By Devdas Menon
Drop the baggage of the ego-self and travel unfettered and free in the journey of life.
Less luggage, more comfort is something that all travelers know to be true. It is particularly true when we deal with the journey of life. Not just in a physical sense (we know only too well what it means to be trim and fit), but in a much deeper psychological sense. In that sense, we are always traveling, and each of us carries a fair amount of baggage. It is only rarely that we feel freed of all mental baggage, and are able to glide about freely and joyfully, like birds in the sky.
For most, ‘success’ is all about adding more weight to who we think we are, or more accurately, to what others think of us. Indeed, the individual sense of who I am is often entirely governed by my relative importance in the prevailing value system of society. That is why we often end up doing, acquiring and becoming things that are viewed as being desirable and respectable by people around us. The sense of ‘who I am’ is, for the vast majority of us, derived from the total value of my possessions, as assigned by society. My psychological baggage is centered on that notion, and along with it, all my remembered past and imagined future. In fact, I am that baggage. From that perspective, traveling light does not sound all that great, for who wants to be a ‘nobody’?
The spiritually awakened person is one who knows that he or she truly is a ‘nobody’, and is willing to be so. Such a person knows that the only real hindrance to enlightened living is precisely this false notion of oneself, this narrow and total identification with the ego-self, and its appendages. Let go of the baggage of the ego-self, and be free!
Let go and be free! How simple! Yet, how difficult it is in actual practice! Especially when we cling to the baggage so tenaciously, and so unconsciously. Dropping the baggage of one’s ego-self and thereby discovering real freedom is the most absorbing task that a spiritual aspirant can have in life. All that is required is continual awareness, awareness of the clinging, and a letting go of the attachments that bind one.
People have serious difficulty in understanding that attachments are the root cause of human suffering. Until that understanding dawns, clearly and sharply, the clinging will continue, and so will suffering. The understanding is initially painful, but it is a passing pain, as in a surgical operation. Truth can be very bitter, when one has been deluding oneself all of one’s life.
The way of awareness may appear to be radically different from conventional religious pursuits, such as the path of devotion or of selfless action. However, the dropping of the baggage of the ego-self is common to all spiritual paths. This is why the essence of all religions is said to be the same. Without the surrender of the ego-self, bhakti is a far cry from bhakti yoga, and without the dissolution of the notion of ‘doership’, karma is a far cry from karma yoga.
People are afraid of ‘letting go’. This is understandable; until one discovers the liberation that follows the ‘letting go’, one will resist surrender. Indeed, all of us have glimpsed this liberating experience at some point or other in our lives, especially in our early childhood. It is an experience of joy, a sense of oneness and affinity towards everything. It is characterized by an absence of resistance to the natural ‘flow’ of life. It is a state of peace and harmony, bereft of distraction and worry. In it, there is no sense of time. It is, in summary, a truly wonderful state, accessible to all who are able to ‘let go’.
The underlying nature of consciousness seems to be a state of quiet joy that does not have an opposite. It is qualitatively quite different from the happiness derived from the activity of the ego-self, such as winning an award. The ego-pleasure that emanates from an enhanced sense of self-importance (more baggage) is what most of us crave for, but it is an outcome of delusion, and will inevitably bring in its wake its painful opposite, ego-pain.
The joyous experience of the ‘flow’ state, unencumbered by baggage, can be felt not only when one is in a state of ‘meditation’, apparently doing no work, but also in the thick of apparently intense activity. Any skilled worker or talented artiste or sportsman will testify to this. Such activity turns out to be ‘perfect’ when one is fully focussed on the task at hand, with a relaxed concentration and without any distraction. One allows the universal energy to express itself through one’s medium, without interference, and without any motive of profit or worry about the outcome. In fact, interferences by the ego-self only serve to contaminate the perfection in the work. Chuang Tzu, the great Taoist sage, wonderfully captures this truth in the following verse.
When an archer shoots for nothing, he has all his skill.
If he shoots for a brass buckle,
he is already nervous.
If he shoots for a prize of gold,
he goes blind,
Or sees two targets –
he is out of his mind!
His skill has not changed,
but the prize divides him.
He thinks more of winning
than of shooting,
And the need to win
drains him of power.
To summarize, the first thing that needs to be clearly understood is that the baggage of the ego-self is the only obstruction to true freedom and joyous living. Driven by the ways of the world, our normal tendency is to add to that baggage, rather than to lighten the load. The problem stems not from ‘successes’ in life, but from the false notion that ‘I am the doer’ that accompanies these achievements, and from clinging to attachments. Through continual awareness and meditative practice, however, we discover the art of traveling light, and becoming one with the flow of life. With this, we truly discover a sense of joyous freedom and connectedness with the universe!
Dr Devdas Menon is a professor of structural engineering at IIT, Madras. Well-versed in Vedanta and other spiritual traditions, he is author of the book, Stop sleep-walking through life. Contact:
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