How are you? I asked a friend in Manhattan. Oh, I’m just FINE, he said with a laugh—then proceeded to inform me that FINE was an anagram for Fuddled, Insecure, Neurotic and Egocentric. (Actually he used two hyphenated words for the ‘f,’ but I think I’ll leave what they are to your rich imagination.)
The fact is that almost every one of us is (or has been) fraught by a million insecurities—and who could blame us? Consider the world wars our species has endured, the concentration camps and gulags, the ugliness of misogyny and patriarchy that plague so many, in a nutshell, man’s inhumanity to man—all of which leave scars on the collective human psyche. Above all, consider our ephemeral nature, as fragile as a snowflake melting under a hot sun. No matter how big we are in the world, nothing can protect us from old age, sickness and death; yes, when Yama , Lord of Death throws his deadly noose around our necks to remove us from this plane of existence, no power on earth can stop him.
I grew up frightened by a world I did not understand. How, I used to wonder as a child, could this entity called God that millions worshiped have created such an awful mess? I began to seek ersatz ways of coping with the suffering I perceived all around me—not just on the lower rungs of society, but equally in those who were educated and prosperous. My identification with body-mind-emotions-track record was strong, and although you might have believed I was on top of the world, the bitter truth is that I was seething with discontent and quite sure that I would never find the peace and joy that sages assure us is our true nature. My hypersensitive and hyper-empathetic nature made me highly vulnerable to all suffering without exception—whether human, animal or insect—and I was really at my wit’s end because I had realized what Hesse’s Siddhartha discovered as a teenager—that no lasting happiness could ever be found in the mundane world.
We all seek insurance against pain in different ways depending on our nature and predilections. Gautama Buddha’s first noble truth, that life is suffering, is often misunderstood and therefore rejected—but his definition of suffering is not confined to one hung on a cross, tortured or reviled—it encompasses simple disappointments and frustrations, not getting what we want, getting what we don’t want, as well as the major sorrows of old age, sickness and death.
Fortunately, although on the outside things continued to go south, this constant angst drove me to intensify my inner journey. Over the years I went through many paths in the process of seeking the secret way into that inner fountain of peace and bliss, and all of them gave me jewels, and yet none appeared to be the complete insurance package against pain I’d always craved.
Then one day I saw the face of Ramana Maharshi on the cover of a book and fell in love with the peace he radiated—and so my frantic quest for happiness finally led me to his luminous path, which is known as Atma-Vichara, the Direct Path or Self-Investigation, and my frustration dissolved as I realized it was for me the perfect way to dissolve my angst.
What is this Self? It is the beginning and the end, the source of all that is manifest and manifest and way beyond. For me today it represents platinum insurance against all the suffering the mundane world can hurl at me—for it is our true nature, sat-chit-ananda, pure existence, naked awareness free of thought, and the bliss that accompanies this knowing; so yes, once we commit to realizing who we are beyond name and form, and gradually begin to sink into the substratum of peace and bliss that is our essential nature, we discover our ultimate insurance against suffering.
Greetings from Arunachala, Shiva the Destroyer in the form of a mountain of fire and light, who helps us to incinerate our limited sense of self so we might discover the joy that we truly are!