Strength is Weakness and Weakness is Strength!

No, this is not a Zen riddle. This is an interesting paradox which exposes the limitations of languages. This becomes at once clear from coalition politics.Let us say there are three parties and there are 100 seats. Two parties are arch rivals and they are contesting fiercely. They get 49 seats each. The third party gets mere 2 seats. What happens then is interesting. The strong parties become weak since they have to go all out to woo the minor party for support. At the same time the weak party becomes strong as it gets an importance disproportionate to its strength. It can dictate terms to the so-called strong party on all issues. This is not an imaginary situation. We have seen it happen to Congress under UPA2. The two arch rivals were BJP and Congress and the minor player was Trinamul Congress of Mamta Banerji. We all know that Mamta Banerji wielded power disproportionate to her strength in Lok Sabha. In coalition politics, a minor party can position itself at an intersection that offers great advantage.

The original story of how strength becomes a weakness and vice-versa was told by a primatologist who documented his findings with Chimps in a Zoo. It was a colony of Chimps and the story revolved around political games played by three chimps two of whom were strong rivals while the third one was a weak player with an ability to swing the balance of power. I have retold the story replacing chimps with three political parties.

The point of the story is that we cannot be categorical about our conclusions on any given situation. After all what is Strength or Weakness? They are both situation dependent. Mere number of seats cannot be a measure of strength or weakness even in a democracy. What is strength in one context can become a weakness in another context. There can be no rigid definitions for these terms. This exposes the limitations of languages. Languages developed for the purpose of communication and doing transactions. To be effective as a communication tool, it has to label everything and categorize everything in black and white. Human mind works only if it categorizes things or events and gives it a name.

Words and their meanings are okay for the empirical world of names and forms as they are meant for the convenience of doing transactions. Unfortunately, it has robbed our minds of the capacity to understand the reality.

Taitriya Upanishad describes a similar paradox. It comes up with a unique definition of Annam or food. What is food? It says: “Adyatethi ca bhutani – tasmat annam taduchyat iti”. Annam is that which is eaten by all living beings and in turn it eats the living beings. So, what is food? Is it the eater or the eaten? The answer is it’s both. One may ask how. Annam nourishes a growing child. So one can say a growing child eats annam. On the other hand Annam eats an old person! Surprised? The more an old person eats annam, the more the annam eats him. That is why as one grows old, consumption of annam automatically comes down. As one ages, the less one eats, the longer one lives. I’m sure science will also support this. It’s interesting that the Upanishad gave this insight long time back!

The point of the discussion is that one cannot be categorical about what annam is or for that matter any object in the world since the objects, their configurations and utility are changing for ever.That is what the Upanishad is trying to convey through the example of Annam. It’s in this sense that Upanishads refer to the world of ever-changing objects as Mithya. Mithya is often wrongly translated as illusion. It’s not illusion. There is an essential difference between satyam(reality) and Mithya(apparent reality). Satyam is oneness while Mithya is multiplicity in appearance. The objects of the world and their ever-changing configurations constitute Mithya whereas the underlying oneness is satyam which may be understood as pure awareness or consciousness.

Published in: on November 1, 2015 at 7:35 pm  Comments (2)  
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2 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Dear Mr Narashiman,

    I should have replied long back to you. What a great insight you are giving to variety of topics that is relevent to modern day living with stunning examples wonderful intellectual pearls from the past.

    If the one about Man ki barat is outstanding , the current piece about Annam with a Upanishad quote was phenomenol.

    Felt guilty to enjoy your philosophical content for so long without acknowledging .

    Congratulations and Thankyou.

    Dr S. Venkatesan

    • Thanks for your kind comments. I’m happy to learn that you like my posts.

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