Eastern philosophy has convinced me that just one invisible factor separates the psychotic facing the electric chair from a great being like Mahatma Gandhi — and that is karma. In order to evolve, it is essential we improve ourselves on all levels — and that begins with changing the root of our egocentric thought patterns. Practicing gratitude is a great way to do this, for it diverts the channel of our thoughts from negative to positive, even as it expands our appreciation of this dazzling cosmos and our role in it.
It is our responsibility to discover that we are all far greater than our bodies, our minds, and our circumstances. My own deeper quest began when I came to grips with the stark realization that mainstream life would never ever satisfy me, that when I assessed my worth in terms of shifting relative factors — appearance, talents, wealth, power — I was fighting a losing battle. There was always someone wittier, more talented, prettier and richer hovering in the wings. And even if I believed I was God’s gift to humanity, there was a fair chance no one else would perceive me that way; some might even see me as a major pain in the batootie.
As I graduated from the Cosmic University of Hard Knocks, spurred on by the whip of benevolent gods, I continued to seek that peace and joy that Indian rishis promise is our birthright. Many gurus — visible and invisible, human and non-human — enlivened my inward journey. Star among them is Bhagavan Ramana Maharshi, who re-introduced the ancient wisdom technique of Self-Investigation or Vichara — which reveals to us that we are far more than our fabricated worldly identity — that we are the incandescent Self. When we begin to know ourselves in this way, what need to destroy the ephemeral, no matter how the external world treats us?
In his book Enlightened Courage: An Explanation of the Seven-Point Mind Training, Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche, a powerful Tibetan Buddhist teacher, says:
No one knows when, or how, death will come. Bubbles form on the surface of the water, but the next instant they are gone; they do not stay. It is just the same with this precious human body that we have managed to find. We take all the time in the world before engaging in spiritual practice, but who knows when this life of ours will simply cease to be?
Which makes it all the more critical for committed seekers of true liberation to be grateful for all the circumstances of our lives — negative and positive. It is by cultivating skillful means, by dwelling on our true nature when our relative circumstances suck, that we learn to transmute our worst experiences into the pure gold of wisdom, inevitably leading to that exquisite peace that surpasses all understanding.