Manu Smrti, Bhagavad Gita, & How I Learned to Love Mayo

A couple posts ago I was lamenting how I often feel misunderstood by those I assume should understand me the best. I kind of want to dive a little deeper into this.

I do think that those who have known you the longest or the most intimately should understand you the best. And I stand by my thoughts that deviance from this may well, but not always, indicate a lack of personal development on the part of those who should understand more/better than they do. However, in the scheme of things, and especially in the context of my own life, none of this is truly relevant.

I recently had a sunday brunch with a dear Buddhist friend of mine who helped me gain further perspective on things like this. This pal, also a member of SGI although far more active than I, is definitely someone who might qualify as a local Buddha. I’m immensely grateful for his saintly association, his friendship, and his insight. He said many “dark and wond’rous” things to me while advising, and one of them stands out. His kind of Buddhism has many aspects, and one of them is creating “good causes” and otherwise planting karmic seeds.

Some of the other advice I received, also from a good pal, was to “let it go.” I’m certain he didn’t mean this as a nonchalant dismissal of anything, rather a kind of peaceful release in knowing that I’ve perhaps done what I could to help as much as I could and anything else is essentially out of my hands and not worth the worry. I find that this can tie directly into what my Buddhist saint said about sowing karmic seeds: You make a good effort, one that’s as selfless as you’re able to make, and then move on while you wait for the seeds to blossom karmically sometime in the future, maybe during this life or maybe not. I think all of this can be connected directly to what Sri Krsna advises Arjuna. The lesson applies to the process of perfecting karma yoga as well as vairagya and requires a certain level of jnana also.

You are meant to work. The way your personal work (swadharma) manifests can almost be viewed as irrelevant, so long as you recognize it and fulfill it to the best of your ability. Attachment to the fruits of your personal labors (karma phala) is where things get messy, and in my case frustrating. I hope to see that my good advice has a good effect. This is selfish, actually, and quite ego-filled. I’m guessing that’s why it’s advised against in the Gita. Instead, I should simply want to make sure that I walk my talk, and that the proof of my swadharma is in my life’s pudding for others to taste. What happens often enough, is that the proof is, indeed, in my life’s pudding, but I also try giving them a verbal taste test. Not necessary.

This brings me to something from the Manu Smrti that I carry with me most places, but forget far too often. An excerpt from the Manu Smrti goes something like,

“Unless one be asked, one must not explain anything to anybody, nor must one answer a person who asks improperly; let a wise man, though he knows the answer, behave among men like an idiot.”

I struggled with this briefly when I first encountered it, because on the surface a superficial interpretation can totally apply. Let’s look at the bigger picture though, and try breaking this thing into chewable bits.

“Unless one be asked, one must not explain anything to anybody…” My understanding of this is not a “spoke only when spoken to” kind of deal. I see this as meaning that unless folks come to you wanting answers, you don’t owe them to anyone. You may have the answers, and it may be fine enough to offer the answer unsolicited, but it’s not expected. It’s always best to share knowledge whenever another may benefit from it, but you don’t have to.

“…nor must one answer a person who asks improperly; …” I remain unconvinced that there’s a specifically right or wrong way to ask for help, and I think something else is meant here. To acquire my advice, you need not approach me, touch my feet, offering a pranam/namaste before asking what you seek. Those are all cultural fancies, and mostly useless. They have their place, sure, but what’s more important is that the seeker possesses humility and sincerity. If someone doesn’t ask for help while displaying those two qualities, perhaps help is not their’s to receive. Afterall, the Law of Karma mandates that we receive in direct proportion to what we give -not the other way around.

“…let a wise man, though he knows the answer, behave among men like an idiot.” I think this is my favorite part of the excerpt. Of all the parts this has been broken into for analysis, this is the meatiest. On the surface, it rather paints a picture of some snide sage sitting back watching in amusement while those still learning run, perhaps repeatedly, head-first into the wall. But this isn’t what’s happening here. Without getting too deep into it, and while still pretty superficial, when you allow others to think you don’t know the answer, when you really do, you create the potential to offer space for experiential revelation. They can, and hopefully do, find the space to work out the answer on their own. In the Hindu context, this has immense and incredible value. Simultaneously, the one behaving “among men like an idiot” experiences a greater feeling of liberation in that moment. That person with the answer, rests in knowing that he doesn’t need to say a word for things to happen as they will; as they should. This person has the opportunity to step out of the karmic cycles of the other person and let everything fulfill itself. This differs from a notion I’ve entertained more than once, which is to withdrawal: to stop tossing pearls to swine, to let the punks fight over their trinkets and make them solve it all through the ridiculously long process of experiencing pain and adjusting when that pain becomes too much.

It’s been said it takes a village to raise a child. I’m pretty much about as raised as my parents can hope for, but I’m still working on things. And between Manu Smrti, Bhagavad Gita, a dear local Buddhist, and another wise pal I’ve never even met in person, I’d say it’s close enough to a village to call it even.

By the way, loving mayo has nothing to do with anything.

Om Shanti