Talk given at the New Year celebration at the High-Point community in Kottayam
I wish you all a very joyful and meaningful New Year! I am grateful to the organizers of this event for giving me this opportunity to share some thoughts on the meaning of celebrating new year. Although I prefer to speak in Malayalam, today I speak in English because I am talking primarily to the young people, and they understand English better than Malayalam.
I hope many of you know that January, the first month of the year, has got its name from a Roman god called Janus. This god had tow faces-- one backward and the other forward. He could see the past and the future at the same time. The new year celebration gives us an opportunity to look at our past and our future. We need to make an evaluation of our past year, and we need to make plans and resolutions for the coming year.
All celebrations have meaning. We celebrate people and events in our life to express our joy and gratitude. When we celebrate someone’s birthday, we are telling that person as follows: we are joyful and grateful that you were born! Or in other words, we are joyful and grateful to have you with us. When a wedding anniversary is celebrated, they tell each other: I am joyful and grateful that we had our wedding. When we celebrate our independence day, we tell each other: we are joyful and grateful that we got independence. Thus a celebration is always an expression of our joy and gratitude.
What exactly is new year celebration? We express joy and gratitude for the new year. I think that a new year celebration is very much like a birthday celebration. On a birthday we celebrate the fact that a person is entering a new year. On a new year day, we celebrate our world entering a new year. This is actually the birthday of our world. But we know nothing about the birth of our world. We don’t even know if our world was born sometime or if it has always existed. All we know is that our world gets one year older every year.
Let us try to make clear what we mean by the word world. The world is so huge and we live within the world as its part. Most of us have heard the well-known story of a few blind men trying to understand what an elephant is like. Let me retell that story modifying it a little bit.
Once a few children were taken to a zoo for a field trip. Among them was a blind boy-- let us call him Tom. He wanted very much to touch an elephant, and he was given the opportunity. When back at home, he shared the news with his parents with much excitement. He said, Mom and Dad, I touched an elephant today, and now I know exactly how an elephant is. An elephant is like a broom! His parents immediately understood what part of the elephant their son touched. They patiently explained to him that he had touched only one part of the elephant, and that there are many more parts to an elephant. Tom was a very open-minded child, so immediately he realized his mistake.
We are like Tom when we approach our huge world. Because we live within the world as a part of it, we never get an opportunity to go outside and see it. We make such assumptions as Tom made about our world depending on how we experience it.
I want to point out just two false assumptions that we have made about our world. For about three centuries we have held a belief all over the world that the world is what we see, and there is nothing beyond it. We blindly trust our five senses, and believe that nothing exists beyond our sense of perception. We refused to admit that the real world is much more than what we see with our eyes. But our ancients where open-minded to admit that there might be things in the world that we cannot see and hear. For example, there might be invisible living beings like angels, and there might be an invisible part of the world like heaven. Also there might be an invisible creator for our world. Although our ancestors had such open-mindedness, we have lost it. We blindly believe that only what we see exist. We need to realize our foolishness and become open-minded like our ancestors.
On top of this false assumption, we have had another one about our world. We imagined that our world is like a machine. We found that our solar system runs like a machine. We found that our skeletal system in our body works like a machine, and our heart works like a pump. Like Tom, we experienced the world to be machine-like, and we concluded that the world is a machine. But that was a huge mistake. A machine has no life. It has no feelings. It does not grow. When we believed that the world is like a machine, we converted ourselves into machines. We live like machines. We are expected to act like machines in our work places. Our doctors, lawyers, and teachers are asked to act professionally, which means to act like robots, without any human feelings. But our ancestors did not believe so. They believed that our world is like a living being. The earth was not dead matter for them, earth was a goddess for them. The English prefix geo- comes from Greek gaia, which is a goddess. I think we need to regain this view of our ancients that our world is a living being, and we are its cells.
I suggest that we include among our new year resolutions a correction of our false notions about our world as well. Let us affirm that our world is much more than how we see it. Let us also affirm that our world is not a machine, but a living being. These affirmations will help us to live a more meaningful life in the new year! May you all have a joyful and meaningful new year!