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Man’s Destiny on Earth - by Asif Zaidi

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When I review the course of my life and think of the credentials that my life ought to present before it can be termed ‘successful’, I encounter not the least hesitation in rejecting the conventional answers usually on offer.

Trappings of wealth, worldly distinctions, the ability to exercise economic control, political or administrative power, the popular fame, the resounding applause about one’s role in the society, or any other conceivable worldly achievements – all these are worthy of attention, but yet none of these supply a dependable measure to usefully assess the real value or quality of life.  These criteria are useful in assessing the general worth of life’s quality but they are not at all decisive as it is entirely possible that while these conventional constituents of a successful life may co-exist in an individual’s life, their possessor may still be empty of any real inner worth or significance. It is so because there is a self-governing significance of our life without which all our external attainments or trimmings do not count for anything. Unless our life is anchored in its real significance, nothing we do here below can be of much use or value.

Fundamentally this then is a question of what we regard as significant. It is clear that what is regarded as significant from one viewpoint may be utterly insignificant from another perspective. For example, when a fish pounces on the bait at the end of an angler’s line, in the moment when it gets the mouthful of food it may count itself as triumphant in getting what it wanted (successful), but the fisherman outside knows that, in reality, it is he who has been successful. That is why Oscar Wilde would say, “When gods are annoyed with us they hear our prayers.” No wonder, down the ages, the utmost question for any man to answer remains, “If you gain whole world but lose your soul would you call it a bargain?”

A closer examination of life shows that there are certain norms whose achievement can signify a life as successful and others again as being suggestion of its failure. However, a lot depends on the historical setting in which a given life is viewed. For example, a smaller or a greater span of time as the basis of our judgment can make all the difference. Temporary triumphs are washed away with time. Wise Greeks were right in saying, “Call no man happy until he be dead.” It clearly meant that the quality of life as lived eventually depends on the entirety of deeds and omissions associated with that life and not until the end can one be sure what the sum of a life’s yield or quality would appear to be like. Man’s life is ultimately a cross-section of a larger whole, and what he is at a given point in time is not even fully known to himself much less to others. To our own selves, with hindsight, we come out in diverse garbs as if we have all the time been playing a part. Nor is the judgment of our contemporaries decisive of our worth as the agents of history, for history has a curious knack of playing pranks with our name and worth. A Joan of Arc can be canonised long after her death whereas a Stalin can be made the subject of desecration, scorn, and ridicule soon after he leaves the stage of life.

This simply means that any useful judgment that we are fit to make about ourselves should be of transcendental significance as our successes and failures can only be looked at from the perspective of a cosmic purpose. Looking back at our respective lives, we can all vouch that what we had at one time regarded as being a fabulous performance on our part has turned out to be a discreditable incident and vice versa. Much of what we do with great intent appears to us devoid of any significance years later – like a fleeting note struck by a voice in the wasteland, like a vanishing shadow as the day wears on.

Man’s faculty for conscious thought and action is the highest expression of life’s hidden power. To be more conscious is to be more alive. To start with, man is as such a mere capacity and his body the instrument of his action. His two elementary biological needs that set him going are the Nature’s purpose of preserving his own life and the life of the species to which he belongs. However, these two functions are also being performed by the animals and the only difference in man’s case is that his pursuit of these objectives is purposely oriented in being regulated by the individual’s knowledge and will. Hence, to begin with, in order to effectively use his body as an instrument of action a man must adequately ensure his health and wellbeing. But over and above satisfying his primary needs similar to those of animals, man is summoned to satisfy the hunger of his soul by defining and realizing his role in the kind of world in which his lot is cast. It is in this orb the veiled powers of human life find their axis and more aware a man becomes of his real role in the scheme of things in which he lives, the better he is able to put his life to higher and more serviceable use. For this, man must rouse from his inbred life of sleep and determinedly endeavour to live in the world of objective truth.

Our age continues to witness such spectacular scientific, medical, technological, and intellectual advancement but yet there is no easy method to bring about our moral and spiritual regeneration. The injunction “in the sweat of thy brow thou must earn thy daily bread” continues to hold fast in the matters spiritual, especially, as the critical faculties of a modern mind make it difficult for us to assume the attitude which is prescribed by simple and unsophisticated life of Faith. The liberation of intellect in man has made it impossible for us to conduct our life’s operations on the uncritical hypotheses embedded in the life of Faith.

Interestingly, a common dogma lies at the heart of all philosophies of belief. It is the idea of the ‘Coming Messiah’. The history manifests the remarkable vigour with which this belief has been upheld by various people inhabiting different parts of the globe. The people who subscribe to the arrival of the coming Messiah claim that when he will have arrived the forces of darkness will be routed once and for ever and thereafter mankind will live in harmony, prosperity, and bliss as never before in history. Without commenting upon the metaphysical authority or otherwise of such a belief, I often remark that this belief has been the parent of inaction as it engenders complacency and quietism. How easy it is to sit and wait for a miracle worker who will transform the world and will solve all our problems. Thus it lightens the obligation on man, both individually and collectively, to strive for higher aims. All we have to do is to sit smugly, generations after generations, for someone to turn up eventually.

To full use of all my faculties to contemplate, I am convinced that no such Messiah will ever arrive. Similarly, the problem of salvation in our life is unlikely to be satisfactorily solved by someone turning up in our life to ensure our deliverance. To me, all moral and spiritual regeneration in this age is made possible by the creative effort of man to realise his destiny. The individual must learn to walk alone to walk on the path that is mystically defined as being narrower than the breadth of a hair and sharper than a razor’s edge. No one else can help us outgrow our limitations. In summary, we are the masters in our own house and we alone can decide how to decorate our interior. My personal experience has also taught me that I cannot wait for someone to turn up, for the problem with me is not that I don’t know the way but that I lack the will to follow it and in that regard external help cannot be of much consequence.

All great journeys begin by taking the first step. Even a dim awareness of one’s goal is good enough to humbly take the first step. Nobody ever stops travelling for want of seeing the whole path that leads to one’s destination. We keep seeing further as we progress. This reminds me of Pascal’s contention when he points out, “Tu ne me chercherais pas si tu ne me possédais,” (you would not look for me if you did not possess me already).

I have seen from my personal experience that almost everyday life confronts me with complicated situations. Although I have no difficulty in recognizing the right course in each case, I often do not have the moral and spiritual courage to follow that path. Surely, in such cases, any external help is of little import to me. I must learn to choose the right course of conduct and abide by my choice. The ability to follow the voice of our inner overseer cultivates in us the courage to do the right as we go along. For each period of our life there is a certain type of response that is required of us. No process can be accelerated beyond its appropriate destiny. Energy of effort, good soil, excellent seeds, adequate water, and abundant sun all combine to great effect but still have to wait for the ripe season to be able to produce. Similarly, the role of a young man, for example, cannot be fulfilled by a child. Hence, the principles of patience and prayer taught by all faiths. At the same time the time at our disposal is short, being incessantly scythed by the pitiless hand of the reaper, and its outlay is irretrievable. Any opportunity that the time presents to us has to be fully exploited forthwith, which means that we are supposed to be extremely vigilant and unremittingly mindful.

History shows us that the forces that markedly improve the society are unleashed by the liberated individual acting in isolation. His presence gives the world a direction to change it for the better. {If you really want to help someone you must learn to devise distance and not seek to be intimate with him.} By completely surrendering ourselves to higher cosmic forces, we qualify to reflect the hidden meaning which is animated in the scheme of things and get a glimpse of the purpose that has called this universe to life and evolution. I think, it is our earthly destiny to experience this personal transformation to be able to perceive directly the total environment in which life’s evolution is taking place.

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