Somethings need to be simplified & put into a visual metaphor before we understand it; especially if it’s something that needs to be commonly understood by a large mass of people. The most obvious example of that is God & religion. At some deeper level many people understand that Sita did not really go through the Agni Pariksha, it is a metaphor for her trials and tribulations & probably was a figurative rather than literal trial by fire. The Red Sea probably did not part in the way we visualize it; it’s probably a way to say that the higher powers collaborate to help those who are righteous – so much so that the Sea was parted to let them pass. But on a surface level, we believe these stories and repeat them to our children and make them a part of hereditary wisdom. These are powerful, visual, memorable but possibly metaphorical stories which widen our eyes, fill our hearts with wonder and the warmth of being part of or descendents of something big and important.
One way to look at it is that human beings need heroes, need to believe in that grandeur and larger than life scope that stories give us. Most human lives are so insignificant in the large scheme of things and we are too smart to not realize it. These stories connect us to something bigger, grander, more important than us.
But that is not really the point of this blog. If mythology has many purposes, one of them being the glory of human existence, my thoughts today are on another point. The point is, metaphors help us digest the abstract. It’s everywhere around us – organizational charts, business models, family trees, maps… these are the obvious ones. But my thoughts lead me to another kind of metaphor – these are not pictoral but they are crystal clear in our heads. Some home truths. For example, the Hindu belief in Karma. It has many parallels in other religions and cultures – ‘do unto others….’, ‘as you sow….’ etcetera. I just think it is also a metaphorical way of connecting a little too directly, things which may have a more vague connection. Can the effect of one bad deed to one bad outcome actually be isolated? Or is it something convenient for society to believe, just to scare people into behaving well? Or is it something that as an aggregate for society is true, that too many people doing too many bad things will usually bring bad outcome for a lot of people. But can we cerebrally ever be sure - and I say cerebrally, not by faith or belief or intuition – that we reap exactly what we sow? I take this only as an example. If you think about it, there are so so many things which are linear at first sight but on closer thought, a lot more vague.
I have a story which illustrates how the incidentals tamper with the truth. I am 12 years old and there is a practical science class where we are boiling water to see that it boils exactly at 100 degree centrigrade. Well you know what – it doesn’t! I felt so shocked – betrayed almost – when the textbook says 100 degrees without any ambiguity how could it possibly be boiling at 104 degrees? Well the teacher said something about atmospheric pressure and purity of water blah blah blah… but in my mind it was clear. Even the textbooks cheat us. They make it simple so we can digest it. Sometimes maybe the information is not important enough for us to be exact. But we can never lose sight that the information is probably not exact.
The linearity of life is an imaginary line. It’s the line marking the north pole…if you go there you will know it keeps shifting a bit. What is easy to understand need not be the truth, it is just the truth told in comic book form.
So what is the point? The point is that the story told is for the lesser mortals. The truth is to be found on my own. The skill is to know where you need to find the truth and where it is enough to be a speck of dust of humanity. When it is enough to eat out of a can and when is it worth the effort to produce my own food with the labour of my hands. What is enough to hear & memorise… and where do I need to go out to find my Holy Grail….