Swami Agnivesh and Valson Thampu
coronavirus has forced us to fall back on ourselves. It will, for the duration
of the lockdown, put the cart of civilisation back by decades. No commercial
flights, national or international. No trains. Historians tell us that the
Great Plague, which killed a third of Europe’s population in the 14th century,
was transported from Asia to Europe by “trade, travel and improved means of
communication”. To globalise trade and traffic is also to inflate epidemics
aspect of the cultural conditioning that human beings suffer in a
consumerist-materialistic culture is that depending almost entirely on the
external means and props becomes second nature to them. (File
immediate concern is stark and simple: How are we to cope with this period of
being home-bound? Concerns are expressed from various parts of the world that
this derailment of routine could breed depression and boredom, and undermine
the mental health of the people. Of course, potentially, the danger is there.
But does it have to necessarily afflict us? Is there no way we can make a
virtue of the present necessity?
this question, we need to examine the source of these apprehensions. When we do
so, we encounter an imbalance — the imbalance between our reliance on the
external world and our rootedness in our inner life. The basic issue is not
that we find ourselves all of a sudden in a state of social isolation. The
issue is that we are clueless about managing this predicament. Ironically, even
those who habitually complain of being busy and hectic in their routine life
share the same predicament. For long, they had no time. Now they have plenty of
time — and they stagger under the weight of it!
of the conditioning that human beings suffer in a consumerist-materialistic
culture is that depending almost entirely on external means and props becomes
second nature to them. Life becomes a routine of predictable encounters and
preferred consumption. Individuals develop umbilical cords with the “world out
there” — a prospect of its severance activates anxiety.
There is a
story of a beggar who used to sit at the entrance of a temple on a wooden box
and beg for alms. One day, a saintly old man came by. As usual, the beggar
pleaded for help. “What are you sitting on?” the old man asked him. “My box,
sir,” the beggar replied meekly. “Get up. Open the box,” said the old man in a
tone of authority. The beggar complied. He found the box to be full of gold.
Perhaps our predicament is not unlike this — our inner treasures taking the
place of the gold in the beggar’s box. We are poorer for being unaware of it.
As a result, we think we are worth nothing, except for whatever we receive from
the external world. May be a lowly virus is saying, “Get up! Open the box of
your inner life. Discover the great riches on which you sit, even as you go on
playing beggar.” This can turn out to be an exhilaratingly liberating
As a rule,
material means and social facilities have no intrinsic worth. They have
instrumental worth. Their worth depends on the worth of the one who uses them.
If so, the primary thing to do is to enhance our intrinsic worth. This is the
purpose of spirituality. Hence, the beneficial connection between spirituality
and solitude. To our seers and sanyasis, solitude was an aid, not a hindrance
or an affliction. It is when we are cut off from external props that we know
where we stand and what we really need. This does not constitute a negative
reflection on material and social resources. The point is that developing inner
resources is basic to relating in wholesome responsibility to the realities and
responsibilities in the world. It is for the sake of the world that we need to
develop our inner riches. The alternative is to exist as parasites.
tests the character of a people. The apprehension of our inability to cope with
life-in-lockdown points to the fact that we neglected the duty to “stock up”
inner resources. In the wake of the lockdown, everyone experienced an urgency
to stock up provisions. It makes sense to provide for uncertain times. Surely,
the same principle applies to our inner life too. As human beings, we cannot
subsist on physical nourishment alone. That truth underlies the anxiety we
is a Vedic scholar and social activist and Thampu\ was principal of St
Stephen’s College, Delhi
Headline: Coronavirus has forced us to fall back on ourselves
Source: Indian Express