As a little girl, I discovered an interesting trait about myself—that, when I hurt others, as I often did, (almost always inadvertently, but sometimes intentionally—when I wanted to force them to look at their behavior through my eyes, see that they were wrong, and then choose to transform)—I would be just as hurt as they were, if not more. I was born intense and fierce, so I guess everything I said and did had an impact, positive or negative. Now this pain one experiences is actually our guru, for it warns us that we are powerful beings capable of inflicting suffering on others; if we ourselves don’t like pain, why then do we callously disregard the feelings of others?
Decades later I came upon the ancient teaching on Oneness, of Advaita, which literally means “not two” and understood my angst in a different way: Of course, I realized, when I hurt you, I too would suffer, simply because the essence of my mini-me is no different from yours. (Now I have met people so thick-skinned and non-empathetic that the pain they inflict does not currently seem to bother them; what they may not realize is that the karmic counter is clicking inexorably away, and that what they are giving out now is bound to eventually swing back to them, multiplied; at some point their agony will be intense).
Yes, some humans develop a tough hide and a monstrous ego that prevents them, literally, from feeling. Recently I listened to a woman complaining (really, it was an accumulation of doubt and bitterness due to subjecting herself for decades to a dishonest, warped, cold and materialistic man, who did not give a fig for her as a person, or as a vulnerable woman who craved love and connection. If at all he honors her, it is because she is the mother of his children whom he blindly adores, and because it serves his ego to present a shining façade to his family/community. The sharp pain I heard in her voice instantly became my pain—and that this man had chosen to hurt a sensitive woman to this point (clinical depression), and for so long, made me literally cry.
And I was angry with her too, for being weak and submissive to a tyrant, no matter his façade of being a talented and wonderful guy with more resources than the majority of our world. She reminded me of thousands of Indian women (I know this syndrome is not restricted to the East) who do more or less the same thing by allowing the patriarchy to torment and bully them. And yet I can empathize with the older generation of women, who felt they had no option but to stay and take the abuse. If they had stood up for themselves, most often their own blood families turned viciously on them, and even ostracized them. Besides, women did not work during that time, so how were they supposed to feed themselves and their children if they antagonized the narcissistic breadwinner of the family?
But this woman was different; she’d remained in a horrible marriage for decades despite being highly educated with oodles of money and the freedom to seek sure answers to her problems. Some of us, as you can see, are our own worst enemies. (If you encounter one such, after trying to get them to see the light, it is best to leave them to stew in their own misery, otherwise you are only wasting your precious time and energy. I am now learning when to stop trying to help—the reason being that I myself get dispirited and drained, and then I am of no use to anyone).
Others are empathetic to other humans, but not to birds, animals and reptiles. Don’t they know, I wonder, that the essence of all beings is the same? The outer covering is merely that—a shell; within each of us—dog, cat, cobra, pesky house fly or human—is the very same golden essence, for the Divine is embedded deeply within us all. As the Bhagavad Gita says so poetically, nothing can destroy this essence, neither fire, sword, wind nor water.
Karma has projected for us a certain form to learn new lessons in, and when that karma is exhausted, the spirit returns to the source, the One, Parabrahman. To give generously of our love and resources to a sick dog or cat, for instance, to feed strays and to support sanctuaries, orphanages, homes for battered women, or whatever, is only one way of acknowledging our Oneness. Who knows how we will return to the relative realm if we don’t figure out this potent truth despite all the wisdom that is spreading through our realm?
If we treat others with disdain and contempt, if we invest all our energy in protecting our egoic self (which is “unreal” according to Advaita, for it will dissolve back into the elements at the instant of physical death), we might come back as an amoeba, or a deadly serpent, or even a clump of moss or a pretty rock, and be forced to make our way back up the ladder of evolution in painful little steps. Think I’m joking? Not.
I once asked a wise man what would happen to a certain dictator after he died (he had committed genocide with cold and brutal efficiency). Yes, he had convinced himself that the race he was determined to exterminate was not human, but demonic. (Oh, really? Clearly he could not see his twisted ego attempting to compensate for the wounds some of these humans had unwittingly (or wittingly) subjected him to. Was this not a particularly virulent form of egoic payback, rather than the great cleansing work he had convinced himself, as well as thousands of insane followers, to believe he was doing?)
The old man told me he would have to return to the bottom of the ladder of evolution and go through billions of births and deaths before Karma would once again give him a human form. You see, he had been given so many blessings, and he had abused them. What goes around comes around, simple as that.
We can learn to be happy and peaceful the easy way, or the hard way. Right now, for instance, I am in my Saturn period (according to Vedic Astrology) and so I have to be extra careful. Saturn (Shani) has been likened to a powerful but stern father who wants to see his precious offspring make the best use of their potential. Fortunately I accept this, and so I am careful with how I think, speak and act. And when I do wrong, as often happens, I am as quick as lightning to make amends. Pain is essential, as Gautama Buddha said so long ago, but misery is optional. I, for one, have suffered enough. If treating all beings as my own precious Self leads me to the permanent freedom from desire and fear I crave (moksha, in Sanskrit), then why not invest all my energy in this awesome venture?
Greetings from Arunachala, Shiva the Destroyer in the form of a hill of fire and light, who vows to dissolve all our conditioning, delusions and blinders, so that we can see that essentially we are ONE!