I have read by now four of the 'Nine Lives' by William Dalrymple. The very first one 'The Nun's tale' was very moving and disturbed me enough to want to blog down to organise my thought.
It is the tale of Prasannamati Mataji, a Jain Monk, who leaves her family and an easy life, in her teens and adopts the austere life of a Monk. One of the main principles of Jainism is to give up all attachment as attachment is suffering. And so she willingly gives up family, wealth, possessions, adopts fasting, walking barefoot, all this in an effort to shed the last attachment to the world... and yet unknowingly she forms one attachment with her friend and companion for 20 years (Jain nuns travel in pairs), Prayogamati. Her friend fell sick and took a ritual fast to death (Sallekhana) leaving Prasannamati Mataji terribly sad and lonely. In fact she cried at her death which is not allowed in jain monks! Later on she also decides to take Sallekhana...and even wonders about the possibility of meeting her friend in some future birth!(The aim of the austere life of Monks is to escape the world)
I have often been wonderstruck by the routine of the Jain monks specifically how they try to avoid harming all life forms and for that even fanning away insects before they place each step, covering their nose to avoid breathing in microorganisms, not travelling in vehicles as insects are killed under the impact of the tyres. I cannot help but consider it as consciously adopting the 'obsessive compulsive behaviour', in terms of non violence.
But ofcourse if adopting such an attitude helps to create a permanant state of compassion for all life...it might be worth it?
But then if compassion is desirable how can sorrow be undesirable? If the crushing of an insect under the feet did not bring sorrow, then there is no meaning to being compassionate and being particular about not destroying any life. And so I can't understand the logic behind encouraging love and compassion and discouraging sorrow and tears. Prasannamati mataji could have supressed her tears but would that mean she is not saddened by her friend's death whom she loved?
The Human system cannot be denied its existence. It has the luxury of experiencing all 'good' emotions and it comes with the price of being able to experience the so called bad emotions as well. It is just not possible to accept one and deny the other as they are two sides of the same coin.
Despite the Mataji's lifelong practice in austerity, living a life with no comforts, she unknowingly had the comfort of a good friend who could understand her and be a companion for 20 years. It reminds me of how the Titanic was made to be 'the unsinkable' but still found a reason to sink...
I cannot help but conclude that of all the various approaches to spirituality, the best way (or the most logical way) has to be the midway (equilibrium). Because, in the search of the spirit, is it really possible to ignore the life, the emotions that we are meant to experience.
We can at most understand ourselves as merely witness to the emotions, but can we really be without emotions...rather should we really be without emotions?