It all started with that conversation. Actually, it all started several decades ago when I was born, but that is not how we mark events.
R: “Don’t tell me, E! Seriously? Yuck! Such horrible people!”
E (that is me): “True.”
R: “I can’t believe such people and families exist.”
E: “Now you can.”
R: “What happens next? What will he do?”
And I began sharing the plans that our common friend had made before embarking on the need to establish Rightness. Commonly, one mixes Rightness with Truth, Honesty, Protocol and a few other things and is lost in the tangle of words and connotations.
Few days later, a friend of mine complained that instead of dropping a Rs. 2 coin he had dropped a Rs. 5 coin into a beggar’s bowl. He apologised to the beggar and asked him to return it in exchange of what was originally intended. The beggar refused to return what he had gotten out of chance.
He: “Damn it, E! I know I was being stupid, but isn’t it decency for him to return it?”
E: “You expected a beggar to return what is not his?”
E: “Then why did you seek to give it to him in the first place?”
He: “Pity, good will, the need to share.”
E: “Then you will always have to pay more.”
These two conversations and my meditation on a facet of life, leads me to ponder aloud.
Often one is faced with the concern of establishing the Right in various spheres of our lives. A Zen Master might wonder about how the Right can ever be established by anything other than the Divine/Tao/Rightness, which makes sense. Nevertheless, the land has her laws and people have rules because one cannot count on the Divine taking matters into Its hands and with this world having a generous proportion of vulgar scoundrels one is often faced with the need to establish justice and uniformity. There will be thieves who will walk into your house, act sweet and steal from under your nose and then claim that the goods actually belong to them. How many people have the patience to let the Divine resolve this? The Middle East would have those thieves decapitated and to some that is perhaps fair punishment. One could wait for Divine intervention and then find none, for which the Hindu scheme of thought has created the notion of Kali Yuga (Age of Iron): nothing will be as it should be. This justifies or rather seeks to explain the humiliation of the fair and righteous and the prosperity of smugglers and rapists, this justifies an early widowhood to a good girl and the pimping out of one’s own daughter for a handful of gold (we often call them gold-diggers), this justifies the destruction of a Howard Roark and the pedestal for the Elsworth Tooheys.
I am frequently lost in the question: Can Rightness ever be established? Is there a point to it? Can we, while living in the midst of beggars and thieves and looters (Ayn Rand’s choice for the worst amongst human beings), subscribe to Rightness and adhere to it? How common is the occurrence of a good intention, an ethical intention, an honest action gone wrong and twisted around by vulgar snakes forcing us to seek refuge in the intelligence and honesty of others? One would build a road with the genuine intention of creating easy travel and transport only to be condemned by the villagers of having ulterior motives and castigated. I have personally encountered horrible people who have twisted their inaction, laziness, lack of concern, lack of moral fibre into a virtue and into the oft used weapon of “being human”. Such lowly people are a misfit in an ethical world. They resort to sweet words, drama, lies and falsehood in order to survive. They will take and keep taking (literally and figuratively) for they are looters who do not care for Rightness.
While fairness and justice can reveal a course of action, Destiny can choose another, though that choice doesn’t mitigate the Rightness of things. Often one mistakes Destiny’s ways to be a sanction of one’s choices. I love the Sandman series where Destiny’s role is beautifully sketched. Destiny is blind (and I like that volume where Rose tries to clarify to Dream that it is not Destiny that is blind but Love) and ensures that what is meant to happen will happen irrespective of the pleasantness or lack thereof. While one can carefully reveal the Rightness of things one cannot expect Fate to take sides. I think this is often the greatest torment man faces – the inability to come to terms with the actions of Fate which seem to come about irrespective of the course of action one takes and the underlying intent.
Allow me to consider each question independently and in an order that makes sense to me.
- Why should Rightness be established?
- What is the most vital context in which Rightness must be established?
- How could/should we respond to the environment?
- Is all the effort worth it?
- Can it ever be done?
Rightness is not negotiable. Rightness needs to be established because the absence of it is pure chaos which the human race cannot manage (which is not necessarily bad and at least, as The Joker puts it, “Oh, and you know the thing about chaos? It’s fair!”). It is perhaps out of the fear of the absence of Rightness that Rightness is sought, but Rightness lends a flavour which is unlike that which arises from achievement or cunning. The only reason for establishing Rightness is itself. One can list a million reasons for why we need sunlight or water but Rightness doesn’t find in human beings a necessity to quench. Nevertheless, Rightness is vital to the harmonious coexistence with Nature.
The context is the self transforming into the Self. Hence, Rightness can never be sought in an entity outside of oneself else Rightness would cease to be so and morph into a gimmick or a realisation based on popularity votes. It would be tragic and defeatist if one had to seek votes to decide whether something was right or not. Hence, Rightness cannot be sought or demanded outside of oneself. This doesn’t mean one refuses to recognise its role in the common spaces between human beings, but the self is most vital context. This might sound like an escape from the seemingly original intent of this post to arrive at a strategy for establishing Rightness, but no, Rightness must be established and the most vital context is the self. Once it is established in the self, there is a channel for Rightness to permeate the space around that Self. When an individual acts as an impediment to or an inappropriate carafe for Rightness, what then is there to expect of the world outside such an error?
By observing oneself. To observe oneself is to rid oneself of the need to measure, to compare, to tally, to seek approval. When we truly observe ourselves, we watch our ways afresh. We do not compare it with an ideal, or with our beliefs or with norms. We simply watch and understand what is it that drives an action. I can watch my decisions and realise that my choice of taking a hard stance is simply my need to refuse looters to have things their way. My discomfort with liars and knaves leaves me with a visceral want to oust them from my life. I don’t see it as good or bad nor wonder whether it is politically correct or what will others say or will I have as many supporters as the looters do or anything along those lines. This doesn’t make for a justification for knee-jerk reactions but to be able to observe a sequence of actions and be able to realise where it all springs from lends clarity and with clarity, one has an opportunity to adhere to Rightness. Clarity alone is impotent esp. in the world of human beings. A friend often said that clarity to a person should be like a flame shown to butter – there is no choice, transformation is inevitable. Unfortunately, that is not true as far as human beings are concerned. One can heap facts and figures in front of a person but fail to convince a liar of the truth in them. They will stick to their illusions and condemn you for pursuing them with facts and truth. They will even resort to escapes and drama and blame you for “numbing” their senses with incessant calls to Rightness. Human beings can never be butter (and perhaps that is what encouraged the Vedic rishis to offer butter to the sacrificial fire). Hence, by observing oneself one has the opportunity to befriend Rightness.
One would have to get over one’s fears, one’s hubris, one’s false spine, one’s ego to be able to walk the path of Rightness with the clarity gained. How should one drop one’s fears or pride? There is no step by step procedure for that though the best means is to observe the world. One should observe it to see what is, what was and hence, how the world accommodates the transition from what was to what is. In this, there is great learning especially about the impermanence of things and ideals. There will be no man-made object that will outlive this world yet the world gently accommodates all mistakes and misunderstandings. In watching and observing Nature there is a lot to learn, esp. that our fears our primarily imaginary or irrelevant in the grand scheme of this world. That our pride achieves nothing on its own and it doesn’t serve as sufficient trophy after we have created something.
So, in observing the self and Nature one gathers the rudimentary equipment to adhere to Rightness. Those who aren’t interested in Rightness will only talk, and lie and invent more lies to justify their inconsistent stories and play this silly game of them against themselves and clap hands in having won the game although there was no one else playing. They will create movements and expend energy in extolling the virtues of mediocrity and vulgarity because only in such a world can every rat be virtuous. They will appeal to your sympathy and not your respect for one can be gained through coercion and cunning while the other can only be gained by mettle and intellect.
For one who is established in Rightness, there is no guidance necessary to establish that Rightness outside of him. His is a fire that will burn wrongdoers or himself – because in death there is no loss and with death ends the journey of the Right. That fire which has burned Right till the death of the torch is a true flame. Such a man refuses to accept injustice and will not comply. Laws of the land might bind him from fear of facing Truth. People might ostracise him out of fear of having to look into their own souls. But Nature will nurture him. The only way to establish Rightness is by:
- Sharpening the blade of the self by observing
- Refusing to accept the vulgarity of anyone around us
- Sticking to truth and honesty
- Sticking to a ruthless pursuit of fairness
- Standing up for what is Right
- Considering no loss greater than the loss of kinship with Rightness
- Never giving a man more or less than his due
- Never accommodating a vile individual
- Never gaining from the association or favour of a vile individual
- Never acting on pity
- Never supporting a parasite
- Preferring wisdom to mental intelligence
- Preferring mental intelligence to emotional hooks
- Preferring nurturing and support to parasitical coercion
- Understanding the difference between being alone and being lonely
- Comfort with being alone (for there is no greater companion than the Self)
- Willingness to educate a seeker about the path to Rightness
Please note that none of this is a decision. As long as it is a decision it is in the play of the mind and thoughts which can cunningly sway this way or that. When the individual is transformed into an instinctive response along these lines, he is free and Right.
I am afraid this is something each person needs to evaluate for their own self. Often I am plagued with this question: All that I am doing, all the world that I am fighting against, all the relationships lost, all the enemies gained, all the rebuke, all of that, is it worth it? Why not be like any other average human being and have a snake for a brother, a rat for a friend, a fox for a peer, a leech for a wife and a wolf for parents, and laugh and be merry and live like nothing matters? Because it matters. Because it matters to me that I sleep with the confidence that I did not cheat nor did I accommodate a cheat. Because it matters that I have represented myself with utmost honesty and have shown liars their place. Because I have only kept with me what I have truly earned and castigated thieves and beggars from my life. Because when I walk down the road and someone comes up to me and says, “E, I know you’ll tell me the truth. Is it safe to do this?” my entire being chimes with the bells of Rightness as I guide him with my entire being. Because when I look back over my life, I realise that for all the mistakes committed I have learnt and moved closer to Rightness. To me it is worth the acid-test. You need to figure it out for yourself.
It is and hence, we still have the world going good. Had the world been devoid of Rightness and people who strove to achieve that, then we would have liars and thieves attacking each other’s throats for the little gold that clung to their neck and food that hadn’t descended the gullet. Undoubtedly, the commonest form we find in the world is of people who are sporadically right and decent. But there are people who have mostly lived a Rightness which is commendable. My friend’s father is an example of a man who has lived a life without giving a bribe, without accepting one, without tolerating a liar and cheat, without cheating anyone and a lot many items on the list above. Although he is fairly far from what I call Rightness, he is closer to it than most people I have met and interacted with. This post is dedicated to him.