Saint Narsinh Mehta wrote,
Vaiṣṇava jana to tēnē kahiyē
Je pīḍ parāyī jāṇē rē !
Call those Vaiṣṇavas, who understand the suffering of others.
The song is quite famous due to its use as daily prayer by Gandhi. Needless to say it inspired the non-violent movement for Indian independence.
This is a very special requirement for a member of a religion. Feel the pain of others. The saint does not want us to affirm our faith in Viṣṇu to be called a Vaiṣṇava. He wants us to understand the pain of all.
There is the sound of a new born baby crying. The parents are elated. But my mind is troubled. It is a beautiful moment, no doubt. But, the heart shudders while thinking about the world the innocent baby is coming into.
In the daily grind for survival and in the midst of numerous problems and conflicts, this thought hardly crosses us. Where lies the salvation of man (and woman)?
We demand our rights, we ask for political and economic freedom. It is all nice compared to the horrors of slavery and autocratic rules. We ask for the freedom of opinion and religion. We keep making laws to enhance our liberties. But, is this all? Do we simply need more of the same thing or is there a need for a paradigm shift in our perspective that allows us to evolve to the next level?
But why should I care? As I long as I take care of myself, amass enough wealth, obtain sufficient luxury, find a partner to share my life and live for my own family, it is should be enough, isn’t it? Let anyone else suffer or rejoice. Why do I need to bother? My concern reduces for things and people far away, who I feel are irrelevant to my well-being.
Only a little introspection disturbs this convenient and happy dream. When I try to understand myself, I fail at words. Clearly, this body alone is not me, this brain alone is not me. They will be here still when I am dead. Would I outlast death? If I would, then caring for this particular life alone makes no sense. If I do not know where I would be reborn, I better make every place beautiful and peaceful.
But, what if this is just folly. It could be that I perish with death and it is all over. Yet, the body with the brain lies here and does not explain who I am. If I look at myself, beyond the body, beyond the mind, I cannot tell any difference between myself and the next person, between myself and the baby. We are different because of our different minds, different bodies and different conditions. But, at some level, we are all the same. It is impossible to make out any difference at this essential level.
Regardless of whether I am eternal or perishable, beyond this body and mind, it is I who makes an appearance everywhere couched in different bodies, minds and conditions. It is I acting differently due to the difference in role and costume.
I am the first form of life that appeared on earth. I am the fish that decided to explore the land. I am the plant that blossomed a new flower. I am the inventor of the wheel, of fire and of every technology. I am the greatest of kings. I am the lowest criminal. I am the person who was scheming the fall of civilizations. I am the saint and I am the sinner. I am my father and I am also my son. Wherever I see, I only see I. Now, I am this new born baby that is crying, resting on her mother’s lap.
I can be truly happy only when every I is happy. For this, I must understand suffering. The “I” is unlike anything else. The difference between an apple and another is not the same as the difference between one “I” and the other. Because in essence, there is exact identity and what happens to me is important.
It is not possible for me to take care of myself without taking care of every other “I”. How can I be happy when I am clutching my stomach with the pain of hunger on the street? How can I be happy when I am living with mortal fear in the middle of war? How can I be happy when I am consumed with madness? The pain of everyone is my pain.
We use language carelessly and distance ourselves with the word ‘others’. Who are these others? In essence, they are all “I”. That is how they feel themselves! They feel like “I”, all of them!
There is a grand shift in perspective when I stop using words ‘everybody’ or ‘everyone’ which distance the living entity and make it look like an object, like a stone. Start using the word ‘every-I’. This term, however ridiculous it may sound, conveys the message of unity of all life that has feeling. It is more accurate in its description and does not obscure the conscious entity.
In this moment, as we watch life renewing itself, appearing as “I”, let us feel for it and resolve to create no more suffering due to our myopic understanding and interests. If we can, let us put in our efforts to create a world that is more livable. Let not the disjointed nature of our memories and sensations fool us into tormenting ourselves. Let there be peace. In this lies our salvation, our liberation – for I cannot be liberated without liberating every “I”. How can I enjoy a blissful heaven, when I know that a majority of every-I is in deep suffering?