What Next — A Discourse on the Present and the Future


Dr Ravi P Bhatia – TRANSCEND Media Service

What Next denotes an expression of what will happen after an event has occurred. The event could be social, economic, political, educational or related to sports, etc.

For example, after a person may have won a political election, he may wonder how he would fulfill the promises he had made and keep the electorate happy. It can also be expressed after playing a game that a sports team may have lost and now plans how it will improve and win the next game, and so on.

A novelist or poet after having completed writing a novel or a poem often will not rest, but think of the next composition she may have on her mind that would be better and more interesting than the present one.

I am hoping that the present essay is good but I would very much wish that my next one would be better and receive critical appreciation.

A family will hope for the next child to be healthy, if the present baby died at child birth. It may also hope and work for a bigger, more spacious apartment if in the present one, the family feels squeezed in. A female beggar in a metro town in some Asian country would hope that she is able to get enough charity the next day to feed herself and the baby she carries in her lap while begging.

Similarly, most people, students, researchers, teachers would expect to do better the next time around that would result in better grades or better appreciation or more emoluments etc.

A builder of apartments which did not do too well in the buyer’s market would generally hope that the next lot that he builds will fetch him better financial returns. An old man who has led a poor miserable life would hope that his next life will be more comfortable and peaceful.

The above are some common examples of what actually occurs and what a person wishes for in the future.

Hinduism talks of karma and after life; if a person is kind, does good deeds in his/her present life, their next life will be better, enjoyable and rewarding as a consequence of karma.

A natural question that arises is what are the factors or reasons for this dispensation of people in various walks of life to think about what next and how to do better in future. This is difficult to answer satisfactorily but it seems that in the contemporary world, insecurity and competition weigh heavily on peoples’ minds and on their behaviour.

A different approach to life is provided by the ancient Hindu texts — Vedas, Upanishads and Bhagwad Gita. Apart from the concept of Karma and after life, the Hindu philosophy and texts divide life into four ashrams or stages.

These are:

  • Brahmcharya orearly, adolescent or student stage;
  • Grahstya   orhouseholder — the stage of raising a family and working on one’s career;
  • Vanprastha orretired life — after the end of the stage of raising a family or at the end of a career or occupation; and
  • Sanyasa orstage of renunciation of present life.

In the first stage of brahmcharya, students or young people are in a development stage and obviously plan for the future within the social, economic constraints. So also in the second stage where also a person is raising a family and working for a career and has to plan judiciously within the social, economic constraints for providing basic necessities to his family members, including educational.

The third stage is not to suggest the man who has adopted vanprastha, does nothing but relax and sit idly. The idea is that free from earlier constraints and obligations, he tries to adopt a peaceful, spiritual approach to life and tries to help people in need. He may meditate or participate in musical, cultural or spiritual activities to keep himself occupied and fulfilled.

Earlier, in the fourth stage of life, some people would leave their home or village and spend the remaining part of their lives in a forest or remote place free from the burdens and duties of a householder. This type of life is not practicable in modern life but the basic idea is to have a spirit of renunciation to life and not to be disturbed by what occurs in society. Broadly, the Hindu approach is conditioned by these four ashrams, especially the last two.

If one believes in this approach to life and practices it even partly, the problem of what next becomes fairly irrelevant. For a person who has adopted this approach, the question of what will happen in future does not bother much. The person feels contented in what is happening in life including illness, and so does not let it and the outside disturb him. Of course, I should also say that the approaches of women may differ from those of men due to the biological and social factors.

The above discourse of the people who appreciate and adopt the ashram approach is suggestive. It does not imply that people following different religions or facets of life should adopt the above practices. Ultimately it is for the people and the community they are part of, to try to live a life that gives them peace, harmony and happiness.

So don’t think of What Next.


Dr Ravi P Bhatia is a member of the TRANSCEND Network for Peace Development Environment, an educationist, Gandhian scholar and peace researcher. Retired professor, Delhi University. His new book, A Garland of Ideas—Gandhian, Religious, Educational, Environmental was published recently in Delhi. ravipbhatia@gmail.com


This article originally appeared on Transcend Media Service (TMS) on 17 Feb 2020.

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