First things first

In the understanding of spirituality or of religion (which I consider as spirituality practiced as discipline), it is important to have the priorities set straight.

While we can start off with accounts of God and heavens, experience and common-sense point to the fact that this may not be a good starting place for learning to live a spiritual life.

Texts like the Gītā also advocate this point of view and prescribe several preliminary steps before introducing one to views on God or liberation.

The first requirement appears to be learning to see the real self beneath the separate person-hood imposed by the mind-body-senses. Without a clear vision of the self that stands beyond the false ego and remains beyond conceptual grasp, it is hard to see one’s way in one’s discipline. The inner light needs to shine in order to brighten one’s way.

A life with inner radiance, often called enlightenment, is a sure way of dispelling the dark agencies of our conditioned responses.

This also makes sense since it is futile to reach out for tall concepts without knowing oneself. Let us ask ourselves the question: Why do we need to know God? If the answer is simply, I was raised that way, Everyone else in my community is like that or I feel my life would be better with God, we are probably dealing with the reasons at the level of the false ego which can fall apart at a later point. It is very easy to see that there are those who do not share our similar faith and yet live excellent lives. We notice that there are those within and outside our community who have different religious persuasions or even none. So, these are not good reasons at all which explains why some people develop a sense of trauma after some time, when encountering popular religions.

No religious system can be useful without letting its followers discover their own inner light. Imposition of religion for the sake of promoting organizational strength is the laziest way to destroy spirituality. Selling religion with dubious reasons, magic or false promises erodes credibility in the long run. Such attempts promote institution at the price of the individual.

True strength of religion lies in its ability to frankly acknowledge the real purpose of its customs instead of appealing to some archaic divine authority. True strength lies in its ability to let individuals discover the motivation for a religious life within themselves, from knowing their true essence.

The maxim Know Thyself (γνῶθι σεαυτόν) is of foremost importance in spiritual life.

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Living in Presence

There are a hundred problems that can come up in one’s life and at each instant, we might find ourselves searching for answers – from our own life and from the lives of others.

We might find several answers: we should have done this, we should not have done that, etc. An appreciation of the human condition at its most basic reveals that to search for a way out of problems is natural. In fact, it appears to be natural to all life. Usually the best of books to find answers are the books of life itself. Life in all its forms and manifestations carries within it unspoken messages that speak to those who can listen.

While listening is one part of the story, the crucial part comes in the form of living the truth, living in presence. Beautiful ideals get corrupted when they come in contact of non-presence, in contact of conditioned responses.

Living in presence is the life that is lived in the context of the universe, not this tiny me who is separate from everything else, and in perpetual conflict and competition.

A life in presence is a life of love, patience and service.

Rainer Maria Rilke: “Perhaps all the dragons in our lives are princesses who are only waiting to see us act, just once, with beauty and courage. Perhaps everything that frightens us is, in its deepest essence, something helpless that wants our love.”

Craving and surrender

To a disciple initiated into the way of surrendered life, the teacher Naṃpiḷḷai taught that one should not give oneself to craving for wealth or other material possessions after surrendering to God.

Craving and surrender are mutually opposite paths. Surrender is the state where one has let go with the understanding that one’s life at the level of mind-body is determined by one’s circumstances and preconditions while life at the spiritual level is enhanced by the grace of God.

Surrender follows from the understanding that we did not will our energies, talents and abilities or even our essential sentience into existence by ourselves. Even the state of surrender is sustained due to the grace or the will of God.

Craving can be seen to be the path that is directly opposed to this view. In craving, one is found to be living in separation, trying to enhance oneself and adding to one’s estimation of oneself. In this case, both the life at the level of mind-body and that at the level of the self are to be carefully controlled and enhanced.

The teacher, Naṃpiḷḷai offers three reasons why craving for possessions is not advisable after surrender:

(i) If one has truly internalized the motivation for surrender, it is easy to see that God, who has brought one to the state of surrender, is unlikely to take one away from this path and push one into the difficulties of craving and frustration. The activity of grace within oneself is a sign of things to come.

(ii) For the individual, this would imply walking away from the true state of existence. It has been seen in previous articles that surrender is a natural way of existence. Having come to the point of surrender and authentic living, one would be walking away from truth again if one would lose oneself to craving. This is best summarized by For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?

(iii) In the Śrīvaiṣnava understanding of reality, a life of surrender is considered to bring happiness to God for a soul is gained that is harmony with the divine. In the Purāṇa-s, this is indicated by the descriptions of God sporting with those in harmony with Him. Craving interrupts the divine sport of God and the joy of harmony. To be detached with the bliss of God is to try to thrive as a lotus outside the pond.

On this cool and fresh morning, may we let the grace of God enliven our awareness to watch our thoughts and predilections that cause craving for pleasures.

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Surrender to God

The system of Yoga, which teaches self-realization, offers īśvara-praṇidhāna or meditation on God as one possible way for self-realization. The Gītā, however, emphasizes that not just self-realization but good prosperity of the world and realization of God are also not possible without surrendering to God.

Surrendering is generally considered as something negative. This is the due to the false-ego’s desperation to survive. Whenever we listen to some spiritual teaching and try to act on the basis of it, the false-ego becomes agitated and stages a comeback. In some cases, it stages a comeback by transforming spirituality itself into a race where it can feel good by attaining some goals. The false-ego that feels proud about its own spirituality is the most dangerous foe of a spiritual life.

It is impossible to conquer the false-ego by suppressing it. Letting it be can also turn difficult when the false-ego quickly takes over without warning. Those in the early stages of meditation have a hard time figuring out whether they are really getting into their true being or if they are being deceived by a transmutation of the false-ego. This doubt, in turn, nurtures the false-ego. Good grief!

Surrendering to God does not suppress the false-ego or even just let it be. It creates a state of awareness where the false-ego has no reason to become agitated having ‘let go’. Surrender is not a one-time action but a way of life.

Surrender is also not artificial but a natural way of life. Even in the clearest realization of our awareness, we live in God. What is this sentience? What is this table? What is this universe? All of this is verily the appearance of God. The existence of sentience, the laws of nature, our particular states of being are all part of the existence and the state of God.

As has been explained in previous posts on the topic, non-duality does not imply that one becomes identical to another or to the universe. Non-duality, first of all, implies that we are not independent. The absence of independence is not just for the case of survival (having to depend on air, water, etc.) but for our very existence itself. We do not bring ourselves into being or command any control over what it is to exist as us.

In this sense, non-duality can be understood as the realization that one lives in God. All of our experience is an encounter with God in God. How can one who does not own one’s very existence dream of achieving this or that by oneself? As this understanding emerges, surrender to God comes across as natural. Some teachers say that even the act of surrender is a joke given that one really possesses nothing – not even oneself – to surrender. Surrender is not an action but a state of realization. All goodness: success in this worldly life, self-realization or God-realization result from surrender.

It is true that the mind can be arrested by meditation on any object. However, a form of meditation that is grounded in surrender is not only effective but also true as it corresponds to our real state of existence.  The spiritual advice to surrender to whatever is, is identical to the teaching that advises surrender to God if God is realized not to be some distant entity but as the Self of reality. The Śrīvaiṣṇava system considers surrender to be the greatest secret of life.

Surrender, over the course of time or instantly, changes the mindset that the world exists to be controlled by us and for our sake. Instead, we begin to see ourselves as existing for the sake of God, who is the ground of all reality. We are like the flower which is the fulfillment of the tree, existing due to the tree and nourished by it for its own purpose. This understanding prevents the mind from seeking conflict that follows as a consequence of trying to aggressively manipulate the world according to one’s fleeting state of liking/disliking.

In this way, surrender makes life more peaceful and leads to the attainment of meaningful states of life, both worldly and spiritual.

Simple Happiness

With all the advancements and progress, it is hard to think that the world may be heading towards trouble. After all, we do have ways of finding solutions to different problems. There is great joy and pride in the triumph of the human mind over the challenges thrown by nature.

Yet, it somehow seems hard to believe that all is well with the world. There are several ways to create joy and to have fun. But, there is an equal measure of disappointment, and feeling lost – a profound unhappiness.

I don’t know if you have noticed it, but entire cities of people can be found to be generally unhappy until something pleasant happens in their lives. There are grumpy faces, tense foreheads and some yelling. We want exciting things to happen in our lives. Forget about lives! We want exciting things to happen even in our jobs. Work must be playful and fun. I know of a few folks who are still trying to find their life’s calling 15 years after college.  Needless to say they are not happy.

If we examine this situation even slightly, it becomes clear that we have no reason to feel unhappy or tense for most of the time. Happiness is always around and can be seen to be our natural condition of being. Even simple events provide opportunity for immense gratitude and happiness. It is the habit of taking things for granted that lies at the root of most sorrow. If we pause and look around, we can find plenty of things to cherish and feel grateful for.

As much as we pride our minds in seeking solutions to problems and pat ourselves on the back for self-reliance, we do not seem to take interest in finding joy within ourselves. Waiting for an occasion to be happy is a terrible waste of life. What is stopping happiness right now? What is stopping the blissful joy that one experiences within oneself?

Knowing oneself is a clear route to joy. Being oneself is happiness. When we discover ourselves as sentient entities who find expression in different bodies, we not only learn to be peaceful with ourselves but also with others.

Taking other people for granted is usually the root cause of trouble. When we see that everyone is a conscious entity at a fundamental level modified by minds and bodies, we find a sense of ‘equal-vision’ (samadarśana) in everyone. We see ourselves in others and others in ourselves. Every single person is full of complexity and depth that cannot be summarized by He is so obtuse or She is so mean. People are not to be reduced as objects from whom we derive pleasure. There is the sacred in all. Even if this is not understood widely, it is good to treat people as stores of sacredness. They might start searching within themselves due to how we treat them.

Self-knowledge that starts within oneself and goes out can make us laugh at life itself. Beneath all the masks we wear is the profound wonder of the soul. The Vaiṣṇava system teaches that the soul, the conscious aware entity, is not just deep but also very beautiful. There is beauty to be found in everyone which is masked by the ignorance of identification with the mind or body. The purpose of spiritual life is not to attain some sense of inert awareness, but to discover this beauty, nay, be this beauty for oneself and others. It is also to see such beauty in others and be an agent of nurturing the expression of spiritual life.

At this level, happiness is simple and always present. Visiting theme parks, going to movies, doing something fun are not necessary. One can always be happy. This is not to say that one must abandon seeking happiness outside. It only appears odd that one should do so when there is so much joy within oneself. Seeking pleasure outside is invariably associated with later disappointment since everything changes. What does not change is the inner beauty of the soul that is always present as presence.

The case of God

This article clearly steps outside the confines of intellectual safety.

As long as one is talking about the natural world, one can venture with a certain amount of reasonable confidence. Spirituality is a little trickier. But, some practice of mindfulness or some other form of meditation can quickly bring both the speaker and audience up to speed on what is going on. The difference between the core of consciousness itself and its modifications can be discerned. There are thoughts arising, emotions arising, perceptions arising, sensations arising, experiences arising, events arising …

One can quietly watch this show with the confidence, this is not I, this is not I. Having attained to this state of truth, some of us can find ourselves justified in declaring victory and completion of spiritual maturity. Some call this the non-dual experience or the realization of the non-dual truth.

Upon introspection, some others would conclude that this is not really the end of spiritual practice but only the door to it. The end of grasping, and attachment, the distancing of one’s core from the modifications of the consciousness do indeed create a less selfish experience, a more spacious one. However, it is still selfish in a different way: this realization belongs to one locality of consciousness, one human being among many. If this were not the case, one would not need to even engage in teaching or speaking about this with others. No teacher would need to exist if there were not other localities of consciousness. .

Led by this line of thought, it would be fair to conclude that what is declared the non-dual experience is not that; it is only the fall of false identification with the mind than a true experience of the truth of non-duality. One has become liberated from the vagaries of one’s own mind and become distant from its blemishes, but one has still not truly become one with the All.

Though it is tempting to call this stage of inner realization as the realization of God, it would be hasty to rush into that view. For one, the locality of consciousness that has attained to this realization is still subject to the force of experience. One observes, but one cannot say what is coming next. One cannot know or direct the dynamics and laws of the universe that stand resolute and immutable despite claims of miracles. In a way, it is clear that the conscious entity and the world are bound by some dynamics. While the conscious entity has become free of the vagaries of the mind, it has not become completely free as the All. Consciousness and the world alike are subject to some laws which move on like clock-work. Even the hazier field of quantum physics is mathematically defined and not a show of utter, incomprehensible magic.

At this stage, one might feel inclined to take a point of view where both conscious entities and world are manifestations of the One. This view is seeded by the realization of the true self (or core) that is free of mental modifications, without individuation and separation, liberated of selfishness. Once the hard boundaries of the individual dissolve, there is an opportunity to realize kinship with the universe. Both the spiritual and material aspects can be seen to be manifestations of the One. Everything is timelessly woven into the fabric of reality manifesting in specific configurations over the course of time when the conditions so favour.

This window, this cot, this table, this consciousness, all of them that are seen, heard or experienced in any other way, everything that we have known to be the way it is, are all appearances of the One. In that sense, everything that we might reckon is pregnant with Brahman. Hence, the pen-name for this blog is Brahmātmaka, where even the self has for its self, the Brahman. The Bṛhadāraṇyaka (The Great Forest Secret) says, He who stands in the self, who is deeper to the self, whom the self does not know, whose body is the self, who rules the self from within … He is the self of all, the deepest ruler, who is beyond all change.

Once again, it is very tempting to go further and talk about this God or Brahman. But, to do so would be the act of a fool. The Brahman teases us out of thought: so close, yet so far … so far, yet so close. It is this tease that lies at the root of mysticism. As the Brahman escapes formal definition, it finds definition as the teaser unto the spiritual self. The availability of the Brahman everywhere while simultaneously being unavailable to grasp leads to an interesting spiritual condition. The overflowing nature of unconditional love that manifests after liberation from the mind suddenly finds a target in the Brahman, in the All. The passive discovery of non-duality takes an active dimension which comes to regarded as bhakti. And here, talking too much is not good for anyone. Bhakti is not emotional excess or crass superstition. At the same time, one would only embarrass oneself trying to put it in words. Let us just say this. The knowledge that one is in the Brahman, of the Brahman and with the Brahman is not just liberating. It makes Brahman-hood a birthright open to all. Indians would know that despite efforts by several masters, it was only in bhakti that those historically relegated to the lower layers of caste rose to be regarded the highest saints of the land.  The equations turned upside down. Formal religious philosophy works with the idea that the human is bound to the authority of God and God favours some choicest few. Bhakti radically inverts that relationship and stakes the authority of every bhakta  (human) over God. God is bound to man as much as man is bound to God. The sage Tagore wrote, The Vaishnava religion has boldly declared that God has bound himself to man, and in that consists the greatest glory of human existence.  There is this daring act of dragging the inscrutable Brahman to the humble hut of the human and drenching Him in human love. If meditation is not for the weak of mind, bhakti is not for the weak of heart.

I am getting too talkative. Let me stop.

Sacrifice in action

It has been written several times in this blog that God is revealed only in love. How this love cultivated? Is it cultivated by developing emotional states or getting into relationships?

Some teachers preached the way of knowledge. Kṛṣṇa also preached the way of knowledge but one in which one does not sit cross-legged with closed eyes forever, but one that involves everyday action. This method is called Karma Yoga or skill in action.

The starting point of Karma Yoga is an initial awakening to the fact that there are two categories: material and spiritual. This understanding does not require any theory about these categories but only a first-level acknowledgement. Otherwise, there is mis-identification of oneself with the mind and body.

There are three elements to Karma Yoga which are called the three sacrifices. The sacrifices are to be performed with understanding and not as rituals.

  1. The sacrifice of agency: The unexamined mind assumes endless freedom in action and yet constantly finds itself in conflict. This is an open paradox that we miss right in front of our eyes. The project of life is not easy as it is. On top of it, we carry on our shoulders the burden of agency. I have to do this and then that. If we examine carefully we find that the work is made possible only because of the conditions of the universe. The mind and body are in sufficient health to perform the action. We subsist on food which is organic life. We need water and air. That is how we get energy to act.  The intention to perform the action has arisen in our awareness. Our environment is conducive to allow the action to be performed. So, who is the agent of action? While one is entitled to think that one participates in the action, it is clear that we are not independent agents. An action depends on innumerable preconditions. It is only by these preconditions that an action is occasioned. When one attains this knowledge, one acts out of gratitude that the action has been made possible. It is beautiful that any action is possible and when it occurs, it feels to be us. Then, action becomes less burdensome and complicated.
  2. The sacrifice of possessiveness: A trauma greater than agency is possessiveness regarding action. This is my action; I need to get it done and succeed at it. This thought is the root cause of psychological stress. What am I doing with my life? What should I do next to succeed? Where is my life headed? Am I a big failure and a disappointment? One can hear these voices in the darkest hour. These voices are the most cruel suffering one can inflict upon oneself. Once again, by careful reflection, one can find that the action does not belong to us. An action is occasioned only by preconditions. If anything, the action belongs more to the circumstance than to this puny me. The realities of our existence – the need for food, water, money, health, contingencies – make us act and we can act only if we are disposed to act. So, action belongs to the complete condition of reality and not just to me.
  3. The sacrifice of fruit: A key distraction from action is the constant obsession with result. Has the result come forth? Is this working for me? Am I getting anything out of this? Obsessing with the result leads to unskilled action. Kṛṣṇa tells Arjuna, You are qualified only to act; you are powerless in results. Constantly worrying about results does not help action. Even when the results come, they come because of a variety of conditions. One cannot say that one produced a result completely discounting the environment which made the result possible. Also, a result that is favorable to one may be unfavorable to another. Today, we have this insatiable quest for money. We destroy the environment with impunity as long as we can make a few extra bucks. So, results have to be interpreted not simply from our narrow selfish perspective but from a wholesome perspective. It is the state of reality that births a result and carries endless meaning to its constituents. This understanding is the third sacrifice.

Acting with these three sacrifices removes selfishness and purifies the mind. Such action becomes a true worship of God, who is the Real manifesting as all reality. It provides space for one to appreciate who one truly is and cultivates deep love.

In a mature state of this understanding, the sage Tagore wrote,

What divine drink wouldst thou have, my God, from this overflowing cup of my life?

My poet, is it thy delight to see thy creation through my eyes and to stand at the portals of my ears silently to listen to thine own eternal harmony?

Thy world is weaving words in my mind and thy joy is adding music to them. Thou givest thyself to me in love and then feelest thine own entire sweetness in me.

Coming true before God

In the Gītā, Kṛṣṇa tells Arjuna to abide by five states: ‘nistraiguṇyo bhava! nirdvandvo bhava! nityasattvastho bhava! niryogakṣemo bhava! ātmavān bhava!’

Triguṇa stands for the three qualities of matter. Traiguṇya refers to the objects that possess these qualities: that is, all material objects. The first state (nistraiguṇya) is to emerge unattached from hankering for material objects. This state is achieved by recognizing the difference between the body and the self, the material and the spiritual.

Detachment leads to equanimity which is the second state, nirdvandva: to remain calm and peaceful when stimulated by the dualities of  pleasure and pain, heat and cold, etc. One can understand this by carefully noting that the spiritual self is unaffected by almost anything and all sensations, perceptions and emotions arise in and due to the body/mind.

The third state is nityasattvastha: constantly abiding in truth. This is the most transformative of the five states, a kind of phase shift from a lower level of consciousness to a higher level.  What is false in the Vedānta is not the physical or mental world. What is false is the misidentification of ourselves with physical/mental constructs. This is Māyā or the great magic where an entity as pure and beautiful as the conscious self starts thinking, I am human, He is so mean, I am so angry, etc. and suffers. The word ‘māyā’ literally means magic or something that is full of wonder. The magic draws an illusion that confuses the true identity of the conscious self. The way to avoid this is to abide in truth. One abides in truth through equanimity and the wisdom of difference between body and self.

It is not possible to abide in truth without dissolving all the devices of the mind. Complete purity of the mind is necessary and this can come only in a state of no-grasping cultivated by equanimity. It is to become self-aware without letting the mind interpret that state of awareness. Allowing the mind to do this job leads to identification at the level of the mind. The mind is that permanent chatterbox of a friend we all have in our lives who has an insatiable urge to describe the obvious and talk out of turn.

Spirituality is a process of stripping oneself of every pretense thrown up by the mind, a condition of becoming completely naked in awareness. This is the state of abiding in truth.

Śrīmad-Bhāgavata-Purāṇa speaks about the Gopī-s becoming naked before Kṛṣṇa when He steals their clothes. Anyone who is familiar with Hinduism would find endless arguments from detractors about whether it is morally right to steal clothes – that too for a God – only to be matched by followers who invent baffling reasons to defend the act. The story is simply an account of God teaching the self to let go of its pretensions in the mind and come clean, to be oneself as one truly is. Stories of ascetics relinquishing all clothes are also not to be interpreted literally (as some have). They only teach what many traditions have always taught, If you are arriving before God, approach in completeness nakedness of awareness. The Purāṇas are full of accounts of so-called demons inventing devices to outsmart God and win their way, only to end up causing pain for themselves and others. They are not to be taken literally to mean that demons truly exist, nor are they to be dismissed as fairy-tales of a primitive civilization (a sad truth being that the old Vedic civilization had better urban & rural planning than some of our modern cities).

God or the ultimate truth is not accessed by mental constructs but by the lack of them. One does not commune with God by building mental security but through abject vulnerability. Such are those who are the poor, the humble and the meek, who do not keep grasping and accumulating, who are free of anxiety and abide in the truth.

Abiding in the truth leads to cessation of anxiety, the fourth state, niryogakṣema, where one is not caught in perpetual anxiety about accumulating and defending possessions selfishly.

This dropping of the effect of ‘māyā’ allows one to be oneself, ātmavān. Behold this miracle where anxiety transforms into love or bhakti. Kṛṣṇa teaches that it is only in love that God is comprehended. This love is not the emotional excess of attachment and desire which expresses itself as and feeds from various moods and sentiments. This is a state of love achieved by being oneself. The former is a product of the mind; the latter transcends it.

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Courtesy: Yugala Priya Devi Dasi who must have immense spiritual vision to paint like this

Communion with God is possible here and now, not in some enclosure or within some organization. The doors to this beautiful world are not in books or in houses. And here is the most radical of truths: the door to heaven opens on the inside.

The kingdom of God exists and thrives in our own state of awareness. Kṛṣṇa tells Arjuna, that (self) is My highest heaven  (tad-dhāma paramaṃ mama).  Anything outside this is hell. And it is as simple as that.

Create no more suffering!

Saint Narsinh Mehta wrote,

Vaiṣṇava jana to tēnē kahiyē
Je pīḍ parāyī jāṇē rē !

Call those Vaiṣṇavas, who understand the suffering of others.

The song is quite famous due to its use as daily prayer by Gandhi. Needless to say it inspired the non-violent movement for Indian independence.

This is a very special requirement for a member of a religion. Feel the pain of others. The saint does not want us to affirm our faith in Viṣṇu to be called a Vaiṣṇava. He wants us to understand the pain of all.

____

There is the sound of a new born baby crying. The parents are elated. But my mind is troubled. It is a beautiful moment, no doubt. But, the heart shudders while thinking about the world the innocent baby is coming into.

In the daily grind for survival and in the midst of numerous problems and conflicts, this thought hardly crosses us. Where lies the salvation of man (and woman)?

We demand our rights, we ask for political and economic freedom. It is all nice compared to the horrors of slavery and autocratic rules. We ask for the freedom of opinion and religion. We keep making laws to enhance our liberties. But, is this all? Do we simply need more of the same thing or is there a need for a paradigm shift in our perspective that allows us to evolve to the next level?

But why should I care? As I long as I take care of myself, amass enough wealth, obtain sufficient luxury, find a partner to share my life and live for my own family, it is should be enough, isn’t it? Let anyone else suffer or rejoice. Why do I need to bother? My concern reduces for things and people far away, who I feel are irrelevant to my well-being.

Only a little introspection disturbs this convenient and happy dream. When I try to understand myself, I fail at words. Clearly, this body alone is not me, this brain alone is not me. They will be here still when I am dead. Would I outlast death? If I would, then caring for this particular life alone makes no sense. If I do not know where I would be reborn, I better make every place beautiful and peaceful.

But, what if this is just folly. It could be that I perish with death and it is all over. Yet, the body with the brain lies here and does not explain who I am. If I look at myself, beyond the body, beyond the mind, I cannot tell any difference between myself and the next person, between myself and the baby. We are different because of our different minds, different bodies and different conditions. But, at some level, we are all the same. It is impossible to make out any difference at this essential level.

Regardless of whether I am eternal or perishable, beyond this body and mind, it is I who makes an appearance everywhere couched in different bodies, minds and conditions. It is I acting differently due to the difference in role and costume.

I am the first form of life that appeared on earth. I am the fish that decided to explore the land. I am the plant that blossomed a new flower. I am the inventor of the wheel, of fire and of every technology. I am the greatest of kings. I am the lowest criminal. I am the person who was scheming the fall of civilizations. I am the saint and I am the sinner. I am my father and I am also my son. Wherever I see, I only see I.  Now, I am this new born baby that is crying, resting on her mother’s lap.

I can be truly happy only when every I is happy. For this, I must understand suffering. The “I” is unlike anything else. The difference between an apple and another is not the same as the difference between one “I” and the other. Because in essence, there is exact identity and what happens to me is important.

It is not possible for me to take care of myself without taking care of every other “I”. How can I be happy when I am clutching my stomach with the pain of hunger on the street? How can I be happy when I am living with mortal fear in the middle of war? How can I be happy when I am consumed with madness? The pain of everyone is my pain.

We use language carelessly and distance ourselves with the word ‘others’. Who are these others? In essence, they are all “I”. That is how they feel themselves! They feel like “I”, all of them!

There is a grand shift in perspective when I stop using words ‘everybody’ or ‘everyone’ which distance the living entity and make it look like an object, like a stone. Start using the word ‘every-I’. This term, however ridiculous it may sound, conveys the message of unity of all life that has feeling. It is more accurate in its description and does not obscure the conscious entity.

In this moment, as we watch life renewing itself, appearing as “I”, let us feel for it and resolve to create no more suffering due to our myopic understanding and interests. If we can, let us put in our efforts to create a world that is more livable. Let not the disjointed nature of our memories and sensations fool us into tormenting ourselves. Let there be peace. In this lies our salvation, our liberation – for I cannot be liberated without liberating every “I”.  How can I enjoy a blissful heaven, when I know that a majority of every-I is in deep suffering?

Respond with understanding

Svāmī Piḷḷai Lokācārya in his magnum opus Śrī-vacana-bhūṣaṇam writes a beautiful sūtra teaching five ways of responding to transgression.

Patience, compassion, smile, acceptance and gratitude must be responses to transgressions. [365]

If a person harms us or abuses us, adopts mental, verbal or physical violence, the  first and most important thing to do is to not reciprocate. The root cause of all suffering in the world is impulsive or calculated reciprocation of harm. By responding with violence, we join the transgressor in the act of transgression. The transgressor has won over a convert so that the force of violence would thrive in one form or the other. To avoid this from happening, we must learn to see what is happening and understand it deeply. For this we need patience.

Patience creates understanding that allows us to relate to the source of violence which is usually a deep sense of emptiness or some form of pain. When we realize the harmful effects of pain and the suffering it creates in the individual, it allows cultivation of compassion towards the transgressor. We also understand the pain that would be endured in future as a result of this transgression. Compassion arrests the process of creating more pain and opens our understanding to more useful solutions.

There is no weapon more potent than a smile. Smiling communicates inner compassion and understanding. It advertises to the transgressor what our response is to violence. Violent people lose their ability to understand and relate to feelings of others. They are numbed with negative emotions. Smiling makes our inner state of mind explicit as it is very visible. When we see ourselves in others and acknowledge violence as a common disease, we smile out of compassion. We smile out of the understanding that the ego is throwing a tantrum without allowing the person to know oneself.

The fourth response is acceptance. In order to respond effectively, we need to accept the situation peacefully. Allowing the transgression passively is dangerous and a response is necessary. But, this response must not take the form of fighting. It should not create a condition of conflict where the transgressor goes on the defensive and enters deeper into darkness. Acceptance is the art of bringing what is hiding in the darkness to light and allowing for redemption.

Acts of transgression also allow us the opportunity for gratitude. The problems of the human condition hide in darkness and make us commit acts of extreme violence without feeling. When the same act of transgression is committed against us, we suffer. That suffering provides us the opportunity to see the problem in ourselves. It awakens us to the adverse effects of our own actions that we did not notice because we did not suffer their consequences. Response is not always in the form of changing something or someone outside. A response to transgression is complete only when there is inner transformation. One comes out of the suffering with greater understanding and a renewed strength to handle such transgressions. We uplift more of ourselves from darkness to light.

Obviously, there is no instant panacea for all of our problems and the above mantra may not lead to quick success or victory over the situaiton. This does not justify acts that nurture conflict and violence. The only hope for humanity, in the long run, lies in responding with understanding. The transformation that follows may be slow but it is the only way transformation is possible. The slow nature of transformation also provides a scope for deep understanding of the human condition and creates the opportunity for spiritual innovation. Note that the sūtra above does not define what the exact response should be, but only mentions the values that shape the response. Defining the exact form of response would hamper understanding. One would ignore what the situation is and go ahead with a preconceived response; if you have a hammer, everything looks like a nail. Our urge to live in a simple world that divides neatly into good and bad is the source of most suffering. The world is complex and throws up complicated situations. It demands that we are heedful and understand. The world draws forth our creativity in arriving at novel responses. And in this, lies our true beauty.