Thursday, December 22, 2011

A Little Knowledge

The other day DB and I were talking about people of a certain age coming to feel inexplicable emptiness in their lives. When everything is functioning on autopilot and there are no big problems (money, health, substance abuse etc) to worry about, instead of feeling at peace they feel lost and miserable. Often a true spiritual guru may be able to answer what ails them and lead them out of it but it is certainly not easy to find one. Is the guru not supposed to seek out the disciple when they are ready ?
The stories of charlatans and false prophets are widely known as are the accounts of the damage they wreck upon the lives of their gullible followers. The conversation got me thinking about another kind of misguidance that parents and other adults may provide a child. In many Hindu families of my acquaintance I have seen adults take a parable or quote from a religious text, translated, diluted and distorted in the final rendition to make a point to a child. 
While they have the best intent, they lack the qualifications for the job they are setting to undertake. So their lesson may be entirely incorrect and do more harm than good. The child might in fact have been better served without the lesson in morality and ethics. The body of knowledge is too vast for an average person to assimilate on their own and good teachers are hard to come by. The oral tradition has been on the decline for a few generations now so the learning parents pass on to their children is a pastiche culled from a variety of sources - not all equally reliable. 
When I was growing up, I often heard adults talk about the misogynistic views expressed in Manu-samhita and how it stymied the growth of the Indian woman for hundreds of years. Manu was held directly responsible for all the social ills of the country. Random quotes would be tossed up and torn apart for the purposes of these discussions. Though I was too young to participate, I itched to ask how many had read the original Sanskrit version of the text, how many had read any expert commentaries to it and finally what was the overall context of the quote that was under fire. 
Similarly, someone would quote a short passage from the Bhagavad Gita or one of the Upanishads and expound on it as if the literal translation was all that there was to it. My childhood is rife with examples of adults with dangerously little knowledge of Hindu philosophy attempting to mold my world view and teach me the art of living. Lately, I find myself trying to rid my system of all that meaningless clutter - become knowledge free so I have a shot of learning something right.

1 comment:

Ms. S said...

Do you think it has to do with the idea of finding your own truth? So much of our religious texts are open to multiple interpretations along with the fact that most of us don't know the language to learn and understand it for ourselves. Besides,it has been around for so long that right and wrong is not alwayshanded down...we have to find it for ourselves-paving the way for a little bit of knowledge to justify our points of view.