- Religion and Philosophy
Beings in harmony
The intrigues of death and life are explored through the story of young children, as they experience the ways of nature at first hand. Grandpa explains to the children the way that all things happen at their accorded time and the way that all creatures fit into the natural world. He also describes to them the larger domain that words like compassion and harmony define...
Beings in harmony
Their eyes said it all. Wide, round, and tear filled. Radiating awe, pain, and realization, all at the same time.
Munni and Chotu had been watching a pair of wrens feeding their brood of young ones on freshly dug up earthworms and wasps caught in flight. The wrens had built a nest about a month ago on the guava tree on their backyard. Their grandpa had reported that there were three eggs in the nest that would soon hatch and the children would be able to watch the little wrens grow, until they were able to fly away. Sister and brother had waited for what seemed to be an interminably long fortnight, and one bright sunny morning heard the feeble chirps of the newly hatched birds. They flew from their beds to the backyard and were craning their necks to have a glimpse into the nest. The intrusion made the parent wrens switch from their normally endearing calls to a high pitched wail. Grandpa set things in order immediately by telling the children kindly, but firmly, that the birds weren't to be disturbed and the children could watch the birds from a safe distance that would not alarm them. Looking at the birds had become the routine for a week hence. That their school was closed made for unhindered observation and was made all the more interesting with grandpa's explanation about birds and their ways.
The parent wrens had slowly got used to the children being around and their cries of alarm became progressively less frequent. They even let the children cross their self imposed distance to have a closer look at the growing baby wrens, who by this time had sprouted little wings. There seemed to be enough propelling power from the fluttering of those tiny wings to navigate the wren-lings within the nest and some times dangerously close to its rim. But the parent wrens were always at hand to nudge the little ones back to the security of the hollow of the nest.
In this apparently meandering routine occurred a sudden storm one afternoon. The children and grandpa were rudely awoken from their afternoon slumber by the now-not-so-familiar alarm cries of the parent wrens, and rushed out to the backyard. They were just in time to see one of the little wren-lings slip down from the rim of the nest to the earth a few feet below and a cat that had been eying the nest and its contents ever since the eggs were hatched, pounce on the helpless baby bird. Now it was there and now it was gone. The cat from the scene and the baby bird from existence.
The children were aghast. It was their first brush with death at close quarters. The girl cursed the cat. The boy picked up a stone to hurl at it. Grandpa however restrained him. Chotu was vehement. He wanted to hurt the cat and cause it as much pain as he could and but for his grandpa, would have done so. Grandpa put his kind and comforting hands around the children and took them away from the place and began to explain to them the ways of life in a language that they could understand. His awareness about the subject of astrology came in handy in his endeavor to bring about the children to understand and accept the situation.
Listening to their grandpa, the cool and soothing breeze of understanding slowly dried away the tears that had welled up in their eyes and a few of which had jumped their bounds to trickle down their tender cheeks. Grandpa explained that so many things could be learned from this episode. The general refrain of humans that they alone have the capacity of wisdom and hence are superior to other life forms appeared to be hollow. The parent wrens were wise to the ways of predators and had attempted to restrain the little birds. But the time had come for one of them. They were wise enough too not to launch a frontal attack on the cat to rescue the fallen baby, as they were aware of the fact that such a course would be of no avail, and would also be suicidal.
Grandpa also explained that the cat was merely doing what it ought to. It was nature's way of maintaining ecological equilibrium. And we had no claim to any authority to judge the cat and its actions. Not just the cat, but all other beings as well. He then explained very briefly how individuals are born with certain basic traits that never change in their lifetimes and how such traits are discernible from an astrological chart. To make matters more interesting to the children, he went on to identify the various animals and birds that are associated with the planets and signs that form the basic parameters used in astrological correlations. The three were soon found to be making a list of such connections as mentioned in texts. Grandpa would shrewdly punctuate the list-making process with little anecdotes that would convey the idea of kindness towards all beings.
One such anecdote was the familiar identification of stealth and slithery behavior with snakes. He said that it is sad that a common trait of a class of beings - the snakes, is equated with a set of humans whose actions can be explained in the light of these traits. Furthermore it is the snakes that are persecuted and subjected to cruelty in the mistaken and illogical thought that they personify such behavioral patterns in humans.
Though the death of the baby bird made grandpa too a little sad, he welcomed and accepted this happening as a catalyst that made him explain to the children the facts of life and made the children to begin to tread the path of becoming compassionate and understanding beings. Grandpa thought that if the process of drawing up a list of animals and their associated planets and signs, could bring about a change in my grandchildren's perception, it may perhaps do so with other children as well, and he decided to distribute the list to all those who was interested.
Grandpa emphasized that such associations between animals, birds, insects, and planets had been established on the basis of the perceived traits of these beings. A peacock was identified with vanity, an elephant with lethargy, a tiger with ferocity. The planets and signs represented these traits and not the animals themselves. A peacock for instance may not consider itself to be superior to a lowly little bird bereft of extravagant plumes. It may even consider its long colorful tail to be hindrance for flight. An elephant is not slow by choice. It is so because of the way nature has created its body, and for a purpose.
Grandpa did say that humans, or for that matter all beings, are born with certain traits and that we sport them for life. If this is so, then perhaps cruelty and kindness too are traits that are unchangeable and beings born with them are stuck with them. They have no choice too. Also, cruelty and kindness are relative to the situation. There may be instances where it may be cruel to be kind, and others where it would be kind to be cruel.
However, regardless of the correctness of the above arguments, whether considered philosophically or scientifically, it stood to reason that all life forms had evolved from the same source and we were all part of a single universal family. And this was reason enough to show compassion to all forms of life.
Chotu, who had still not come to terms with the cat having eaten the little wren, asked grandpa why the cat couldn't have shown a bit of compassion. Grandpa thought for a while before answering. Words like harmony and compassion, he explained, had a larger meaning that what was generally understood. They pointed to a state of balance, poise, and equanimity. All opposites were contained in them. Sunrise not only brought with it life and hope for many forms of life, but also despair and death for many others. Similarly, sunset was the harbinger of emotions and happenings of the opposite kind for those affected in a particular way. Together, sunrise and sunset made a harmonious day.
Grandpa wasn't sure whether the children had fully grasped the import of this metaphor, but when there were no questions forthcoming immediately, he believed that they had, in their own way.