12 March 2012

Kalagngnu: the importance of time, timeliness and timing

The commentary on the Pagnamakkanuvattanasutta (‘First on the turning of the wheel’) in the Raja Vagga (discourses referring to kings) of the Anguttara Nikaya (Numerical Discourses) that I began a few weeks ago was once again interrupted by the need to respond to certain ill-advised and obnoxious comments made by Sonia Gandhi, leader of the Congress Party, India.  I return this week to the fourth attribute that a Chakravarthi or ‘Universal King’ is endowed with, or which an aspirant to such a position is advised to acquire according to Siddhartha Gauthama, our Budun Wahanse, that of Kalagngnu.
‘Kalagngnu’ refers to the matter of time and the quality of being able to weigh the pros and cons relevant to saying and doing at a particular moment.  Today’s politicians are a superstitious lot and place great value on determining the auspicious moment for almost every public act, from announcement of candidature through casting vote to launching this or that project.  While the particular configuration of celestial elements may or may not have bearing on things, the quality of kalagngnu speaks to a much broader consideration of the time factor. 
The ruler or leader of any body, from a state to a village-level society and all things between these, is advised to locate ‘moment’ in terms of both past and future; in other words acquire what is called the thun kal dekma or the ability to factor in the three broad time categories of history, the here-and-now and the tomorrows that will be impacted by decision and non-decision.  A leader has to see beyond his/her term in office and his/her vision should have dimensions broader than issues of personal career objectives and prospects.  Indeed a leader needs to take into account the possible impact of what is said and done several generations into the future. This is what makes a leader a statesman and not a politician.

No extrapolation is possible if history is discounted.  A leader needs to take cognizance of the past, what has worked and what has failed, learn the lessons embedded in success stories as well as failure.  This includes a consideration of the sum total of knowledge on the particular matter at hand and adjustment according to changed realities.  It is of course not a perfect science for the sum total of human knowledge is but a speck of dust compared with the universe of our human ignorance.  This is no excuse for deleting ‘past’ from the relevant decision-equation. 
Leaders tend to focus on the here and now and base calculations on immediate and tangible benefits.  Such leaders can be successful but history will not remember them in soft and fond terms.  Time will designate for them little more than name and number.  The great leaders are those who constantly base judgment on things past, the wisdom wrought of experience, the words of the wise.  They will add to all these the visible and known realities of the particular moment and will stay decision until they are able to make a reasonable assessment of impact, not just for those who inhabit the ‘today’ but those who are yet unborn, factoring in also those other processes which can be expected to have a bearing on the future. 

It would be worthwhile at this point to reflect on what kinds of outcomes have been produced by what is clearly an aversion to the idea thun kal dekma.  Modernity is characterized by a fixation with the present.  Although leaders (political as well as religious and the captains of industry) do refer to forecasts, they rarely calculate beyond the short-term.  ‘Long term’ rarely exceeds a couple of decades and gaze never proceeds beyond the next generation.  ‘Profit now’ seems to be the preferred the guiding principle and since this is an economy and a development paradigm obsessed with trade and markets, and since ‘moment’ is where need and need fulfillment intersect, there is an inevitable rubbishing of the past, sanitized as ‘sunk costs’ while the future gathers dust in the innumerable ‘imponderables’ that will not find residence in relevant equations. 
Profit now goes hand in hand with seizure of wealth and securing and protecting markets as well as avenues of resource and value extraction.  We have as a species plundered and raped the earth with scarcely any concern about resource depletion, compromising of biodiversity and indeed impact on the natural cycles of the earth.  The response to these dark clouds ought to have infused caution into calculation but in reality it seems to have spurred even more frenzied extraction and produced a firm entrenchment of ‘moment-thinking’.

How does a leader acquire the quality of kalagngna?  Politically speaking, the aspiring leader does a lot of learning on the job.  The experience of others and his/her own experiences yield understanding in this regard.  On the other hand, the great and successful leader is required to employ this character trait to matters that go beyond securing and maintaining political power.  It is learnt not on the job but in applying principle to all considerations, however small and seemingly insignificant.  It requires the applicator to also equip him/herself with humility, the ability to reflect, the virtue of being cautious and, ideally, a commitment to observe the sathara brahma viharana, i.e. loving kindness, compassion, equanimity and the ability to rejoice in another’s happiness. 
In general, those who have resolved to understand the eternal verities invariably are better equipped to apply the principle of kalagngnu.  For example, those who understand the reality of impermanence are not prone to succumb to the inevitable traps set up by ego. They are fully conscious of their mortality. They will therefore eschew the pursuit of popularity and for this very reason will succeed in leaving behind a legacy.    

Kalagngnu is a quality that mellows a leader.  It is about being punctual and this is no doubt important. It is about efficient time management, another important trait in a leader. It is about picking the right moment to say something and the right time to do something.  It is more than all this, as elaborated above.  A leader who is guided by the principle of Kalagngnu will protect a heritage and thereby ensure that sense of meaning and cultural relevance is preserved in his/her people and moreover will always consider seriously the matter of sustainability. Such a leader will eschew gimmicks and cheap thrills, will not succumb to the cry and holler of the crowd but will operate with full ear to the silence of those yet to come.  Such a leader will, in time, be hailed as ‘good’, ‘benevolent’ and ‘successful’.  Such a leader will have a tender place in history. 
Sabbe aatta bhavantu sukhitatta.  May all beings be happy.