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13 March 2013

Success philosophies of West and East...

Ever heard of Jean Petit?

She is an American Lady who did her first Skydiving from a height of 13000 feet at the ripe young age of 84. Former President of the United States, George H W Bush, did his first skydiving at the age of 80, slightly younger.

Why am I saying this?

Jean Petit, in the interview with an American Magazine told that she felt that she will be missing something if she did not do Skydiving at least once in her life. She said that she had only this life to live and that she wanted to fulfill all her wishes before she dies. 

While reading this I was thinking an average Indian of her age. From the age of 70, they will be doing the rounds in various temples. Their 'Bucket List' will include visiting Vishnodevi shrine, Kailas Parbat if possible, Char Dham and having a dip in the Sangam. They will want to go on a pilgrimage to 'Kasi' ( a sacred place in North India) to do penance and follow it up with a dip in Rameshwaram (Southern most tip of India). The  objective is to wash off all the sins that they committed in their life. 

Indians believe in the concept of Reincarnation. We believe that every soul have to be born 7 times in this earthly world as any living being (it can be a human being, an animal or even trees and bushes). This birth and rebirth is called the 'Cycle of Life'. If you do good in this life, you will be born to a better environment in the next incarnation. After the seven incarnations, the soul attains what is known as 'Nirvana' or 'Moksha' which is the liberation from the 'Cycle of Life'

It is obvious that this difference in perspective between west and Indians have significant behavioral implication. One of them is illustrated in the story of Jean mentioned above.

Some of the other implications to the belief in the 'Cycle of Life' are,

1. Not helping poor and the suffering: People in the west believe that they have a moral obligation to help the poor and the needy. We in India believe that the poor person is undergoing suffering because of the sins committed in the previous incarnation and that it is his destiny to go through this suffering. The thought is 'I also would have suffered like you in my previous Janam. One has to go thru this suffering for the soul to be purified'. More than any one, Gunther Grass, a German born Indophile, has pointed out this aspect in many of his writings on India.

2. Different concepts of time: For Indian's the concept of time is straddles across 7 lives. Due to this belief, he do not show any urgency (for example related to their careers) for completing important tasks. Westerners, on the other hand are always in a hurry, to the extent of even hurrying to relax ('make haste slowly'). The stretchable concept of time a lot of stress related disorder, where as Americans, in their wish to complete all the important tasks in the current life (creation of 'Bucket List') are susceptible to much more stress in their quest to fill their life with targets and meet them quickly.

3. Different 'Bucket Lists': The Bucket List of westerners is filled with material goals and physical tasks to be completed in this life. The Bucket List of many of the Indians include visiting as many temples and places of worship as possible. 

4. Perspective of death: For most Indians, death is the liberation from the current suffering and a step forward towards the attainment of the ultimate goal of attaining 'Nirvana'. For westerners, death is the end of you as a person and it has an air of finality attached to it. Indian looks at it with detachment and possibly anticipation (after a particular age, I think) while for an average westerner, death is dreadful no matter what your age is. 

It has to be noted that Indians are not alone in their belief in Reincarnation. Most of the ancient civilization believed in it as well. Egyptians believed that their dead will come back and hence they embalmed their dead.  Mayans and Incas believed in it as well. Even now, many of the South Americans, despite being Catholic by religion, believe in the concept of reincarnation. This concept is best illustrated in the novel 'The Aleph' written by Paulo Coelho.

What are the implications of the above to the quest for success? I think the most important one is that Success in India is viewed in more Spiritual terms rather than in physical terms as is the case in west. There are other implications to this difference in perspective, such as:

1. Sense of Urgency V/s. 'Chalta Hai' attitude: The western culture, with its focus on Yolo, or one life to live, attaches a lot of urgency to accomplishment of material targets. The focus is on achievement, material possessions, and quickly climbing the corporate ladder. Material possessions like bank balance, palatial home, beach front apartments etc are viewed as symbols of success. Since you have only one life to life, the focus is on filling it with as much material possessions as possible. There is a sense of urgency to the way in which westerners view the tasks to be accomplished

Where as in India, the concept of time is stretchable. You know that you have seven 'opportunities' to accumulate material possessions. What that means is that an average Indian do not set material goals and even if he sets it, do not follow it up with the same level of dedication as an average american.

2. Lack of Stress: As mentioned previously, the sense of urgency to achieve material targets creates a sense of stress. For a westerner, an opportunity lost is an opportunity lost. Whereas an Indian do not go through similar levels of stress. For an Indian an opportunity lost is only an opportunity postponed.

3. Focus on 'Self Awareness': One of the concepts of Indian philosophy is the focus on 'Aham', loosely translated as 'I' or 'Self'. The philosophy encourages you to spend time understanding self. Understand your strengths, understand what you know, what you do not know, what are your goals both material and spiritual etc. 

4. Internalizing the pain and suffering: Since Indians think that whatever bad that happens to them is retribution for the sins that were committed in the past incarnation, there is a tendency to internalize pain and suffering. Pain and suffering are considered to be some of the ways in which you wash of your sins so that you get a great life in your next incarnation. Other cultures on the other hand externalize their pains and suffering thru verbal and sometimes physical assault.

5. Passivity to the wrong that is happening around you.: This is same as the point I mentioned sometime ago. There is a sense of passivity to people in trouble, to the bad things that happen around you, to take corruption in stride...

6. 'Sub Kucch Dekha Hai' (Have seen it all) attitude: India is a culture that has seen more than 5000 years of ups and downs. This means that they have seen virtually any calamity that is possible and have bounced off from these calamities. Whenever something bad happens, the collective consciousness know that this too will pass. This provides the culture with an eternal optimism, which sometimes lead to passivity and inaction.

Success philosophies or East and West differ, in my opinion, on the different perspectives relating to Finiteness of time. West work from a finite time perspective, whereas east, especially India, work from the perspective of extensibility of time. Each has its own advantages and disadvantages. Smartness lies in integrating the perspectives and creating your own concept of time.

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