Enlightenment - Desperately Seeking
by Aparna Jacob
How is a seeker born?
Everyone is a seeker but few are conscious seekers. People come to the path from different directions. Some, by having worked their way through the worldly aims of money, status, power and fame, without finding lasting satisfaction.
More commonly, though, it is pain that stings us awake. Broken relationships, failure, low self-esteem, bankruptcy - these and others alert us to the awareness that we simply do not know how to live.
Is happiness our natural state of being?
Yes it is. Which is why we are constantly pursuing aims and goals we assume would make us happy such as making money or finding the perfect love. Unfortunately, since all our aims are outer-directed, they end in grief.
If happiness is our natural state, why are we so prone to despair?
Let me use the analogy of the sky and the clouds. Our natural state of happiness and awareness is the pure radiant sky that exists beneath the cloud of conditioning, attachments and desires. We mistake this false center, this ego, for our true self. Our job as seekers is to dispel these clouds.
How can we do this?
There are hundreds of ways to do this. Indeed, it has often been said that there are as many paths as seekers. Each of us is unique and how we find our way to our true self is totally custom-made. But you can choose from various spiritual paths and practices, books and teachers.
What is my goal? What is my destiny? I still have no resolute focus. Is that a bad thing? How soon must I know?
Take your time. There is no rush.
But doesn't this amount to spiritual slacking off?
Being in a hurry won't help, nor will being impatient. Allow yourself space to be just the way you are. Permit yourself to make mistakes, to slack off, to have desires and needs. Excoriating yourself for not being perfect is self-defeating. The path to self-realization is about loving and accepting every aspect of yourself, even that which seems to be 'bad'. Above all, you must learn to transcend your lower needs and desires, not suppress or combat them.
But surely we need rigor and discipline?
If you are disciplined, that's good. If not, it's pointless to give yourself too much flak over it.
The key is to forgive yourself for slacking off and to use it to reiterate your commitment to stay on the path. The more you do this, the sooner does the slacking dissolve naturally into discipline. Besides, slacking off is part of the journey and one must be prepared for periods of tamas or inaction.
From my own experience, I've seen that there are no deadlines for spiritual progress. Everything happens when the time is right.
So is there a yardstick then to measure your progress, to know where you stand?
Try checking how spontaneously nice you are. How happy are you? How comfortable are you with yourself and the world around you?How much do you genuinely care for those around you? To what extent will you put the welfare of the other over your own? The greater these levels, the more evolved you are as a human being. Don't we encounter people who may not be seekers but are devoid of anger or are naturally good and loving?
Have they been polished by life over lifetimes?
I'm sure they have. There's a story of a sage called Dhruv who became enlightened at age six. Other sages who had been meditating for eons and still hadn't attained enlightenment were furious. They took their resentment to Brahma. The lord led them to a mountain of skulls and said: "This is how many lifetimes he has lived".
Isn't this greed for realization selfish? Is it a higher avarice and hence forgivable?
Like every aim or goal, it is desire that drives the quest for realisation. All of which proves that desire in itself is not damaging, it is the use we put it to. As to it being selfish, it may seem like that from the outside, but in actuality it is discovering one's true priorities. Unless you transform yourself you cannot transform others, contribute to their welfare or that of society.
It seems a selfish choice when home and relationships fall by the wayside… how do you justify that?
When you set off on the path, a large part of the enterprise is paring the layers of conditioning you have gathered. And in this utterly naked state, you feel alone, raw and very vulnerable. Coping with the world seems too much just then and therefore the choice of seclusion seems so appealing to the new seeker.
Moreover, householders, particularly women, put families and their responsibilities first and have no time for spiritual practice. Walking out on your responsibilities is a very tough decision to make. Swami Ramdas did this at age 38. He left his wife and son and went on a padyatra around India in a state of total surrender.
Ramdas never returned to his family. But he himself always advised his followers to consider their home as their ashram.
One cannot judge those who choose otherwise, but most wise souls would advocate balancing seeking with the responsibilities given to you.
It always comes down to the 'I', doesn't it? Isn't there an 'I' in "I am God" as well?
The everyday 'I' derives from the self-centered ego, which automatically creates the other. This dichotomy creates conflict.
The experience of being God is to expand one's identity to include the whole universe. It is the divine 'I', and is devoid of individual identity.
Is that worrisome?
It's not. You'll never get to this selfless state until you are extremely secure inside and reach complete self-acceptance. And the greatest paradox is this: in this state of absolute self-containment, you can give yourself to the whole world.
How important is having a guru?
A guru has already been there, done that, and can guide you on your journey. A guru can give you a spiritual map and tell you 'you are here'. A guru can answer all your queries, ease your suspicions, allay your fears, and mind you, you will have plenty of these because this is a journey into the unknown.
A guru's job is an arduous one, one of great responsibility. Unless gurus are truly enlightened, they would do grave injustice to those who have entrusted their very souls to them. A guru should be entirely devoid of sexual desire or any desire for power, fame, or money.
Can I be my own guru?
That'd be the ideal thing! In fact the scriptures say the job of the guru is to awaken the sadguru, the real guru within.Is it possible to outgrow my guru?
It is. But I'd recommend that you be clear about your motivations. A good guru may sometimes decide to break your ego and you might react by dumping the guru rather than endure the pain.
But yes, sometimes you need different gurus at various levels of your spiritual progress. But when you genuinely outgrow the guru, there will be no pain, bitterness or guilt. It will be a peaceful and natural transition.
What's the simplest way you can explain enlightenment?
Enlightenment means freedom from suffering.
What is this 'higher love' the spiritually accomplished claim to possess?
Higher love is entirely devoid of attachments. In higher love you can wholly give yourself to another person without expecting anything in return, without wanting them to love you in return. You accept them unconditionally and let them swim in a sea of space.
It is also not exclusive. You can love the whole world and can give of yourself freely to it.
Does that entail taking on responsibility for the entire world?
The enlightened individual, because he has no issues with himself, opens himself up to the whole world. And he takes on responsibility for the whole world. But at that stage it doesn't feel like a burden at all. It's not a feeling of 'I must'. It's a natural urge, and there's no compulsion at all. Beings like Mother Teresa give and give of themselves yet their compassion never runs dry. Enlightened persons can give generously of themselves. They can do good without creating bad, without suffering from 'compassion fatigue'.
My path seems fraught with distractions and stumbling blocks that demoralize me. Where can I draw strength to walk on?
If your desire for realization is all-encompassing, nothing else matters. That will be your greatest strength. You may backtrack, slacken, but the strength of your desire will always bring you back to what you are supposed to be doing.
Besides, never forget that you have God. You are not alone in this. The whole universe conspires in assisting you to reach your goal. Along the way you will also attract fellow journeyers, your sangha, who will provide support and succor.
At frustrating times, what helps me immensely is the understanding that whatever I'm doing, I'm doing for eternity, not just for this lifetime. The spiritual riches I earn, I know I'll keep for eternity.
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