I have a friend who has a cup board full of gifts given to him. These are still kept neatly wrapped and he has never opened them. I once asked him whether he has ever bothered to find out what they contain. He answered, “I am not among those fools who would spoil such beautiful wrappers”.
Of course I do not mean to undermine the usefulness of gift wrappers. They are very much needed to make the world a little beautiful and to attract the attention in the first place. They are useful only up to a limit and should not be taken for the gift itself.
Emphasising the inner over the outer, Sant Kabir, in one of his couplets, says – Jat Na Puchho Sadh Ki Puchh Lijyo Gyan. It means, one should not ask for the caste of a saint but know him from his wisdom. Seen from another context the saying highlights the obsession of the society with the outer. The first impression becomes the only impression. The outward traits like one’s looks, the way one dresses, walks or talks become the sole criteria to pass the final judgment.
Discrimination by caste has been one of the worst banes of Indian society. In Kabir’s time it was very rigid. Of course now the rigidity of the caste system based on the four fold division of Brahmana, Khatriya, Vaishya and Sudra is loosing its grip. However, one can not altogether do away with the class distinction. New class distinctions always appear based on power structure, social status or property holding. Now In most of the so called progressive, liberal and secular western countries, especially in Australia, Germany and France racial and religious discrimination is taking an ugly turn.
In organizations also employees and members are divided into various classes based on hierarchy and receive differential treatment and benefits based on their relative status. In organizations like the Military it is unavoidable. Even some spiritual organizations formally divide people into categories like jignasu, sradhhalu, premi, bhakt etc. Sometimes there may be informal divisions like junior disciple, medium disciple and senior disciple, or, local devotee, national devotee and international devotee.
Even in spiritual organizations that are supposed to be more concerned with the inner beauty, the same madness goes on. In one of the advertisements for a spiritual teacher that I came across recently the USP highlighted was his handsome look. In another brochure the pronunciation skill of a yoga instructor was highly praised. Never mind if the person is just a parrot. All is well, if he looks well, dresses well and talks well.
Ironically one of the highest forms of knowledge has been given to us by one of the ugliest persons on earth – Astavakra. King Janak’s court was full of rishis and sages and he used to take great delight in inviting rishis to conduct discussions and debates on spiritual knowledge. Astavakra, when he was barely twelve years old went to the court. Not only was he bent at eight places (hence the name Astavakra), he must not have been able to speak fluently as well, or so I think. Seeing him, the sages burst into laughter. So Astavakra said to Janaka, “Oh, king. How come such a knowledgeable person like you is surrounded by people who judge others by their skin”
King Janaka could immediately understand. He came and fell at the feet of the twelve year old deformed boy and begged him knowledge. Thus Astavakra Gita was born. And barely before the completion of the first chapter Janaka had become enlightened.
Sometimes the division becomes a practical necessity. However, as long as the structure is not rigid and it remains only a functional requirement, it aids growth of both the individual and the organisation. On the other hand, how can one, whose eyes are stuck only with the wrapping, find out the gift inside?