13 June 2015

bouquet, melodies and tapestries

How many different bouquets can one make with a bunch of flowers and ferns?
Referring to something I wrote recently (‘There are republics I would die for,’ see Daily News of June 10, 2010), Indrani Peries recalls an incident that had taken place some decades ago.  She remembered being annoyed by the way an Asian friend had responded to a remark made by an English female. It was a reference to skin colour.  She had been upset not by the racial slur but the response, ‘we are not black, it is Africans who are black; we are Asians’. 
In her anger, Indrani had blurted out, ' If I had power over this world , I would collect all nationalities into one basket, shake it well and drop them just any where on this earth and ask them to start all over again. There are enough divisions on this earth. Some are black, some are white and others in-between, so what?' Her point was that there are enough divisions in this world already and it was unnecessary to create more divisions within divisions.  Her comment to me was that she now thinks that her idea was Utopian and foolish.
I don’t know enough to pass judgment on such proposals.  There is nothing to say that things that have not worked before will not work later.  Things happen at auspicious times.  ‘Auspicious,’ I like to think, has less to do with the relative location of heavenly bodies or the whims and fancies of some divine entity as they are about the coming together of individuals, processes and collectives to produce relevant circumstances. 

It is certainly not possible to collect nationalities as though they are so many cans of paint and mix them in a cauldron big enough to contain all.  It would be nice of think of nationalities as threads and the world was one huge tapestry, but then again the weave and verve is never produced through consensus.  The article we have is not one to turn heads but one that would make us look away.  Indrani is not all-powerful.  Even if she was, I am not sure if she is good at paint-blending or weaving and as such there’s no guarantee that the resultant would be angel and not monster. 

What might help is in fact the idea, the ‘heartness’ that births such a scenario.  I remember someone asking Vinnie Hettigoda, the cartoonist, what he considers is his greatest piece of work. This was in the early nineties when Vinnie’s cartoons constituted a rallying point for a JVP desperate to regroup.  His ‘Sketches of Reality’ was a recruiting ground for that party.   Vinnie responded thus: ‘There’s nothing I’ve done that I can be truly proud of, but if I could design a national flag that anyone and everyone could identify with and feel represented by, then I would feel that I’ve accomplished something’.   This is exactly what Indrani said. The heart-essence is the same.  

I have passed what Indrani referred to as the ‘salad days’.  I am not sure how green I was in judgment and what of the greens that certainly made me then still remain.  I know that poetry inspires.  It does not and cannot by itself transform.  If that were the case we would not have any wars.  Only resolute hearts, innovative brains and a strong sense of responsibility and integrity will change the world.  Anger can help but only for a while, only to start engines that are believed to be dead. After awakening we have to understand that only 4 fuels work on the road to destinations that are different and better: Metta, Muditha, Karuna and Upekkha (compassion, kindness, equanimity and the ability to rejoice in another’s joy).

We are parochial creatures. We love that which is most like us (our children, families, clans, familiar things, ways and places) more than other things.  Loyalty is good and even necessary, for we live in collectives that are defined by lines, are made of members and defined by the fact that there are non-members.  However, as the Buddha said, there is violence, disturbance and disruption of peace when there is either hard grip or callous dismissal. Only caress produces wholesome things. 

After reading Indrani’s email, I felt I should return to the Karaneeyametta Sutra (‘The Discourse on Loving Kindness’).  Inevitably (it seems now) the following jumped out of the text:

Matha yatha niyam puttam
Ayus eka putta manu rakkhe
Evampi sabba bhutesu
Manasam bhavaye aparrimanam

Just as a mother would protect her only child
Even at the risk of her own life,
So too may you cultivate
A limitless heart towards all beings. 

There is a truth that we know but rarely understand and one which we practice more infrequently (if we do so at all).  We know that we can’t erase difference.  We can deal with it though.  We don’t and cannot obtain a happy outcome when our actions are constrained by guilt, a sense of inferiority or superiority, ignorance, arrogance, sloth, hatred, suspicion etc.  We move forward only to the extent that our thoughts and words and actions are compelled by fidelity to the Sathara Brahma Viharana. This alone makes it possible for us to employ reason. This makes embrace possible.  This alone makes a blending possible, a mix that gives a different hue but does not negate original colour. 

Imagine someone tasked with making a bouquet out of 30 different flowers and 5 different ferns.  How many possible combinations?  Imagine the number of possible melodies that can be made of the 12 notes in a scale.  Now imagine a process by which all flowers are reduced to one, all fragrances blended into a single perfume, and all notes ground to make a single toot.  I am not going to happy in such a world. 

The answer to cacophony is not outlawing music.  It is about a different composition.  It is possible.  As long as there is compassion. As long as caress is not outlawed.

Sabbe-satta Bhavantu Suki-tatta (may all beings, without exception, be happy)!