…and it shall follow as the day the night…thou can’t then be false to any other man (or woman or child or animal, for that matter)….thus spake Hamlet and he spoke true.
When I first came to Tiruvannamalai almost seven years ago, I rented an apartment that looked great from the outside, and was more than adequate as temporary living quarters, but it was also surrounded by noisy families and the morning din in particular was terrible for one hypersensitive to noise. As a result, I did not care to use my kitchen. Since I lacked personal transportation at the time, I began to eat all my meals at the little restaurant connected to nearby Seshadri Ashram.
Here I happened to connect with a well-educated middle-aged renunciate who, one sleepy afternoon as we sipped our hot chai post-lunch, told me his story:
He had done so well in engineering college, he said, that after he graduated he became a sought after star lecturer. Then the big questions of life and death began to haunt him and he took to eastern philosophy with a passion, seeking answers to his angst, and even donning the robes of a renunciate.
Soon he got so good at spinning Advaita that he was asked to speak publicly. But once again he began to feel uncomfortable playing this role—this time because he himself was not yet enlightened, and because he had come to believe that only a sage (one who has gone beyond desire and fear) can truly teach at the highest level.
So another coin dropped as he acknowledged that the job of becoming free begins and ends with oneself: Fix the little self and the Big Self is known; or else, he said ruefully, no matter how much we know intellectually, we are no better than the blind leading the blind.
Over the years I have lived at the base of holy Arunachala, I realize the profound truth of what this man said to me that sleepy afternoon. Today I accept that the truly committed seeker of wisdom must be willing to travel alone so as to focus on the awesome task of breaking down the egoic self.
This does not mean that while we are journeying we do not connect with or help others along the way; we do so, with full hearts, as long as we are not hurt or blocked from onward progress in the process. (I myself have terrific friends, but I did not seek them out; we come together in odd ways, and I welcome them into my life if I feel we can be of mutual help to each other on this path less traveled.)
Back to the true sage who has transcended both desire and fear and consequently does not need anything because s/he is complete, reunited with cosmic Self. Whatever comes, the sage says, comes from the source of all being, and those committed to this wisdom accept all things, seemingly good or bad, with grace. We do not struggle with “what is” because that would be struggling against the consequences of our own actions. This is the path of jnana, of wisdom, and it is a path that most shy away from.
However, it works perfectly for me. What does this mean, relatively speaking? I help those I can help, and I do so as generously as I can, but I also keep the focus on myself—because if I am reeling, emotionally or physically, drained by the demands of others, I can be of little use to myself or others.
You see, I still have vices and vasanas (blocks) that need clearing; until that work is fully done, I cannot bring illumination to others, as brilliant sages such as Ramana Maharshi, Nisargadatta Maharaj and so many others keep doing via their extraordinary spirits and powerful teachings. Instead I make sure that every single day I do something to bring me closer to my own light; still, the curtains of darkness fall from time to time, and then I do not hesitate to use the tools given to me via the sages, in order to restore me to balance as I continue along this razor’s edge to perfect freedom.
Greetings from Arunachala, Shiva in the form of a mountain, who promises to destroy our false coverings so that we can realize who we truly are beyond name and form—the Self, blissful and immortal, fearless and wise, intrinsically connected to all things manifest and unmanifest, One.