Consider for a moment the many ways you have tried to escape suffering—both the gigantic miseries of loss, grief and death, as well as the wee pains, frustrations and irritations that are part of the menu of being born as a human on this planet. Gautama Buddha nailed it when he gave us his First Noble Truth: that mundane life is suffering. Thank heavens he also went on to tell us that our own fears, desires and expectations lie at the root of our wretchedness, and that he then went on to clearly and lovingly proceeded to show us a way out.
I was stunned some time ago to hear that the anti-depressant industry is one of the biggest money-spinners in our world. And yet I was not really surprised, because I have seen from my own experience, and that of others, that most of us have no clue about reality and are therefore befogged with gloom and bewilderment. Our true nature, incredible as it may seem when we are depressed, lonely and sad, is nothing less that pure life, infinite awareness and radiant bliss. Millions of false coverings hide this radiance from us, especially since the ego is determined to live on at all costs, and because we stupidly and obstinately feed the wrong beast, rather than the shimmering angel who sits whispering sweetly on our shoulder. And so we continue to be in pain.
As Gautama said again, suffering is necessary (he meant the varied pains of old age, suffering and death), but misery (our persisting in increasing our sadness and confusion by wrong thought, speech and action) is an option.
Alcohol, drugs, sex, violence, workaholism, greed—all these are destructive and bottomless addictions that temporarily delude ourselves into thinking we are sitting on top of the dung heap of samsara and having a right blast…yes, that’s how many of us hide from the naked truth that, as humans, we are fragile and limited, and that our mind, no matter how honed, cannot even begin to comprehend the great mysteries of life and death.
What is the way out of this endless maze? Well, that depends on who we are, in terms of our karmic predilections and ability to understand subtle truths. For those who cannot grasp the simple but sophisticated teachings of jnana (eastern wisdom), there are a multitude of paths we can take, all of which, if sincerely followed, will, according to the great sage Ramana Maharshi, eventually lead us to investigate the nature of our own Self, which is blissful, immortal and aware.
Some of us are gripped so hard by the sharp claws of ego that we cannot see or think clearly. Think sociopath, psychopath, genocidal dictator, voracious entrepreneur, egomaniacal political leader, etcetera, ad nauseam. (As the Scottish poet Robert Burns said, God give us the gift to see ourselves as others see us). Yes, clear seeing is the beginning of the inner path. At some point we must admit, if only to ourselves, that nothing external has managed to give us the peace and joy we seek. It doesn’t take long to find examples of great beauties and materially commanding humans who, driven by relentless angst, took their own lives in despair. Why? Simply because they took the unreal for the real and failed to see that beneath their suffering was pure gold.
Which leads me to the critical Advaitic definition of the words “real” and “unreal”: real is that which is permanent and lasting, the unreal is that which comes and goes and is ephemeral in nature. But once we begin to truly discriminate between that which gives us genuine and lasting pleasure, and that which provides momentary flashes of happiness, but ends us only giving us pain, willy-nilly we are led to the treasure that is our inner being. In truth, and I swear by this for I have had personal experiences that have convinced me, higher beings are always hovering around, waiting for us to become ready for the greatest task of all—which is to merge the finite egoic self that we believe we are, with the grand and immortal Self.
Greetings from Arunachala, Shiva the Destroyer in the form of a hill of fire and light, who took this form out of great compassion and solely in order to lead us from darkness to light!