By Suma Varughese
Detours and sidesteps on the path are sometimes inevitable for we need to exhaust all our wants and desires before we can get to self-realization.
While reading Mani Bhaumik’s extraordinary book, Code Name God, a phrase he used resonates in my mind. After making his fortune as one of the team that discovered the laser technology that made the Lasik technique possible, for a decade he threw himself into the task of high living. He partied and romanced with film stars and other famous people, owned five mansions in the most exclusive parts of Los Angeles, and even made it to a spot on the TV program, Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous.
Eventually, he tired of it and returned to his spiritual and scientific pursuits. Looking back, though, he sees that period as a ‘necessary detour’ because of his childhood of extreme poverty in a West Bengal village. He observes, ‘Few men who are less than saints can accomplish much in the world until assured of their worth, and few things are as outwardly affirming of this as success and the love of a beautiful woman.’
I am reminded of Herman Hesse’s Siddhartha, wherein this quintessential seeker takes a detour and gets into business, until sodden with success, one fine day, he steals away from it all.
The truth is we need to outgrow our desires and wants. There can be no shortcuts. In their temperate all-accepting way, the yogis call it the process of venting vasanas, a word which stands for our inherent dispositions and tendencies. All of us can recall the detours we took along the long and tortuous path of self-realisation.
I, for instance, took one that lasted close to 16 years and that began when I myself was 16, a shy teenager who had just made a transition from a township in Orissa to a progressive college in Mumbai. It was a traumatic time for me and I had no idea how to deal with the intensity of my feelings. Indeed, as an emotional person, feelings have always been a torment and therefore are the goads that push me towards wisdom.
At 16, I chose the route of indifference as a possible solution. At first, the stifling and silencing of my turbulent feelings were a welcome relief, but as I sank deeper into this cold and muffled world where nothing mattered, I became despondent and depressed. It took a major enlightenment experience to reveal to me the real way of transcending feelings without killing them, which was through focusing on the happiness of others.
Those 16 years were not wasted by any means. They constituted an immersion in the university of misery and gave me a deep and experiential understanding of how the depressed psyche functions. They also gave me the determination I needed to embark on the process of self-transformation and to make my transcendence of feelings a permanent one. The detour was necessary.
This awareness that all of us need to go through detours in order to exhaust one or other of our needs and wants can enable us to look at our present situation with a more charitable eye. India, which has essentially been an ascetic civilization, is currently embroiled in the most extravagant display of excess. People are spending recklessly on cars, holidays. etc. For those of us who see the damage this consumerism is doing to the environment, the sight is disquieting, but if we can accept that our deep poverty and the scarcity of our socialist past makes this unrestrained expenditure inevitable, we can better accept the situation. We too as a nation must exhaust our vasanas before we are ready for a more rarefied state of being that emphasizes spirit, rather than matter.
In the same way, we can allow our family and friends to go through whatever processes they need to in order to be free of their wants. When many of us first move on to the spiritual path, we want to convert everyone around and make them see the error of their ways. Nothing is a greater waste of time and effort. People will transit into spirit only when they are ready, and trying to speed them up is only a disservice to them for they may even develop a permanent revulsion for it.
Let them vent their vasanas and they themselves will gravitate to the path without anyone’s help.
Such awareness enables us to cultivate acceptance and tolerance not just of our own wants and needs but also that of others
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