I think that you might agree with me that it is rare to find a truly “good” human—a person you know instinctively is kind, compassionate, honest, transparent and loving—and not just to those who serve his or her interests, but to all beings. Well, I met a middle-aged man the other day and knew right off the bat that he was “good.” He owns a grocery store in town and sells tasty homemade snacks. Since I was hungry, after I shopped I ate something there, and he joined me at the small table in the back and freely told me his story. Lots of financial setbacks, he said, shaking his head sadly, and at one time a big position in a company in the Middle-East that he had lost—an underling who had coveted his job had made such big trouble for him that he had finally quit.
Other bad decisions followed that cost him his savings, and finally he had decided to open this small store in Tiru. It was limping along, he said, but somehow he was making ends meet. He had a sweet and supportive wife and two fine adult sons who were finding their way in the world. It was clear to me that he adored them all.
So why are you worried, I asked him, because he did look terribly strained. I have a heart problem, he confided softly, and my boys are not yet settled. I worry about them to the point I can’t sleep, and when I don’t sleep, the worry gets worse and my business is affected. What will happen to them if I die of a sudden heart attack?
And that is a definite possibility given that you worry so much, I said drily. Then I added, gently: You actually think you have been selected to suffer more than others on this earth? Don’t you realize that everyone goes through this sort of stuff? And that we will all die, like it or not? How does your constant worrying help the situation at all? It only makes things worse and prevents you from enjoying your great blessings. Have you never considered being grateful for all you have, rather than moaning about how awful things are?
He smiled sadly but had no response. And I realized that no matter how “good” we are, it is necessary to study the nature of reality and to contemplate its great truths, or we will drive ourselves and others mad, by dwelling on the millions of dire possibilities that could further overturn our fragile lives. I felt I could advise him only because, in my early life, although I was bright and funny and intelligent on the surface, had you known me well, you might have pegged me as the planet’s number one worry wart, always drowning in misery. In fact I worried so much that I was forced to find ways to escape my own sick thinking. These methods worked for a while, but the anxiety was at best suppressed and inevitably came back to vicious roaring life.
Over two thousand years ago, Gautama Buddha gave us his Noble Truths—the first one being that life is suffering. Now suffering in this context includes, but is not limited to, the great agonies of hanging bleeding on a cross, with callous soldiers laughing at our pain and sticking us in the side with sharp swords, or the usual boring pains of old age, sickness and death. Here is an example of suffering from the classical Buddhist texts: you are on the road and terribly hungry. You are an hour away from a dear friend’s home who always happens to be a great cook. You call her and beg her to make your favorite meal. “I’ll be there soon,” you say, and she is thrilled.
She loads up a big plate with delicacies as you sit impatiently at her dining table. You finish every delicious speck and rub your tummy with satisfaction. But she is already piling more onto your plate and insisting you eat—she has cooked too much, she explains, and doesn’t like leftovers. To please her, you force yourself to eat a second serving, but she won’t stop loading more on your plate and finally you protest violently: if I eat another spoonful, you warn her, my tummy will burst! You lean back against the comfortable chair, swollen, lethargic and nauseous—and you realize, to your amazement, that your greedy anticipation of just an hour ago has already turned into the suffering of acute indigestion!
So suffering is a host of things. It is being forced to wait for a friend on a busy street, it is impatience, it is anger, it is jealousy, it is getting what you don’t want, and not getting what you want. It is frustration because as hard as you work, you can never have more than your neighbor, or win the beautiful man or woman you adore, or realizing that you will never be gorgeous and talented enough to succeed as the big screen actor you long to be. Oh yes, suffering covers the gamut of unsatisfactory conditions, and no one but no one escapes its slimy tentacles.
Fortunately Gautama does not stop here—he goes on to speak of the other truths, the cause of suffering and finally the end of suffering. Yes, there is a way out—but how is this wonderful man, who worries all the time, and is so steeped in personal misery that the entire screen of his life is covered up with his seemingly insurmountable problems, to ever know that such a highway to happiness and peace exists?
For me, the road to peace and happiness was long and tortuous and involved sitting humbly at the feet of many great eastern teachers, and studying and practicing as if my butt was on fire. But once I digested the teachings on karma and reincarnation, life actually began to make some sort of sense to me. And once I accepted that some form of mystical logic does rule our lives, I was free to delve even further into the treasure chest of ancient wisdom and to accumulate sharp and shining tools to slice through all my seeming problems. And this is how I cut to the underbelly of being, which mystics and seers claims is no less than pure existence-awareness and bliss.
This subject is so vast and exciting that it is impossible to cover it in a few posts or essays, which is why I write spiritual fiction. I endeavor to make my novels read like fascinating parables; the reader does not have to struggle to learn anything—the teachings are embedded in these sagas, and so are painlessly digested. In this way, I give back what I was so generously given to me. I am well aware that most of our world is not interested in what I have to say, perhaps simply because thriving materially is the major task on their agenda. Still, I recognize this as my dharma, one reason why I incarnated, and so am content to keep doing what I do.
Back to this man, who has made an appointment with me for this afternoon, claiming he wants to learn a few simple truths he can apply to his situation and so find relief from his intense anxiety. Mahamudra, I think, would serve him well; this is an ancient teaching on the nature of relative reality, easy to understand and hard to refute, for each one of the seven steps deals with relative life as it is, beginning with the inherent imperfection and impermanence of all created things. I have taught this simple analytical meditation to friends and small groups of genuine seekers all over the world, and I hope he will “get” it, because he is certainly worth my time. I like him instinctively and know his heart is good. Besides, unwilling as he appears to be to formally read or study, he may well die never knowing that there is a golden way out.
Ramana Maharshi, the great sage of Tiruvannamalai, has been a great light in my life. One of the many things he taught me (nothing new here, these truths have been the bedrock of eastern philosophy for thousands of years) is that our true nature is peace and happiness. I listened to him only because I knew he was a sage and could not lie. Just as in the mundane world it is hard to find an essentially good human, so too it is hard to find a guru who is a blazing jewel, who will never ever lead you astray, and who is willing to share the wisdom that will surely take you all the way up the mountain. After a lot of work and effort, I know today that Raman only speaks the naked truth. Why am I convinced of this? Simply because the worry wart I was, who chased ephemeral pleasures to hide from angst (not just about my concerns, but about the world in general) has transformed into a woman who lives more or less in peace, and who is, despite occasional eruptions of anger and frustration, deeply happy.
Greetings from Arunachala, Shiva the Destroyer in the form of a hill of fire and light, who works with us as we shed our delusions and leads us to the immortal bliss of our true nature!
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