The title of this essay is a line from a novel, The Death of Vishnu, by Manil Suri. It comes early on in the novel from a man, a Mr. Pathak who feels beaten down by the everyday demands and complaints from his wife. She, Mrs. Pathak, is in a constant, many year battle with her neighbor, Mrs. Asrani. The battlefield is twofold; a shared kitchen space and a landing (the place between staircases in the building). The conflict is rooted in fairness. Both the Pathak’s and the Asrani’s feel as though they are doing and paying more than their fair share. The treasury at stake is water in the kitchen and revenue and expenses regarding the landing.
Water is scarce and is a sought after commodity collected and distributed in the kitchen. The landing, which was a source of rental revenue is currently occupied by a dying man named Vishnu who is in dire need of human kindness. Vishnu, amongst the poorest of the poor, is an alcoholic. No longer able to tend to certain small things in the building or pay his small rent for sleeping on the landing he has become a medical liability to the Pathak and the Asrani families.
As we might imagine, squabbles abound from both sides. Both couples want an even-handed distribution of water and a fair-minded, equal payment for Vishnu’s care. Neither seems to be possible.
Not only do the couples dispute the unfairness between the pairs but the partners find themselves bickering over who will tell the other couple what they need to do or not do. With Vishnu’s greater need for assistance, skirmishes between them ensue on a regular basis. Common enough. We might even say, to be expected. Whether you live in a shared apartment building in India or in a two-flat in Europe, getting along with others is often difficult.
When we first hear of Mr. Pathak’s desire for peace, he is sitting in an Iranian Hotel drinking tea and eating a biscuit. He goes there to escape the conflict. This scene gives us a glimpse into what he does that keeps him far from finding the peace that he seeks. Initially, he feels good. He’s gotten away from the bickering. He enjoys his tea and biscuit. Soon enough, however, the noise of the recent quarrel with his wife is defended against with two flamethrowers; fault-finding and blame. He defends himself to himself with these against the others only to descend into self-pity.
His tea and biscuit are no match against the secretions of his mind.
It was not his fault that Mrs. Arani was so unreasonable. It was not his fault that Vishnu was sick. It certainly not his fault Usha (his wife) had arranged the kitty party for today. Nothing was his fault, yet he knew he would be blamed for everything. A wave of self-pity swept over Mr. Pathak, and the Gluco (biscuit) turned chalky in his mouth.
He can’t help it. His mental formations come up in his mind much like a well-developed habit of checking a sore on the inside cheek in the mouth. The tongue curiously checks the sore again and again only to make matters worse. Mr. Pathak’s peace is swept away, leaving him bereft of the peace he wanted.
Sadly, Mr. Pathak is unable to realize how he contributes to his misery. Blinded by the flamethrowers of fault-finding and blame he falls into the vat of self-pity opening the door to despair leaving him prey for his instinctual side to take charge. With his instinctual side he plans to retaliate against his wife. The retaliation, unbeknownst to Mr. Pathak’s wish to satisfy himself, fuels the flames of the household discord, setting him on fire.
The importance of Mr. Pathak’s ever-seeking hunt for peace is he is us. Mr. Pathak represents our mind state before enlightenment. He is ignorant. He shows us, so very clearly, that he contributes to the discord leaving him longing for peace. Yep. He ain’t found it, yet. Mental gymnastics is not the Way.
I hope you are laughing. Not at Mr. Pathak. But at seeing his mental deliberations as hindrances which negate any chance for lasting peace.
The work is not with Mr. Pathak or his wife. Or the other couple. Or with the situation of scarcity of water or the dying man on the landing. The work is with ourselves.
We need to be able to recognize the ego-self and how it calls upon various aspects of the mind to get control and keep it. We need to be able to see how we hoist our mind on our own petard (small exploding bomb). If we just get this first step, we will limit and avoid doing harm to others and ourselves by stopping the plot against another or our self before we blow ourselves up in double suffering.
If we examine this short paragraph, we see that we, too ,defend ourselves by finding fault with others, the situation, ourselves. We enter into the wicked realm of the unreasonable. We mark others as unfair. Life itself is seen as unfair. We criticize and judge whatever we deem as the problem. None of this helps us get free enough to find peace; to limit and end suffering. As Mr. Pathak we fall into leaking any good sense we might have and take no responsibility for our acts. With a final sachet we declare ourselves “innocent.” Oh what a fool we make of ourselves. Thinking and hoping these tactics will set us free we come to find out, if we are lucky, that we have detonated our selfishness of our ego and bombed ourselves with self-blame. Without drawing blood or even raising a stink, we have succumbed to the enemy, and the enemy is “me, my, mine.”
And so, we and Mr. Pathak continue to
ever want peace…
spending time trying to find it in all the wrong places and things.
Author: FaShi Lao Yue
Image credits: Fly, 2020
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