When I was a young man I had the opportunity to listen to a great speech by a yogi who demonstrated the merits of yoga. “We can live a healthy life for a hundred years if we practice yoga ascetically,” he concluded as the audience burst into a thunderous applause. Later one of the invited guests present on the stage asked the yogi, “Do you ever enjoy some of the simple pleasures of life like eating some food which is forbidden by your creed, sipping a whiskey with sparkling soda and some ice cubes, lying on a beach watching without feeling guilty beautiful girls walk by wearing bikini...?”
“No,” admitted the yogi.
“What’s the point of living a hundred years then?” asked the man.
And the yogi’s answer was a silent stare.
Recently I visited a religious centre in Punjab. The cult has over 5000 acres of land on which an entire township is built up. But nobody can use even the mobile phone in that township. There’s a whole list of Do’s and Don’ts, unbreakable commandments that one has to obey the moment one is inside the township. My instinctual feeling, as I learnt about how people lived in that township, was pity. The people were missing something valuable, I thought. They were being deprived of the opportunities to explore life in their own way, to decide what was good and bad for themselves, to know and experience the agonies and ecstasies of human existence... Their life is a straitjacket. Every movement of theirs is circumscribed. Every gesture has to adhere to the prescribed code of behaviour.
Susan Hill narrated the tale of a man who was very scared of living among people. He was scared that he might fall in love with a girl who would jilt him, slip on a banana peel and be laughed at, be knocked down by a speeding vehicle... So he decided to live in the absolute security of his own room. He never stepped out. One day a painting on the wall lost its moorings and fell on him and he died.
I think living within the boundaries drawn by any religion or organisation is as good as the life of the man in the story. Life is a series of lessons, experiences that keep enriching us until we have to take leave of this planet. Who has the right to tell us what we should learn and what we shouldn’t?
Yes, the wisdom of others can be a good signpost, guiding light. But their wisdom is theirs; each one of us has to arrive at our own wisdom, travelling our own roads in life. For the yogi, living a hundred years without falling ill may be the greatest virtue. But there would be no Vasco da Gama or Edmund Hillary if everyone thought the yogi was right. In fact, there would be nothing interesting in life if everyone followed the yogi. All creativity comes from questioning the boundaries of existence.
I would rather be a mountaineer who climbs peaks until I succumb to one than a yogi who sits in a cave hoping to live a hundred years.