Principle + Context = Practice

Principle is the ‘Essence’, Practice is the ‘current Form’ and Context is the translating agent. Most of the mis-understandings between people, between nations and between religions will disappear if we understand the above principle.

Let me illustrate the above equation with a personal example:

When my grandmother was alive she used to insist that we kids do not cut our nails inside the home after 6 PM. No amount of arguing, persuasion would work. She held firm until she breathed her last. Recently I started thinking seriously about why was she so reluctant ? what might be the reason behind her strong opposition. She was known to all of us as very loving and kind person, but in this one case (and few other similar situations like not entering the room that had attached toilet) she stood her ground and would not move an inch. So I wanted to understand my grandmother and started looking for reasons.

During the course of a visit to our ancestral village where my grandmother was born and raised, I noticed that the hundred year old house did not have ’tiled floor’ which we had in our home and my little cousins and the kids from neighborhood were playing on the ‘cement floor’ which cracked in few places exposing the ‘mud floor’ beneath the cement ‘covering’. I was immediately able to connect the dots and understand the reason for my grandmother’s reluctance with we cutting nails inside the home after 6 PM.

In the olden days when she was growing up the floor was neither cemented or had tiles, so when they cut their nails they carefully had to remove them one by one so that the kids (there were many) crawling on the floor did not accidentally consume them. And nails are not edible. Because there was no electricity those days and the it would get dark by 6 PM inside the home, my grand mother’s mother (who was very strict) forbade anyone from cutting nails after 6 PM. But the reason was never explained to my grandmother. This ritual was so ingrained in her mind that, that is what she taught my mom as ‘tradition’. When I could separate the ‘Principle’ (nails not being edible could cause problems when they are consumed due to darkness and kids crawling and playing at home on a non-cemented floor) from the ‘Practice’ (not cutting nails after 6 PM at home), I understood the importance of the ‘Context’. Thats when the bulbs went on (or did they go off, funny english :-)) in my head and I came up with the above equation.

Surprisingly, when I tried to apply the above equation to a variety of problems, both small and big, I found that most of the mis-understandings and wrong actions arise because ‘Practice’ is misunderstood to be ‘Principle’. One Practice applicable in certain ‘Context’ (and context can be time, place, people, culture, environment etc) may not be applicable in another ‘Context’ but the Principle could still remain the same.

When you try to enforce 7th century ‘Practices’ in the 21st Century without understanding the role ‘Context’ played then all hell breaks loose, literally. Instead of blindly following or rejecting the ‘Practices’, its useful to discern and find out what aspects of the Practice form the ‘Context’ and check if those aspects are still applicable in current Context and what aspects form the ‘Principle’ behind that practice. Keep the Principle (its harmful to consume nails) and change the ‘Context’ (use plenty of lighting, make sure that you use some tissues to gather the cut nails and dispose them off carefully) so that ‘Practice’ (not cutting nails after 6 PM) no longer sounds too absurd as the Principle is still respected even if the  Practice is irrelevant in current times due to the changed Context.

Dispassionately applying the above equation to various traditions, customs of various religions, groups would help us understand why a certain tradition, custom or practice was created in first place and what is it that we need to ‘learn’ from it (the Principle part of it) and what is it that we need to change as per current times (the Context part of it). This perspective would, I am sure, would solve most of the problems that the World is facing today. Grandma are you listening ?…….

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