Monday, February 22, 2021

The limits of success

Vellatthanaiya malar neeettam; maandartham uLLatthanaiya uyarvu - Thirukkural

The height of the lotus stalk is determined by the depth of the waters; the heights of men's success is determined by their ambition - Loose Translation 

These poets, I tell you. You can never take the meaning of a word for granted. This 'ULLam' pops up again, meaning 'mind' as I have had occasion to say before. The last time, I thought it meant 'strength of character', more than anything else, which included enthusiasm, determination and self-belief. All of that is needed to determine the extent of the success a man may achieve, yes. But the 'heights' a person will reach, including the direction in which he will reach it, will also be determined by what he focuses on. And focus is a product of ambition.

Now 'Ambition', itself, is a strange word, especially the way people use it. More often than not, ambition is the name people give to their daydreams. At least, I do that - like the time I had the 'ambition' to become the next Rajnikant. An ambition which, to anyone else, would classify as a nightmare if I had indeed achieved it. Looks, screen presence, acting skills - you name it, I did NOT have it!

Ambition is not merely an idea of where you want to be. It is the determination to work to achieve it, the enthusiasm to keep trying and the self-belief which will keep that enthusiasm unflagging. So, it actually IS all that I had said before PLUS the focus.

So, yes, in this case the heights a man will reach will be determined by his ambition, just as the lotus stalk grows high enough to ensure that the lotus blooms above the water. WHERE he will reach those heights - in politics, business, arts or in spirituality will depend on where he focuses his efforts.

Life, being what it is, can play tricks on you and gift success to one with lesser drive and failure to one who puts his soul into his work. The point, nevertheless, is that the comparison is not with others. YOUR success will be proportionate to YOUR efforts. If your ambition is high, your success will be more than it will be if you set your sights lower. I mean, if you are content with rising up to the middle management, you are unlikely to even strive to hit top management, right?

The desirability of the success; the cost in time, effort and relationships that you are willing to pay for it - those are for you to decide. But if you do want to hit the pinnacles of whatever area you wish to succeed in, you need to have a burning ambition to do so. Of course, you could always hit the jackpot without doing the hard grind. But would you consider 'hitting the jackpot' as logical career advice?

So, 'Rem acu tetigisti', Tiru!

Me? Why do you always have to bring me into the picture? I have hit the pinnacles of MY ambition, I'll have you know. Always wanted to relax all day and, presto, I'm doing just that!

Monday, February 15, 2021

True wealth?

ULLam Udamai Udamai; PoruLudamai nilladhu neengi vidum - Thirukkural

Strength of Character is the only true wealth; Material wealth does not abide and vanishes - Loose Translation

The problem with Tiru and, indeed, with most poets is that their words quite often mean too many things. I mean, like take this 'ULLam' for example. Literally, it means 'mind'(or heart, but let us not get into that now). So, this particular Kural may just be taken to mean that if you are a mindless vegetable, then your wealth will vanish like the morning mist. Quite true, yes, but, if you need an adviser to tell you this, it probably is already too late for you. Being mindless, you'd have lost your wealth anyway before you get the advice.

So, this 'ULLam' actually translates to qualities of the mind and not merely its existence. Like, say, 'Have a heart' does not mean that the person is urging you to get that blood-pump installed in your chest OR offering you the next delicacy in your dinner. Likewise, this thing actually means qualities like determination and enthusiasm and not merely the fact that you have a mind.

Though, I am not too sure about the whole of it. I mean, yes, what he says seems quite true - that you CAN lose material wealth, most especially if you do not have strength of character. (There, see, THAT is the best translation in this context). THEN, you end up dissipating your wealth, you find yourself incapable of handling and triumphing over adversity. Conversely, if you have the strength of character, you find the motivation and courage to rise above adversity; you have the determination to work your way through to your desired goal, making the most of whatever physical and intellectual resources you can deploy; and you have the self-belief to be undaunted by what may seem like insurmountable obstacles. In short, determined self-belief can trump talent, especially when the person with talent is plagued by self-doubt.

So, what was I not sure of? I mean, well, Tiru says that strength of character will not dissipate like material wealth. Now THAT is something I am not too confident about. Yeah, we all have fables about undaunted heroes who keep plowing on and on, despite the worst of obstacles, but, factually, strength of character can also erode over a long period of tribulation.

But, then, I suppose Tiru was applying 'ceteris paribus' but, not knowing all the latest management jargon, he just did not say so. Meaning that, given the SAME set of obstacles, material wealth could dissipate while strength of character stays and helps build more wealth.

In other words, strength of character is much less likely to dissipate than material wealth. (Of course, Tiru HAD to say it in absolute terms. I mean, the moment one says 'relatively stronger' etc etc, the listener loses interest. Humanity just LOVES absolute truths and treats all relative truths as useless). AND it helps both safeguard your existing wealth as well as build more wealth; or, in times of adversity, create wealth all over again even if you have lost what you earlier had.

Now if only someone would tell me where to shop for this strength of character...

Monday, February 8, 2021

True Joy?

Araththaal Varuvadhe Inbam; Matrellaam Puraththa Pugazhum Ila - Thirukkural

Virtue alone gives true joy;  everything else is neither joy nor fame - Loose Translation

Oh, Well! I suppose Tiru had to say this thing. Almost every Society tries to tell its people that the only true happiness lies in leading a virtuous life. And, invariably, the people who break the rules get ahead. At the end of it all, what it ends up with is that 'Virtue is its own reward', meaning that there is no other reward that you get out of being virtuous except for feeling 'virtuous'.

It is not like the A/c does not cool the room or the cognac turns acidic if you earn it out of 'vice', does it? People bow and scrape if you are wealthy, whether you made it by stealing from the proverbial 'widows and orphans' or by selling unnecessary products to people who never wanted them. So, exactly what happiness is not available, what fame is missing, when you fail in being a man of virtue? As long as you succeed, that is.

But, hey, I forget. Tiru's frame of reference is different. He is the chap who is into how things are in your MIND, all the time, never on how things are AROUND you. All this A/c, cognac, bowing and scraping people would count, in his lexicon as 'pleasure'; not 'joy'. Joy, for him, would only be when your mind is happy and free of stress. So, of course, if you have all that 'envy', 'greed', 'wrath' etc etc in your mind, it's not precisely like you are being free of stress, now, are you? In THAT sense, of course you are not happy by Tiru's definition. Come to think of it, not happy by mine, either. You...well, it's your lookout, isn't it?

As for fame...hmmm! I suppose, if you were motivated by interest in what you were DOING, any fame that comes your way is something you'd think of as fame. But, if you were motivated by 'greed' or 'envy' or some such...well, those are things that are never satiated. Whatever you have, at any point in time, seems less than what you want, for 'Greed' is a never-satiated monster. And 'envy'...well, it always finds a new target once the old one ceases to be worthy of envy. You probably never do accept that you are worthy of the 'fame' you have. So, perhaps, Tiru does have a point.

As for me...well, first let me get the dratted 'fame'. IF I do, and since I am NOT a paragon of virtue, I'll let you know if I think of it as 'true fame' or I suffer from the 'Impostor Syndrome'. Till then, you are on your own!

Monday, February 1, 2021

Spots in the mind?

Azhukkaru Avaa Vekuli Innachchol Izhukkaa Iyandrathu Aram - Thirukkural

Virtue lies in being free from Envy, Greed, Wrath and hurtful speech -  Loose Translation

It is all very well for Tiru to say that Virtue lies in a spotless mind. The problem is that you cannot just dump your mind into a washing machine and take it out spotless. If you could, you need not bother about identifying the spots, you only need to know the right washing powder or liquid. As it is, though, you need to know exactly what he means by 'spots'. Thankfully, the chap followed up his advice with a subsequent piece which identifies those spots.

You know, the thing is that all religion, and all advisers, seem to be down on roughly the same things. I mean, look up the seven deadly sins - here, if you want - and you will find 'Envy', 'Greed' and 'Wrath' there as well. To be sure, they also have 'Gluttony', and 'Lust' there but, I think, Tiru covered it under 'Avaa' which I translated as 'Greed'. Gluttony, probably, was 'Greed for food' and Lust counted as 'Greed for sex', so those two were also probably 'spots' according to his definition.

Needless to say, I was happy that Tiru had not been totally averse to 'Sloth', which counts in the Seven deadly sins. Unless, of course, he thought of it as 'Greed for sleep', though it is hard to see how he could have. I mean, if you are asleep, you are pretty much mindless then, so...But, I suppose, he would have devoted space for railing against 'Sloth' elsewhere, so I cannot really do a happy dance about that.

And 'Pride' is not specifically mentioned. Though, yes, 'hurtful speech' comes either from a hurt ego or from arrogance, so it could be covered there. Not much reason to feel that you have been let off lightly either way.

So, essentially, Tiru's prescription for a 'spotless mind' is quite the normal thing for all societies to prescribe. Except for the fact that he seems to give a lot more importance to your ATTITUDES than your BEHAVIOR. As in, what's in the mind is more important to determine your virtue than your actions. Yes, 'hurtful speech' IS action but I suppose what he means is more the intention to hurt rather than the action. These poets, they need to balance concept with meter or some such esoteric poetic thingy.

That 'hurtful speech' thing, now! Remember what I said some time back. About why Tiru is not THE meme-man? I mean, you cannot be against 'hurtful speech' AND expect to rule social media, now, can you? So, what does the man expect? That I follow his advice and, consequently, become a social media recluse? Nonsense!