A beautiful cool breeze is flowing this morning before the heat rises. The blackbirds are practicing their landings on the fence — the young ones are learning how to land on top of cattails. I notice at least four or five new bushes lining the forest side with their white flowers now blooming.
The sun crests the roof from behind me and starts to warm the left side of my head behind the ear. Flap, flap, flap goes the edge of my sleep shorts as I sit cross legged clutching my cup of tea, The back of my right knee is cradled on top of the left, both of them supported by the toes of my left foot, heel suspended in mid air, lifted by the wooden rail of the deck running crossways. The bullfrog announces his presence by blaring out a morning song. As if in cue, a skirmish breaks out among some blackbirds — perhaps a heated conversation about ownership of a particularly fruited bush.
My thoughts shift. The world has destroyed itself and reconstructed itself, over and over again, for centuries. My hometown of the city of Delhi, the center of many an Indian empire, is said to have been razed to the ground seven times by invaders, and been built again. So, I sit here watching the birds go about their morning routine, which is rarely if ever interrupted unless there happens to be a roaring thunderstorm that forces them to take shelter in their nests and ride it out. Unlike humans, they don’t construct permanent walls or roofs or tenements or try to brave the storm by driving through standing waters.
Yes, the younger, more impetuous ones do fly a bit faster than their parents, and seemingly a bit more recklessly in between the bushes and trees, and occasionally miss their landings atop the cattails to end up closer to the water than their mothers would like to see. But what would you do if you woke up one fine morning of your young life and realized that you had been given wings, and one of your parents, knowing that you were ready, brought you to the edge and gave your quivering young body — that is shaking with fear at the prospect of falling to your death to the earth below — a final push with a prayer beneath her breath and said, fly!
She knows that if she has misjudged the strength of your wings, you may end up on the storm soaked ground below and the earth will either gently catch you so that you may try again, or embrace you forever, orange and yellow flecked wings and all — such is the nature of life, of discernment. We try, we fail, we learn, we adjust, and we try again. No progress, at any level, from the march of an ant to the launching of a new rocket to carry humans into space, has ever been made possible by simply sitting in our nests with the fear of flying or learning to fly.
When compared to birds and bullfrogs and geese and spiders and ants and willows and roses and pine trees and even rocks, we humans are mere fledgelings in the lifespan of the earth, let alone the universe. So, the creator has endowed us with Nature as a playground and observation space where we can learn some valuable lessons that can help humanity either rise and soar, or plummet and destroy itself. The laws of time, space and causation cannot be circumvented without first understanding the basics of cause and effect. Natural laws always takes precedence over human laws, for the wisdom of the One who created the former far exceeds the ones who created the latter.
However, we humans have been given one extraordinary faculty that distinguishes us from the rest of Nature.
And that is the faculty called ‘free will’ by some and ‘discernment’ or ‘viveka’ by others. As I arrive at writing this section, the wind has shifted. A cloud has temporarily come over the Sun behind me. The blackbirds are starting to retreat and the geese have left the pond momentarily to take shelter on land. Discernment on display, and yet it is a cause and effect response to nature’s stimulus. A bit like a child touching a hot stove and learning, forming a memory that it isn’t a good idea to challenge the laws of fire and heat.
So, yes, ‘viveka’ is a faculty and a facility granted to us to convert our learning into experience and then into wisdom. When Arjuna, the aggrieved Prince of the Bhagavad Gita, refused to fight to restore the justice due to him because he did not want to kill his own half-brothers who had connived to cheat him of his rightful inheritance to the kingdom of Indraprastha — the city razed and built seven times — his teacher Krishna said to him: you have been given the duty of a warrior, so you are bound by the laws of Dharma (natural justice and truthful living) to act in the cause of its restoration; rise up and discard this despondency; stand up and fight or else an entire race of good people shall be decimated at the hands of the promulgators of evil or adharma; do not let emotion cloud your discernment, for ‘viveka’ is your greatest faculty — the ability and courage to do what is right for the greatest good; action with love produces detachment to the outcome, and yet detachment does not mean that you be attached to inaction.
It is the restoration of the good, of goodness through the use of discernment that elevates us within.
Back to my morning by the lake. When the mighty hawks stray and soar too close to the blackbirds and their young, the much smaller but deft in flight blackbirds do not hesitate to guide them back to their nests. Order is swiftly restored. The blackbirds’ size isn’t a disadvantage – they are much more flexible in changing speed and direction as compared to the hawks, because of their size. Each of us, as individuals, may be smaller than the big machinery that wants to endanger our young, and yet, with the exercise of ‘viveka’, with consistent action that works towards the restoration of ‘dharma’, we can engage in reconstruction of truth, kindness, empathy, friendship, and bliss.
Our greatest faculty and facility is the divine’s love that we carry in our heart. Let us wield that love with courage in all that we do, even if it means that we run the risk of being thought of as weak and ignorant. The evil and unjust are the ones who are weak, lacking in ‘viveka’ —and it is their hubris and heart calcification that will be their destruction. We, the wielders of love, will be the agents, the dispensers of that justice.
Natural justice is dispensed by the natural laws of time, space and causation. It is the law of karma charioted by the holders of ‘viveka’, that has for eons and civilizations, ensured victory for those committed to action for the restoration of Dharma — truth and justice.
For when the storm of natural justice arrives, it restores equality among all, regardless of size, strength, power, status or color — the hawk, the blackbird, the finch, all respond to the storm by taking refuge in their nests. Their use of discernment is in full display. Maybe we humans can observe, learn and use natural wisdom to restore ‘viveka’ in our lives too. I believe we can. How about you?
Epilogue: Written mid-week during my week-long ‘virtual retreat’ to effect some inner restoration. A lot of wandering threads here, so feel free to take what appeals or relates to you. Namaste.
P.S. Join our weekly twitter #spiritchat on twitter – Sunday, June 7 at 9amET / 1pm GMT / 630pm India. We will talk about restoration, dharma, karma and more over tea, fruit and maybe even some cookies. Bring a story to share. Namaste – @AjmaniK