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Mao, Jobs, Bede Griffiths

Over the last few months I have read biographies of Chairman Mao Steve Jobs and Bede Griffiths.

The three men’s lives provide complementary illumination on the puzzling question of “what to do?. How to live? And even why to live? Are for me less troubling questions then what to do with the life we have. The “how" is readily answerable by a moral framework. The “why" is tricky but in the quiet moments of contemplation slowly fades as a real dilemma. The “what” recurs; badly illuminated by the prophets and untouched by contemplation.

It is an easy question in-extremis. When I am ill or threatened, wondering about “what" is not useful to the problem at hand. The prophet who neglects the lion (or bus) is short on insight. But when the danger fades how to fill the day stretching-out-in-front is tricky.

Mao, Jobs and Griffiths are dots on the spectrum from action to passivity. Mao could not sleep with the need to fill each day with action (often evil). Griffiths, the great Catholic Monk who spent 40 odd years in India, filled most days with prayer. Jobs combines (perhaps uncomfortably) a dedication to meditation and drive to activity.

The great prophets shed very little light on the “what". Jesus, the saints, Buddha, Mohammed have much to say about the code of living and even the attitude to life but whether I (or you) should strive more or less to achieve something on this planet (the only one we currently know about) they largely ignore. Jesus periodically challenges the tax collector or fishermen to follow him but I am not sure if they then go back to collecting taxes or fishing.

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