I recently gave up using the synthetic bathing soap in preference to ‘ubtan’, a powdered combination of cow dung, mud and natural minerals. Friends had been prodding me for a long time to make the conversion. However I’d been reluctant because I wondered if my body would stink. For the last thirty five years I’ve used soaps, perfumes and shampoos. How could I give them up? Wouldn’t the body smell bad? Although I was intellectually convinced that cow dung soap is far more hygienic, lingering doubts and the uneasiness in changing my lifestyle prevented me from making the shift. Finally one morning, I took the plunge, and over the last two months, I am using natural products to clean my body and brush my teeth. Since then my life has changed for the better and my heart filled with realizations.
The initial feeling was of suspicion. What does this powder contain? Am I being brainwashed by some backward cow worshippers? Will the tooth powder protect my teeth from decay? I persisted using the products anyway, and slowly it dawned on me that I had never asked these questions all these years while using a variety of synthetic soaps and tooth pastes. I had been brainwashed by the advertisements and believed any claim made by any company, and the convictions grew stronger, especially if the claim was made by a sensuous looking woman or a smiling macho man. The visual media thus kept me spell bound for decades.
There are many aspects of our daily lives governed by the media and we never question them. These inputs into our consciousness become foundational and form our value systems and beliefs. Later, when we hear contrary information or about better alternatives, the mind protests and demands scientific evidence. It’s interesting how when advertisements encourage us to enjoy or promise gratification to the mind and senses, we are not compelled to question the authenticity. However, when the scriptures offer more prudent way of living that is eco friendly and also more satisfying to the soul, we protest. The mind rebels against any change. If a lady smilingly offers a non sticky cooking ware and household appliances, we too want it. But little do we mind the appliance being rich in Teflon, a hazardous chemical. Since the lady smilingly prods us to have one, we too desire it. She giggles in the advert, “I use this, and what about you?” Any beautiful model or super star could be purchased for a few million rupees and told to promote a product. And if the commercial titillates our mind and senses, we feel the claim is reasonable. Where has our reasoning gone?
We may also defiantly claim that we aren’t influenced and we are indeed reasonable. If we are indeed prone to make decisions out of choice and not compelled to act, then why do companies spend millions of rupees on promotional ads? Are they fools to spend a million rupees for a ten second ad during the break of any popular serial. Repeated exposure to commercials bombards our fragile consciousness and convinces us to buy the product. And all the while we are convinced that we are not being influenced by anyone. We fool ourselves that we are independently thoughtful, while the reality is we are tiny puppets in the hands of the giant companies. For example, I may be constantly bombarded by an ad that says, ‘Enjoy Coca cola’ I see it at every stoplight and apparently ignore it. It doesn’t mean a fig to me as I drive, talk to my friends and carry on with my daily business. My education and exposure to knowledge of this world convinces me to be independent, while I allow my mind to be bombarded by hordes of images and promises. Later as I sit in a restaurant, I inadvertently ask for a Coca Cola. I feel I have a right to choose and have thus made my decision, uninfluenced by anyone. However the reality is I have been tricked to act.
When can we claim to be not influenced? A spiritual practise is empowering because it helps us tap our inherent ability of self-awareness. Self-awareness is a unique human endowment. Animals can’t think beyond the four basic needs of eating, sleeping sex life and defending. Humans can be conscious of their consciousness. We can catch our thoughts and question our feelings. With superior intelligence that gets sharpened through regular meditation and balanced lifestyle, we can examine our deep inner most influences and paradigms that have been formed without our conscious endeavour. We also develop the ability to change our choices and think rationally.
A changeover to environment friendly products is the need of the hour, and I personally felt more of sattva (the mode of goodness) influencing me with these positive lifestyle changes. You too can try leading a less passionate and more sattvic regimen and share your realizations with us.