Eudaemonia, Rahul and Kejriwal

Rahul Gandhi, Kejriwal and eudaemonia

Rahul Gandhi could take a lesson from St Augustine of Hippo. Wait, before you roll your eyes, let me finish. St Augustine of Hippo was a remarkable man. Born a Berber, this Algerian-Roman philosopher began life as a pagan. His mother Monica, ordained a Catholic saint, entreated him to lead a life of virtue. In his youth, Augustine was anything but. He wined and dined, had a rollicking time, wavered between hobbies and passions, and had relationships with a series of women.

As he says in his book, Confessions, Augustine’s early life consisted of “being seduced and seducing, being deceived and deceiving”. There is something comforting about a saint who sinned as spectacularly as Augustine. There is hope for the rest of us.

When he turned 32, Augustine—in somewhat Bollywood fashion that involved his mother’s death and chance meetings—reformed himself. He turned to celibacy and priesthood as a way to reach God. This continued throughout his life and he was ordained the patron saint of printers, theologians and, appropriately, brewers. In philosophy, St Augustine is known for his deeply personal account of the Western philosophic concept of “eudaemonia”, or the good life.

Gandhi junior, back after a two-month break, has taken up his role again stridently. The question is whether his reformation is for real—this time; or whether he will waffle, yet again.

Years ago, Joseph Campbell, the mythologist, entreated people to “follow their bliss”. Greek philosophers, including Socrates, Plato and, most importantly, Aristotle, called it eudaemonia. It is often misrepresented as happiness—but has more to do with practising virtues in daily life.

Eudaemonia is about doing the right thing at the right time in the right way, about having the wisdom to resolve conflicts, something that Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal could learn. It is a robust, action-oriented philosophy that is somewhat akin to the Hindu notion of dharma. Eudaemonia marries the idea of dharma, or doing the right thing, with the tantric notion of sahaja, or spontaneous ease, as poet Kabir called it, in which the mind is returned to its own primal ecstasy without the help of external substances.

I like eudaemonia because I think an action-oriented philosophy shouldn’t be plodding and diligent and entirely about duty and morality. What is Gandhi’s duty? Quit the party? Bear the burden? Take on the mantle? What is Kejriwal afraid of? Why does he win an election and then self-combust?

Much of philosophy, both in the East and West, focuses on duty and morality. The problem with this approach is that it excludes ownership, passion and enjoyment. To have power, and to take pleasure from wielding it, should be part of the composite as well.

Eudaemonia celebrates happiness, and all those daily activities that lead to happiness. It wasn’t popular among philosophers, by the way. Immanuel Kant vociferously opposed it, and although he is a giant in Western philosophy, let me adopt the immortal words of Bertie Wooster and say that with respect to eudaemonia, Kant “was an ass”. Later philosophers—the existentialists, for example—also viewed eudaemonia as a shallow fantasy put forth by medieval philosophers and theologians who had no idea about the harsh realities of everyday moralities.

The same could be said of eudaemonia’s counterpart in India: tantric philosophy. Mention tantra, and the average person usually thinks of the Kama Sutra. Well, it is that; but it is also about beauty, colour and bliss. There is a lovely passage in Sudhir Kakar’s book, Shamans, Mystics And Doctors, that explains this. “The true tantrik is always in a state of non-suppression and enjoyment. The purpose of every moment of life is to experience ananda. Ananda is active enjoyment of everything that comes your way.” No quarrel there.

How can one experience ananda, or enjoyment? Or eudaemonia, or happiness? Well, the reason those Kantian moralists were against eudaemonia is because they believed that humans needed external objects in order to experience happiness. Well, that’s true. Hand me a bottle of Ruinart and I’ll be one happy person right now. People like Kant would belittle this approach, and so would a vast number of anti-consumerists. Kant believed that true happiness or contentment comes from performing virtuous actions for their own sake. You do the right thing and you are happy. If not, you are guilt-ridden and have to drown your sorrows in wine, women (or men) and song.

But what if you could adapt your desires to suit the situation? Bear with me here. Again, to quote Kakar: “A tantrik has only those desires which the environment is ready, willing and in a position to satisfy. This is not because he denies any of his wishes or rationalizes them later, but because he has developed his capacity for attention and is intensely aware of where he is and what he is doing at every single moment of time.”

Read the previous sentence. Twice. Insert your name. “Rahul/Arvind/Rishad (or female counterpart thereof) has only those desires which the environment is ready, willing and in a position to satisfy.” That makes sense to me. Essentially, it says that since you cannot control what the world throws at you, you control your reaction to the external stimuli. You prime yourself to be receptive to the world and learn how to enjoy each experience.

Let’s say that you are going to a really boring party. Instead of flagellating yourself for accepting that invitation, what if you become “intensely aware” of where you are, and figure out ways of having some fun, given the circumstances. Maybe you decide not to make small talk; maybe you dress differently; maybe you decide to sing. The point is to extend your bandwidth; increase your surface area with respect to what gives you pleasure.

The ancients called it eudaemonia, or sahaja. Kejriwal and Gandhi should try it—Kejriwal for the sake of Delhi; Gandhi for the sake of the Congress party; and for the sake of the people that walked before them and fought to get them where they are today.

Shoba Narayan alternates between Kantian guilt and eudaemonia. Write to her at thegoodlife @livemint.com

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10 thoughts on “Eudaemonia, Rahul and Kejriwal

  1. I think you’re missing the point Kaushik.

    Your post sounded very mean and you admittedly poked fun at Shoba and your parody sounded mean. I emailed Vinay and Naina so they could judge/see for themselves and they found it mean too. Maybe you caught Shoba on a good day but that doesn’t take away from sounding mean.

    Mainly your post seemed to say “Shoba can’t write serious [political or financial] stuff so writes about [the lesser fluffy stuff] what they wear and how it looks etc.” My point is, this is Shoba’s blog for her to express what she wants. Readers, regulars and newcomers, come here because they like it. If you don’t like it then find a blog you like. Mean sounding criticism doesn’t get very far here (or anywhere else).

    As for being the unofficial bailiff, OK I don’t condone threats etc. Everyone should mind their manners.

    But the broader point, Kaushik, is that your manner of discussion seems to provoke strong reactions which makes it very unpleasant. So I really think you will be happier on a different (younger?) blog/forum where there are serious political/financial/whatever discussions.

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  2. I. Am. Back.

    Kaushik, (cleaning my gupti), leave Shoba alone. Now.
    I dunno what you are doing here, but trying to embarrass Shoba is NOT COOL. OK Shoba is not a finance wizard or a political commentator, but her blog is her space and she writes what she wants and that’s the brew served in this coffeehouse. If you don’t like it then Step Outside viz email me directly.

    FYI I am the original bhai of this space. If you ever disrespect Shoba again you will have to contend with all of us, The Regulars. We are The Avengers around here, we were here long before you. If you live in NYC I double dare you to Step Outside. I am six feet and 220 lbs and I promise you if you Step Outside with me you will not be writing b*tchy posts for a very long time.

    Behave yourself. Or, be a man and Step Outside. If you ever mess with Shoba again you will have a couple extra bones to count up.

    Vinay “Bhai” Kumar
    (NS – thanks for the tip, I’ve let the others know as well.)

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    • H/T Vinay
      Kaushik, watch yourself. If Vinay is the Hulk then I am the bloody Black Widow around here.
      I also think that for a smart guy like you, this was beneath it. You surely have more to offer. Your childlike prank instantly draws vitriol from The Regulars. It’s not worth it. Either stay peaceful or go in peace. If you decide to stay then be very careful, if you step out of line we will BITE and it will not be pleasant.

      Peace Out.

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    • Ok clearly my post has drawn bile from so many regulars.
      Vinay and Naina – you guys may be the Regulars, but my post was not off topic or indecent. It appears a lot of you felt I was taking a dig at Shoba. I was. I admit to being cheeky but I don’t think I was being rude and I sincerely did not want to hurt anyone. (FYI – Shoba herself found my piece funny.) In any event I wasn’t really talking to “The Regulars”, and perhaps you should follow your own advice and post your threats (funny, Vinay, except I am a TKD black belt and 6ft or 8ft I will drop you like a stone) on your own blog/s.

      NS – So you’re sort of the moderator around here. I say something cheeky and you punch back, but the other regulars issue threats (with gupti, funny) and you stay silent? Is this a ground rule that newcomers can’t say squat but The Regulars can say whatever obscenity (threats) anytime they want?

      Does longevity (such as it is – after long absences) grant you free speech, including saying obscene things? I came here ~ 2 years ago. When do I get my GC (gupti card) here?

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  3. Kaushik,

    This is an unwarranted and mean spirited dig. You need to remember that this is Shoba’s PERSONAL blog, and mind your manners. (I am still not clear why you are doing this. If you don’t like the subject/content of Shoba’s posts then maybe this is the wrong place for you, perhaps you are happier elsewhere. I simply don’t see the point of venting your spleen here; you are welcome to do that on your own blog.)

    At least don’t spoil it for us, the other regulars who only want their weekly South Indian (no, Palakkad) coffee here.

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  4. Interesting article however Shoba I think you are ascribing too much gravity and/or depth to Rahul or Kejriwal’s motives.

    Rahul has deep rooted mental and medical problems (drugs, flesh etc) that are very well known in the “inner circle” yet rarely spoken about outside. He is like Duchasan (not even Duryodhan), a trivial and lowly creature, entirely unfit to take over the Congress. I guess Sonia-ji will do her best until her own illness flares up, maybe Priyanka will ultimately get the sympathy vote. Lesser of three or four evils I guess. Kejriwal is a political tadpole – too many missteps and mistakes. Unfit to be in politics. Maybe he can enroll in St Stephen’s for a BA in political science and get a proper political mentor and then try his hand again.

    But OK Shoba’s article was not about political analysis. However Rahul and Kejriwal (indeed any politician) are after acquiring power and broadening their base. “Enjoying every moment”, “stop to smell the flowers”, “mindful Tic Na Han” or “just enjoying the clangor of the Lok Sabha” — these existentialist philosophical things are far far away from their minds.

    I can see however how the latter things are of more interest here. In fact I see a whole series of possible articles:

    1. “Why do some dynasties transmit their powers and values differently than others? Why do Indian political dynasties seem to connect better at the ground level with the farmers”

    2. A comparative review of Modi’s fashion sense vis a vis Putin, Merkel and Margaret Thatcher. Sponsored by Rimowa, Sula Wines and Tadao Ando.

    3. Why are political campaigns more sensual in India than USA? Oh, those political aspirants with their sunflower and marigold garlands, open jeeps and coarse Hindi speeches – how sensuous! Obama’s rubber chicken circuit is decidedly lame. (This piece sponsored by the Honest Sunflower House in Cubbon park and J. Crew, New York.)

    4. Hillary and Sonia. Are Indian women, in their aesthetic, more effective as brand ambassadors for their country’s sensualness than western women? (Ah, I find Sonia’s starched whites so much more sartorially elegant – it owns her and she owns it. Hillary’s cut-right pantsuits are so clinical and depressing.) This piece has no sponsors because Ann Taylor pulled out at the last moment and Khadi Bhandar has already sponsored one article.

    5. Sari for a week! The experiences of Nicola Sturgeon and Helle Thorning as they tried to sashay in a sari to explore their chakras! This piece was sponsored by my childhood friend Ratnakumari Ramanarayanan who now works for Nalli, but she pulled out at the last moment when Helle Thorning slipped in her sari and cursed at it before ripping it off her hips and switching into pants for the remainder of her day.

    6. (Last but not the least) Slurp! The beauty of hand eating. A dialogue between Sheikh Hasina, Yingluck Shinawatra and Sara Kugongelwa on just how fulfilling it is to eat curries and rice with your hands and watch the sauces drip down your palms. Extended feature includes a detailed commentary on the thickness and aesthetic of each country’s gravies and vegetables, culminating with the stunning observation by all three women that South Indian Palakkad food is the healthiest, best, most sensual and heart-and-stomach filling food of all. Sponsored by Nagiseri V Suryakumaran, owner of Ayyo Pavam hotel in Palakkad.

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    • Perhaps you are making fun of me, as NS has said, but I liked what you’ve written Kaushik. Lot of thought and clearly references to something– was it stuff in my articles? I guess since you didn’t bring up people/my family, this is all great. You seem to have got my themes right and it is nice to see the perception. Or maybe you were just having a good time writing this stuff, which is what it reads like. Well done! Only thing: I am not hung up on Palakkad. Took me over 40 years to write that piece. And I dislike the caste/religion/community distinctions on principle, even though my articles seem to lead up to them.

      While on this topic, let me confide something. My biggest issue with the Sanskrit podcast that I so enjoy is this. I am fascinated by ancient India and its art/aesthetics. How to make it open/broader when so much of the material is so obviously Hindu is my dilemma?

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