The Human Problem Defined

We will attempt to cover this comprehensively, one at a time.
  1. Śoka-Moha (शोक-मोह):

Human life eventually appears to be heading for heartbreak, for enormous grief and sorrow, if one trusts something here without calculation, without fear, pinning one’s hopes entirely on it. Be it happiness in a relationship, or the unrestrained rise in society, or expecting ethical behaviour from one and all, the moment you completely trust something, enormous is the assurance for a while before the moment of heartbreak sets in. Loss, disillusionment, completely wrong behaviour from the other side, utter unfairness to the point of manipulation/exploitation, etc.—any of these could be the reason. One plunges into enormous grief, and the situation appears bleak and irretrievable. This is Śoka!

The opposite of this is Moha, where the psyche erects something within, either consciously or unconsciously, to ensure that it doesn’t break down in sorrow. So, you could cultivate some artificial attitudes and strengths, create beliefs, assume stances, to show yourself how strong and unfazed you are, just so that you don’t plunge into grief. You estimate the risks of getting involved beforehand, to ensure that you never have to face the prospect of being on a cliff. Whether by daring or dodging or by creating options, Moha avoids sorrow and keeps your heart anchored in some cultivated strength or logic or belief or stance. Of course, Moha disguises as detachment, values, or something noble. Why call it Moha? Because, none of those beliefs or positions or principles or logic or rationale are original throbs within; they are erected to avoid Śoka, merely as a reaction! Therefore, all feelings of strength and inspiration, or stances of morality, appear so unconvincing within you, and are, in fact, delusional, because they seem to be merely erected to thwart something inevitable.

Śoka looks innocent when compared with the distortions you undergo within in the name of Moha.

Śoka-Moha can very much dictate the theme or mood of the journey of your life, without you even knowing it, and at the end of it all, you are still in Śoka of some form, without any answer to it.

  1. Death (मृत्यु):

The very fact of death puts a ceiling on everything human. Death is inevitable, everything here is finally going to end. No matter how precious, useful or beautiful it is, death makes no distinction. It’s a powerful ceiling, some sort of THE END. That very hard non-negotiable fact puts enormous limitations on you and me. The impermanence of life makes everything here impermanent. Every experience is punctuated. Either the experience itself is punctuated, or one fears impermanence, and doesn’t invest oneself much. One is forced to be careful right from the beginning. In fact, unless you are willing to die, you can’t be a brave soldier, nor can you swim in the waters of love, or create something beautiful here. Readiness to die becomes a necessary act of courage! Fear of death, fear of losing something that one already has, fear of being dislodged from one’s comfort zone, fear of losing stability and ending up in chaos, fear of disruption—all these fears emanate from the inherent sense of death from within. ‘This is going to end; don’t trust it too much, it won’t last’—the murmur of caution within never ceases!

Beaten to death long before death itself. Life-long fear! And, therefore, always working for sustainability and protection of what exists, and hence, held in a vicious cycle of mediocrity!

Only two ways out then, isn’t it?

Either, you must be endowed with something right from birth—talent, beauty, intelligence, inherited wealth—something enduring to defeat the impermanence of life with. The elixir of immortality in an otherwise dying world!

Else, you must have raw courage to defeat fear somehow and get off the pernicious cycle of mediocrity in thought, feeling, expression, and action.

The very fact of death puts us in this quandary, with which we are grappling all our lives. Of the very experience of impermanence, of fear, of suspicion. To get off such negativity within, one escapes into false hopes through religion, creating the way for superstition and blindness.

So, it’s either being sheltered in some endowment from birth—acting like an asset here and merely achieving material value, or, the necessity to fight the fangs of death directly, with raw courage!

Finally, death controls every behaviour here, and we seem to have no answer to its ubiquitous tentacles.

  1. What is this universe, and what do we do here?

We are born into a vast universe. We are born into families, cultures, languages, races, ideologies, historical contexts, and so on. Birth itself is so loaded! Born a boy? Then, the load of asserting your identity and everything that goes with it. Born a girl? Load of a different kind. What is the point of so much variety here? What is the point of action and work? What is the purpose of existence in this world? Even if we live an active life of about 30 to 40 years (leaving out the growth years and old age), what are we expected to do?

This universe has organised itself into so many spaces and territories. Immediate family, extended family, group of friends, workplace and colleagues, that hobby group, the walking group, the nationalist group, the religious group—and, I engage differently with each group; I think differently and feel differently. Then, beyond all these groups, there exists my loyalty to the culture and observances of my ethnicity. The particular geographical territory of the country I belong to automatically earns more affection from me than anyplace else.

Wherever I go, whatever I engage with, I seem to come upon power struggles finally. Someone wants to be the leader, continually canvassing and organising, and providing hope about the changes that he or she will bring about. Within the family too, there is a daily dose of one-upmanship. Beyond all these power struggles, and eventually either winning or losing out, what remains of this universe, and what should the human be genuinely engaging with? What is that fundamental sail in these vast waters, staying aligned to which, one can discover coherence with the very laws of this universe? Is there any such thing at all?

For, if there is no such fundamental direction to human life emanating from the cosmos itself, then we would be lost in power struggles for our own survival and growth. Man has to be necessarily selfish, without choice, and hence will be guided by choices born of opportunity, vice, and pleasure. He is likely to be prone to corruption, prejudice, and pettiness of attitude. There is no larger picture that he would be able to serve, isn’t it?

Immersed in self-gloating and self-serving cravings, man doesn’t seem to bother about the fundamental nature of this universe, and what his role is with respect to it. And, this indeed is the underlying corruption. The rest of the specific vices follow from there, don’t they?

  1. What to trust then, for daily life?

What does one trust here, on a daily basis? Do I trust happiness, and that too of an elevating nature, and pursue that? Do I trust character and principles, and try and hold my entire set of actions, thoughts, and feelings within their definition? Do I adhere to values come what may? Do I trust some kind of feelings innately, and move away from anything uncomfortable?

If I build or create anything here with a noble motive, is it fine? Would I be doing the right thing? If I engage with people who are honourable, nice, and straight, would I be then serving the right kind of people? Can I avoid the dirty, the cheap, the ominous, the negative tendencies of humans here? Avoid the bad, pursue the good—can I really pull it off?

Is studying the right books always good? Is praying for the welfare of all always good? Is wishing for the happiness of your near and dear, being concerned about them, always good? Is helping people around you always good? Is keeping to yourself, and not being an obstacle to others good enough, or, should each of us work towards becoming an asset?

Is pleasure bad in itself? Or, is pleasure right within so-called socially or morally accepted boundaries like family? Do I work now, or do I enjoy now? Do I overlook a certain worry within, or do I act upon it? Do I give the current conflict any importance, or do I ignore it? Do I solve the problem that is staring at all of us, or do I wait for someone else to jump into the fray, or do I tell myself, ‘If I keep solving the small problems, I shall never get to the bigger issues’?

Not hurting this or that person, come what may—is that a value that should be pursued? Or, should I create more and more produce for everyone to enjoy and lead a happy life?

Whom or what do I believe now? My parents? My spouse? My children, and the accompanying responsibility? Do I believe in Mokṣa? Should I give up all that I am currently engaged in because it is all samsāra, and pursue some unknown abstract higher truths?

Whom do I follow? The Buddha? Śaṅkara? Ramanuja? Mahavira? The saint from my village? My parents? The inspiring boss at my office? That political leader? Gandhiji? Rama? Kṛṣṇa? Sampradāya? The Jagadgurus?

Whose wishes do I appease? That of my children? My spouse? My own? My Guru’s?

Is there nobility to a pursuit? Like the purity of music and art? Like the platonic sense of math and science? Like the seamless space of an ideal? Like the unrestricted flow of love? Can one close one’s eyes and merely jump into any of these?

Or, does virtue lie enclosed in a lifestyle? Wake up early, do duties with all sincerity, don’t hurt or harm anyone knowingly, pray and think for the welfare of all, never laze or slip into grossness, never drift, never become loose in engagement, serve all—you get the picture, don’t you?

Or, is it all about balance in life? Work-relationships-hobby-health balance? Thought-emotion-action balance? Can such balance be worked out without ever considering the order of this universe?

Why not drop all effort and struggle here? Life will happen anyways and reach death some day. Is that fatalism, and does one subscribe to it?

What to do now? How to move? What to trust now? What to act upon now? What to react and respond to, now?

  1. Is there a ground to all life?

Is there a substratum to life at all? Or, is the whole universe suspended chaotically in the air, as though? Is there true sanity here, or, is it merely temporary relief from insanity? If that be the case, then spinning up illusions, and escaping from paths that suggest trouble, must be fine in themselves, right? If nothing sane is finally going to emerge, then why wade through conflict with discrimination, why go through tunnels seeking light, why endure deserts for that oasis?

There must be a ground to all this, isn’t it? And, shouldn’t that ground itself be the origin of everything? Where everything can be sucked back? Sucking back the balloon as though—not just the contents of the balloon, but the container as well? The origin of all things? And, if we discard the illusion of the march of time—birth to death, lifespan, etc.—then, even the destination should be the same as the origin, won’t it? The end of everything? Where everything is subsumed? The originator of everything must himself (or itself?) be the eater of everything, won’t he be?

So, in other words, if one somehow stumbled upon the origin of everything here, one has indeed discovered the destination of everything too! On the same count, if one can descend to the ground upon which everything moves and rests right now, one has indeed seen both the origin and the end, in one go, isn’t it?

Is God mere speculation? Or is He real? Is He merely a substratum, or does He actually intervene in the way you and I live here? Does He have opinions about the right code of life, or has He enabled some basic possibilities to life and left all of us to ourselves? Is He merely the designer of life, the one who has set the blueprint, but doesn’t interfere with how the design is used, or does He actively involve Himself here on a daily basis? Does He actually help you and me, or is it more our delusion?

And, how does one find out whether this sense of God itself is genuine or delusional?

The path of Śreyas!

To wake up to the gravity of life itself is Śreyas. Not that one knows answers, or is sure of what to pursue, or is clear of what path to take. The way of Śreyas is waking to dawn, where clarity can emerge. It is a freedom from darkness of all kinds. And, it must answer all dimensions and questions posed above, shouldn’t it?

If you merely sought an end to grief alone, you shall only seek consolation, won’t you? That will be the nature of Mukti that you shall seek. If poverty troubles you a lot, you shall seek money and wealth; that is how you solve the problem of poverty. When you wake up to the entire human issue, not just to parts of it, but to the whole canvas of the human problem, then you will see that no easy answers exist.

Wake up to the entirety of the human canvas first. Else, you will be succumbing to one thing or the other here, coming up with dull conclusions, and end up justifying your pursuits some way or the other.

Refusing to reckon with the entire canvas of life, and succumbing to easy answers, conclusions, and pursuits is Preyas. To wake up to the full fact of life is Śreyas! To stay awake always is indeed enlightenment.

Wake up to the entirety of the human canvas first. Else, you will be succumbing to one thing or the other here, coming up with dull conclusions, and end up justifying your pursuits some way or the other.
Refusing to reckon with the entire canvas of life, and succumbing to easy answers, conclusions, and pursuits is Preyas. To wake up to the full fact of life is Śreyas! To stay awake always is indeed enlightenment.

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Sudheendra Chaitanya

Sudheendra Chaitanya is a Hindu monk based in Bangalore, India. After completing Engineering, he studied the scriptures at Chinmaya Mission in 1991, and continued with Mission work until 2005.

He now chooses to spend time with himself, observing life—people and happenings—keenly, and his insights flow out as writings. As a serious investigator into the core issues of life, Sudheendraji connects to people and subjects of life alike…with intimate directness. He has also authored several books. Notable among them are Blooming in the Open, The How, What and Why of I and God and Personal Worship. In a lucid narrative, his writings deliver fundamental insights, ruthlessly searing through conditioned thoughts and beliefs, but nourishing the soul with care.

Sometimes nourishing, sometimes revealing…