By Barbara Briggs
Fear is born of separation of the individual from the cosmos, courage from the awareness of the oneness of life. Like Arjuna, connecting with this truth will give us the power to emerge victorious in the battlefield of life
It was four o’clock in the morning when I stepped outside the front door. No one saw me leave the ashram. The street was dark. My heart beat rapidly as I walked toward Shankaracharya Chowk in Hardwar. I was determined to bathe at the Har-ki-Pauri ghat before sunrise and be back in the temple in time for aarti because today was Mahashivaratri. I drew the azure shawl closer around my shoulders as I approached a driver sleeping in his cycle rickshaw.
“Om Namah Shivaya,” I said loudly. The driver opened his eyes and peered at me as if in a daze. “Yes madam?” he murmured, still half asleep. “Ganga bath, Har-ki-Pauri, please,” I said in a pleading but firm voice. Sitting up on the seat, the driver looked into my eyes. He must have guessed that it was important to me. “Thirty rupees,” he said. I knew it was double the price. “Okay.” I stepped up onto the seat.
The rickshaw moved slowly through the dark deserted street. We passed through narrow alleyways, then open fields enveloped in shadows. Onward we rode, one, two, three, maybe four kilometres toward the sacred ghat. Once or twice, as we passed a dark field, the thought came that I could be killed, raped or robbed and no one would understand how or why it happened. But I dispelled these fears and instead intoned in silence the mantra: Om Namah Shivaya, Om Namah Shivaya, Om Namah Shivaya, unknowingly but intuitively invoking the protective power of the Lord.
What is it that gives one the courage to march forward, for the sake of an ideal, into the great unknown, in spite of the inevitable risks, possible dangers, threat of loss of security, comfort and even life? Where does inner strength come from in times of stress, trials and tribulations?
Reflecting on various experiences in my life, I realise that the source of courage is an inner connectedness with a level of life that is invincible, immortal and imperishable—a level which remains ever the same, unshaken in the midst of change, whole, invulnerable and free from duality.
Courage and inner strength in the individual spring from that which is the unified source of power, wisdom and energy in the universe. Those with a devotional temperament call it God; those with a scientific bent of mind call it the unified field of natural law, but both are referring to the same unlimited source of life-giving energy in the universe. This omnipresent, beneficent power instils in us the courage to move forward into the vast unknown. Although invisible, it is nonetheless the invincible power deep within our hearts that we always call upon in our hour of need. This omnipresent Being, this nameless wholeness of life, is a source of inner strength that will never fail us as long as we trust in it.
There is a saying: faith, even the size of a mustard seed, can move mountains. Courage is born of faith—in oneself and in God. Faith springs from our awareness of the Oneness that underlies, supports and governs the diverse field of life. The faith we have in ourselves enriches our faith in God and vice-versa, for atman and Brahman are essentially one. Yatha pinde, tatha brahmande—as in the individual, so in the cosmos; as in the microcosm, so in the macrocosm. Faith stems from an intuitive awareness of a benevolent power that nourishes and protects all living beings in the universe. Faith is an inner anchor that bestows mental equilibrium in the face of danger. It enables us to meet the crises in our lives without losing our balance. The more we want to achieve, the more courage and faith are needed. The higher the building we wish to erect, the deeper we must dig the foundation.
The invincible power that infuses life with energy, intelligence and creativity, is always invoked consciously or unconsciously in any act of courage. This power alone guides all actions towards achievement and fulfilment. Without faith, courage will be lacking and without courage, we cannot accomplish anything of significance in life.
In the Bhagavad Gita, (4: 39-40), Sri Krishna says to Arjuna: “He gains knowledge who is possessed of faith, is active of purpose and has subdued the senses. Having gained knowledge, swiftly he comes to the supreme peace. But the man who is without knowledge, without faith and of a doubting nature, perishes. For the doubting mind there is neither this world nor another nor any happiness.”
Lack of awareness of the underlying oneness, wholeness and unity in the midst of life’s diverse expressions is born of lack of faith, which in turn gives rise to doubt and despair. Doubts emerge when one focuses on the field of differences to such an extent that one forgets or ignores the field of oneness. When the unified wholeness of life is forgotten, one is unable to feel the interconnectedness between the whole and its parts.
One ignores the eternal, immortal, imperishable aspect of life and instead identifies with the perishable, ever-changing aspect and so becomes increasingly vulnerable. One reacts to changing circumstances like a leaf tossed about by the blowing wind. The mind is caught between conflicting emotions and desires. One is forced to choose between ‘this’ and ‘that’. The weak mind is always caught in the conflict born of the duality between mind and heart.
It is said in the Upanishads: Dvitiyad vai bhayam bhavati—certainly fear is born of duality. Whenever there is a sense of two, fear can arise. In the Vivek Chudamani, Adi Shankara says: “Whenever the wise man sees the least difference in the infinite Brahman, at once that which he sees as different through mistake, becomes a source of terror to him.”
Just as fear is born of duality or the separation of the individual from the cosmos, so courage is born of the innate awareness of the oneness of the Ultimate Power. Through sadhana (meditation), we can access and enliven this unified level of life in our awareness. By attuning the individual mind to the cosmic mind, we can gain unlimited courage, balance of mind, even invincibility.
When Arjuna, the greatest archer of his time, was caught in a state of suspension in the battlefield, Sri Krishna taught him the knowledge of Sankhya, pertaining to the indestructibility of the spiritual content of life. In the Bhagavad Gita (2:17-24), Krishna says: “Know That to be indeed indestructible by which all this is pervaded. None can work the destruction of this immutable Being. He is uncleavable; he cannot be burned; he cannot be wetted, nor yet can he be dried. He is eternal, all-pervading, stable, immovable, ever the same.”
Armed with this knowledge and after directly experiencing the transcendence of the field of duality, Arjuna was able to rise to the occasion and fulfil his dharma. By the end of three hours, Arjuna succeeds in becoming established in the immovable wholeness of life and in conquering not only his inner enemies, in the form of fears and doubts, but his external enemies as well and in re-establishing dharma, the rule of righteousness for the good of all beings. As Krishna says in the Bhagavad Gita (5:19): “Even here, in this life, the universe is conquered by those whose mind is established in equanimity.”
Courage is the quality of a conqueror. He who would conquer the world must conquer the mind and become established in the Being, the omnipresent wholeness of life. Only then can one truly work towards nourishing, supporting and uplifting the world.
Barbara Briggs is a lecturer, poet and teacher of Transcendental Meditation. She is author of the newly released book, The Contribution Of Maharishi’s Vedic Science To Complete Fulfilment In Life (Sagar Publications), which provides insights into Maharishi Mahesh Yogi’s contribution to the Vedic tradition of knowledge.
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