Monday, April 20, 2009

Giitaa-based philosophy and death

Two more posts on karma and a book review of Palace of Illusions pending, I felt particularly introspective in a different way whilst reading the giitaa tonight.

It occurred to me that in some simplistic way, a great deal of philosophy from the early chapters of the giitaa can be distilled. Once, in a Buddhist Philosophy class, a classmate (who majored in philosophy) asked how something would apply in a life or death situation. While other bemused classmates (myself included) snickered, she raised the point that any philosophy, at its basis, can be tested most easily and pertinently by looking at the ramifications it has in a life or death scenario. While that's not to say that there is no point to living by a philosophy, it does make sense to test its boundaries in such a way.

Thinking along those lines, it's pretty easy to simplify the giitaa's philosophy (at least from the earlier chapters). The idea of knowledge of renunciation of action, meditation (that knowledge's application), and so forth can be applied at the point of death to ease one's passing, karmic accumulation, etc. There are quite a few problems that arise such as remembering that stuff when dying, to say nothing of our ignorance of our deaths. What we practice is what comes to us almost instinctually, and so if we live via those ideas then we will also remember them upon our death. And, if we practice them in life, we can perhaps gain some sort of insight into our elation and suffering alike. Maybe we can make better decisions and learn to live with our mistakes.

While some are inclined to think of rewards of cosmic proportions after death, many of us are just looking to cope with various aspects of life, are we not? For us of the latter persuasion, desires of lofty Heavens and fears of stupifying Hells doesn't help much. We want some sort of elixir that makes it easier to live with the horrible things that we've done (or had happen to us) and helps us to appreciate the finer, subtler pleasures in life. Not fine wines, mind you, but the fine aroma of a summer evening, even if it is just outside the sweatshop/cubicle-farm. And, while some of us search ceaselessly for this magical elixir, I don't think there is one (though if there is, please let me know!).

For me, I'm content to try to figure out some of life's great awe-inspiring, though usually mundanely simple truths one at a time. When things get really rough, it's nice to have some help remembering. aadi sha.nkaraacharya said that our two best friends should be Death and Knowledge, as they never leave our side. Death reminds me to be in a constant appreciation of what's going on. I feel that maybe the knowledge gained from the giitaa's philosophy (Chapters Two and Three particularly speak to me, but I often wonder what doesn't...) can predominate the personality of my friend Knowledge. It's not the worst way to live, and if it gets me by during the trying times in life, then so be it. If not, my innate thirst for more spirituality will more than compensate.

Sure, there's more to it than that. It's never just that simple. But, from all that I learned from Buddhism, the concept of upaaya (deva: उपाय, "method" or "skillful means") burns brightest and most true. Sometimes, in life, a person needs to hear or see something in some particular way and at a specific time and place, maybe from some person in particular. Sometiimes, that's what it takes to learn something. We've all been there, and there's nothing wrong with that. And, maybe my oversimplified moment-of-death-centric view of philosophy will spark something in someone someplace sometime. *BLATANT GENERALIZATION*

I think there's nothing wrong with hoping for that.

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