By Maria Wirth
Who is the doer of my life? Is everything we do God's will? Do we influence our lives at all? An average mind is besotted by such questions. Do spiritual teachers have the answers? Here is a renewed attempt to analyse the age-
by Maria Wirth
How much influence do I have on my life? Every generation asks this question anew. However, there is no clear-cut answer to it. Do I have much, little or no influence on my life? Opinions vary, but most people may feel that it depends on every individual what he makes of his life and whether he is happy or not.
Of course, certain conditions are fixed-for example, the family in which one is born, the talents one has or doesn't have and the political, economical and so cial situation. One has to make the best of it.
Life is often compared to a big school, where everyone has to learn his lessons. And some do learn faster and some slower.
We usually know from our own experiences that we can do something for our upliftment. For example, if we are disciplined and go for a walk or practise yoga before reading the newspaper or having breakfast, we feel better. And, of course, each child knows the benefits of learning. How would he pass a math exam without studying hard? Or how would anybody get a job without fulfilling the qualifications for it? No success without sweat-a simple wisdom everyone is familiar with.
Yet it is agreed that more often than not, our plans don't work out. A higher power seems to be responsible. For example, somebody with good connections gets the job even though he is less qualified. Or Mr X or Mrs Y won the jackpot and not I. Or why did I fall sick and not my neighbour? What is responsible for good luck and bad luck?
Usually, these questions come to one's mind when something happens that is considered as ill luck. At that time, one becomes a philosopher. How much influence do I have on my life? Do I have any influence at all? Maybe it is not as simple as we thought and more sweat may not necessarily mean more success.
Probably nobody believes that we can fully fashion our lives according to our plans. The astrologers would be in trouble. But they are in big demand. Is it possible that the time of birth determines the course of one's life? Do the lines in the hand indicate our fate? Is it already fixed at the time of birth whether somebody, for example, dies young? Or could he have avoided the accident? Are the daily happenings destined or accidental? Is there an agency responsible for all those happenings? If so, is this agency God? And can prayers or pujas influence Him?
So many questions Each human being surely has many examples that life could have turned out so different, if only one small link in the infinite causal chain had been missing. But since it was not missing, does it mean that life had to unfold as it did? And what about the future? Is there some flexibility?
In the western culture it is usually taken for granted that man has a free will and that he can do or not do what he likes. And it finally depends on his acts whether he ends up in heaven or hell. It is a view that has its advantages but also disadvantages-like a feeling of guilt, if for whatever reason one doesn't comply with the prescribed commandments. Or it can lead to depression, if one doesn't make it big in spite of all possible effort.
Diametrically opposite is the view that all is God's will. Strangely, this view, too, is there in the Bible. Not even a leaf falls from a tree unless it is God's will, it is said there.
In the Indian tradition, too, there are different views, as also among the New Age spiritual teachers.
There are teachers who claim that man has no influence whatsoever and others who declare that it fully depends on oneself whether one is happy or not in life. Generally, however, in India it is more easily agreed that the outer circumstances of one's life may be determined to a large extent.
Your life is like a movie that has already been made at the time of your conception, says Ramesh Balsekar, Mumbai-based spiritual teacher. He is one of the most radical exponents of the view that the human being has no self-influence at all and that whatever happens is God's will.
Sri Sri Ravishankar, however, says that man is responsible for his actions as well as his non-actions and he claims that nothing and nobody can make you unhappy if you have decided to be happy.
Some time ago I was in Mumbai and went to the meetings with Ramesh Balsekar on the advice of a friend who was a great admirer of his. There were about 20 people, most of them westerners, gathered around him in his spacious flat high up in an apartment block near the sea. Balsekar looked delicate, pale and almost transparent. Once a banker, he obviously has a clear, sharp intellect. He presents a concept that appears to be logical and without any flaws.
Consciousness is all there is, stresses Balsekar. This consciousness (or God) is responsible for all that happens. Nothing happens without God's will. That includes whatever I do, as well as what others do. There is no personal doership. Nobody does anything, he says. If a person thinks he or she does anything, that is merely the reaction of the brain to an outside impulse over which he or she has no control, according to the programming in the body-mind organism over which a person also has had no control, he explains in a rather lengthy and dry manner. In short: whatever I do, I don't really do, but it just happens through me. And this of course is valid for everybody.
Balsekar believes that an understanding that there is truly no individual doer produces peace. Feelings of guilt or anger disappear. After all, people can't help their behaviour. They have to act as they act, because it is God's will. In the same way, I can't help what I do And logically, not only the feelings of guilt and anger disappear, but all other negative emotions like hatred, envy or jealousy as well. Inner peace is the result and inner peace is as good as enlightenment.
However, some questions may come up, as they did in his Mumbai flat:
How do I know what is God's will if I have to make a decision, an Englishman asked.
The answer: Wait and see what you are going to do. You will do, what you like to do, i.e., what this body-mind organism is programmed for.
Can I go out on the road and shoot 15 people? someone else questions.
You won't do that unless your body-mind organism is programmed for it.
Is there good and bad?
Do whatever you like, advised Balsekar, occasionally adding, and what you feel is right according to your moral and social conditioning.
Logic is on his side: If everything is God how could anything exist apart from Him and even act against His will? Persons are like shadows. They are not real. This view is in tune with the ancient Indian wisdom that pure, thought-free consciousness alone is real and the variety in the world is impermanent appearances, which are based merely on thoughts and have no substance in themselves apart from the consciousness in which they appear. And how could a mere appearance be responsible for itself? However, most ancient scriptures, including the Bhagavad Gita, clearly tell how one should live one's life. Is this not a contradiction?
When I listened to Balsekar for the first time, I was fascinated by his logical concept. If I, as Maria, am not a separate entity (what I felt was certainly true), then of course Maria can't do anything. Whatever is done through Maria is God's will. But in the daily life in Mumbai, this concept didn't work. I felt something was not quite all right. I was sure that I wouldn't go out on the road and shoot 15 people, but there was a certain grey area, and I noticed that my discipline declined-a fact that made me rather unhappy in retrospect.
Further, I felt that Balsekar pushed me too strongly into the Maria corner and ignored my essence. As Maria I am not the doer. He is certainly right on this point. But am I only Maria? He identified everybody with his superficial person and ignored the connection to the one consciousness which is without doubt not only there in everybody but is his true essence.
Balsekar's concept may be helpful for people who suffer from strong feelings of guilt. But it may also be dangerous for those who have no moral or ethical principals or who have a tendency for fatalism. The conviction that whatever I do is God's will can surely lead to irresponsible behaviour, which, of course Ramesh will argue, is also God's will.
In my opinion, Sri Sri Ravishankar makes a more useful suggestion. He suggests you regard the past as determined and the future as in your hand. In this way, feelings of guilt have no place and responsibility for one's behaviour gets strengthened. And who knows, maybe one does have an influence on one's life and Balsekar's logical view is not the pinnacle of wisdom. I am reminded of Adyashanti, a spiritual teacher from California, who once said: Be careful if a teaching is too logical. He certainly has a point, because the Truth is not likely to fit into reason.
Ramana Maharshi, the great sage from Arunachala, was once asked whether one has free will. He answered that as long as one considers oneself to be an individual person, one has free will and has to use it well. However, at another time, when the same question was put, he answered: No.
The questioner asked for clarification. He wanted to know whether this applies only to the big issues of his life, for example regarding marriage or job, or even to such minor things like taking a glass of water now.
Ramana Maharshi said that it applies even to minor happenings like taking a glass of water or stretching one's arm. But then he explained that the whole discussion about free will is basically irrelevant. He gave an analogy: people stand around a transistor radio and listen to a song. Then they start discussing whether the person who is in the radio can sing as he wants or whether he has to sing as the station decides
There is no person in the radio and so the discussion has no basis. Similarly, there is only the one God who shines through each person.
Indian wisdom exhorts us to really feel this Oneness or rather be this Oneness that is our true nature and let go of the false identification with the person. This false identification depends on thoughts. If thoughts run wild and negative emotions take over, there is little chance of realising our true nature.
It is necessary to be calm, alert, conscious, aware-relaxed in the present moment. This relaxed presence may appear more easily and more frequently if we do something for it-like aspiring for it, purifying body and mind from tensions and negative emotions through yoga and pranayama, etc., observing one's thoughts and feelings, being conscious of one's environment, being present in the now.
Eckhart Tolle, a spiritual teacher based in Vancouver, stresses especially the importance of being fully present in the now. If you do this, then your life will be much more harmonious, he promises. The whole universe will become supportive.
Use your free will well, is the advice of Ramana Maharshi to those who consider themselves as separate individuals-a category to which probably all of us subscribe. Well in this connection may mean to aspire to know who we truly are, to realise our true nature, being One with all there is. On the other hand, Ramana assures us that the purpose of one's birth will be fulfilled whether you will it or not. Yet he adds: Let the purpose fulfill itself.
So do we have an influence on our life? Or we don't? Adyashanti gives an answer that encompasses the different, divergent views.
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