Tuesday, March 23, 2010
Author: 

K Haridas, vice-chairman of IofC Malaysia.Text of the address given by K. Haridas, Vice Chairman, MRA/IofC Malaysia at the opening of the Tools for Change Kuala Lumpur 2010 Conference.

K Haridas NairThis conference is not about formal declarations and resolutions that we will all agree to and announce at the end of our time together. However it is still about declarations and resolutions but these are more personal in nature. It is about the decisions and commitments that we make personally as we explore the possibilities arising from an 'examined life'.

Following last year's Tools for Change" conference one participant commented ,"I discovered that we are the tools for change- not just us but an examined us and our bag of tools, the lived experience of an examined life." Allow me to share a story that I found interesting.

Some disciples once complained to their Guru," You tell us stories but you never reveal their meaning to us. The Guru replied," How would you like it if someone offered you a fruit and chewed it before giving it to you. By eating your own fruit you will draw out your own lessons from the stories and experiences that you hear over the next days.

It was Socrates who said that an unexamined life is not worth living. This conference is about examining our lives - it is about sharing stories and experiences, about applying the universal tools of listening, writing, reflection and introspection, it is about moral absolutes of honesty, purity, unselfishness and love all aimed at seeking clarity for one's life and journey.

How do we listen to our inner voice or conscience and why capturing our thoughts in writing is important. As you reflect and introspect against moral absolutes you journey into the interiors of your life. Small and big gaps, failures and successes stare at you and the scope for improvement and change become obvious.

Moral absolutes provide the initial impetus for change but over time these open up frontiers for growth. Our understanding of values deepen as we apply them and the challenges that life brings affords us to grow and respond. As our understanding of values deepen and mature through challenges and application our perception of love also matures. The notion of love at 25 years of age is very different from love at ages 35,45,55 and 60.

Accepting moral absolutes also provides us with both depth and breadth. Objectively measuring subjective issues helps us with refinements as only that which can be measured can be improved - a brilliant tool in these days of key performance indices, quality management approaches and kaizen - the Japanese stress on incremental change. Take the hypothesis 'Change starting with oneself' and by application all of us can develop our very own experiments with Truth.

What are the value added gains that an examined life offers? An examined life helps us all to break free from our own dis-functionalities be it anger, jealously, hatred, greed, lust or violence. Experiencing inner liberation and freedom of spirit are net gains when people face up to their needs, mistakes and shortcomings. We break free when we break the chains that bind us.

However life offers meaning and purpose to any who hitch on to an unselfish cause or goal and in this context an examined life has much to offer. Beyond making a living there is a life to be lived and a greater sense of social conscience and awareness is developed. How do we become effective instruments for change?

The 'How' to examine one's life - the roots, stem and the fruits of the process will all be inspected over the next days. If there are two people one with a map and the another without one - who stands a better chance of reaching his destination?

Like the map the tools that you will hear and be informed about over the next days have assisted countless people the world over of all ages, cultures, traditions and backgrounds in their exploration and discovery leading to a deeper understanding of themselves.

This reminds me of the story of the salt doll who was fascinated by the moving liquid mass so unlike anything it had seen before. "What are you?" said the salt doll to the sea. "Come in and see" said the sea with a smile. So the doll walked in and when only a pinch of it was left the doll exclaimed in wonder, "Now I know what I am"

'Know Thyself" - this knowledge of yourself does not depend on who we are- an American, a British, an Indian, Chinese Malay or Japanese., nor whether you are a Buddhist, Christian, Hindu, Muslim or a non-believer. Self knowledge is universal knowledge.

The Human Genome Project has both confirmed and affirmed that human beings the world over are very much the same. The human genome sequence is almost exactly the same -99.9%- in all people. As there is ONE GOD, there is also ONE HUMAN BEING possessed with human nature.

There may be a difference in environment and heredity but in the main we are all motivated by the same old feelings of love, hate, greed, unselfishness and honesty to mention a few. Human nature binds us together globally. All other descriptions of ourselves are subjective to our particularities of location and environment but objectively we remain ONE.

Just as the knowledge of Physics, Chemistry and Medicine helps us all where ever we may be a knowledge of ourselves (Know Thyself) is primary knowledge. All the great seers, swamis, imams, masters, saints and avatars have stressed on this fundamental need to know oneself.

It was Aldous Huxley who said." If most of us remain ignorant of ourselves, it is because self knowledge is painful and we prefer the pleasures of illusion" Likewise, Lord Chesterfield emphasised the need to study the heart and mind of man and to begin with your own - the theme for this year's T4C - 'Change begins with me"

Meditation and reflection must lay the foundation of that knowledge but experience and practice, he stressed, must and alone can complete it. Practice, discipline and experience are key aspects. It was Chinese Philosopher Lao Tze who said," It is wisdom to know others but it is enlightenment to know oneself".

The Sufi Bayazid said this about himself. "I was a revolutionary when I was young and my only prayer to God was: "Lord give me the energy to change the world" As I approached middle age with half my life gone I changed my prayer: " Lord give me the grace to change all those who come in contact with me. Just my family and friends and I will be content". Now that I am an old man and my days numbered my prayer is: "Lord give me the grace to change myself". If I had prayed for this right from the start I would not have wasted my life.

I initially undertook this exploration and self discovery some forty years ago and it was definitely very challenging. A knowledge of myself, my strengths and weaknesses and an openness to grow have definitely contributed over the years to my life personally, my family life, to relationships, my career and social involvements.

This primary knowledge opened the window of faith and while I may not have always lived up to the best I shudder to think what would have happened to me had I not learnt to regularly examine my life and living, face up to the challenges and choices over the years and yet remain congruent to my beliefs and convictions.

There are two powerful paradigms always interacting to shape our lives namely that we live in this world and the fact that the world lives within us. Both are powerful in that they shape us and form us. The first is a fact and reality provides us with challenges that shape us from without. This represents the more common paradigm.

Similarly the world within us provides us with meaning. Without us our world will have no meaning. Who we are at times speaks louder than all that we say. So, this begs the question as to the meaning we bring into the world of ours.

An examined life helps us to mine this sense of meaning and draw forth insights that help us face daily challenges and gain valuable experiences for our lives. As someone once said, "If you do not live by the values you believe, you will very soon believe the way you live".

Like the Zen Master once told a visiting Professor - Keep you glass empty only then with an open mind can you learn. An examined life thus offers many exciting possibilities. Over the next days you will hear many shared experienced and the ideas you take and apply in your life can be the beginning of a great journey.

K. Haridas, Kuala Lumpur, 4th March 2010.