Those who know me well are aware that I have an abysmally low threshold for pain of any kind. I feel terrible, not just when I suffer, but when I see other beings going through hell, whether human, animal, avian or insect. This makes mundane life extremely difficult to handle. Bad enough we are thrust into a baffling matrix without our permission, and then, if we make it through childhood and adolescence despite our ten thousand scars and wounds, we are confronted by the callous and relentless monsters of old age and death. Ghastly situation to be thrust into, eh?
Buddha’s first noble truth (life is suffering) persuades most seekers to enter the inner path. But there is a way out, the great sage went on to say, and if we cannot find it in the seeming pleasures of the external world, then the answer must lie within us. This is how it was for me—I tried everything to gain peace and joy via external means, but was finally whipped into making a sharp turnaround into my own heart. Finally I began to realize that everything the sages said about the true source of happiness being within is indeed a great truth—which does not mean all the blinders fall off our mortal eyes instantly and we float in an ocean of bliss. The process can be rapid at times, but one often hits sharp bumps in the road and learns to pick oneself off the ground and get a move on, even if we can only hobble forward.
Yesterday was Day 6 following my close encounter with a nasty wooden door that almost killed my little toe. I actually did a little hatha yoga and drove into town thinking happily that, from here on, recovery would be quick. Not so. I felt drained and sluggish, and when I dragged myself to sit before Ramana’s gorgeous portrait in the Old Hall, I was an emotional mess. Physical suffering had weakened me greatly and I had a great flash of empathy for all those on the planet who grapple with chronic pain. I wondered again why we have to suffer at all. What is the point? I cried silently out to Ramana.
Tears came in a rush and I was grateful that I had found a corner where I was shielded from curious eyes. I cried silently until the emotional storm passed and Ramana watched me, as he always does, with an inscrutable smile. Once again I marveled at how he had borne with the agony of cancer for two years before his emaciated body finally passed away. Then I thought of the brilliant comet that streaked upward from his room at the exact moment of his passing to unite with Arunachala. Many had witnessed this celestial occurrence.
And what about Nisargadatta? He was more voluble about his pain, but nevertheless, he taught until the very end and was his spectacular self all the way through. And then there is me, whining about being held hostage in the house and bemoaning the loss of my usual vibrant energy. Oh well, comparisons are odious, and as my old friend Subramania (I call him my Taoist sage) said to me today as we crossed paths in the Ashram, the emotional component of pain is the worst of all. Only rarely is a Ramana or a Nisargadatta born—the rest of us must muddle through.
All that crying must have done me a world of good because later I felt amazingly light and bright. One day, as I used to sing to myself as I danced across the wooden floor of my Manhattan apartment, I will understand the cosmic mystery and exist in pure bliss. Until then, I allow myself to feel all my feelings even as I sink deeper into the substratum that is common to all beings and which is what unites all beings into Oneness. Advaita, it is true, is not two!
Greetings from Arunachala, Shiva in the form of a hill of fire and light, who whips us when we least expect it, because he’s the omniscient master of the cosmos and knows exactly what will get us racing towards the light!