Saturday, December 26, 2015

Jottings on 5th December 2015 (A striking motif)



There are many profound books which have radically altered my world view. Some of them heavy tomes of prose that needed months of concentrated reading and assimilation, others containing epigrammatic propositions, again needing a lot of cogitation and time; and then there are those few books -written in unassuming style and vivid clarity - instantly strike a chord deep within, obviating the necessity of thinking about it. The meaning is intuitive and plain to see like the beauty of a freshly watered rose, or the striking brilliance of lightning. They are their own witnesses and need no further elucidation. One such book was" Does it matter?" by Alan watts. A collection of his essays on diverse topics, written for periodicals and mainstream media. I remember a particular essay on Money written sometime in the 70's in which he writes:
"Money is a way of measuring wealth but is not wealth in itself. A chest of gold coins or a fat wallet of bills is of no use whatsoever to a wrecked sailor alone on a raft. He needs real wealth, in the form of a fishing rod, a compass, an outboard motor with gas, and a female companion. But this ingrained and archaic confusion of money with wealth is now the main reason we are not going ahead full tilt with the development of our technological genius for the production of more than adequate food, clothing, housing, and utilities for every person on earth..."
For a young boy in college, fairly uncertain where his future will take him or anxious about how much money would he end up making; this idea from Watts cut straight though my being. It stuck a chord so deep, that it would be fair to say it left me unnerved. All round me, the world was busy making, saving, perpetuating, hoarding, worshiping money in various forms and kinds; and here was an idea that was not only brutally and factually true, but undermines the edifice of an entire society driven by a passion for symbolic exchange paper. Money as a symbol of real, immediate, possesable wealth, and not for its own sake - is perhaps the single most misunderstood, abused idea in the history of Human race. Almost every major human catastrophe can be traced directly or indirectly to this point of origin. Using money in exchange has given place to an ideology of "making" money for its own sake.. Just as one cannot eat the most elaborate and well laid out menu card when one is hungry, money as paper is pretty valueless , if it cannot be exchanged for something one values and needs. Old Americans who survived the 1930 depression, and still around will know the truth of what I am saying
The entire force of the above paragraphs became evident to me this week in Sanfranciso, where I was teaching a class to the biggest, most authoritative financial institutions in this country. They define what the dollar is or should be. Wonderful audience, great class and more importantly formed some good friends. Towards the end , an senior participant walked up to me with a bid polythene packet in his hands. When he gave it, I was not sure what it contained. All that I could see was shredded paper, and lots of it.
He said " This is a memento from us to you for a good class.. It contains the remnants of what was few weeks ago hundreds and thousands worth of Dollar bills. We shred them, for whatever reason, and use them for plastering and other construction work.. We are probably few authorized institutions to shred paper Money. If anyone else tries to do it, it may be illegal.."
When I carried the bag to my hotel and looked at it intensely for some time; the full force of my understanding over the years, and Alan watt's transforming idea took complete shape in my head. Here I have in front of me, a bag of paper that is totally valueless. A few weeks ago, Men would have killed each other for what it represented, or it could have bought a hoard of dream things that fantasizes about. But now, this very same lump of paper stripped of its symbolism is not worth even a dime. It cannot buy a cup of steaming coffee, homeless refugee on the streets wouldn't touch it, yet it stands contained in a bag front of me, essentially the same composition of green paper (nothing has changed), but bereft of all that it stood for. It is we who gives things its value, its never the other way around. Every idea, every symbol is only useful as long as it helps lead a fulfilled, happy and peaceful life; and the moment the symbol loses that value, or we change our perception of it - it no more has the power to define our lives. One could extrapolate this to any sphere: National, religion, race, profession. And this is the most profound education or insight anyone can have. Money is needed, one ought to work for it, but it needs to exchanged, bartered and enjoyed for real wealth. To be able to buy things that one loves, to be wise enough to spend generating food and basic necessities; and not be protective of the symbol that gives us the purchasing power is the sign of enlightened economic growth.
God bless...
Yours in mortality,
Bala

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