Philosophy of Life: Some Propositions

TRANSCEND MEMBERS, 22 Sep 2014

Debidatta Aurobinda Mahapatra, Ph.D. – TRANSCEND Media Service

What is philosophy of life? The answer is uncertain. There is no single answer. It is like entering an ocean of debates, while the end result being the beginning of the ocean. My argument against this will be human life cannot survive in vacuum. There needs to be debate and discussion, this is what makes the human being the only rational being. It will be safe to argue that every individual has his own philosophy of life. Also, it may be safe to argue that philosophy of life changes from place to place, from situation to situation and from time to time. In my philosophy of life, I have the following propositions.

The first proposition is individual is fragile. However a strong and determined a person may be, there must be moments in his life when his determination melts, or he breaks down or feels weak. At the death of his wife, Kasturba, Gandhi bemoaned, “After sixty years of constant companionship, I cannot imagine life without her.” You can call it a sign of emotional chord that Gandhi struck at the loss of Kasturba, but it shows the softer side of Gandhi who was otherwise considered a strong willed person who sat on fast for weeks together or fought non-violently the mighty British. I can give many examples. The great scholar and one of the founders of modern sociology, Emile Durkheim was devastated at his son’s death and this hastened his death. This fragility comes in many shapes.

The second proposition is individual’s thinking and actions are molded by circumstances. No genius now says that a time will come when there will be flying machines as Roger Bacon had said centuries ago. We just fly in aeroplanes. We do not think about travelling faster in cars or trains, we just travel in them. We are no more worried about how to light our home as electricity is a quotidian thing. This was not the case hundred and some years ago. One of my friends in Minneapolis narrated how the older generations were confronting cold as they had to go outside their houses to attend nature’s call in minus twenty five degree Fahrenheit temperature and how they had to keep fire burning so that their house can be warm. These seem now as dreams of the past. These are some of the examples in collective life of the individuals. Even an individual’s personal thinking and behavior changes due to circumstances. Circumstances sometimes force an individual to do an act which he could not have otherwise done. We know extreme cases how an individual commits a serious crime, which he repents later. When I say circumstances I include these factors: individual’s state of mind at a given time, his place and status in society, his current location and the time, and his perception of laws and social mores.

The third proposition is there is something in individual life which is not always in his control. You may call it fate or destiny. But there is such an element in human life. The fate may include a eureka moment as in case of Archimedes or an apple falling on Newton’s head. One element brings these disparate incidents together is in none of these cases the person expected that particular incident will happen. I am not saying they are same. What I am trying to allude is the reward may not be always correspondent to a person’s work, the reverse maybe true. Shakespeare had said that some have greatness thrust upon them. I will give an Indian example. During choice of candidates for presidential elections in India in 2007, the ruling Congress party chose Karan Singh, one of the able candidates for the post. One of the coalition partners of the Congress, the Communist Party vetoed it with the argument that Singh belongs to a royal family, and his aristocratic upbringing and his views on religion may not be suitable to the post. They proposed another candidate Pratibha Patil, who was a classmate of a communist leader. Patil was elected President. Indians know the credentials of the two persons.

The fourth proposition is the most workable philosophy of life is inclusivism. A narrow minded person always finds faults in others and indulges in blame game. To add, a self-centered philosophy is not a better philosophy of life. I do not deny the importance of self, but there is a limit. I also believe in the dictum: a person who does not know how to help him can not help others. I am trying to extend the argument further. Gandhi comes here as an ideal. For him, all religions are like different rivers flowing to a sea or like beautiful flowers in a garden. For him, divisions on the basis of caste, color, religion, country are man made, and they do not stand rational scrutiny. A person believing in inclusivism when sees a problem will first ask: how far am I responsible for this? How much have I contributed to this problem? He will respect different views, different ways of life, though not necessarily succumbing to them. He will learn from others. To quote Gandhi, learn as if you are a student whole life.

The fifth proposition is humility is a greater asset than arrogance. I believe in the Socratic saying, ‘I know that I do not know.’ It is true that more a human being learns he becomes more humble. Swami Vivekananda while speaking at the Parliament of Religions in Chicago in 1893 articulated this proposition very well with the simile of well-frog. The frog living in the well can not see beyond the well. For the frog, the well is the universe, and there is nothing beyond that. Accidentally a frog from outside fell down in the well. The well-frog asked the outsider: is your home bigger than this? The frog from outside said the outside world is too big, there is no comparison. The well-frog insisted that there can be nothing bigger than the well. The point I am trying to make is a person who wants to learn more must be humble; an arrogant person closes his mind for new knowledge.

I will stop for now. I will add few more propositions later. Perhaps the sixth one will be: simple living and high thinking. There is no end to human need; hence the better thing to do is to minimize the needs. I do not disagree with Aristotle that a person needs comfort and time to have lofty thinking. But one has to find out ways how to find one’s comfort in such a way as to put minimal burden on nature and earth. The seventh proposition will be: one must contribute to society. I believe the society is our larger self. One needs to contribute to society in his own capability. A person who has no food needs to be busy to find means of subsistence. But a person who has no such worry should contribute to society.

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Dr Debidatta Aurobinda Mahapatra is a member of the TRANSCEND Network and an Indian commentator. His areas of interest include conflict transformation and peacebuilding in South and Central Asia. He is a Fellow at the Center for Peace, Democracy and Development, University of Massachusetts Boston. His edited book Conflict and Peace in Eurasia was published by Routledge in 2013.

 

This article originally appeared on Transcend Media Service (TMS) on 22 Sep 2014.

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