By Swami Chidanand Saraswati
The more we put off attending to our spiritual life, the deeper we get ensnared in the coils of maya.
A disciple living in his guru’s ashram, one day went to his guru and said, ‘Guruji, I want to live a spiritual life. But I am not quite ready. My desires for a family, for possessions and enjoyment are still too strong. Grant me some time to fulfill these wishes and then I will return to your holy feet.’
The guru agreed and with his blessings the man found a beautiful girl to marry. They had beautiful children, and the man became financially successful.
After 10 years, there was a knock on the door of their home. The husband realized that the beggar outside was his guru and so he lovingly invited him inside.
‘Come with me, my son, let me show you the way to God.’
But the man looked at his guru piteously and said, ‘My children are very young, and my wife will not be able to handle them all alone. Allow me to stay another 10 years until the children are old enough to care for themselves.’
A true guru will guide you to the path, show you the light and help when help is requested, but will never force a disciple – against the disciple’s will – to follow any path. Thus, the man’s guru compassionately agreed, saying, ‘So be it, my son. Stay another 10 years until you feel that your mission is fulfilled.’
Ten years later, the guru returned to the home and again gave his disciple the call.
However, the man fell at his feet and cried. ‘I cannot leave this householder world until I marry off my children and get them settled professionally. If you could graciously give me only 10 more years, then all my responsibilities will be complete.’
‘So be it, my child,’ the guru said. ‘But remember that your true path is a spiritual path. Remember to keep your aim on God. Fulfill your duties but do not become too attached.’
Ten years later, the guru returned to the house to find a large bulldog guarding the house. Immediately he recognized his disciple in the dog and saw that the man had passed away in an accident several years prior but, due to his intense protectiveness, he had reincarnated as a guard dog. The guru put his hand on the dog’s head and said, ‘My child, now that you have regressed from a human to a dog due to your attachment to these worldly things, are you ready to come with me?’
The dog licked the hand of his guru lovingly and said, ‘My beloved guruji. You are right that it is my own attachment which has driven me to take birth as a dog, but you see my children have many enemies who are envious. I must stay here to protect them. However, I am sure that within a few years everything will be fine. Give me just seven more years to protect them, then I am yours.’
The guru left and returned seven years later.
This time, there was no dog out front and the home was filled with grandchildren. The guru closed his eyes and saw that his disciple had taken birth in the form of a cobra, wedged into the wall near the family safe to guard the money. He called the grandchildren of the house: ‘My children,’ he said. ‘In the wall to the right of your safe, there is a cobra curled up in a small nook. Go there and bring the cobra to me. Do not kill it. Just break its back with a stick and then bring it to me.’ The children were incredulous, but went to the wall where the old man had directed them. Incredibly, they saw that a cobra was curled up in the wall. Following his orders, they broke the cobra’s back and carried it outside to the guru. The guru thanked the children, threw the cobra over his neck and left.
As he walked away carrying the cobra over his neck, the guru spoke to the cobra, injured and aching, ‘My child, I am sorry to hurt you, but there was no other way. You have wasted 37 years and three lifetimes in the futile pursuit of material success and in attachment to people who also are only actors in the Cosmic Drama. My child, all here is maya – cosmic illusion. It lures us into its trap, convincing us that it is real, permanent, everlasting and significant. But, in reality, the only thing which is real is Him, and the only true purpose of life is to get close to Him. These attachments merely divert our attention away from the true purpose of life. I had no choice but to come to your rescue as I saw you sinking deeper and deeper into the clutches of maya.’
So frequently in life we think, ‘Just one more year and then I will simplify my life, minimizing luxuries.’ ‘Just one more year and I will cut back on my time at the office.’ ‘Just one more year and I will dedicate more time to meditation, seva and sadhana.’ But, that ‘one more year’ never comes.
Our intentions are good. We want to devote more time to spiritual pursuits. We want to spend less, need less and serve more. We want to master our lust, anger and greed. Yet, we are deluded, deceived and blinded by the power of maya.
When we read spiritual literature, when we listen to the holy ones, when we spend a few moments in meditation and prayer, that veil is temporarily lifted and we can see where we need to go. Yet, we continually get carried out on the waves of maya back into the tossing, turning, cresting, falling, tumultuous ocean of samsara.
What to do then? Are we destined to a life of only fleeting glimpses of the Truth? Are we to be forever imprisoned by maya’s blinding and suffocating grip? No! We can break free. In fact, the very purpose of our human birth is to realize our ultimate divinity, to re-unite with that which is Divine, to break the chains of maya.
The only way to break free from the veil of illusion that maya wraps around us is to surrender to God and beg Him to show us the true light and path. Our personal, human will power is, inherently, significantly weaker than the power of maya. It is only by surrendering ourselves to God, by aligning ourselves with His divine power that we can have the strength to walk the right path.
When we rely on that power within us which is One with Him, we will neither fail nor fall. True, deep prayer melts away the chains of maya and they fall to the wayside, powerless to bind us.
We must also remember that although God gives us the strength, we have to put in the effort. We cannot simply say, ‘Okay, God. You give me the strength. I will do nothing.’ It is a joint effort. God helps those who help themselves.
Therefore, we must make and stick to concrete vows of how we are going to be better people. Rather than saying, ‘I will find time to meditate’ we must say, ‘I will not leave for work without sitting in meditation and I will not sleep at night without doing my nightly introspection.’ Rather than say, ‘I will try to cut back on my expenses so that my financial needs are less,’ we must say, ‘I will not buy another jacket or pair of shoes [or anything] until the ones that I have are broken, torn or no longer fit me.’ Rather than say, ‘I will try to overcome my anger, lust and greed,’ we must commit to having daily appointments with God in which we introspect on all the times we allowed ourselves to be overpowered by these emotions and we must pray for strength, daily, to remain calm, peaceful and satvic in our lives.
If we wait for the right time, that time will never come. The time for a spiritual life is now.
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