Truth is, this article will not answer the question with a finality. It just puts forth my analysis of the subject over the years and how the philosophical perspective of subjective reality answers it.
I went to a Tibetan Center yesterday for a meditation session. This was followed by a discussion on applying Buddhist ideas to live a better life. One of the participants discussed a problem his friend has. The friend is going through a divorce and he is in a very negative state of mind. His wife has slapped three court cases on him and this person feels his faith has been betrayed. He feels like a victim. The participant was wondering what can he do to help his friend come out of this negative state. This raised a question I have long contemplated in my mind.
There was a time in my life when I was often in a very negative state of mind. When, after a long duration, I was able to shift my attitude, I felt an urge to help others make the same change, especially those who have been near and dear to me. But when I tried doing it, I wasn’t very successful. No matter how much I prodded, people just would not take, what I saw as an obvious step towards a better, more positive life. Puzzled, I looked back at how I had learnt. I realized that the drive to make the change has to come from within. You cannot put it in someone. I had also acted, only when I had felt the desire to make the change. The drive was my own.
You can check this out yourself. Ask a begger whether he/she would work for money. This seems like an obviously good opportunity towards a better life. But you would find most of them are too apathetic. They have no hope and they will not accept your offer.
I was not very satisfied with this realization. Does that mean I can do nothing when I see people and society around me in a negative state? Does that mean I cannot change the world to make it better? Am I just to try and fight to make a good life for myself and shut my eyes to everything else? I have always liked to believe that I am very powerful. In my imagination, I was always the hero accomplishing big, impossible feats. I still am the hero of my imaginations. This very morning, I fixed the Kashmir issue and the stand-off between Tibetans and the Chinese with love, all in my imagination!
I just feel that there has to be some way to set everything right or to find everything right. You may call me a romantic in that sense.
The dilemma of how, and whether I can change others stayed with me for a long time. About four years ago, I saw the first sliver of hope. I saw the video of – The Secret. It is about the Law of Attraction which says, whatever we can vividly imagine experiencing in our mind, over and over again, we can manifest. It was like deja vu! I had felt this many times in my life. This video gave this idea a concrete and conscious presence in my mind. I started thinking if I can imagine being in a conscious world, then I can probably manifest such a world.
Two years ago, I came across some literature on the idea of subjective reality which added on to the idea of Law of Attraction. It states that life is like a dream. It states that all that we see is like a dream and all people are dream characters. Even our body is an illusory character through which we observe this dream. Just like in a dream, it is only my consciousness that is true, rest is an illusion. If in a bad dream, you realize that it is a dream, it becomes less scary, less intimidating. Similarly, if you see life as a dream, you tend to feel less troubled by it. Once you become conscious in a dream(lucid dreaming), you can manipulate it, play with it. Same in life. Once you see it as a dream(or illusory, or passing), you can play with it with less fear and more excitement, you can manipulate it. Now since every one is a character in your dream, you can manipulate them too.
So can I really motivate a loved one, who has a negative state of mind, to do certain things that will make him/her feel positive? Can I change people to become more positive, more conscious?
The answer, according to the perspective of subjective reality, is Yes! We can change the people around us. But for that, the change has to be within. In a dream, to be able to manipulate it, you have to first become conscious that it is a dream. Once that happens, the fear goes away and you become more relaxed. It takes some time while you adjust to this idea and it settles down. Then you may think about manipulating it. Similarly, in life, you first start analyzing it. As you analyze more and more, you may find logical, or experiential(while meditation, or in a deep, calm moment, or when faced by grave danger, or loss) reasons that point to the world being illusory. At this stage, you just get glimpses of the world being an illusion, you see the reasons but your general experience still doesn’t correspond to that. You still find the world very real, and you find yourself unable to manipulate it yet. With regular inquiry, with regular meditation, your regular experience of the world may start shifting to correspond to the insights you have had. When this transition is complete, only then you may be able to manipulate all dream characters. But would you want to do it then? What will such a state be like? I cannot say. Only one who gets into that state, can know what it feels like. In Buddhism, that is the Buddha state.
So if you want to change this world, and the people in it, you will have to continuously observe and be aware of your perception of the world. You will have to observe how you react to it. You will have to question your perception, you will have to question your very idea of the world. You will have to work intensely on your thought processes and the nature of your mind.
While you may not subscribe to the idea of subjective reality, it points to another idea I find very powerful – to change the world around me, I have to change myself. The external world is a reflection of my internal world. It seems Gandhi ji’s statement -Be the change you want in this world, does hold some meaning.