A woman introduced to me by a friend visited me the other day. We had a nice chat and I offered her something to eat. She came into the kitchen as I got her meal ready and hovered over me, eyes wide with anxiety, asking me questions about ingredients, process, et cetera, until I got a little snippy and asked her to sit at the dining table. My irritation was due to the fact that she does this every single time she visits; you see, because she is far from home (California) and misses home-cooked meals, I always offer her something I hope she will enjoy.
Please note that her attitude is not normal: her eyes go wide with strain when the subject of food comes up, and she tells me she cannot eat most things (being veg or vegan is wonderful, but her behavior goes way beyond these humane rules for good living). My own attitude, I said, is to accept what is given to me as long as 1) food is offered from the heart 2) is hygienically prepared and tasty 3) and that it does not violate my principles of general eating. I told her that my favorite breakfast when I leave the house early to walk up the mountain is two dosais with mouth-watering chutney and sambhar, relished at a roadside stall. I don’t watch the cook carefully to monitor everything she does—no, for me, that would be disrespectful to this lovely local woman who wakes up before dawn to do what she does in order to feed her own family. On the contrary, I am genuinely grateful that she is so willing to please me, always giving me a little more of the red chutney, another ladle of hot sambhar, and a big smile. When I tip her extra, her smile grows and her eyes are full of light.
Now what would happen, I asked, if I looked terribly anxious as this local woman prepared my meal, as if I didn’t trust her, and if I grilled her on matters that are really not my concern? After all, no one is forcing me to eat there, are they?
She was silent for a while. Then she said: what I do fits in with the ancient teaching on cleanliness. No, I said gently, all you are doing is turning into a full-scale neurotic. The inner path involves a deep acceptance of all things. And I told her the story of Gopi Krishna, the great yogi whose kundalini awakened with a blazing roar, and who even ate a meal into which little flies had dropped (by accident) because he did not want to hurt the woman who had lovingly prepared it especially for him.
I am not suggesting we all do what Gopi Krishna did; I for one could not have eaten that meal. But certainly we can stretch our own personal likes and dislikes to honor the generosity of a friend who offers us a healthy and clean meal.
She mulled over what I said then shook her head again, and I could see the problem went deep. I knew she had been severely abused as a child and had so turned to the inner path. And yet, for me, the healing process involves getting to the root of our dysfunction and destroying it so we can then chart our own unique path to peace and joy. It involves accepting that suffering is the state of the entire world and all beings have to go through trials and tribulations, although to varying degrees. It involves accepting that nothing happens by accident, that our own past thought, speech and action has projected a certain relative reality which we are forced to experience—and that by transforming our own behavior, we can dissolve that bad karma and create a happier world for ourselves. Certainly we do not come to this life in order to create yet another mental and emotional prison for ourselves!
Over the years I’ve heard so many genuine seekers defend their neuroses and crazy patterns of behavior, and I must confess that I too am neurotic in certain ways. However, unless its just a quirky habit that doesn’t negatively impact me or others, I focus my searchlight on it until I get to the root and then uproot it to the best of my ability. The rest of the work is done via Ramana Maharshi’s powerful teaching on Self-Investigation, when vasanas or trace impressions left by our karma on consciousness, burn down into the substratum of our being, never to plague us again.
For me, the inner path begins and hinges on two forms of investigation—Relative and Absolute; both are important and reinforce the other. If we do not figure out what is driving our behavior in this shifting world, we cannot progress into knowing who we truly are beyond name and form. Denial, as my friends in Manhattan used to say, is not a river in Egypt!!!
Greetings from Arunachala, Shiva in the form of a hill of fire and light who vows to destroy all that blocks us from knowing the peace and bliss of our true immortal Self!