Value of Ignorance!

 

Ignorance is bliss translates to “ignorantia sit beatitudo” in Latin! But is it true? Unless we humans accept that we do not know many things in this world we cannot become smarter, knowledgeable and wise! 

Everybody in the world is “blessed” with lack of knowledge! The list includes Einstein, Mozart, Chanakya, Tesla and all greats in their field. Ok, I am still sane but I wanted to make a sensational statement. What I am trying to say is that the greats in their field have terrific subject knowledge, maybe the ultimate knowledge but it is limited to their own field. In other areas, their knowledge could be from limited to zero. I am a Metallurgist by training, worked in foundries, business development and marketing area in my career; did reasonable work in the software area. But my knowledge in these fields is limited and in all other fields closer to nil. I am not shy to talk about it. It’s a fact of life.

 

How much can one learn during the lifetime? After you learn something, unless it is tested in real life, you cannot be sure if the knowledge gained is deep enough! So, with exception of a few people, most have the knowledge or are well versed in one to three areas. Rarest of the rare persons will be highly knowledgeable about more than one areas. But what all this indicates or suggests? This suggests that all of us must be humble enough to realize that this is true status in life and have the humility to accept our general lack of knowledge about everything else!  

What could be a way to attempt to correct this situation? First and foremost is the accept this with humility. The second method, I read somewhere recently about it, and I liked it. Someone suggested that you buy as many books as you can, both physical or e-books. These can be on your favourite subject as well as other subjects which you like, but naturally, you are not an expert in. What does this do? This keeps on giving you reminders of how many things you don’t know, we remain humble! At the same time, should the need arise the books can be referred to readily and we will be able to improve our knowledge?

During your career period, you may not really get time to read books but you can always skim through them. But at the same time, a habit must be cultivated to read something every year, every month and every week! Unless you are 100% sure that you are never going to read any of the books that you buy, keep on buying. Till you develop this habit of reading, maybe joining a library can be a good idea!  

Lifelong learning will help you to be happier, and even stay healthier. Plus, plenty of the smartest names in the business, from Bill Gates to Elon Musk, insist that the best way to get smarter is to read. So, what do you do? You go out and buy books, lots of them. 

But life is busy, and intentions are one thing, actions another. Soon you find your shelves (or e-reader) overflowing with titles you intend to read one day, or books you flipped through once but then abandoned. Is this a disaster for your project to become a smarter, wiser person? 

You might want to read up on tricks to squeeze more reading into your hectic life and why it pays to commit a few hours every week to learning. To start the process why not buy a book which will teach you “how to do” about book reading? But after learning this, it is still possible that your book reading in no way keeps pace with your book buying. Your overstuffed library isn’t a sign of failure or ignorance, but it is a sign that you want and hope to delve in the knowledge bank you have with you. Yes! Your library or can it be called “Virtual library”! It is virtual because though it is there it is not there till you access it!  

Are you actually going to read all those books in your lifetime? Of course not, but that isn’t the point of surrounding yourself with so much potential but as-yet-unrealized knowledge. By providing a constant reminder of all the things you don’t know, your library will keep you intellectually hungry and perpetually curious. An ever-growing collection of books you haven’t yet read can do the same for you.  

A private library is not an ego-boosting extension but a research tool. Read books are far less valuable than unread ones. The library should contain as much of what you do not know as much as your pocket allows you.  You will accumulate more knowledge and more books as you grow older, and the growing number of unread books on the shelves will look at you menacingly. Indeed, the more you know, the larger the rows of unread books.  

The virtual library is a powerful reminder of your limitations — the vast quantity of things you don’t know, half-know, or will one day realize you’re wrong about. By living with that reminder daily you can nudge yourself toward the kind of intellectual humility that improves decision-making and drives learning. 

So, stop worrying yourself for buying too many books or for having a to-read list that you could never get through in three lifetimes. All those books you haven’t read are indeed a sign of your ignorance. But if you know how ignorant you are, you’re way ahead of the vast majority of other people. 

At two ends of the spectrum, there are “know all” people and there are “know nothing” people. You and I are in between. Like knowledge of different things, you will realize the real meaning of buying and keeping a large number of books on different subjects.  

“Curiosity killed the cat” is a proverb used to warn of the dangers of unnecessary investigation or experimentation. But in the case of a virtual library that we are talking about, this proverb is not true! Unless you are curious, you won’t feel the urge to know more about different things that we don’t know or areas where your knowledge is limited.

In the current scenario, it makes a lot of sense to understand and know the new things, that are mushrooming around us in IT/Digital area. If we don’t track these things for five years, you will be left far, far behind and will find it difficult to catch up; then you will tend to ignore the subject further because you are left behind. Whether we like it or not, we will have to know about these new things. The situation of being left out is not good. Knowledge about these new IT/Digital things is going to be essential and mandatory. It is going to be like learning of basic reading and writing, of yesterday.

Friends, in pre-modern IT/Digital era, knowledge was essential to remain smarter, knowledgeable and wiser and books have been a major source for that. But post IT/Digital era, this requirement of knowledge update is going to remain but it’s going to be mandatory to continuously update yourself to survive or you may perish! The virtual library in future will be needed to survive! So start downloading or buying those books!

 

 

 

 

 

  

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Nirvana!

When I wrote the blog “Self-Development or Nirvana”, a friend Shrikant felt that I have over simplified Nirvana! He also said “My definition of modern Nirvana…..is….be balanced…be at peace….be happy…. be as good a person as you can possibly be….be thankful to Almighty for what you are!!!!!” I told him that when I wrote about leaving all whatsapp groups as Nirvana, I meant it is as a metaphor. In this blog there could a bit of repetition of thoughts as I am elaborating on Nirvana!

This exchange started a chain of thoughts in my mind. Hinduism is a very old religion, it is a way of life, and all the thinking, teachings and preaching prevalent today, are thoughts from a totally different environment which prevailed when these thoughts were expressed. Human society as we visualize today did not exist in olden days. It started developing today’s format as late as in 18th century when industrialization started taking place.

Earliest human societies were groups or tribes of people which consisted of hunters and gatherers. They would move around the areas surrounding but had limitations. Twenty thousand years back there were pastoral and agrarian societies. Pastoral societies depended on domesticated live-stock and agrarian societies grew crops, settled in certain areas as permanent residents. Life obviously was not easy and larger settlements started from 6000 BC. On this scale, large cities are very recent phenomena.

What must have been life when the Ashrams in Hinduism were defined? I am aware that the top creations/achievements in this world are done at a very young age. So it is possible that many of the brilliant treaties must have been written by people at a very young age. These were prodigies! Like Dynaneshwar wrote Dnyaneshwari at 18,  Mozart wrote his first symphony at the age of 5! My point is when these treaties were written, many things that exist in today’s life just did not exist. So a new interpretation of Ashrams, vis a vis modern civilization, is essential.

For this purpose, we must first understand the meaning of Ashrams as interpreted, based on old knowledge. I am taking the definition of Vanaprastha  & Sannyasa which I felt were reasonably comprehensive.

Vanaprastha – The Hermit in Retreat:

  • This stage of a man begins when his duty as a householder comes to an end
  • He has become a grandfather, his children are grown up, and have established lives of their own.
  • At this age, he should renounce all physical, material and sexual pleasures, retire from his social and professional life, leave his home, and go to live in a forest hut, spending his time in prayers.
  • He is allowed to take his wife along, but is supposed to maintain little contact with the family.
  • This kind of life is indeed very harsh and cruel for an aged person.

Sannyasa – The Wandering Recluse:

  • At this stage, a man is supposed to be totally devoted to God.
  • He is a sannyasi, he has no home, no other attachment
  • He has renounced all desires, fears and hopes, duties and responsibilities.
  • He is virtually merged with God, all his worldly ties are broken, and his sole concern becomes attaining moksha, or release from the circle of birth and death.
  • (Suffice it to say, very few Hindu men can go up to this stage of becoming a complete ascetic.)
  • When he dies, the funeral ceremonies (Pretakarma) are performed by his son and heir.

I will not discuss about Sannyasa as I feel that it is irrelevant and I don’t believe in it. Just because it is mentioned in Hindu treaties, I need not discuss it. So we will discuss Vanprastha.

In the definition of Vanprastha, first two lines are just statements of facts. The third line suggests what he should do at this stage. Next it said, he can take his wife along. But the question is does wife want to go?

To start with, something which does not include both male & female species is incorrect. This thought process “of he”, mentioned in definition is very old. It is suggested that he should renounce everything as his duties in life are over. His children are grown up, he has grandchildren and so on. Does reaching an age really mean that his duties are over? Has everything in life to do with duties?  Is life only about duties then what about pleasure? When this status is reached, I feel that he has the right to enjoy his carefree moments of life without any serious responsibilities. He may want to do things which he was not able to do, during his busy life. He may want to paint, he may want to trek, he may want to learn to sing, and he may just want to meet his friends once in a while for a cup of tea. He may want to read books. He may want to travel and see the places he has not been to. He may want go for a pilgrimage- what is pilgrimage? The definitions are changing. My friend Shrikant suggested that the recent Alaska Cruise that we took was a pilgrimage, to be with the nature for a week! Yes, I agree.

The system of ashrams is believed to be prevalent since the 5th century BC in Hindu society. However, historians say that these stages of life were always viewed more as ‘ideals’ than as common practice. According to one scholar, even in its very beginning, after the first ashram, a young adult could choose which of the other ashrams he would wish to pursue for the rest of his life. Today, it is not expected that a Hindu male should go through the four stages, but these thoughts still stand as important “pillars” of Hindu socio-religious tradition.

Many things in life are followed as “Pratha” (a way of life followed as a tradition). Many a times we follow these as God’s directive. We don’t try to discuss traditions in reference to modern society and modern way of thinking. Some of traditions may not withstand analysis of modern way of thinking as these were decided when world itself was totally different. My friend Ramesh said that Pratha becomes tradition, Tradition becomes faith and faith turns into blind faith due to fear of God! Very appropriately said!

Why were thoughts like Ashram suggested, like giving up everything in Vanprastha? First scientific point that needs to be discussed is the life expectancy of those times. I don’t think many saw their grandchildren, maybe many died even before they produced children. That is the reason population was not increasing rapidly in those days. In fact societies were wiped out by diseases like plague and cholera! Now those people who saw their grandchildren must have found life irrelevant as not many people of their age were around. So what else do you do? Give up everything, maybe die quietly one day! There was nothing else to look forward to, for such people, maybe it was very easy to give up everything when there was nothing.

What is the meaning of life? What is reason to live? What is the purpose of life? To be born and to die are two things on which we have no control. It is the life in between that matters. Based on these discussions on life we can try to arrive at definition of Nirvana! Our definition of Nirvana should address these three questions.

I do not think anyone will be able to give you an answer unless we know a person who has attained nirvana. We as humans probably do not understand this completely. This is similar to a color blind person from birth, will never able to explain what red and blue is. The person will be able to talk about the wavelength of the color, how it’s used in the human world, it’s speed, through education but will never really can explain the look or feel of the color.

If you are in the state of nirvana, then you will not be having attachments to anything. No greed, no wants, no lust, no fear, no temptations. Nothing. Zero. That is when you know you have attained nirvana. ( As per older thought process)

Some people think that they have let go of these worldly things, so they have attained nirvana. It’s not easy, but not impossible. Can everybody attain it?

My take on Niravana, similar to thoughts Shrikant’s mentioned at the beginning and bang opposite of old thinking.

  • Always keep your humility and empathy for others
  • Keep your faith intact and believe in divine power, some people may call it God
  • Let the child within you be always alive
  • Be keen to learn something new, it could be technology, art, religion
  • Don’t lose your ability to keep smiling
  • Enjoy your passions, it could be watching movies, reading books, travel
  • Do something which you were never able to do in your life
  • Don’t feel bad to enjoy materialistic things but never go after them
  • Be thankful to Almighty for what you are- (as my friend Shrikant said)
  • Last but not the least be in touch with family and friends, always

I feel that if we achieve 70% of above we have reached Nirvana! This my friends is my definition of Niravana!! What is your take?