Perhaps an ordinary dish had been made somewhat differently that day. Grandpa would taste it, and say with his characteristic good cheer, “What exquisite cooking! Delectable!” Or perhaps he is engrossed in his writing, when someone comes to meet him. He would greet them with such enthusiasm; convey such blessings if the visitor was younger, that it would seem that he had been waiting for just that visitor for a while now. He had visited and lived in many places and countries, but even after a more commonplace visit to Puri or Darjeeling, would be thrilled to tell and write about his travels. In a word, he was an ever-content person.
Unfortunately, it is far more common for people to be on two different sides of this state. On one side, there’s a lack of basic human necessities such as livelihood, nutrition, health, etc, and therefore, lives are spent in the effort to secure these needs. It is needless to elaborate how big a tragedy and an injustice this is, although not needless for the more fortunate to be reminded of it at times. The readers of this piece would also know that Mukti is working incessantly to right this tragic wrong.
On the other side, perhaps equally regrettable, is the other scenario; all basic necessities, and quite a bit more, are met. Yet, lives are being spent in wanting more, and in efforts of getting more. There does not seem to be any capability for remembrance of, gratitude for, and happiness at what has already been attained. In other words, there is no becoming like my grandpa.
In context of the first scenario, it was easy to say that Mukti was working to correct this scenario. I would also like to say that Mukti, and other similar humanitarian organizations, have a role in correcting the second scenario as well. And if we look beyond the very immediate needs, it becomes clear that this is no less important than correction of the first scenario. There are multiple reasons for this importance, but I will discuss a very practical one here.
Science and technology is at a place today, where humankind, taken in totality, has the ability to provide the basic necessities of all 8 billion people on the planet. Yet, more than a billion people still live in “acute multidimensional poverty” according to the UNDP. Experts hotly debate the reasons for this, but perhaps most will agree that innate human selfishness helps in maintaining this state of inequality and suffering. It is in this context that the above-mentioned equations of wants and pursuit of wants becomes very relevant. It can be understood that the people mentioned in the second scenario are incapable of truly “having”. They may be quite proficient in gathering the things needed for satisfying their wants, but are deficient in their ability to actually satisfy the want. One may liken them to the serving spoons that are immersed in the most exquisite dishes, but are unable to experience their taste. If we leave aside, for the moment, the unhappy turbulence this causes at the individual level, and think of its reflection at the social level, we come to unbridled consumerism and societal decline. In the larger biosphere that human society is part of, we come across the terrifying consequences of environmental degradation. When “growth” becomes the mantra of economics for an indefinite period of time, then one need not be an economist to understand that this is akin to a cancer that will stop only after sucking dry all the resources of the planet and destroying humans along with the rest of the biosphere. There is a contrary view that says that easily satisfied people are obstacles to the progress of civilization. Consideration of the size that this write-up will attain, were I to attempt an adequate response to this view, prevents me from doing so. It is also not the place to critically assess the paths recommended for development of civilization by capitalists, communists, socialists and various other schools of thought, nor am I qualified to do that. However, just as good nutrition doubtless aids any conventional or alternative mode of medicine, I strongly believe that the role Mukti can play in addressing the second scenario described above will be beneficial within any social system for building a happy and healthy society.
Let me come then to Mukti’s envisioned role. Mukti has recently been talking about developing ideal individuals. As part of that development, along with equipping people with the skills for self-reliance, let Mukti make all its associates aware that along with all the injustices and struggles in the world, sources of wondrous joy are scattered all around us. According to different innate personalities, these sources will be different – the source could be literature, philosophy, society, biology, physical sciences, spirituality, the everyday relationships between people – and so much else. The essential thing is to be able to understand the place of the chosen source within the panorama of creation, and to discover and internalize the wonder and joy in it. The real purpose of education is, and should be, to develop the ability to see these connections and discover these joys. It is not to be denied that education should also equip us with livelihoods. However, if it were to stop there, then it would be like using and praising an exquisite piece of sculpture as a very good paper weight. Within all the projects designed and executed by Mukti, along with all the provisions of livelihoods and other such necessities, let there also be an integration of this message of finding joy and connection. Individuals, who imbibe such a view of life, cannot pursue self-interest at the cost of the suffering of others. They would view themselves as part of a wonderful larger creation, and their happiness would lie in the well-being of that creation. It is then that insatiable consumerism will wither away naturally; human society and the planet will prosper together.
Those who are acquainted with Sukumar Ray’s “The King’s Malady”, and have also had the good fortune to move within affluent societies, will recognize that the character of the king is in fact very real. On the other hand, the character of the fakir is certainly imaginary, and also undeniably hard to project as a role model for individuals within society. However, in the light of the present discussion, I would say this with conviction: in the ideal society that Mukti envisions, everyone should have their fair part of the king’s wealth, and they would also need to be blessed with a ray from the sun of the joy shining in the fakir’s heart.