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Abnormal Time

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ABNORMAL TIMES

We have been passing through trying times due to the menacing infestation of Covid 19 virus affecting all parts of the world. According to virologists it may take quite some time to smother its effects. Advisories have been issued by Governments as to day-to-day practices to be followed to help contain the spread of the dangerous virus. We are gradually getting accustomed to the ‘new normal’ especially regarding safe physical distancing and covering face with covers. It has also triggered changes in our working modes in office and teaching institutions. On-line transference of information, instructions and decisions has become the new norm. Work-from-home is slowly replacing physical attendance in offices. Teaching is being imparted on line as institutions have been declared closed sine die. Virtual conferencing has become the trend now in place of meetings. Admittedly such virtual activities cannot replace the advantages of physical presence. But at this juncture we cannot help it. 

In fact, a kind of artificiality has gripped our life-- a kind of imposed obligation that makes us do things mechanically. Freedom of movement is hindered. Personal touch in voicing views and debating on important topics stands largely scuttled. Learning, for instance, is not confined merely to the process of exchange of book-information between the teachers and the taught. It is far more than that. Learning is not meant only to pass examinations to earn. As our ex-Philosopher-President Dr Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan once commented that teaching in the real sense is to help learners to think about themselves, to inspire and instill values in them. Can on-line teaching do that? Nevertheless we have to put up with these shortcomings of virtual teaching system till the viral menace could be thwarted by preventive vaccines for which vigorous research is on all over the globe.

Time now hangs heavy on our hands. We are busy exploring options how to pass time. Monotonous life may lead to depression unless time is utilized fruitfully with some purpose. Every individual has in some measure creative instincts which should be cultivated in these distressingly vacant times. One can learn new things such as a new language, try painting, practice music and follow some such creative pursuits, besides reading books of choice. Presence of electronic media is now stronger than ever before with the majority of people sitting glued before TV sets for most of the time in a day. Mobile phone usage has increased manifold for imbibing transitory pleasure.

The most disturbing effect is disruption of transportation which has forced people to adopt sedentary habits. Opportunities for earning have squeezed alarmingly. Economy has been subjected to a new low. Debate is raging in the media on the issue of comparative importance of life and livelihood. One may argue that life is more important than livelihood on the ground that without life, livelihood is meaningless. The other side of the argument questions – Without the means of livelihood who will survive? Both the views have valid justification. It should be the endeavor of the Government in power to reach a meeting ground attaching equal importance both to life and livelihood.  We must save lives but at the same time ensure job creation. We should also think of those with limited educational attainments.  The task is not easy. But we have to find a way out.                                   

 

"We can transform this world and make it heaven"

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"We can transform this world and make it heaven" 

The outward zest and fervor usually witnessed during Durga Puja by Bengalis in particular were largely dampened by Covid 19 pandemic this year, though the innate spirit did not die out and remained concealed within. Durga Puja is more than a mere religious festival for Bengalis irrespective of religion they have embraced, their caste or creed. To Bengalis the festival symbolizes home-coming of the Supreme Mother from Her in-law’s abode after a year-long sojourn. In no other religion the Providence is conceived and worshipped as the Universal Mother and endeared as the Daughter. This mystic interpretation of Durga Puja is unique which could be the outcome of ‘tantric’ traditions prevalent in this part of India in the past. Be that as it may, festivities centering round Durga Pooja transcend all artificial man-made divides and discord imposed on the society from time to time. The worship of the Divine Mother infuses a unifying force binding and bonding people plugging cleavages within the society at least for the time being. Durga Puja should not be construed as a mere religious ritual. In the Hindu pantheon worship of idols representing deities is essentially symbolic. Nevertheless, devotees want a concrete mythical image of the deity before them to give vent to their devotional feel unlike other institutional religions.

When a society is riddled with factions, life gets discomfiting, uneasy and does not seem worth-living for. Jean Paul Sartre (1905-1980), the famed French philosopher, remarked that our life in this world is hellish because of our persistent persuasion to alienate others. We try to antagonize people who differ with us in outlook and perceptions about different facets of life often with vengeance. Social, political and racial rifts and discord are of man’s own making.

Social divides are created as a result of a sort of repressive approach from which stemmed the idea of retribution and reward after death—the concept of heaven and hell. Heaven is the realm of eternal bliss for the righteous while hell is the realm of torment for sinners. Modern theologians are of the view that the concept of heaven and hell should not be interpreted literally in a physical sense. Heaven should be construed as a kind of spiritual awareness of satisfaction. Hell is the feel of pangs of conscience or moral torment. People with positive values are not happy with what has been happening around and are in agreement with what Sartre felt.

Decades back when I was in my teens I read a poem in my text book written by a Muslim poet. The poem conveyed a message. The poet says that heaven and hell are not far away distant places as we think they are—places of imagination with contrasting environs. Heaven and hell exist in this world itself within us. Gods and demons are present within us distinguished by the values we nurture. Religious festivals such as Durga Puja efface the imposed distinctions and make the environment blissfully different.

 

VALUES—ITS NATURE

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VALUES—ITS NATURE

A person is usually known by his/her persona i.e. by his/her outward expressions and actions. The turmoil that goes within a person often remains concealed before the receptive organs of others. Conscience or, for that matter, values is essentially an instinctive and intuitive faculty developed and nurtured over years by a person. Cultural, social and more importantly familial ambience  shape a person’s psyche. Even a person with strong values falters at times when his base propensities try to overpower his conscience and is confronted with dilemma. Indian Ethics mentions of six such fundamental base propensities viz kama (undue cravings), krodha (undue anger), lobha (greed), moha (delusion), mada (vain pride) and matsarya (jealousy). Viveka (conscience) restrains these plebeian orientations. In fact, there is always a tussle within between good and bad, between beneficent propensities and malefic urges that coexist in a person’s psyche. A. person with a strong value-base can suppress lowly propensities.

An individual’s value perceptions may not be in congruence with those held or accepted by others in a society although admittedly prevalent social values help shape a person’s psyche and to a large extent one’s persona. The point to note is that social values change or get modified with passage of time in view of mutating human orientations mainly as a result of changes in social outlook with time. However, there are values which are perennial and remain immune to time. Social balance and harmony depend mostly on these perennial values.

Philosophy of Vedanta (Upanishad) classifies action into two categories- shreyah (beneficial) and preyah (pleasurable). We find elaboration of these two types of activities in an anecdote in Kathopanishad (Yama-Nachiketa Samvad). Man in general wants to do pleasurable acts. Only men with unshakable conscience think of good of others and pursue beneficial activities. Values likewise may be classified into two categories. Thoughts, expressions and actions beneficial to others are termed as positive values while pleasurable self-centered malicious thinking and actions are negative values. In traditional Indian ethics, positive values are synonymous with ”ishta” while “dwishta' stands for negative values.

Human character is extremely complicated and seldom follows a defined course of thought. Circumstances, instantaneous emotion and previous experience influence a person’s thoughts leading him/her to perpetrate actions that give apparent pleasure. Decisions related to values sometimes have to stand the test of social admissibility. It is pertinent to point out that it is extremely difficult to stick to positive values all the time because of complexity of human character shaped by emotions, passions, social ambience and other factors. It is quite possible that a person may respond and behave differently in similar situations in sharp contrast to his dominant intrinsic orientations. R L Stevenson’s famous novel “The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” may be cited as an instance in which the protagonist who used to behave as a benevolent physician during day-time used to turn into a wicked criminal at night.

Salman Rushdie in his recent novel “The Golden House” has coined a new term ‘synderesis’ which in essence the moral consciousness latent in every individual guiding him to the path of justice. This is in fact a discriminatory faculty of discerning right from wrong, positive values from negative ones. However there may still remain a hiatus between a decision and its execution bringing about incongruence between our innate attitude and expressed behavior.  Shri Ramakrishna Paramahansa used to tell about congruence of mind and mouth which is rare. Dichotomy has become a part of life for the majority. Positive value demands avoidance of this propensity.