Where are we?
I heard the following story from Swami Adiswarananda , the Spiritual Head (1973 – 2007), Ramakrishna Vivekananda Center, New York.
Two people decided to travel around the world in a hot-air balloon. They were enjoying their journey, looking at mountains, rivers, fields, cities, villages and various other points of scenery.
In one part of the world, they unexpectedly hit a big storm. Their maps, cell phones, and all other belongings were blown off the balloon. Their balloon being caught in the heavy wind was tossed all around. They thought they would definitely die.
By God’s grace, however, the storm passed on without harming them. As they struggled to bring the balloon under their control, they noticed the beautiful landscape. Lush green meadows stretching for miles lay beneath them. The greenery was eye-catching and soothing to the mind. They tried to guess where they were, but having been tossed around in all directions, they had no clue.
Bringing their balloon down, they tried to look for any signs of life, but found none. Suddenly, their eyes caught something moving. As they came closer, they found that it was a man walking back and forth.
He was dressed nicely, had a white beard and was supporting himself with a cane . One of the travelers asked him, “Sir, can you tell us where we are?”
The person stopped walking. He looked up at the balloon, and then looked around, engrossed in deep thought for a while.
The traveler in the balloon thought that the man either did not hear him clearly or did not understand English. The traveler had no choice but to try again. This time, she asked more loudly, “Sir, can you tell us where we are?”
The person on the ground seemed as though he was coming out of his thoughts. With emphasis and with full conviction he said, “You are in a balloon.” 🙂
The first traveler told the second traveler, “He must be a philosopher.”
The second traveler asked her, “How do you know that he is a philosopher?”
The first traveler said, “I know for sure that he is a philosopher because (1) What he said is absolutely true, and (2) What he said is also absolutely useless.” 🙂
(This is NOT meant to put down philosophers. So, no philosopher should take this personally.)
From this story, I learned that many times, philosophical discussions are nothing more than intellectual entertainment. They do not help us to live better lives in any way, nor do they answer any fundamental questions of life, such as:(i) Is there any meaning to life? (ii) What is my true identity? Am I just this body and mind, or something more? (iii) Does this universe have any meaning? (iv) Am I connected with other individuals? If yes, , then in what way am I connected? (v) What is the goal of my life?
If there exists a philosophy which can answer these questions in a sensible and logical way, and if it can also improve my life, then that philosophy is good. Also, such a philosophy must be practical. I should be able to realize the truths presented by the philosophy.
Sri Ramakrishna used to say that “Granthas” (books of philosophy) are “Granthis” (knots). In other words, mere book-learning without discrimination and non-attachment serves only to increase one’s arrogance and vanity. That means, it multiplies the knots (confusion) in one’s mind.
Sri Ramakrishna said, “The “Para-Vidya” or Highest Learning is that by which God is known” (In other words, highest learning is that through which the Ultimate Truth is realized.) All else, the scriptures, philosophy, logic, grammar etc.- only load and puzzle the mind. They are good only when they lead to the Highest Learning.
(Thanks to Jahnavi Vyas and Sunita Dhar for editing this post and Ishani Trivedi for illustration.)