- Why should we unmask ourselves? Purusharthas: Goals of Human Life
- Why do we put on masks?
- Masks in Workplaces/Livelihood
- Masks of Do-Gooders
- Masks in Intimate Relationships
- The Thinker in Our Mind: The Fundamental Mask We Wear
- Unmasking Ourself Completely: Risks and Freedom
- Discovery of True Self
About a week back, one of my friends – Sukanya – posted a sketch, which you see above, along with this write-up
“I was reading a few stories on how designing masks is the in-thing today. Surely masks are here to stay and probably will become a much-needed fashion accessory. Wonder what will happen to the masks that we have been wearing all our lives? Masks that we hide behind because of some fear, unattended emotions or disguised motives. The fear that the world is going to unveil…uncover us. While the current times have forced us to wear masks, on the other hand many ‘real’ masks seemed to have fallen off. Here’s to the cycle of ‘mask, unmask and re-mask’.”
I was struck by the candidness and the clarity of these words. As far as I can recollect, I have never come across such a clear and bold indictment of human behaviour from anyone on the internet, apart from what I have written in my blog posts. I borrow my strength and clarity to reveal these facets of human psychology based on living and breathing the teachings of J Krishnamurti for almost two decades. No one in modern times, to my knowledge, has brought out the concealed motives of people and has denuded them from all forms of social respectability and morality as J Krishnamurti (JK) did. Ok, I just remembered there was another person who was more iconoclastic than JK. He was his namesake and went by the name of U. G. Krishnamurti. He was so iconoclastic that he barely had a teaching. So though he earns my respect, I could not learn anything from him. With this slight digression, let’s come back to JK. Here are a few quotes from his brand of iconoclasm: the first one is very popular on the internet but I am sure that it is just bandied about by people to just show some temporary disgust towards some aspect of society: never society as a whole. Because if they did, they would have to come out of society: and no one is ready for this.
“It is no measure of health to be well adjusted to a profoundly sick society.”
“Imitating, following, worshipping, having ideas – that way leads to respectability, but not to understanding. A man of ideals is respectable, but he will never be near God, he will never know what it is to love, because his ideals are a means of covering up his fear, his imitation, his loneliness.“
~ Life Ahead, Part One, Chapter 15
“A respectable man never finds truth”
I don’t know how far my friend had intended to go in her brief Facebook post to unmasking the layers of the human psyche, but it gave me the idea of taking up this topic and going to the end of it. Who am I when I don’t have a single mask?
Why should we unmask ourselves? Purusharthas: Goals of Human Life
I don’t think I need to spend time proving that as social creatures, humans wear all kinds of masks for different people and different situations. Rather, the more interesting question is why would one like to undertake the project of unmasking oneself at all? This brings us to the deeper question of motives for our actions. Why do we undertake some acts and avoid others? While most moderns would be scratching their heads to answer this question despite all their technical knowledge, the ancients have it all figured out. And by ancients here, I mean the Vedic and Post Vedic Indians. The six schools of orthodox Indian Philosophy and the three schools of heterodox Indian Philosophy worked on the theory of Purusharthas. Purusharthas means “object of human pursuit”. The four Purusharthas, which cover all the motivations of all human acts are Dharma (righteousness, moral values), Artha (prosperity, economic values), Kama (pleasure, love, psychological values) and Moksha (liberation, spiritual values). All the schools followed all the four aims for a complete life, except one school, the Charvaka/materialist school which, for obvious reasons, left the fourth aim (Moksha – liberation/spiritual values) out of the equation. And since the majority of people today, unwittingly or consciously follow the Charvaka/materialist school of Indian philosophy, it goes without saying that the majority of people do not undertake any actions to get liberation from life.
To the moderns, liberation may come across as a very loaded word evoking pictures of asceticism, penance, meditation and isolation. While these are actions that are required by many of the six schools of Indian Philosophy, one can still apply oneself to the goal of liberation without becoming an ascetic. In fact, the reason why I love and adore the teachings of J Krishnamurti is the fact that he gave a very secular and contemporary outlook to the task of liberation obviating any form of asceticism. Though, I must add that the germs of it are also found in the Vedanta text, as old as Bhagavad Gita.
Till the time one is involved in the three pursuits of Dharma, Artha and Kama, one is not looking for freedom. One may ask, why there is no freedom possible in these three pursuits? What is different and special about the pursuit of Moksha which guarantees freedom? To answer these questions or to even ask these questions, one must first have the vision or possibility of living a life with unconditional freedom: which I am sure is mostly absent. So even though most people cannot or may not relate to the word unconditional freedom, let’s further render it to word or phrase that everyone can relate to: freedom from conflict. So please make note of how we are moving ahead with ideas:
Liberation = unconditional freedom = freedom from all conflict
Thus, a word or idea that previously seemed remote, or the business of an elite group of people, has now become accessible to every human being. Because every human being knows what is conflict. Each one faces it daily: whether in one’s relationships with one’s spouse and family, in the workplace, amongst different ideologies, or the different thoughts in our minds. Now the question arises whether one would like to live with all this conflict whole of the life, or one would like to get freedom from all this conflict? Those who opt for the second option will sooner or later realize that to gain total freedom from all conflict, one has to drop all the masks one is wearing. This can be the only motivation to drop the masks: unconditional freedom from all conflict.
Why do we put on masks?
One who has decided to get freedom from all conflict has to be extremely sincere and careful because there are masks behind masks of self. Being masks, they serve a dual purpose – keeping one engaged in falsity and hiding reality. They ensure that one is busy fulfilling the three aims of Dharma, Artha and Kama and they also ensure that one spends lifetimes in the act of ensuring these aims, never getting freed from the cycle of desire – action – results. The ancients called this the wheel of Karma. Why is it a wheel? It is a wheel because whatever actions are being undertaken are for gaining impermanent objects. The nature of all objects is change. I have a car today but it gets old and I want a new and better one. I have a wife I loved but now I just hate her. At one time in my life, my ideology was capitalism but my ideology now is communism. I like the left-wing party in politics but at present, the right-wing party is in power. So all objects – from the gross to the subtlest – are susceptible to birth, modification and death. And through all my actions, I am ensuring that I continuously hold on to objects, right from matter to people to ideas, as they continuously keep on changing. Only the fourth aim of Moksha takes one out from the wheel of Karma.
So what are the three aims of Dharma, Artha and Kama translated in modern times? One can, of course, speak about them in many ways. But the most encompassing way I have found to speak about these aims is the desire for approval. A sincere look into our lives will reveal that we are not merely looking for the basics of food, clothing and shelter. We are not even looking for the simple joys of life: those available to a decent farmer in terms of natural surroundings, uncluttered living space and the satisfactions of family life. I know this is a very idyllic view that I am taking for a farmer: in reality, things are more messy and complex; at least in Indian villages, there is a caste system and patriarchy. But let’s assume these are absent, how many would like to leave their corporate jobs, responsible for nothing but environmental destruction and production of wants rather than needs, and take up a simple and sustainable life in the countryside?
Masks in Workplaces/Livelihood
We hang on to jobs, positions and wealth, not for our needs but our psychological wants. We have invented a society built on status and many-layered levels of power. What is driving us is not the search for three square meals of the day and the simple pleasures, rather an insatiable thirst for approval that comes from wealth, status and power. So when we hang on to these things we have to wear all kinds of masks. I hate my boss but I am enmeshed in the modern society’s matrix of livelihood and status: so I wear a mask of amicability. I may make Facebook posts about poverty, inequality and environmental destruction, wearing a mask for environmental concern, but I will hold on to my corporate job which is part of the capitalist system creating and sustaining all these problems. Why? Because I will risk losing my status in terms of lifestyle and friends. I will weep over images of poor people suffering in Corona crisis, wearing a mask of concern for the poor, while the next moment I am posting pictures of a vacation abroad. I talk about organic farming and sustainable living, wearing the mask of a green entrepreneur but I want to have my foreign trips and vacations. Even in India, when I travel I want to travel only in aeroplanes guzzling huge amounts of fuel.
A simplistic interpretation of what I am saying would be that I am railing against the rich and rooting for poverty. Well, certainly this is not the case. The poor are no different. When they become rich, they will do the same thing. I am not talking about the rich and the poor; I am talking about human thought. I may have a capitalist mindset regardless of the fact whether I am rich or poor. Capitalism is based on acquiring power and this acquisition can never proceed without conflict. So if I am wanting to live a life free from conflict, I have to understand how I seek power and why I need it in all spheres of life. Which means I am ready to drop all my masks of respectability and confront myself honestly.
Masks of Do-Gooders
Some of us see the need to change and busy ourselves in creating a change in society through different ideologies: the environmentalists, the social workers, the politicians and the philanthropists. The masks we wear here are more subtle than the ones we don plainly for wealth and sensual pleasure. What is it that we seek here? Is it not again name, fame and power? The same hierarchies that function in the world of capitalism, work in the field of NGOs and social work. An NGO is rated by the turnover it’s reach, it’s awards, and it’s capacity for presentation and paperwork, quite akin to the marketing of corporates. Within social workers, there is the same tussle for the limelight. I want my NGO to scale up, get recognition and awards which lead to the same rivalry, competition and jealousy which is seen everywhere else. And from where do the NGOs get their grants and funding: from the capitalists. Because their funding comes from within the system, they cannot change the system itself. I may wear a mask of concern for poor but I am not free from desire for fame and recognition. When I am not free from this, I am part of the same system that feeds on these needs, even though outwardly I may appear to be on the camp opposite that of capitalists or people in power. A social worker may seem to help the poor but he does not know that intrinsically, through his desire for name, fame and recognition, he contributes to a society that shall ever be creating the inequality of rich and poor. The same logic can be extended to environmentalists, politicians and philantropists.
Finally, we have the thinkers, philosophers, writers, artists and the flamboyant spiritual gurus. Are they free of the desire for approval? Isn’t their jealousy and psychological need for power, name and fame operative too?
Masks in Intimate Relationships
Masks are not in the workplace and social interactions; they are also there in our most intimate relationships. We all live with the mask and lies of love. We say that we love our wives, children and parents but don’t we face the conflict of choosing ambition over care of family? We are ready to leave our parents to go abroad when they require us the most in their ailing old age. Don’t we instill the same values of success, competition and ambition in our children, making them a part of this ruthless system of capitalism? The maks that we wear in our most intimate relationships are the most difficult to perceive and remove. Are we not in such relationships to get various forms of validation and aproval? Are we not in marriage to meet our emotional and sexual needs? Are we not attached to our relationships because they give us a sense of security? We wear the masks of love and care, but deep inside, we are all wanting to escape the feeling of loneliness and emptiness. Isn’t this the reason why we want to possess people in relationships? Isn’t this sense of possessiveness the root behind all the conflicts we face in our so-called loving relationships.
The Thinker in Our Mind: The Fundamental Mask We Wear
A society built on measurement, power, status, possessiveness and competition has a strange code. Ultimately, this code is present in our mind as the morality of the thinker/controller/judge. All of us are aware of thoughts, also, how and when we control our thoughts. This control exerted by the thinker on thoughts is the most fundamental mask we wear. Have we ever questioned why this duality between the thinker and thought is present in our mind? Have we ever wondered why should we live with any form of control? True, society has pounded us with the message that we must control our behaviour – thought/feeling/actions. But can control and freedom ever go together? Till a thinker is controlling thought in our mind, can there ever be freedom? Isn’t control, the existence of a thinker, a result of fear and conditioning? What would happen if there is no thinker to control thought?
To know ourself fully, we have to know the whole of mind and thought. But if we don the mask of the thinker who controls thought, we only know a part of ourself. The rest of it is swept under the carpet and forms the unconscious. The carpet presents a beautiful and respectable face but this is at the cost of hiding all our numinous and unconscious thoughts/feeling/desires/fears. Either we continue our whole life with this superficially beautiful and respectable exterior, created by the thinker, or we decide to lift the carpet and take a look at what all lies beneath it. Does this not entail that we remove the mask of our thinker and start looking at our thoughts without controlling them, judging them or modifying them? This means that we do not control our feelings like anger, hurt, jealousy with the morality of the thinker but witness them choicelessly as they unfold. Does not this very proposition create a rabid fear in our minds? And does this not further go on to show that we are entirely and absolutely run by fear? No matter how many masks of respectability we may don, the base is this layer of fear. What is the fear? The fear of losing all objects we covet in the fields of Dharma, Artha and Kama.
Risks in Unmasking Ourself Completely
Once the control of the thinker is relinquished then the mind starts revealing its contents. Prior to this, one was just putting on a show of respectability to be a respectable member of ludicrously respectable society: to secure objects of Dharma, Artha and Kama. With the relinquishing of the thinker, gone also are these perks one gets from society for one’s show. Since one starts viewing oneself without masks, one starts seeing the real face of society too, without its masks. All the glamour of various engagements with society starts vanishing. Simultaneously, people may start deserting one because all friends are there for one’s respectably presented exterior mask. One also starts realizing that one was having friends only to fulfil one’s own needs for approval or to escape loneliness and emptiness in the name of love and friendship. One shall lose interest in all socially constructed identities that confer name, fame, status and security. One may lose one’s job or even’s one’s spouse as views of life start diverging. One may do acts which are considered immoral by the standards of society and may face defamation.
But in the end, one finds freedom and sees the face of life without a mask.
“When there is no pretence, when there is no mask, when there is no assumption of what should be and what should not be, when we have put away all influences, social, political, economic, climate, food and all the others, then we should find out not only what is left, but if we can live with what is left. If we lead a non-contradictory life, a life in which there is no effort, and therefore no contradiction whatsoever at any level, then only is there freedom. It is only in that freedom that there is peace and a flowering of something totally new, a new joy, an ecstasy, a bliss that is not of desire and pleasure.”
~ J Krishnamurti, Public Talk 6 Saanen, Switzerland – 21 July 1966
Discovery of True Self
In terms of Advaita Vedanta, the end can be described as: one relinquishes all identity with the individual self and comes to know one’s true identity as Self/Brahman/Witness, which is unborn and undying. One comes to know that one’s personality which one was so identified with all the time, one’s body/mind/intellect, the apparatus that was born and which shall die, was just a mask on one’s true Eternal Self.