Recently, I was having a conversation with a client. He mentioned an interesting personal story that resonated with me as I was contemplating the details for this post.
Earlier Post: The need to just be (Part 1)
The fast and the slow
His father was an intelligent man who used to work in the Finance Trading business and had done quite well – so much so that he decided to retire by 40. His mother was equally accomplished, and worked at another major financial institution, managing accounts.
Though they retired quite early, he interestingly mentioned that they got ‘old’ pretty fast. They became stressed, restless, and were itching to do something. Staying quiet was just not in their bones. Now, his brother on the other hand, owned a small food catering company, which was doing moderately well. He was not necessarily a businessman by nature and had more of a ‘take-it-easy’ personality. When things were not especially great in one of the years, his parents offered to look into the business. Soon, they turned the company around, identified new opportunities, fixed all accounting issues, and increased the business by many fold. In that process, they regained their second wind and their youth! Interestingly, it didn’t go well with the brother. He said, “I was much better off earlier even though I was not making much money! This is too much for me!”
Who was better off here – the active, successful parents who enjoyed what they did by being active or the brother who was not a super success but was content with his slower pace?
Getting some clues
In our current times, isn’t being fast good? Why should we slow down? What did Lord Muruga mean by சும்மா இரு (summa iru)? In colloquial terms, it means “be still / don’t do anything” (typically to kids) or “shut up” (to friends).
In his other work கந்தர் அலங்காரம் (Kandhar Alankaaram), he expands a bit more (or rather condenses a few other verses in the earlier work along with the one above) as:
சொல்லுகைக்கு இல்லை என்று எல்லாம் இழந்து சும்மா இருக்கும்
எல்லை உள் செல்ல எனை விட்டவா இகல் வேலன்
Just so that this is not one that is told (but rather experienced), you made me lose everything to get into the realm of just being…
Here, losing everything (எல்லாம் இழந்து) doesn’t refer to materialistic loss, but rather discarding all distractions in order to “just be” (சும்மா இருக்கும்) – which is a level of consciousness that is not easily achieved.
Does this imply summa iru means getting rid of material possessions and living the life of a sanyasi (ascetic)?
தாயுமானவர் (Thaayumaanavar), another prominent saint who came in a couple of hundred years after AruNagirinaathar, shared similar sentiments.
சும்மா இருக்க சுகம் சுகம் என்று சுருதி எல்லாம்
அம்மா நிரந்தரம் சொல்லவும் கேட்டும் அறிவின்றியே
பெம்மான் மௌனி மொழியையும் தப்பி என் பேதமையால்
வெம்மாய காட்டில் அலைந்தேன் அந்தோ என் விதி வசமே.
Even though my guru advised me to “just be” and that it was the way to attain bliss, I didn’t heed his words due to my ignorance and kept roaming around in this illusory forest (of material world) due to my fate.
Somewhat of a Matrix-like philosophy here! He gives a clue that “just being” requires a level of conscious realization, guidance from a proper guru, and trust in the path being taken. In another place, he gives a beautiful analogy:
ஏதுக்கு சும்மா இரு மனமே என்று உனக்கு
போதித்த உண்மை எங்கே போக விட்டாய் – வாதுக்கு
வந்து எதிர்த்த மல்லரை போல் வாதாடியே உன்
புந்தி என்ன போதம் என்ன போ.
Why did you not heed the truth that was taught to you to “just be”? You kept arguing with everyone just like a wrestler ready to fight anyone who gets into the ring – the ignorant fool that you are. What use is your intellect and the teaching (taught to you)?
We can see the connection being made here between “just being” and unnecessary speech / argument. Maybe after he had achieved this bliss, he proclaims:
சொல்லும் பொருளும் அற்று சும்மா இருப்பதற்க்கே
அல்லும் பகலும் எனக்கு ஆசை பராபரமே!
All I wish for is to “just be” day and night, without any word or wealth.
One of the famous siddhars – Bhadragiriyaar – has made a similar statement that gives us a bit more insight:
ஆங்காரம் உள்ளடக்கி ஐம்புலனை சுட்டறுத்து
தூங்காமல் தூங்கி சுகம் பெறுவது எக்காலம்?
When will the time come when I can suppress the feeling of “I” and discard the distractions induced by the five senses so that I can attain bliss by sleeping without sleeping?
Huh? We can infer here a little bit that in order to attain bliss, we have to get rid of our ego and also get rid of distractions created by our senses. But how do we “sleep without sleeping”?
नेति नेति (nEti, nEti – not this, not that)
Before we try to understand what “just being” may be, let us try to understand what it is not. Based on the behaviors exhibited by saints who have purportedly realized its meaning:
- It is NOT about sleeping, being idle, inactive, or being in a vegetative state: These saints were fairly active in their lives, traveling quite a bit, and composing numerous songs. They just didn’t lock themselves in a room all the time.
- It is NOT about isolating oneself: As above, the saints participated in various regular activities in between their quest for realization (and even after).
- It is NOT only about deep meditation: While the realized were known to spend time in deep meditation, that was not the only thing that they did.
- It is NOT about dying: While death is the ultimatum of not doing anything, the saints clearly were not proponents of simply giving away one’s life. While they all wished to join their God, they understood that it happens naturally and only after they have served their time in this world.
- It is NOT about not thinking anything: The saints were active thinkers. They were in constant search of what they considered to be the cosmic truth and fully understood that it is impossible for someone to just not do anything and hence exhorted gaining control over senses than relinquishing them.
- It is NOT about nothingness (soonya): One explanation is that “just being” means living in the present. We don’t believe this accurate, as the saints considered being in the present within the broader context of the past and the future. If they were only thinking of the present, they won’t be searching for the cosmic realization that is omnipresent.
So, what is it then?
What is “just being”?
All those mentioned above followed the path of Saivism, where Lord Shiva is considered the foremost yogi. Incidentally, the notion of “just being” also seems to have a strong correlation with Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra. In fact, the very definition of yoga states:
yoga chitta vrutti nirodhaha
Yoga is one that liberates the mind from distractions.
What distractions would they be?
वृत्तयः पञ्चतय्यः क्लिष्टाक्लिष्टाः
vrutyah panchatayyah klishtaaklishtaaha
pramaana viparyaya vikalpa niDraa smrtayaha
There are five types of distractions, some of which are more amenable than others. They are:
- Gaining knowledge from right sources
- Gaining knowledge from wrong sources,
- Deep sleep
This is an interesting list – except for potentially the second one, one might at a first glance consider the rest to be virtues than vices. Hence the earlier statement that “some are more amenable than others”, but nevertheless distractions.
Like how too much of something that is seemingly good (or even potentially good in small quantities) is bad, so are these, as they distract us from “just being”.
So, how are these distractions?
Too much information from the right sources
Too much information, even if relevant and credible, can become disruptive. Management and problem solving techniques commonly recommend hypothesis-based problem solving, where we form a hypothesis first and then look for facts to strengthen or reject the hypothesis than aiming to collect all possible data before starting analysis. The latter, while theoretically better, is impractical and can lead to “analysis paralysis”.
24×7 news channels are great examples. In a potentially noble aim to provide news all the time, they get reduced to being downright silly just to fill time (like standing in a hurricane!)
Information based on wrong sources
Obvious as it may seem as a bad idea, we are voluntarily undertaking this activity every time we forward an email or a WhatsApp message or retweeting a dubious source. This has led to a snowball effect where even the news channels are now spending more time in talking about tweets sent in the spur of a moment than about credible, well researched information.
While a healthy imagination may be good, imagination running wild leads to terrible distractions. Constantly thinking of improbably “what-if” scenarios pull us away from “just being”.
Deep sleep inherently implies not being conscious or aware. “Just being” is not about shutting down our senses as we do in deep sleep, but in controlling the senses in a way that we are not influenced by the sensations. This was the essence of Bhadragiriyaar’s words earlier.
Lastly, memories are essentially the ties that bind us to our past. Good or bad, the memories pull us back to “what was” than “what is”. They also inherently influence our judgement. When evaluating the present, we make decisions – good or bad – based on our ‘experience’, which is a collection of our past memories.
Thus, we seem to get the definition of “just being” as the process of being fully aware of our environment actively participating and following our duties, while not being impacted by its distractions, or roughly, disengaged awareness. “Measured speech” complements this definition by minimizing the distractions that may emanate from us.
Simple as it sounds, this concept is easier described than understood, experienced, realized, and eventually practiced. Very few have had that pleasure.
In my adolescent days, my father used to say his prayers in the morning for a few minutes. During weekends, I will be blasting the TV around that time to listen to morning film shows (chitrahaar, anyone?). When asked to keep the volume low, my flippant response was “Why should I? You are meditating – shouldn’t you have more self control to ignore me?” Thankfully, he was a patient man chose not to respond. Years later, I have been put in the same situation in reverse. I can see how difficult it is to “be aware of my environment while not getting distracted”!
While we may not (and likely never) be one of them, we hope this helps develop an appreciation for and encourages readers to explore such literary treasures on their own. These topics have been elaborated on by various scholars who have dedicated there life for such exploration. We don’t hold a candle to such experts and are bound to make mistakes. The best we can hope is that we will be corrected and guided as appropriate.
A heartfelt thanks to Vasu’s periappa for asking us to take up this topic. If this has some value, the credit goes to him. All screw-ups can be attributed to us!