religious colour they are given. To make these manuals available to the entire humanity, the first thing to be done is to look at them free from their religious connotations. These manuals are not as religious as we think and make them out to be. They were born in a setting and society not very different from that of today. By associating these texts with a particular religion, creed, or ideology, we are depriving the world from ideas that are universal and necessary for the well-being of any person. In the times we live in, there is a tremendous pressure on every person to perform in the limited sense of the term, particularly materially. This has led to a rampant increase in psychological illnesses. This is another area where the manuals of life can come handy as keys to a meaningful and peaceful life. The way out then is to dissociate these manuals from all religious, creedal, or ideological affiliations, and see them as texts written or conceived by wise people who had something to say to fellow humans. Only then will they serve their true purpose of showing us how to live our lives and also of troubleshooting it when the need arises.


The best way to learn from these manuals is to study these texts independently without resorting to any interpretation. Every word should be analysed and its meaning understood completely. Then, that meaning should be correlated with the present-day context. This should be done with the intention of practising the wisdom of these texts and not just for creating a theoretical framework. When the practical implications of the teachings are properly understood, a sincere attempt should be made to translate them into one’s daily life. When these teachings are reflected in our lives, these manuals would have served their purpose and would have truly become the manuals of life.


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