A middle-aged woman, who has been visiting Tiruvannamalai for longer than I have lived here, called to ask if she could visit me. She had some important questions on Advaita she thought I could answer, she said, and I grimaced, because she has done this before, and every time I make the effort to meet her (never thought early retirement could get this busy!!!) she asks me the most ridiculous questions that have little or nothing to do with Ramana Maharshi’s Direct Path, and also peppers me with infuriating personal questions.
Despite my often deliberately hard façade, I am a softie, so I said yes, and lived to regret it. It was a case of déjà vu, for she vomited up the same stupid questions. One of her major themes is that men adore her and will not leave her alone. They ogle her and distract her from her inner work, she claimed yet again.
It’s your ego, I retorted. Male attention, especially of the lascivious kind, would have absolutely no effect on you if you really understood the basis of this practice; Eastern philosophy teaches us that our body-mind-emotional system is just a valuable vehicle to carry us forward, like a good car, and should not be your sole focus. So what if they stare at you? Ignore them.
Whereupon she proceeded to violently disagree that her reactions had anything to do with her ego, and claimed that being sexy and attractive has been a great burden to her, which only made me further wince.
I told her she was lucky that I was just another seeker on the path; had she spoken in this manner to the formidable Advaita master Nisargadatta Maharaj (known as the Hammer and for excellent reason), for instance, he would have summarily thrown her out of his humble home. Do your homework before you dare to waste everyone’s time, he might have said, as he decisively turned his back on her.
Long ago in Manhattan, my guru (a brilliant Buddhist scholar) said something I never forgot. He was addressing a bunch of students with enviable jobs in Manhattan. He said: oh, so you think you’re so cool, huh? You wear black, eat at the best restaurants and think you’re on top of the world because you work for big firms.
But really, you’ll are just slaves of the system. No matter how much money you’re making right now, your long work hours leave you with little time for serious inner practice. And the one thing no one can compensate you for is your precious time. Do your inner work now, while you are still vibrant and brimming with energy. Don’t wait until you are weary, old and gray, thinking that you have to tie samsara up in pretty little packets and ensure that your dependents are well on their way before you take the path to the heart. NOW is all that matters! Tomorrow you could be dead.
After this woman left, for some reason I ruminated on the long years of my own marriage: had I wasted my time with a mate who did not share my values or goals? The answer is a strange mix of yes and no. While I can’t know what might have happened had I had a harmonious marriage with a man who supported my spiritual and creative goals, marriage to this guy taught me that no human—however handsome, rich or charming—can make us happy. Nor can anything in the external world lead us to lasting peace and joy. How can you put a price on that kind of learning?
In fact, the end of that marriage was the beginning of the deepening of my inner path, and so it was definitely not a waste of time. But, if we are stuck in painful relationships that do not change no matter, how hard we try, then we are both fools and losers. Buddhas can only point the way; we ourselves must walk the path. And, as Gautama said, your mistake is that you think you have time.
Devouring my precious time under false pretenses is perhaps the worst crime you could commit against me. Steal my flowers or my fancy new flashlight or my money, these can be replaced, but time is a fleeting and priceless commodity that cannot be returned. Only a narcissistic egomaniac chooses to believe that only his or her time is precious. When we hold others to ransom with false promises, and trap those who trust us in a juvenile web of dishonesty, we are actually doing ourselves the greatest disservice. What goes around must comes around and eventually everyone wakes up – and then it is the waster of other people’s time who is ejected forcefully to deal with his or her own bad karma.
Greetings from Arunachala, Shiva the Destroyer in the form of a hill of fire and light, who helps us wake up to the urgency of doing our work now, of striking while the hammer is hot, and of realizing that our true nature is immortal bliss!