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Check your assumptions – part 1

“I suppose it’s tempting, if the only tool you have is a hammer, to treat everything as if it were a nail” 

– Abraham Maslow (1908-1970), American psychologist

Once on a thirty six hour train journey I met Anand, an acquaintance from our community. Although previously we interacted briefly, I had heard lot of negative things about him, and his family. During the travel however, we spoke at length, and got to know each other better. I soon realized he was exactly the opposite of what I had unknowingly assumed of him. He was helpful, hardworking and grateful to the community members, and not miserly, lazy or selfish as I had judged him. I was inspired by his association and by the time we reached our destination, had earned an excellent friend for life. At the same time, I also felt ashamed for having misjudged him. I learnt a valuable lesson that day; don’t make wrong assumptions about others based on hearsay; instead give them the benefit of doubt.

How often we wrongly judge people based on scanty evidence. We instantly assume somebody is a crook if he’s from a particular community or country. Or do we assume about someone’s character based on the color of his skin or think he’s arrogant because he drives a Lamborghini.

The Vedic scriptures explain that we make wrong assumptions because we are conditioned by four defects- we have imperfect senses, and as a result we fall into illusion. In an illusioned state, we make mistakes, and to cover up those errors, we cheat. For example if you have an orange after tasting lemon, it may taste sweet. But after eating a cup of sugar, the same orange would taste sour. Based on this illusion, created due to our imperfect senses, one may decide to abandon the orange and then also justify his action to others or wrongly criticize the orange for being sour.

The Srimad Bhagavatam reveals the plight of Hiranyakashipu who assumed he was immortal. He sought a boon that he would not die either during the day or night, or get killed by a human or an animal, by hands or a weapon. He also acquired the benediction that he wouldn’t be killed inside the house or outside, and neither on land nor sky. He thought he had smartly conquered death, but God outmaneuvered his ploy. At one time, Hiranyakashipu was the most powerful man on this planet; by merely moving his eyebrows he could command the sun to rise or set. Yet, he was humbled by time. If his assumptions about his glory and power could be crushed to dust, what’s the fate of our weak assumptions?

The Ramayana reveals Vibhishana was the younger brother of evil Ravana but he chose to abandon him and join the virtuous Rama instead. However Ram’s dutiful servants, led by Sugriva wrongly assumed that Vibhishana was like his brother and couldn’t be trusted. Finally Ram revealed Vibhishana’s character and also accepted him as his own friend. Vibhishana went on to play a critical role in the victory of Ram over Ravana. Had the warriors on Ram’s side taken the decision to reject Vibhishana, based on their wrong assumptions, history would have taken a different course. In our own lives, often as others judge us by our external appearances, we silently do the same to them. And the painful truth is both of us could be terribly wrong.

To be continued…

 

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