Though born a Hindu, I didn’t really start learning about my religion until I was in my university years. And whenever one wants to learn about Hinduism, the natural first stop tends to be listening to what the swamis and gurus have to say; and they always seems to stress that one ought to practice renunciation; that desire is wrong and that one should be unattached to their work in order to be one with Brahman (as in the Universal Consciousness).
Now for a novice in Hindu thought, learning all this is good and all, but unless it’s all placed in the wider perspective of Hindu teachings, it can actually lead to some really strange results. They certainly did for me.
I am now in some ways a filmmaker, trying to make it in this big bad world, and right around the time that I started to learn about the movie-making business was also the time that I began to get acquainted with Hindu-Buddhist thought. Like all film-geeks I had amassed a considerable collection of DVDs (VHS was out by the time I was able to purchase them), which I was very proud of. But as I started listening to the words of the swamis and gurus, I started to feel that I was getting too attached to my DVDs. This is what I wrote at the time:
“The film collection has now fulfilled its purpose to provide a ready access to the art and entertainment. Now it remains as material objects that I have become increasingly attached to and thus as a testament of my pride. The appeal for the art has been replaced by an unhealthy attachment for to the colourful boxes containing the films.”
But they also come with a feeling of holier-than-thou, a sense of pride in their own right, and an emotion of self-righteousness. Nonetheless, feeling the way I did at the time, I decided to give away some of my DVDs and as such I called my little cousin and asked him if he wanted any of them. He asked, somewhat surprised, if he could take whatever he liked, since normally I wouldn’t even let him borrow as he scratches them. When I said yes, the little prick turns up to my house with a big suitcase, chucks all my DVDs in the bag and walks away, while I stood there looking like an idiot. I’m not sure how
I felt in that moment, but as time went by and I began jotting down my movie ideas and started to work on the scripts, I needed to go back to those films that I had given away, for research and reference. I would walk over to the DVD shelf and realize what I had done and start to feel exasperated; sometime when I really needed it, I’d have to borrow my own DVDs back from my cousin (who would very promptly take them back, I think just to piss me off, as he knew I would be but wouldn’t be able to say anything) and other times, I’d in fact have to buy them all over again.But it wasn’t until started learning more about Hinduism and Hindu thought that I realized what a moron I had been.
I realized that the great warrior Arjun, sitting in the middle of Kurukshetra, also had a similar moment when he said to Lord Krishna that he’d rather give up his rights and responsibilities and renounce the world instead of face his kith and kin in battlefield. I understand in some way the appeal that idea must have had when he proposed renouncing everything instead of doing his duty as a warrior. But as Krishna himself tells him, that one has no right to renounce society until they have paid their dues back to it and that there is nothing more spiritual than fulfilling ones purpose in life.
Surely if I consider making movies my purpose in life, making my voice of as a Hindu filmmaker be heard and telling stories that need be told, as my dharma, then I had given up the tools with which to serve that dharma, all for a momentary tingling feeling of self-satisfaction. In that moment, my apparent guilt at I what I perceived to be greed, I failed to see the wider perspective of Hindu thought, that how Dharma permeates everything, that even through one’s apparent attachments, one is only serving Dharma and when the right time comes those attachments too fall away.
When I too have paid my dues to the society which has nourished me, by singing the unsung stories that I hear in my head, by showing the unseen images I see in front of my eyes everyday, then maybe I would have no more need for these DVDs, these digital discs of collective knowledge of film and cinema and the tools for making them.
Then my cousin can bring back his bag and take then away again and I won’t feel the need to get them back. As all this started to dawn on me, I went one day to my cousin’s house with a big bag of my own and brought all my DVDs back. Half of them were badly scratched.
My cousin didn’t say anything except “What took you so long”.Now the only question remains why do swamis and gurus always fixate on renunciation and giving up of desire, as high these ideals might be, even from individuals unprepared for them – well, maybe we’ll ponder on this another time.