lalita larking

An obsession with cryptic crosswords. Everything else falls in place.

Location: Kolkata, India

Saturday, May 27, 2006

Flaw or sin?

I was solving a New York Times crossword a few days ago, and it had a theme.

I don't like the American style crosswords much, what with the too full grids and concise clues. That is not to say that they are not clever; sometimes the clues are quite droll. They can be obscure, too. But I dislike the many references to films and baseball, basketball, football and Broadway and the research it involves to solve them. But the NYT Sunday puzzles are jumbo-sized and fun, often with a witty theme.

This theme however, set me thinking. It was the Seven Deadly Sins.

This is a very Christian concept. In the Christian doctrine sins can be venial or deadly, either those that can be absolved or those that guarantee eternal damnation. When you consider the so-called deadly sins damnation seems a bit harsh, I must say.

Pride, lust, wrath, avarice, envy, gluttony and sloth seem more like character flaws than sins that condemn you forever.

Weaknesses one is aware of, weaknesses one is trying to transcend, and admitting to them guarantees eternal damnation. Good grief.

To digress a bit, in the early days of our move to Calcutta, I used to get outraged by an elderly woman who used to combine her morning walk with picking flowers to offer to her gods and she used to blithely pick, pluck and loot our front patch from over the short boundary wall; she used to venture in and reap the overnight fall of the paarijat flowers too, until we arrived with our dog trying to establish territorial rights.

I remonstrated with her once, asking whether she ever sought permission to plunder our garden. She was surprised. Shocked, even. It is for her communion with her gods, so it is all right, she needs no permission or invitation, right? Who was I to quibble? I asked her if her god is happy with the idea of stolen offerings, and she smiled a superior smile and told me her god was a thief, too.

I got my moment of sweet revenge, though.

I used to have to take my young son with me wherever I went, because baby-sitting was a luxury I did not have. So there we were, my four year old and I, waiting out a monsoon shower when the sky seems to split open and pour down, sheltering under an awning among the fruit, vegetable, egg and flower vending stalls in Lake Market, anxiously monitoring the rising levels of run-off the drainage system couldn't cope with. There were a lot of people crammed with us. And my son( bless the cherub), piped up in a sweet high voice, "Lali, look, there is the flower thief." If that lady wasn't mortified she must be made of sterner stuff and looser moral fabric than I was brought up with. The stalls cracked up, I can tell you. :D

Is theft any better behaviour than envying a friend who seems to have it all? Or having one more slice of the cake than you know is good for you? Or being utterly, insanely and incomprehensibly attracted and beguiled by a person or a thing? Or venting justified, righteous anger? Or wanting to laze around for a day? Or wanting to buy everything from a book-shop? Or feeling good about your assets? How come theft doesn't feature in the category of deadly sins? Or murder? Or rape? Or embezzlement? Oh, silly me, it is probably in the commandments.

Indian philosophy has a different approach.

Kama- desire when it is excessive, Krodha- wrath, anger or temper tantrums, Lobha- avariciousness, greed and miserliness, Moha-delusion, enchantment and infatuation, Mada- overweening pride, vanity and arrogance, and Matsara- envy and jealousy: these are described as the six shortcomings one has to shed before realising one's potential and reaching an equilibrium. They are the Six Foes a person has to conquer before he or she can be called a Sthita Prajna, a balanced mind.

This is a view that acknowledges the need for constant vigil over one's own mind, the striving for personal growth; it certainly doesn't threaten damnation. A pragmatic view, in short. Actually, Indian philosophy assumes that the aspiration for perfection goes on, in a cycle of births, attainments, lapses and striving once again, until that balance is reached; after which you are at peace and one with the universe. There is nothing about eternal damnation; redemption is available for everybody, no questions asked.

This seems to me a more sympathetic approach than naming human weaknesses deadly sins and telling us that we will be damned for eternity for being human.

Think about it.



Blogger Rimi said...

The Princess is very far removed from a good girl, I assure you :-)

Here's my flippant two pennies on this:
Or being utterly, insanely and incomprehensibly attracted and beguiled by a person...?
NO problem, as long as said person is me. Welcome, even!

Or venting justified, righteous anger?
Awlright, I think I bored you and Urmi to tears over this. I just can't freaking do this. I can't. I feel like a soda bottle shaken incessantly with the bottle-cap firlmy sealed, dammit.

Or wanting to buy everything from a book-shop?
Er, substitute 'buying' with 'stealing' and 'book-shop' with 'Em's bookcase', and there's a definite sense of deja vu...

1:56 am  
Anonymous Ash said...

I was expecting another chirpy post. This was a pleasant surprise. Are you familiar with the adage, narake sati ko dosho, marane sati kim bhayam?

10:34 am  
Blogger Speech is Golden said...

Most of my Christian friends have trouble accepting rebirth. They feel it is too lenient... like ,"Oops I have sinned. Ah! forget it! I'll do better next time". They want a more martinet god to ensure discipline.

Still, eternal damnation or eternal bliss in paradise are surely flawed concepts. I cannot see the Ever-Gracious God as one who would punish anyone for their sins eternally. My thinking is that some of the original teachings were 'Lost in Translation'.

10:54 am  
Blogger Lalita Mukherjea said...

Rimi, if the person is you, it is perfectly comprehensible, sane and the only response. ;)

Ash, you know that quotation? How wonderful. When the only judge and jury is one's conscience, it is the perfect motto: what is sin when hellward bound, what is fear when death is certain.

Welcome, and do keep commenting.

11:32 am  
Blogger Lalita Mukherjea said...

Ram, I agree with you. Damnation or paradise seems a carrot and stick method of morality policing.

I can't imagine a god that needs fearful believers. Indian philosophy talks of aspiration and bettering oneself rather than worship as brownie points.

Perhaps I should have added a disclaimer that this is my personal view, and no aspersion on anyone's beliefs.

11:38 am  
Anonymous Rajesh said...

Too much philosophy for simple people. Write a light post, please

1:48 pm  
Blogger Siva Sivaaa said...

Several floors above my buried-deep-under-the-basement intelligence. Please post something cheerful.

2:45 pm  
Blogger Lalita Mukherjea said...

Rajesh, a light post? Hmm.

Siva, Less of the dumb act, kiddo. You want cheerful, Rajesh wants light and Ash doesn't want chirpy. :(( What am I supposed to do?

4:14 pm  
Anonymous Badari Narayanan said...

Believe in me or you are damned forever kind of concepts have been criticised by many thinkers. Seldom can one classify anything as good and bad.

One must look at the circumstances in addition to the act itself before passing judgement. That is why we have not replaced judges with computers : )

9:12 pm  
Anonymous Ash said...

your translation is a bit off, narake sati ko dosho reads better when you translate it as, hell is assured, so what is sin?

Please don't think I don't enjoy your "larking" posts, I just miss your pondering and musing.

9:34 pm  
Blogger Lalita Mukherjea said...

Ash, I accept my translation is a bit off.
Narake sati ko dosho
"when attaining, reaching, being near {the lingo is a headache, isn't it? )total downfall, what is transgression?

Does this suit you? :D

And, thanks for saying you like my larking posts, too. I was feeling all at sea. Writing earnestly is what I do after all, and I wouldn't know how to begin being light-hearted or funny.

10:09 pm  
Blogger Lalita Mukherjea said...

Badari, that is an intriguing point you raise; about judges and computers.

The question that springs to mind then is: who is going to be in charge of programming? Right?

Anyway, how can any body of legal system other than your own conscience sit in judgement on you?

Welcome back. Why did you go away? Missed ya.

10:26 pm  
Blogger nevermind said...

Absolutely! The eastern traditions, with their 'work in progress' approach, are so much more inclusive, tolerant and humane. Besides, our gods themselves have Kama, Krodha, Moha and all the rest. Hugely reassuring, if you are not a god:-)I have white gay friends who are irresistibly drawn to the Eastern traditions for the same reasons and I can see why.

Incidentally, I don't think the Bible makes any mention of venal/mortal sins. Much of this has probably been gained in transalation, like Speech is Golden says.

10:54 pm  
Blogger Lalita Mukherjea said...

Hugely reassuring, if you are not a god :D Indian philosophy is lenient, yes.

Yeah, venial or deadly sins are interpretations of a song misheard and semi-remembered, if you will allow such a similie.

Lost in Translation is a kind way to look at what it has become now.

Thanks, and keep visiting.

11:28 pm  
Blogger :-) said...

I think you pretty much said it. Thanks for saving me a post. I was thinking about this too.

How the Christian Values are so absolute. Right. Wrong. Good. Bad. God. Satan. Heaven. Hell. You. Me.

It is ok if it stays there. It crept into "Believers of God, Non Believers of God". Us. Them.

Church's objective is to convert every human into a christian. The root of it can be this absolute thinking.
Us believers of God, Christians, Good.
Them, worshippers of stones, "bad, innocent, need help,", let us convert them.

6:51 am  
Blogger Lalita Mukherjea said...

Smiley- Very aptly put. Do post further on this, I'd love to read an expanded version of your take.

Keep visiting. :)

12:33 pm  
Blogger Shane said...

Hi Lalita, Great Blog. I think the challenge in interpreting the seven deadly sins is that of taking it too literally. If you lust you will go to hell. Really, it is about the road to damnation. Some of the seven deadly sins are quite innocuous seeming but they almost invariably lead to damnation in the Christian sense. The other challenge in comparing Indian/Christian is the end Goal – the Christian end is to become like God and through his grace ascend to Heaven. Different end, different means…...

3:16 am  
Blogger Lalita Mukherjea said...

Some of the seven deadly sins are quite innocuous seeming but they almost invariably lead to damnation in the Christian sense.

This damnation is what I have issue with, Shane.

Different ends? Not very different, I must say. To become like god is much like being one with the universe and in perfect balance, isn't it?

9:13 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Moral Theology tells us that the seven deadly sins are not in and of themselves sins; but are a tendency toward sin that can destroy the soul

10:25 pm  

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