In a few days, my Hindu and Sikh friends will be celebrating Diwali (aka the Festival of Lights). It’s greeted with both familiar and unusual observances in countries across continents. Even within India, with its diverse regions and subcultures, it comes with an assortment of legends, significations and customs.
One common highlight of Diwali is the assembly of lighted earthen lamps at the homes adorned for the occasion. Arranged in clusters or creative patterns, these resplendent flames seem to depict the warm hospitality and the elaborate spread of delicacies served.
Fire is a salient feature in many religions and cultures. From the blazing sword guarding the Garden of Eden, to the torch of passion heralding the Olympics; it has captured the imagination of devotees, poets, philosophers, artists, etc.
And Charles Darwin in his book Descent of Man, considered fire as “probably the greatest [discovery], excepting language, ever made by man.”
What then, is this multifaceted and awe-inspiring thing called fire? One refreshing suggestion that I like is offered by the Middle Way school of Buddhism. This philosophy analyses the object of its inquiry, and after meticulous investigations, concludes that there is in fact, no freestanding and self-sufficient existence to the said object. Any claim of independent possibilities is illusory.
To contemplate this proposition, I’m recalling my Scouting days. Campfires need fuel, heat, friction and oxygen. It entails a process of arranging dry wood, preparing the tinder, starting the fire and gentle prodding with a kindling stick. The logs and lighters, on their own, do not make the flame. Fire is also not present in the fuel that feeds it nor in the air that allows it. The kid tending to the fire and sheltering it from winds, is not it. And yet without all these ingredients there is no campfire.
Having so examined its nature, I have enough evidence to conclude that fire does not exist by itself. It can’t create, nor maintain, its own actuality. And as with fire, so too the inner spark that lights our being, This guiding flame is no different in its vulnerability towards external influences. The concept of an inherent force within is seen to be an illusory idea.
There can’t be intrinsically gloomy or bright souls; both are mere constructs of the various inputs from life. Hence, there is the possibility for appropriate means to initiate the awakening of our inner fires; might include an ideology, love, religion, story or even an uplifting song.
Fire stops burning when its requirements are no longer present. Accordingly, there is the need for unceasing openness to propitious elements that can enliven our zeal. These igniting factors vary, for each of us is kindled by different blends of causes and conditions. By exploring our interests and seeking new challenges, we further facilitate its growth.
Stormy times needn’t completely dampen our fire; but if strong gusts of misfortune blow it away, we are better-off when prepared to rebuild from scratch. Regrets and disappointments are cinders that are best discarded to make room for innovative sparks to be discovered.
Diluted passions or weak initiatives may not suffice; but at least we can take heart that these are not our fixed truths. Every heart can revive its light and create fulfilling serendipities; may this assurance facilitate our ardent measures.
The little Diwali lamp urges me to be brightly lit and share the effulgence. My wish for all is continued brilliance and greater inspiration in everything encountered.
Happy Diwali, everyone!!