In the course of her work she had a discourse with Shoonyo, a spiritual teacher on Instagram, where they discussed Shakespeare famous line, ‘To be or not to be.’ Inspired by the talk, one of the members of her Zen Pen club, Arun Chatterjee, came up with a set of thought-provoking questions on life and death and posed them to Suma.
She answered his questions on Zoom for the benefit of her students and is more than pleased to share her wisdom with the readers of Life Positive.
Below are her reflections:
Q. Many of us believe that life is a continuous struggle. If that is so, what is the point in carrying on with life? Is this struggle worthwhile?
It is a fundamental question, a question that must have occurred to all of us at different times in our life’s journey. And as long as the answer to this question eludes us, we simply cannot reconcile to life. The sad thing about questions like this is that they need to be answered by us alone. No one else can answer this question for us. Yes, answers to this question are available in all the scriptures and most explicitly in the Indian scriptures, but unless these answers come alive for us, they may not affect us. Nevertheless, what others say can give some pointers, so, in that spirit, I am answering this question.
It is said that Shiva was so upset with the design of life drawn up by Brahma with its brief joys and interminable sorrows that he set out to discover the way out of this loop of birth and death and created yoga. But, then again, do you know anyone who does not cling to life? The Buddha once said compassionately: “Everyone loves life and fears death.” How come? You could say that the life urge has been inbuilt in us (which I think it has, otherwise I wonder how many of us would have lasted this madhouse that is Planet Earth). Or you may say that it is fear of death and not love of life that keeps all of us on this shore. And you may be right. Yet, life is not something many of us give up without a struggle. Many years ago, I met an elderly lady at the Willingdon Club. She had been wheeled to the table I was sitting at by two helpers. She had to be fed her food as she could not eat on her own. She was helpless in every way, but her brother assured me that she absolutely loved life!
Look at our street urchins, cavorting around at the traffic signals, with no shelter, little food and clothing, but with laughter shining in their eyes. Doesn’t the question always arise: How come these kids seem to enjoy life so much when there are weeks when you cannot even summon up a smile?
Or take fisherwomen, full of vitality and robust self-respect. I remember a time when they would travel in the second class ladies' compartments of Mumbai locals, with their big baskets of fish and loads of water leaking everywhere. The office-goers would recoil from them and revile them among each other. But these women were unfazed. They would happily trade insult for insult, accuse the women of sitting on their boss’s laps and exit the field with honours. Or take the case of our daily help. Overworked, underfed, usually with an alcoholic husband to look after, battling gigantic problems every day, yet the smile on their faces seldom waver for more than two days at a stretch.
Ultimately, what is this higher purpose? It is to understand life, for in understanding it, we understand ourselves, God, and others because we are made of the same stuff. And when we understand it, we will know how to live it.
I am pretty sure these people don’t ask themselves whether life is worth living. They are too busy living. So what is it that enables our help to get up in the morning and make breakfast for the family after being beaten black and blue by their men the night before? Or after having sat up the night before tending to an ailing child? Or what enables the street kids to dance in the rain with nothing in their belly? It is the life force. No matter how unendurable the situation, the life force snakes up and suffuses them with strength and courage, and puts them back on their feet.
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