Clichés become clichés because they are true. For instance, how many times has some elder told you that you will know your true friends only when you are sick and suffering, penniless, shunned by society, etcetera? You might have smiled disbelievingly, but in time, you may learn that this is true.
Our planet teems with egomaniacs and narcissists who “love,” “worship” and “adore” you when you are riding high. Some are drawn to you because their egos are empowered by your neediness and it delights them to believe that you will come to rely on their largesse and be gushingly servile in your attitude. But just you wait until a hurricane blows you off your pedestal and reveals your frayed and dirty knickers! Worse still, when you grow strong and confident again and have the guts to speak your mind honestly and bravely, you will likely see that the few jewels who remain loyal and caring are those who loved you, not because you could enhance their life or their egos, but for your flawed but brilliant self.
I knew a man who was a mixture of darkness and light (this is true of us all, of course, but in some the contrast is dramatic). Generous to the extreme, he gave and gave, but always with his ego. Intelligent, charismatic and talented as he was, he belonged to a generation that did not have easy access to the wisdom of the ancient masters, and so he lived his life with grand recklessness, showing off his possessions and his sparkling personality, unknowing that he was strengthening that which the seeker on the path of Advaita seeks to annihilate—the egoic self, which in truth is so insatiably hungry for attention and power that it can never ever be satisfied.
Then a combination of factors caused him to fall. As his businesses went belly up, his drinking increased to the point that he was unpleasant to be with. The years dragged on and he was invited to less parties and social affairs, and so he drank even more, alienating even those closest to him with his surly, patronizing, and bullying ways. He had given enormous sums of money to many while he was prosperous, but now very few bothered to offer him their help, although they had benefitted hugely from him in the past and now had the means to return the favor. Eventually he died, a bitter and broken man, and it was excruciating to watch him fade away into the nothingness from which he had emerged.
Now that he was dead, everyone started praising him again. Oh, what a magnificent and sparkling character he was, they said, their eyes filling with crocodile tears. And such a generous host! Remember those fabulous parties he used to throw? My, my, the food was spectacular, and the music superb. Can’t believe he’s gone, such a tragedy. Oh, and you know what? I heard he drank himself to death. The streets around his home were clogged by all manner of vehicles for his final viewing, and many who had not known him when he was alive murmured, oh, that must have been some guy to be getting all this attention.
All of us know people to whom this sort of tragedy has happened. Or we have read about them. One of my gurus would have muttered that, had this man only realized that all his life he had only served his ego, and that his bitter end was the sorry result of burning the candle at both ends, he might have found the right highway to real peace and joy. If he had accrued any good karma, it would have been “dirty good karma”—the karma that gives us fleeting results only in relative reality (samsara). And since the nature of karma is to come and go, when that dirty good karma came to an end, the pain began, and did not stop until it killed him.
My parents showed me by example that one must be especially kind to those who are in bad straits, no matter whether we have conflicts and disagreements with them. If we turn away from those in need simply because, at some point in time, they have pointed out our flaws, then we are revealing our own lack of caliber. When Ramana Maharshi was beaten by thieves in the early days of his Ashram life, he refused to complain to the police. Instead he offered the thieves food and anything else they wanted. This is one reason why he is considered a sage, because his ego had merged back with the radiant and blissful Self that sees no difference between one and another. As he would say when people came to complain to him, there are no others.
I have learned the hard way that Gautama was speaking true when he said: Dwell, you are the light itself. Yes, I have been deceived and betrayed time and time again, but fortunately I have the ancient teachings that keep me going towards the blazing light. Nor was I myself a saint, but at least in my case it was a lack of higher wisdom rather than an egoic intention to inflict hurt that made me behave as foolishly as I did. It is said that karma karma is 99% intention, and I can honestly say that I cannot recall ever wanting to inflict suffering on another.
Life can make you bitter or better and I choose better. But, on the practical level, if a human has betrayed you over and over again, vowed eternal love and loyalty to you but turned tail when things did not go his or her way, you are a fool to continue to associate with them. There is a tale of a guru who picked up a drowning scorpion who then stung him. When his disciple asked him why he had done such a foolish thing, the guru replied that it was in the scorpion’s nature to sting, and his to save. Yes, different souls play different roles; in the ultimate analysis, as Ram Dass so sweetly said, we are all walking each other home.
Greetings from Arunachala, Shiva the Destroyer in the form of a hill of fire and light, who holds us in his protective embrace even as we realize that we alone must walk the path to the Spiritual Heart!