April 26, 2012
There are moments in everyone’s life when one vows to be a better person. By better, I mean more spiritual. And where do we get our ideas about what constitutes a spiritual personality? Gandhi, Mother Theresa, Dalai Lama? Perhaps Audrey Hepburn in A Nun’s Story or Julie Andrews in just about anything? The point is, we see ourselves as one way and we compare that to an ideal. We then try to emulate that ideal. Starting today, I will be more forgiving. I will not get peeved with others. I will do good to strangers. Well it is a start but is this not a kind of pretend? Are we not indulging in spiritual role-playing?
During my time with Chinmaya Mission I came across a variety of monks. Some were stern, some irascible, others were aloof and did not seem to care about other’s pain. A few even shamelessly imitated the mannerisms and speech of the order’s founder, Swami Chinmayananda. However, one swami stood out for me as an ideal monk. He was soft-spoken, compassionate, humble, and ever-cheerful. He made everyone feel welcome and respected. He represented for me a predetermined spiritual ideal, although I was not conscious of my bias. Unknowingly I tried to emulate him, and the times I succeeded I felt holy. Whenever I failed, I felt guilty and ashamed. In retrospect I can see how it hindered my evolution. What I should have been doing all that time was first examining the characteristics of my own personality, and then disempowering them. This should have included both the traits I was proud of as well the qualities I disapproved of. To exhibit another’s personality on top of one’s own is not growth: that is make-believe. What is needed is to unlearn. After all, don’t all renovations begin with demolitions?
It seems to me that substantial inner rehabilitation happens gradually, almost imperceptibly. It is something like healing after major surgery. It feels like you will never feel well again. But each day you feel slightly better than the previous day. Then a day arrives and the surgical trauma is a memory. I believe true transformative experiences happen that way too. A near death, loss of a beloved, sudden major life changes, meeting a true living saint – all of these can be seeds for transformation. Though they take time.
Not that efforts at being good should be discounted, however. They have a value but realize them for what they are – performances, auditions. Most teenager go through a phase after puberty when they try to ‘act’ more grown-up. Inside they are yearning to let loose and play, but they forcefully will themselves to discard the toys of childhood. It dose not last too long. It cannot. Then a day dawns when adulthood arrives to stay. I now view my spiritual practices as that kind of play acting. Now, if I lose my temper, or fail to act kindly, I find it easier to forgive myself and move forward. I no longer cling to a rigid ideal of what makes a man a spiritual one.
This is very important because it can be dangerous to take one’s efforts too seriously. Recently I attended a meditation workshop which was filled with both longtime practitioners as well novices. Both had the same complaints though: “I know I am supposed to empty my mind but sometimes it is too chattery”. They did not see it but the mistake they were making was so obvious. They had an ideal of what mediation should be and the ego personality was determined to achieve it and succeed at it. They could not see that the whole point of mediation is to question the validity of this ego personality that always strives and competes, that feels guilty or proud. Mediation is a state where there is no becoming, only being. It is where the personal ‘I” is absent, hence there is nowhere to go, nothing to achieve. Mediation is an exercise in observing the selfish and covetous nature of this “I”. In doing so a real transformation is set underway. This change is permanent but happens in increments. It is the erasing of years of habitual selfishness. It is the tearing down of a wall, brick by brick. Pure awareness is pure goodness. It is not something to be created or even gained. It is always there. Only the wall concealing it has to go.
If a seeker persists in ‘trying’ and in ‘achieving’ pure awareness, he is an actor, not a seeker. The ego is acquiring another layer to itself. Be sincere in your pursuit but not serious. I have to go now. There are some lepers at the door in need of delousing.