By Suma Varughese October 2007 Your present circumstances are tailormade for your growth. there is no need to dive into the Himalayas I have a lawyer-activist friend, who was an atheist until a traumatic event led her to Vipassana. A total transformation in thinking followed, and she threw herself ardently into this path. So much so that she gave away all her belongings and moved into the Igatpuri campus for seva and sadhana. A couple of years down the line, it struck her that what she longed for more than anything else was the householder life – to marry, have children, run a lovely home. She subsequently made her way back to the city, but it took her a long, weary while to earn a livelihood and obtain a home of sorts. In the first flush of excitement of discovering spirituality, most of us want to chuck it all up, and dive into the Himalayas. But this is often ill-advised. A wise man once wrote that the circumstances we are presently in are perfect for our future progress. There is no need to fling them to the winds and waltz off into the wilderness, lotta and lathi in hand. It is in cultivating patience while waiting in a queue, or controlling ourselves when the mother-in-law provokes, or conquering exhaustion to tend a sick child that we grow. And spirituality is just that – it’s about growing, evolving, transforming. It’s about transcending the ego, and thereby achieving unconditional love and compassion. It is not about mystical experiences, or developing incredible powers. Besides, there’s a practical issue to settle. If we decide to renounce it all, what happens to our duties and responsibilities? What happens to your spouse and kids if you have a family or your parents if you happen to be a single child? Since enlightenment can only come out of voiding karma, it is impossible for you to prosper in your spiritual life if you have shrugged off your legitimate responsibilities. Secondly, we cannot sidestep our conditioning; we need to go through it. If lust assails you, there’s no point in embracing chastity. If you dream of brands, and luxury cars, and endless shopping, you are not ready to move into austerity. Doing so will only force these desires down into the subconscious, from where they will resurface as a complex of sorts. We need instead to overcome these tendencies through the long and patient task of self-purification. Using a spiritual technique like meditation, affirmation or chanting, we learn to gradually and slowly eliminate them until we slough them off, like a snake shedding its skin. Until that happens, stay with these desires, and forgive yourself each time you splurge and recommit you to transcend the desire. We cannot drop desires, desires must drop themselves. Attempting to drop them, would only reinforce the hold they have over us. Don’t we all know how hard it is to resist our favourite food while on a diet? The more we try, the harder it gets. We need to reach a stage where we can accept these desires. And this takes relentless practice which you can only do when you experience these desires, not when you have escaped them into some remote place. Many times, too, we may not be able to void them through spiritual practice. We may actually have to live through them. Everyone who has read Herman Hesse’s spiritual classic, Siddhartha, will remember that this quintessential seeker who embraces the path of austerity, is forced by circumstances to walk down the path of love by meeting the courtesan, Kamala, and later even becomes a prosperous businessman. One day, sated with the worldly life, he turns his back on it and walks away. This time, he is ready for renunciation because he had tasted everything that life had to offer; soon he attains enlightenment by the side of a gently lapping river. In my own case too, I find that it is only when I accepted my desires instead of rejecting them that they gradually left me. Food for instance was and still remains a major weakness, but by accepting the persistent clamour of the senses each time I was anywhere near my favourite food, I learnt to tame it. The task is by no means over, but I am seeing results today. So stay with your circumstances, whatever they may be, and liberate yourself link by link, instead of breaking the chain and cutting loose. In spirituality, there are no short cuts.
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