Happiness is the most widespread superstition.
Malcolm de Chazal
No man, having lost his footing, laughs at his own fall, unless he be a philosopher.
(Ce n’est point l’homme qui tombe qui rit de sa propre chute, à moins qu’il ne soit un philosophe.)
Unbeguiled by the oleaginous ease and smooth facility with which it winds its way down the paths of human discourse seemingly innocuous since frequently invoked and honored as the highest desideratum handle the concept of happiness with a wariness no less nimble than you would a serpent clothed in an undulant rainbow of colors from whose fangs still concealed from view a lethal venom flows.
Belles Lettres, Birth, Consciousness, Death, Delusion, Existence, Hinduism, Indian Philosophy, Life, Literture, Pain, Philosophy, Reality, Religion, Srimad Bhagavata Mahapurana, Suffering, Wisdom, Writing
Before they can be investigated—before they can even be seen to exist—some things must be dredged up from the depths where they sleep; but aren’t those precisely the things nobody wishes to dredge up?—precisely the ones we would rather let sleep?
Three of our most fundamental and most harrowing experiences as conscious beings, inhering within three of the most essential stages of our existence, are lost to us—totally lost. It is as if they had been obliterated, blotted from our minds.
But these blank areas where our life should be don’t trouble us, and nor do we trouble ourselves about them. Content to declare irrecoverably lost what we fear to find, we forge ahead with our daily projects, rendered insensible to reality’s depths by the deadening force of routine, and the suffering we endured during the initial phases of our embodiment in a material form remains buried in darkness and silence.
Indeed, a man can live and die without ever once becoming aware certain essential parts of his experience have vanished and without ever once reflecting on the significance of this disappearance.
The remarkable passages from the Srimad Bhagavata Mahapurana which follow could be interpreted as a valiant attempt to recover that lost knowledge we would all like to remain lost, to remember what eludes memory and what memory is glad eludes it.
Read them if you dare!
Deriving its nutrition from the food and drink taken by the mother, the fetus grows and remains in that abominable receptacle of feces and urine, the breeding-place of worms. Bitten again and again all over the body by the hungry worms in the abdomen itself, the creature suffers terrible agony on account of its tenderness and swoons away moment after moment. Nay, adversely affected by the bitter, pungent, hot, salt, dry, acid and other such irritating substances consumed by its mother, the fetus experiences a painful sensation in every part of its body. Enclosed by the amnion and covered outside by the intestines, it remains lying in one side of the abdomen with its head turned towards the belly and with its back and neck arched like a bow. Unable to move its own limbs like a bird which cannot freely move in a cage, the creature in the womb finds its memory awakened by the will of Providence and recollects its doings committed during hundreds of previous lives and feels suffocated for a long time. What peace of mind can it have under such circumstances?
The fetus, though endowed with consciousness from the seventh month of its conception, is tossed by the winds that press the embryo downwards during the weeks preceding delivery, and cannot remain at one place like the worm born of feces in the same abdominal cavity. Tied to the physical body, made up of the seven ingredients, which are like so many cords to bind it, the human soul, which regards the body as his own self, is much afraid of the process of gestation being repeated in other such births, and with joined palms he entreats and extols Him by whom he was cast into the womb, in a tone full of agony.
Pushed downwards all of a sudden by the wind, the child issues out of the womb with great trouble, head downward, breathless and deprived of memory out of agony. Fallen on earth in a pool of blood and urine, discharged by the mother, the new born babe tosses like a worm sprung from ordure, and having lost its wisdom acquired in the womb and reduced to a state of self-identification with the body which is just the reverse of wisdom, cries loudly.
Being nourished by people who do not know the mind of another, it is given something which was not intended; and the pity of it is that the child is unable to refuse it. Laid on a foul bed infested by sweat-born creatures the poor creature is incapable even of scratching its limbs to relieve itching, much less of sitting up, standing or moving itself. Just as smaller worms bite a big worm, even so gnats, mosquitoes, bugs and other creatures sting or bite the babe, who is most tender of skin and, deprived of its wisdom acquired in the womb, cries bitterly.
Srimad Bhagavata Mahapurana
The third and final version of the epic poem whose composition had consumed over three decades of his life being at last complete, Ferdowsi, elated over his literary achievement, traveled to the imperial court, so that he could place the manuscript in the hands of Mahmud of Ghanzi, who had promised the poet a specific sum in reward for his work. But obloquy—that poison brewed by envy—had beat him there. Several prominent court poets’ whispered insinuations had the anticipated effect of rendering the ruler parsimonious. Ferdowsi, a man endowed with far greater gifts than his denigrators, was mortified. The few dinars that were offered him like an insult by this blind monarch contemptuous of his merit he flung away to a wine seller after departing from the palace in a state of high dudgeon. Later, the wound still rankling, he would avenge himself on the sultan in verse—the fate reserved for anyone who dares offend a poet.
Many years afterward, no longer able to repudiate the poem’s excellence and regretting the injury he had done its author, a repentant Mahmud sent a courier to Tusi with the full amount promised. But he had delayed too long: just as the courier was entering the city through one gate, a bier containing the corpse of Ferdowsi—who died in poverty—was being carried out through the other.
Here are a few of my favorite lines from the Shahnameh:
O you, who dwell in Youth’s inviting bowers,
Waste not, in useless joy, your fleeting hours,
But rather let the tears of sorrow roll,
And sad reflection fill the conscious soul.
For many a jocund spring has passed away,
And many a flower has blossomed, to decay;
And human life, still hastening to a close,
Finds in the worthless dust its last repose.
Still the vain world abounds in strife and hate,
And sire and son provoke each other’s fate;
And kindred blood by kindred hands is shed,
And vengeance sleeps not—dies not, with the dead.
All nature fades—the garden’s treasures fall,
Young bud, and citron ripe—all perish, all.
Aeschylus, Ancient Greek Drama, Ancient Greek Literature, Belles Lettres, Books, Emotion, Emptiness, Greek Tragedy, Literature, Pain, Persians, Philosophy, Poetry, Poets, reading, Suffering, Tragedy, Tragic, Writing
In a society as terrifyingly fixated on enforcing positivity as our own, one must take long draughts of Aeschylus at ever diminishing intervals just to make it through the day. Deprived of the terrible beauty of his tragedies for more than five minutes, one risks forgetting one is something more than an automaton. How are we going to deal with the menace of a vain pleasure and a void cheerfulness which have grown so powerful and so ruthless? Is it our fate to succumb to its onslaught and collapse in defeat? or, in a heroic final stand, to prepare for universal broadcast a recorded performance of The Persians which has been put on infinite loop? To the lethal vacuousness of the present epoch, it is true, no antidote exists; the howled lamentations of the Chorus are the closest thing we have. But perhaps if we lend our ears to these desperate cries day and night, until our souls have been completely lacerated by the sound of them, we will at last awaken from this emotional coma in which we have wasted away for so long and begin to wail aloud ourselves, from the rooftops of our shopping malls, our fortresses of entertainment, our business towers, banks, jewelry shops and car dealerships, and drench the busy streets below in a ceaseless rain of tears.