By Purnima Coontoor
The goal of effortless being and the arduous effort we put in to get there is one of the great paradoxical truths of the spiritual life. how do we shift from trying to being?
‘The great awareness comes slowly, piece by piece. The path of spiritual growth is a path of lifelong learning’ – Anon
In a lifestyle workshop I attended recently in Bangalore, I noticed a recurring theme during the question-answer sessions, and I suspect it’s the same in all such workshops:
Guruji, please help me overcome anger”; “Guruji, in spite of resolving not to mind my wife’s nagging, I lose my temper after listening to her for some time”; “I feel good for a few days after I attend your workshops and try to be joyful and happy, but I can’t keep it up for long”.
In a moment of rare insight (or weakness), most of us often resolve to shun anger, envy, selfishness and henceforth be compassionate, loving and so on. When the higher calling beckons, we congratulate ourselves and decide to overflow with the milk of human kindness. For a while, we smile at everything and everybody, count to ten instead of blowing up, take deep breaths in times of stress, see the good side of people, and turn the other cheek when slapped. And most often, instead of acknowledgement and reciprocation of our goodness, we find that we are taken for granted and worse, taken advantage of. It gets harder and harder to keep up the good act, and we reach break-point sooner or later. We then promptly slip back into our original, normal, sometimes nasty selves. Until we attend another of those workshops, to start the game all over again. In the process, we are likely to end up feeling resentful, guilty, useless and unfit to pursue our spiritual goals.
Why is it so hard to be good? Is it an occupational hazard of being a human being? Why was Jesus crucified, Buddha stoned, Socrates poisoned, Lord Rama exiled? Are we condemned to go through innumerable lifetimes making the same mistakes, to slip back easily into habitual behavior, incapable of taking up the challenge that evolution throws at us? Shall we ever be able to negotiate the enormous chasm between ‘trying’ and ‘being’?
So many dilemmas, but no easy answers. Since spiritual growth is the only agenda on the menu of human life, we have no choice but to embark on this journey. We need to take charge and do it right, though, sooner rather than later. Just like we consult a map to track the optimum route before embarking on a physical journey, we need to do the same with the spiritual journey as well. Study the path taken by enlightened souls, internalize the teachings of spiritual masters and listen to our own conscience with sincerity. And take stock of the advantages and limitations of this journey, and how it can be accomplished well in the least possible time.
So here it is – presenting the journey from ‘trying to ‘being’ – a SWOT analysis!
The journey has begun
The journey of a thousand miles begins with but a single step, and you have taken it. You’ve realized that you need improvement! The very fact that you are aware that you are not perfect puts you far, far ahead of other beings in the path of evolution. It triggers the process in you.
You have decided to do something about your inadequacy – the next step is set in motion. Somewhere you feel a discontent about life and ask yourself ‘what next?’ You have read and heard about the compassion of a Jesus or a Buddha, and you resonate with them. You yearn for that spiritual strength that made Jesus exclaim, ‘Forgive them, Father, for they know not what they do’ to his tormentors, and Buddha bless the stranger who spat on him. You clamor to emulate their teachings, and do succeed to a certain extent. It might be only for a week, a day, or an hour, but you have already started earning brownie points!
Your willingness to change is your greatest strength. You are firmly on the path.
The numerous back-breaking speed breakers on the road
Oh, what pitfalls the journey has! The road, you realize, is anything but a superhighway on which you can zip across at 120 kmph. Why is it that the day you resolve to be patient with your child, she does something which is calculated to raise your hackles? Or the day you decide to diet, your mom bakes the most delicious cake embedded with cashew and raisins? Every little thing that you encounter seems to challenge you to break your resolve and retract totally. You need to ‘grin and bear it’ to the limits of endurance to progress even an inch on the path. Why is this so? Because we are straining against lifetimes of conditioning, of putting oneself first, of indulging one’s senses, of doing the easy thing. The Buddha called spiritual growth swimming against the current. It is difficult because it militates against our habitual instincts.
is the highest and toughest test that one needs to pass with no grace marks whatsoever to reach the kingdom of God…so how can it be anything but shatteringly difficult? Even Yudhisthira, the icon of dharma, had to visit hell for a brief moment for his half-truth, and highly evolved beings like Raja Harishchandra, Lord Rama and his consort Sita had to pass through a trial by fire when they incarnated on earth – then what of us lesser mortals?
Enlightenment, liberation, cresting the cycle of birth and death, total transformation, unleashing your highest potential
The journey is hard but the opportunities are priceless: the highest prize of human life and the sole reason for our existence. No less! Worth the wrenching pain and agonizing uncertainty of the quest? A thousand times over. So do not despair. Keep at it. It’s worth it when you reach journey’s end and experience that state of total happiness and freedom. Imagine a state of peace and tranquility even if it is raining bankruptcies, tsunamis, accidents or job loss. Imagine being in a state of unconditional love towards one and all. Imagine giving and giving and giving – without wanting anything at all because you are so fulfilled. Imagine total freedom from suffering – zero fear, anger, rage, hate, worry, doubt, resistances, inhibitions and so on. Imagine being free of the human condition.
Your resolve will no doubt be tested to its limit, and you’ll get knocked about mercilessly like Job was, but then a stone that lies by the wayside has to be hammered relentlessly to be sculpted into a beautiful statue.
None! All roads lead to Rome
All of us are born with a multiple entry VISA to heaven by default, and it is open 24/7, for eternity! So book your ticket right now and get going. It might be useful, though, to carry a handy guidebook with tips on survival for the trip.
A guidebook for the trip
Never say never again
‘Never buy vegetables from the roadside vendors – they always cheat with the weights’; ‘never believe in the bureaucracy – they are a corrupt lot’; ‘never be lenient with your servants – they’ll take you for granted’; ‘never trust auto drivers – they never give you the correct change’; ‘never trust Yankees/Chinese/Indians/your mother-in-law/sister-in-law – they don’t deserve goodness…’. This is how the average mind operates; and if you listen to it, it will not let you pursue your spiritual goals either. It’s necessary to be worldly-wise, but not to the point of being disillusioned. You may be compelled to retract from your good intentions once, twice, a hundred times – but the universe is always open for yet another try. The Divine trusts you, has given you a million births/chances so far to help you realize your divinity – so how competent are you to decide that things are hopeless? Never say never again. The universe is always changing, always fluid, in a state of motion, and so are people and situations. So persist, make yourself a promise a million times, and break it too; nobody’s counting, certainly not God.
…of others, as well as yourself. You are on your trip out of your own choice, for your own benefit, for your own evolution; is it fair to expect others to put you on the train, hand you a lunch box stuffed with goodies for the journey and wave you goodbye? You may be a paragon of virtue, but of course your neighbor will still dump his garbage in your backyard, and your boss will be unkind to you in front of the whole office. Evolution is all about the change in your response to situations, not change in situations themselves. Each situation and person in your life is put there to help you introspect and grow. Wasn’t it Socrates who said, “By all means, marry. If you get a good wife, you’ll be happy. If you get a bad one, you’ll become a philosopher.”
Be kind to yourself too, it’s not easy to change lifetimes of habitual behavior. That’s why spiritual masters insist on satsang – keeping the company of good people and good thoughts as aids that will not let you forget your ultimate purpose in life, and put you back on the path again and again. Reading elevating books for at least 30 minutes before going to bed each night is a great habit to inculcate. Suffused with the vibrations of masters, they help raise energy levels.
The only expectation you can have is from God – that if He brings you to it, He will bring you through it.
‘Desire to become happy places us in hell, while desire to operate out of happiness places us in heaven’ says Swami Sukhabodhananda.
Neale Donald Walsch, bestselling author of the trilogy, Conversations with God, says that when you intend something, the exact opposite of the same will first manifest in your life. When you wish for health, you’ll first fall sick; if you wish for wealth, you’ll first experience poverty. Thus, when you wish to be compassionate, you’ll first experience being rude and intolerant. According to him, this is most natural, for most of our actions and intentions are doomed to failure because we operate from a space of lack rather than that of abundance. He proceeds to explain the phenomenon thus:
By nature, the universal consciousness has empowered us with all that is needed to be happy, successful, peaceful, and fulfilled. In our limited vision, we fail to recognize it and create the very opposite reality. That’s because we believe that we can only be happy, successful or peaceful when we have material and transient possessions, such as money, situations or relationships. Walsch explains that this cannot be overcome unless there is a paradigm shift in the way we operate – a shift from ‘have-do-be’ to ‘be-do-have’. Suppose you wish for fulfilment; the common approach is that you expect to earn and ‘have’ money to ‘do’ charity and then feel ‘fulfilled’. Walsch asks us to reverse the process – just ‘be’ fulfilled, proceed to ‘do’ acts of charity coming from that space, and viola – you’ll see that you ‘have’ the money for more charity. In other words, it is the spiritual that is primary, and which manifests the material. This rule can be applied to anything and everything.
This also explains the phenomenon of why prayers or ‘acts’ most often don’t work. Suppose you pray for health, the implicit message the universe receives from you is that you are not healthy now – you are basically admitting to a lack. So the Universe helps you experience sickness first in order to experience health. Same with the prayer of asking for patience, tolerance, and so on – you feel and experience the opposite of these qualities before they are thrown out of your system. So a better approach is to assert and feel ‘I am patient, loving…’ rather than ‘I need to be patient, loving, as I’m not…’ So next time you want to blow your top, quite simply, don’t, instead of feeling the ‘need’ to control it. Because you’re already a patient, logical person, and such a person wouldn’t blow up. And the only prayer one needs to say is a heartfelt ‘thanks’ for what is.
No one said this was easy!
Different strokes for different folks
A friend of mine was overcome by grief when she lost her eight-year-old child. Great introspection followed, and she decided to dedicate her life to the service of orphans. Chucking up her high-profile corporate job in the IT industry, she enrolled into an orphanage as a volunteer and started with enthusiasm (and I suspect, with the spirit of atoning for some imagined sins that she might have committed). Her motivation began to flag in under a month. For an intelligent woman trained to take critical decisions and commanding several people under her, she felt completely lost making children stand in line and checking their shoe laces. It wasn’t long before she went back to doing what suited her best, after a great deal of counseling, and feels fulfilled all over again.
So the path you have chosen for yourself may not be your cup of tea, after all. Not everybody can succeed in being what they are essentially not. What worked for Buddha might not and need not work for you. That’s why we have numerous religions, gurus, teachings, methods, practices…different vehicles that reach you there ultimately. That’s why the Vigyan Bhairava Tantra chronicles more than 150 methods of meditation that take you to the divine. That’s why Lord Krishna talks of the four paths of karma, bhakti, jnana and raja yoga for self-realization to suit different personality types. Recognize from which point you operate best – body, heart, or mind – and the Divine will help you reach Itself from that point.
Understand the process
With all due respect to the moral values that we are constantly exposed to as children and adults, we need to grow up and recognize that it serves the purpose of society to have virtuous citizens. However, virtue is not enough to help an individual attain self-realization. Osho says that the qualities of a Buddha will be added unto you once you are realized, and not vice versa; being ‘nice’ is not a pre-requisite for enlightenment – one can get there in a flash from any state of being (the master therefore wouldn’t agree with the verse cited at the beginning of the article). Valmiki, author of the Ramayana, was a hunter before he was transformed instantly when he witnessed the grief of a bird whose mate died with his arrow. Angulimala was a highway robber, instantly transformed with the darshan of Buddha. Confirmed villains like Kamsa, Ravana, Vaali, and Duryodhana attained to heaven because they died at the feet of Lord Vishnu during his incarnations. King Janaka, father of Sita, led a hedonistic lifestyle, if appearances are anything to go by. But he was a highly evolved soul. That’s because all his ‘doing’ was at the periphery and his ‘being’ was at the still centre. We are not our actions, and we should realize the same of others.
Man proposes and God disposes – a cliché, sure, but it has to be internalized at least for the purpose of evolution. The ‘trying’ is left to us, and ‘being’ happens by grace, and grace alone. That’s the importance of getting deeksha or initiation at the feet of realized masters…because they are the channels of grace who can guide us along the journey to avoid pitfalls and reach us there speedily, safe and sound.
But grace descends on one who is well and truly ready for it, and not a moment earlier. The yearning for spiritual growth needs to be as intense as the desperate yearning for a gulp of air after holding breath under water beyond endurance levels, says Ramakrishna.
So until then, fake it till you make it, as the Americans say. Be a hypocrite, go on, pretend and try some Gandhigiri. Life’s an elaborate charade, after all. Gnash your teeth inwardly, but smile at the rude cashier at the bank and make way for the bully honking loudly behind you on the road. As outward deeds get gradually purified, the attitude will percolate into words and thoughts as well. Because only in the trying will the being eventually materialize. Meanwhile, don’t get so engrossed in reaching the destination that you forget to enjoy the journey.
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