I have heard somewhere Charlie Chaplin saying, ‘I always cry when it is raining, and do you know why? It is because so that no one notices my tears.’ Can you believe such words coming from a man who made this whole world laugh with his comedy? The greatest comedian of all time talks about the sadness on the other shore. This is the contradiction of existence. The question comes into my mind, and I am surprised to hear such words from Chaplin. I am doubtful whether he was aware of the contradiction of existence or not. I argued if he has understood this contradiction of existence, he would have found happiness even in his sadness. Here, I will try to present how existence moves with numerous examples and, at the same time, shall explain why existence moves in the dimension of contradictions.
There used to live a lovely couple who were leading a content life. However, the husband was slightly concerned and unhappy. He wasn’t worried because he had a disagreement or argument with his wife, but rather because his name was causing him distress. If I disclose the husband’s name to you, you may find it a bit peculiar. But, indeed, the husband’s name was ‘Unbelievable.’ The name had become a source of headache for the husband. He yearned to be rid of his name, but it was not possible since he had reached the age of 40, and everyone had grown accustomed to referring to him as ‘Unbelievable.’
One day, he approached his wife and shared the burden of stress he had been carrying due to his unusual name for so long. What could the wife do? She listened attentively and suggested to her husband, “There’s no need to worry. It’s a minor issue, but you’re dwelling on it deeply and taking it seriously, which is causing you distress.” However, the wife’s words were like pouring water on sand; they didn’t alter the husband’s mindset. Finally, the wife asked him, “Tell me, what do you think we should do?” The husband replied, “My beloved wife, when I pass away, you can inscribe anything on my gravestone except my name.” One day, the husband passed away, and true to his wishes, the wife refrained from mentioning his name on the gravestone. Instead, she wrote, “He was the most faithful, loyal, and helpful husband.” Anyone who passed by the gravestone read the inscription and exclaimed, “Oh my God! It’s unbelievable.” Even in death, existence played a joke on him because he had taken his name so seriously.
In my childhood, I had a strong fondness for eating milk powder. Although it wasn’t meant for me as my father used it to make milk tea, whenever there was nobody in the room, I couldn’t resist the opportunity to consume at least two or three spoonfuls of milk powder. During those times, I used to imagine that when I grew up and had money, I would buy milk powder and indulge in it as much as I desired. However, today I have the financial means to buy as much milk powder as I want, but surprisingly, I have no desire for it at all. This story resonates with many of you.
Similarly, you have a class to attend tomorrow at 7 am, so you set your alarm for 5 am. However, you never manage to wake up at 5 am, and it always ends up being 6:30 am when you have developed a routine of waking up. Many times the alarm goes off, and you simply turn it off. Yet, on a Saturday, when there’s no alarm set, you wake up at 5 am or even earlier. It’s peculiar how that happens.
In another scenario, while studying for an exam, you decide to skip a particular chapter because you find it difficult to understand and also think that the questions may not be asked from that chapter. However, as fate would have it, the exam question indeed comes from the very chapter you skipped.
I was listening to an interview with a renowned actor, and he shared an interesting anecdote. He mentioned that before his movies are released in cinema halls, he gathers his close circle of friends to show them the film. During the screening, there’s a particular scene where the actor believes he has truly brought the character to life. In anticipation of receiving praise and hearing phrases like, “God! What a performance!” from his friends, he looks at their faces. However, to his surprise, he doesn’t see any visible reactions or responses from them. On the other hand, he receives high praise for scenes that he personally believed he hadn’t performed well in. Isn’t that contradictory?
My friend at Tribhuvan University was visibly agitated, and I asked him, “What happened?” He explained, “For the past few days, I’ve been carrying an umbrella, but it hasn’t rained. Yet today, when I left my umbrella at home, it’s pouring heavily.” I chuckled and remarked, “Isn’t existence hilarious?” I went on to tell him that what we expect often doesn’t happen, while the unexpected tends to occur. This non-seriousness of existence makes life quite interesting.
To elaborate further, let’s consider why we enjoy watching thriller movies. It’s because we’re uncertain about the twists and turns they hold. But what if you already knew the real suspense of the movie beforehand? Would you still watch it? Most likely not. Knowing the suspense in advance would decrease your interest and passion to watch the movie. Think about it—would you have watched the second installment of the movie Bahubali if you already knew why Katappa killed Bahubali? Certainly not! The suspense and anticipation are what drive our interest and make the story captivating. If the suspense was revealed, there wouldn’t have been a second part.
So why then do we expect life to always align with our beliefs and interests? Instead, we should embrace the thrill and surprises that life provides. It is precisely these unexpected twists and shocks that keep life moving and growing. Just like in movies, the unknown and unpredictable aspects of life make it worth experiencing.
Perhaps the situation that I am about to illustrate has often occurred in your life. I suppose you have experienced it at times. Your friend approaches you seeking suggestions and solutions for a certain situation and circumstances. They rely on your advice, and it becomes quite interesting when you realize that you are also going through the same situation. Would you laugh or provide suggestions to your friends? Clearly, you would pretend as if nothing has happened to you and offer guidance to your friends. However, deep down, you know that you also desire to overcome the similar situation that your friend is experiencing. See the contradiction of life. You may feel sadness or seriousness, but it is important to appreciate and accept this contradiction that existence presents. Have you ever felt that existence is so non-serious? How could it be serious? It cannot and it is not possible. Existence is profoundly aware; it is the flame of awareness. A person who possesses awareness cannot be serious. They are sincere but not serious!
The person whom you once aided in the past has now become your adversary. Behind your back, they sing a song that speaks ill of you. This is how existence unfolds. Let us examine it from another perspective, using an example from nature. You may already be aware that it is the sun that elevates the cloud to great heights. However, once the cloud reaches those heights, it attempts to obstruct the rays of sunlight. Although it is the sun that heats the water, causing it to evaporate and form the cloud, the cloud acts against the sun.
It is through this realization that I understand why Lord Krishna advises in the Bhagavad Gita, “Perform your duties without attachment to the outcome.” You diligently tend to the plants, watering them, yet you do not anticipate the fruits they bear. This wisdom and insight have been imparted by Lord Krishna for thousands of years.
You know what Buddha says, ‘The cause of all our suffering is attachment and desire.’ Buddha approached his work with great seriousness, even subjecting his body to rigorous practices in his pursuit of enlightenment. However, despite his efforts, nothing seemed to be working. Then, in a sudden realization, Buddha understood that his strenuous actions were futile, prompting him to abandon everything he was doing. He unclenched his fist, freeing himself. It was in this moment that he became liberated and ultimately attained enlightenment. Buddha recognized that life is non-serious, understanding that our expectations often go unfulfilled, and even if they are met, they can still lead to suffering. This existence follows a different course. It moves with a sense of lightness, humor, and thus encourages us to keep evolving and progressing.
Somewhere I heard William Shakespeare saying, ‘Do you know why I am always happy? It is because I don’t expect anything from anyone.’ Shakespeare also comprehended that life unfolds in a distinct dimension – a dimension of mystery, non-seriousness, and humor. If everything happened exactly as we expected, and if there were no twists and turns in life, it would signify a stagnant existence. But existence is vibrant, constantly growing, and imbued with surprises that bring forth adventure, making life interesting and facilitating personal growth.
[Master’s student in Department of Conflict, Peace and Development Studies at Tribhuvan University]