By Arun Babani
Finally, in my fifties, I have found some use for myself. Living uselessly (and dangerously) since I finished schooling in my teens, and since I discovered meditation which changed my ideas about ambition and success; Since then I have learnt that to wear that extraordinarily hypocritical shield around one’s neck, to be as they say a useful member of society has stopped being one of my favourite labels. In the name of being useful and occupied, I have seen people indulge in war and lust for money, power and prestige, the proverbial carrots of greed. And then things have gone on and on in the world and we’ve turned it into a sorry mess. Back then in my teens, I hear a mantra, ‘Meditate or Perish’, In other words, learn to be useless or have a burn – out at forty.
Why do we rush to be useful as soon as we open our eyes to life? It’s called cultural conditioning. Why is that? To find respectability and security. Why so? Out of fear and greed, why is that so? Buddha’s word for it is ‘Avidya’, Ignorance about such issues as time, self and Reality. How come this came to happen in broad daylight, in front of the very eyes of god? God only knows. There are many shades of answers to that one. J. Krishnamurti once attempted an answer by saying, that all was well until somewhere down the line mankind took a wrong turn. It happened when man began to plunder and keep slaves. There it happened that one man started keeping other men to work for him. But now what? How can we undo all this mess? Right education my make things better, but perhaps it’s too late and the revival may take too long, if at all, and any way fear and greed have come to be known as basic human nature.
Sicne those early beginnings, mand has been useful and busy. To be useless is seen to be State where devil takes over. Facts point the other way. Buddha sat uselessly under trees in deep forests and discovered light. More recently, Einstein sat uselessly in bathtubs and tree shades and discovered pioneering facts about Reality. To them sitting uselessly meant sitting in an experimental laboratory, where new ways of seeing are know, where new paths are charted. A Zen Haiku says, sitting silently, doing nothing, spring comes and the grass grows by itself!
The modern man’s search for relief from stress may have some clues here. ‘Check greed, cutdown your needs, slowdown your, speed, and indeed, you may in time find your peace.’ Modern studies are pointing towards Leisure as the basis for culture and refinement which only means, be useless more and more, be happy more and more!
World is full of people who can’t stop even when they’ve crossed all their targets. They keep themselves busy and occupied till the end. Stories abound when they speak of “retire and expire.” But that is the unfortunate story of man. To be alone and silent seems frightful like failure. To be called useless is like an abuse.
I on the other hand, have lived uselessly all of my life and been available to life in a more direct and unpredictable way. Finally, as I said, I’m finding some use for myself. Only yesterday, I got three enquiries on how to get off the bus, how to be useless, how to meditate.
My brother-in-law, who joined the Gulf race a few years ago, enquired about the music he heard me playing and requested for some ‘soothing stuff’. My mother enquired about getting out of a crowd of memories that attack her each time she tries to sit vacantly. And my brother, who joined the corporate ladder quite early on, and who just lost a childhood pal, enquired about death and dying. I thing I have finally found a slot for myself!
To be the teacher of the useless.
To be the cleaner of crowded memories
To give lessons in laziness.