An essay that won an award!
~ with blessings~received from Mrs Shyamala Iyer - my mother
FROM ILLUSION TO ILLUMINATION - THROUGH ORDER AND CHAOS
"Without order nothing can exist - without chaos nothing can evolve." - Author unknown
We live in a world of desires. Our desires chase happiness. But once we possess what we desire, that happiness eludes us. Isn’t it so? And we go on chasing… We continue our pursuit of happiness when at some point of time we may wonder when this pursuit shall ever cease. Can we ever be happy, without ‘desiring’ to be happy? Gautama Buddha had realised that suffering is the result of desire. And to live a life without desire is impossible as long we live through our bodies. The body cannot survive without the principle of consumption and elimination. The ‘programming’ or mechanism of the body can be viewed as desire governing the ingestion of food/water/air and ejecting the excess or harmful form of the same components as faeces/urine/sweat/gas.
Our existence revolves around three factors: body, mind and consciousness. The naïve perceives the ‘self’ from outside to inside, i.e. a body with a mind and consciousness. The enlightened one’s perspective is from within to without i.e. consciousness with a mind and body. Wisdom lies in realising and embracing oneself as a unified entity of body-mind-consciousness.
Most of us remain engaged in normal living; the usual day-to-day living where we organize our lives in order to give some meaning to it. What is order? What does order/organization have to do with normal living? The answer lies in one word – BALANCE. Aren’t we familiar with words like ‘balanced diet’, ‘work/life balance’, ‘balance sheet’, etc.? Balance gives a certain meaning to our lives instead of letting chaos reign. When we experience balance, we feel secure and that makes us happy. Subsequently after achieving such happiness, does the pursuit of happiness finally come to a halt? Logically, it should stop; but often it doesn’t. Why? Because happiness is a state of mind (internal) and is not something that originates from the object of pursuit (external). Why do we fail to recognize this illusion and not remain eternally content? It is because change sets in.
Change is the law of nature. Nobody escapes change. Change requires order to be agitated – that means back to chaos! We then endeavour to bring back order (to restore balance; to regain happiness). Most people are confined to and some are even content with this ‘chase-stop-chase’way of existence. Only an intelligent person is able to perceive the futility in pursuing this fleeting happiness. One asks, ‘Why am I not permanently happy? It is because there is a conflict between me and the world in which I live, and both have an ever-changing relationship. Why is change happening? Isn’t anything permanent? What is the truth of my existence? If truth stands for something that is unchangeable under any circumstance and is forever valid at any point of time, what could it be – that reality which I have still not been able to realize?’
Socrates said ‘Know yourself and you shall know the world’? Be it Socrates or Albert Einstein or the ancient sages and prophets – these extraordinary people as we would like to call them, were people who evolved from the usual and mundane ways of thinking and living. They were highly intelligent people who scrutinised life using their own unique methods to understand why we suffer despite all our endeavours to ensure we remain happy.What did the world look like to the first person who landed on moon; to the first person who conquered the summit of Mt. Everest? Wouldn’t anybody else wish himself/herself to be in their place or be a part of that experience? Similarly, how would existence look like to such a genius whose life has been devoted to (and to those who have been successfully able to) find eternal peace or bliss?
“The fabric of existence constitutes the weft and warp of life and death” – Anonymous
Normal life as we perceive it goes through four stages – birth, survival, growth and death. We are considering it as normal life taking into account that most people get to experience all the four stages. Desire is ubiquitous in all these stages. Life goes through the four stages endlessly.
The first stage is birth. We live in a world of opposites working on the principle of duality. Every form requires its opposite energy to also exist. Male and female energies contribute to creation through reproduction consciously or unconsciously. Either ways, it is nature’s way of ensuring continuum and balance through desire executed subtly. Birth of an offspring begins with a desire. Even if the procreation comes from a conscious desire from the individual’s perspective, from the macro-level perspective it is actually the cosmos desiring to bring forth a new form. For creation, birth is necessary and this requires the state of order to be imbalanced. Chaos emerges from order. In other words, the already existing balance (order) of a male energy with its opposite (but complementary) female energy is disturbed when a new form appears. This disturbance refers to chaos and chaos means change. For every birth of a form, death of another form is inevitable to maintain cosmic balance. The reason for this is mentioned ahead in the explanation of the last stage, death. With birth, the ‘I AM’ feeling of consciousness appears.
Survival takes off from birth, where the ‘I AM’ through the mind, experiences separation from the source. Psychologists may know it as birth trauma. The ‘I AM’ identity is the first layer of ego. Ego is in essence, the mind framing its first identity as a consequence of separation – that of being an individual entity. Crystallization of the ego begins. The ‘I AM’ starts getting conditioned by self-imposed and socio- environmental factors, forming a shell layer by layer (I am XYZ). In the case of humans, the layers comprise one’s name, religion, family, nationality and so forth. The ego begins to learn and adapt to the environment, even moulding the environment to suit oneself – fuelled by the desire to survive. Survival of the self means surviving chaos and that involves the impulse of controlling oneself and controlling others. Fear is the driving force of survival and that means chaos must be managed with order. At this stage, order emerges from chaos.
Growth is where the primary needs of birth and survival have been successfully met. Humans become philosophical and introspective at the highest level. This is only possible when the basic survival needs are met. That means a reasonable order was required to succeed up to this level. Now, change is essential to prevent complacency or stagnation setting in. Thus, horizons of learning and perception widen to understand the relationship of self with the cosmos. Where order rules birth and survival, chaos is a pre-requisite for growth and so it springs forth from order. The self evolves through chaos at all levels – physically, mentally and socially with the desire to obtain the ultimate understanding or what is commonly termed ‘enlightenment’. A collective revolution is impossible without evolution at an individual level (the self). Here come into play the great thinkers and leaders, sages and healers, artists and teachers, scientists and doctors, etc. who bring about a fresh perspective by way of breakthrough concepts, discoveries and inventions. When we see the bigger picture, all socio-political structures including religions, cultures and civilizations become dynamic to accommodate new changes and once again order is sought to sustain the same.
Death is where the old is replaced by new. Creativity means that the old must pave the way for the new. The new then becomes old and finally makes way for another new to come. This process goes on forever. Death upsets order by eliminating the old and bringing in the new. Death is the final act of balance wherein chaos on unit level leads to order in the existence as a whole.
Logic demands answers to some questions based on the above: Where does the old go? And how is it possible to have overall balance when a part of the whole is affected? What is this paradox of death being a double agent of chaos (microcosm perspective) as well as order (macrocosm perspective)?
When we talk about balance, we ought to look at it from two levels – the individual (micro) level and the collective (macro) level. The interesting thing about our creative universe is that it works on the principle of recycling. What are we referring to when we say recycling? Remember the science lesson from our school days – energy cannot be created nor destroyed, it can only be transformed? Quantum physicists tell us that matter and energy are not different from one another. Matter is condensed energy appearing to have a certain structure based on our subjective perception. The whole existence is said to be a field of energy. So, old and new essentially represent the same energy albeit in varied forms. That means the concept of opposites is an illusion. Darkness is not the opposite of light; it is the absence of light. Cold is not the opposite of heat; it is the absence of heat. Could it be true then, that death and life are not opposites but merely appearing so? Could it signify that life is the visible part of the field of energy due to the presence of our perception and death is the absence of that very perception? That means our minds work on the principle of split perception or selective perception in order to understand the phenomenal world in which we live. Why is it said that our mind is like an iceberg with the major potential remaining invisible and unutilized? It is because if we were to perceive everything at once the sight will be that of chaos! To live is to experience; to experience means to have understanding. Understanding requires having to split chaos into fragments using the concept of space and time. The act of splitting means separation. And doesn’t death refer to separation? That means what we consider exists no more…what we consider having been separated from us (read death) has actually taken another form in some dimension within the space-time fabric and now that old form is absent from our existing perception. This is the wisdom of reincarnation. Death is the final act of balance wherein chaos on unit level leads to order in the existence as a whole.
To summarize the role of chaos and order in four stages of existence with desire as its theme: Creation/Birth starts with chaos. Survival requires putting chaos in order. Growth requires chaos for evolution in adherence to the creative design of the Cosmic Intelligence. To carry forth this growth, order is required for development to continue. Death is the final act of cosmic balance where chaos occurs at a micro level but order results at macro-level. Chaos and order are opposite yet complementary and interdependent energies.
So far we have examined the functioning of chaos and order and the significance it has in our individual and collective lives. We notice that it is desire that fuels chaos and order. We understand now that the act of desire occurs on both micro level as well as macro level, that is to say, that when change occurs in a part it certainly has an effect on the whole – BUT - it does not necessarily ‘affect’ the whole. What seems to be a disruption at individual level (the self) may not necessarily affect the whole of existence (universe) but can be for the benefit of the entire cosmos. The wave when descending to the surface may feel that it is losing itself, but if it opens it eyes and looks around it realizes itself to be the mighty ocean itself in perfection. If only we could place ourselves in the capacity of a wave and the universe as the ocean, we would never fear anymore, we would never think of life and death as separate but mere illusions playing on the screen of consciousness.
Now, when imagining oneself as a wave ending up as ocean ultimately, is there actually that feeling of eternal freedom and peace? Are we really happy to see ourselves dissolved – into something greater? Can we picture ourselves existing no more this very second? It is extremely frightening, isn’t it? Alas! It is very difficult to extinguish our precious individuality and become one with the universe. Why is it so difficult for us to understand and experience death without fear? What is the resistance that holds us back from becoming ‘Fanaa’(the ‘self’ dissolving and merging with the cosmos) as the Sufi mystics rightly say? The answer is simple – we resist something because we are unhappy. But this simple point needs further examination.
At this point we would need to refresh our understanding so far and observe our unhappiness more closely. We are unhappy because there is a conflict reigning within us which is sometimes silent, sometimes loud. That conflict has been the result of our conditioning. That conditioning has been sown in us to base our actions on the concept of right and wrong. The concept of right and wrong has come about as a result of order/classification/separation. So we are again left to examine what we had discussed earlier, but with a fresh perspective - how does order affect my ability to be happy?
Doesn’t order refer to organization through separation/classification/segregation? Isn’t it true then that order is but chaos split so as to perceive existence to achieve understanding? Isn’t order a desire initiated by the self so as to understand chaos part by part through duality; the mechanism of duality (perceiving the world of forms having opposites) being programmed into us by nature? If chaos is an infinite ocean, then order represents the waves. In essence both symbolize water. One mirrors the other. A piece of Buddhist wisdom states that it is not difficult to perceive a drop in the ocean, but rare it is to come upon a wise one who sees the entire ocean in a drop. That there are opposites is an illusion of mind. Perceiving something as opposite is to have the desire to remain in duality. Ego thrives on duality. Eliminating the duality is as good as death. Now observe: I exist. You exist. There is a relationship. The perceiver is the subject. The perceived is the object. For me, you are the object. For you, I am the object. Within you there is the ‘I Am’ consciousness. So it is within me as well. Now, what happens when this ‘I Am’ consciousness no longer exists? Feel it. Does fear creep in? What is that fear? That fear is the fear of death; the fear of ego losing its identity. This fear makes us unhappy. Death is considered good in the overall picture as it brings about order. But when it comes to our individual selves, we cherish our lives and do not wish to be a part of this overall cosmic order. Thinking of death makes us unhappy. This answers the question about the cause and effect link between order and unhappiness.
The mind is very clever. We suffer when we choose one aspect consciously and unconsciously reject its’opposite. If we are bodies of energy existing in a field of energy, then thought is also energy. In time, rejected thoughts remain as suppressed memories in our sub-conscious mind. Suppression built up over a period of time become repression. Our repressed energies surface in those moments when we experience that we have acted abnormally. Psychologists call it catharsis, in which such repressed or suppressed energies are released, resulting in peace and balance of the ‘body-mind-spirit’. Sages see it as duality dwindling away. It is no wonder then that the experience is so relieving after such an immense release that one finds peace and harmony. The gist of the aforementioned analysis is that consciously we seek duality – the illusion of opposites, but unconsciously we are always seeking our way back home (reunion).
The overall cosmos is always in balance no matter how chaotic it appears to us. Where birth is, death must be. Cancer cells are those cells that oppose death as required for growth. When cancer cells refuse to die, they multiply relentlessly under the illusion that they can survive. At individual levels cancer cells seek and march towards immortality. But when we see the overall picture, due to these cells’ irrational desire to live on, the whole body ultimately dies to sustain the balance in accordance with the laws of nature. Real growth is when the old dies to make way for the new. That is why it is said that we do not have the same bodies as we had them say, even six or seven months back.To the wise, death is but a gate leading back to where we came from. According to Osho, birth and death are not separate. It is as if existence is divided into two sides by a common door. One side of the door reads BIRTH. The other side is labelled DEATH. The interpretation of existence depends on which side of the door one faces. Osho also described in a similar context, how land and water are not separate in the actual sense - in the depths of land, one finds water; in the depths of seas, one finds land.
Following are some excerpts from The Book of Mirdad by Mikhail Naimy pointing out at the suffering caused by an illusory separation nursed by one’s ego:
“Yours is a world of cradles turning into tombs, and tombs becoming cradles; of days devouring nights, and nights regurgitating days; of peace declaring war, and war suing for peace; of smiles afloat on tears, and tears aglow with smiles… Yours is a world set against itself, because the ‘I’ in you is so divided.
Yours is a world of barriers and fences, because the ‘I’ in you is one of barriers and fences.
Some things it would fence out as alien to itself. Some things it would fence in as kindred to itself. Yet that outside the fence is ever breaking in; and that within the fence is ever breaking out.
For they, being offspring of the same mother – even your ‘I’ – would not be set apart.
And you, rather than joy in their happy union, begird yourselves anew for the fruitless labour of separating the inseparable. Rather than bind the cleavage in the ‘I’, you whittle away your life hoping to make thereof a wedge to drive between what you believe to be your ‘I’ and what you imagine other than your ‘I’.”
Should we not halt and reflect upon our own lives? How estranged are we from one another with our various superficial labels of name, religion, nationality, race and cultures, forgetting that we are in essence one and the same? Good and evil are two ends of the same universal spectrum. The epitome of good can be considered as God. The extreme end on the negative end of the spectrum can be considered as Devil. Religion is after all a matter of personal interpretation, but the fact remains that we change our forms within this spectrum fluctuating mostly somewhere in the middle. Some incline to one end of the spectrum, and the others swing to the opposite end. Some religions appraise these actions based on the ‘judgement day’ doctrine and some religions call function on the concept of ‘Karma’ in which actions are ruled by cause-effect principle; the ‘As you sow, so shall you reap’ theme of reincarnation. New age spiritualists and philosophers are of the opinion that all actions are rooted either in fear or in love - all positive actions stem out of love; all negative stem out of fear. But if studied carefully, fear and love are two sides of the same coin of existence. Fear is absence of love. Love is absence of fear.
To sum up, unhappiness is the result of feeling incomplete. Incompletion stems from separation. Desire is the root cause of separation/ duality. Desire causes chaos. Chaos causes evolution. Order eliminates imbalance and the process of elimination is nothing but destruction/death. Hence chaos-order, birth-death, evolution-destruction are actually complementary but ‘seemingly’ opposing energies required for cosmic harmony.
In conclusion, from our own experience we should be able to identify and measure the burden of negativity that we carry knowingly and unknowingly. Living in an illusion of opposites, we forget the truth of non-duality and remain in conflict. We are always inter-connected in every way, no matter how different or separated we perceive each other from by means of our imperfect senses that keep us in illusion.With the light of this truth, let us individually kindle our minds trapped in the darkness of ignorance. When collectively illuminated, we could then co-create worldwide peace and balanced progress. The successive generations must inherit a much better world, mustn’t they?