Category Archives: Conversations

Two Sides of a Coin?

What if I fall?

Oh, but my darling what if you fly! 

Erin Hanson

Essentially this line spells one thing, that there are two sides to a coin. One is the dark one, the negative and scary side, while the other, is the bright one, the positive one that is so encouraging and reassuring. 

Life throws a million chances and opportunities at us just like this one, where we either fly or end up falling. So what is it that life is trying to teach? Is it sheer luck or is there something more to it? The answer probably lies in the way we try to perceive each incident. Every situation can be seen from two sides – the positive as well as the negative. 

For instance when we experience happiness on winning a game or gaining a promotion do we really think of the flip side of it? Probably not, because we are too immersed in the happy moment. The flip side of a win can be that we may have to double the efforts to make sure that we keep winning the game which means more hard work. The flip side of a promotion can be that we must handle greater responsibility and work more at proving ourselves as a worthy choice. We might fail at these things can’t we. On the other side when we suddenly lose someone dear to us, we fall into a grief so deep that we hardly realise that it is strengthening us from the inside and making us resilient to stand up again even when we are hurt. That is a powerful positive side to a bad incident. 

So in effect, what we must learn and appreciate about each experience is that every time it happens, it teaches us something. What use is anything that happens in life, if we do not rise up higher in our understanding and realisation through the experience? Just like a coin even life has two sides and we must accept each with grace. 

We must always remember that the good times come for a price that must be paid and the bad times come with lessons that must be learnt. 

#nehaismNeha Joshi

One fine day, I explained about the two sides of a coin to Neha and asked her to write about it. While, what she has written above summarizes what I explained to her, she did not think about it deeply and thus missed the essence. The two sides of a coin is an oft-used analogy to help people understand that life is not one-sided. It is used especially to advise people who are habituated to look at life from a single viewpoint or who are caught in a specific life situation. The fact that reminding people of this analogy gives them relief is the proof they need that they were stuck in one sided views.

However, the point that this analogy misses is that a coin does not have two sides (surprised!?). It just appears to have two sides. It actually has more than 2 sides. Consider the thickness at the circumference. That’s the third side. Further, if you observe the coin under a microscope, you will see infinitely more surfaces and sides.

So the point is not to jump to the conclusion that life is colorful and not black and white, which is fine to a certain extent. But what is more difficult to do, and what is needed, is to stop counting the colors or the sides.

Now, one might quickly jump to another conclusion (a conclusion is a kind of a solidified hardened view and most people like to jump to it) that we should take life as it comes. Unfortunately, that too is a view that can be countered by its opposite (two sides of the coin view – take control of your life) or the multi-color view of life (experience everything that life has to offer).

While these views can help us in many ways, ultimately, they are mere views. Is it possible to be free of all views? Because only when you can be free of all views, can you see life in all its pristine beauty and know you are ‘that which views’ and ‘that which is viewed’.

Do You Need a Guru?

A close friend once wrote to me about her dilemma:

They say you get a guru when it’s the right time. Some say you always have a guru – you just need to identify him. Learning from nature is fine, identifying a guru in situations and people around is again fine – but it is easier said than done, isn’t it? If there is someone who physically holds your ears and tells you – that you are foolish running after this, or this is just an illusion, beware! – then progress would be faster isn’t it? Sometimes I feel so lost, I just feel there should be some guru in human form to guide me through.

My reply to her:

A really good question indeed.

The answer is surprisingly simple. You need a guru because you think you are lost. But when you realize who you are, you SEE and that’s it. Then there is no need for a guru.

As they say in Zen Buddhism, one has to pass through the gateless gate. Once you pass through the gate, you realize there was no gate in the first place. The gate, the passing, the person who shows the path to the gate – all was just a dream.

In other Buddhist symbolism, the enlightenment is likened to crossing a river. The teachings are a raft on which you cross. But when you reach the other bank, you realize there was no river at all, no crossing, no raft, no guru.

To a normal (actually abnormal) mind which is trained in duality and conceptual thinking, such ideas as the above seem paradoxical. And therefore, one keeps on searching for a guru who can explain this paradox and sort out matters. But in actuality, the only hurdle one has to cross is one’s own mind and one’s own conceptual thinking.

Even the guru cannot help someone who is not ready to listen. And what is listening? It is not understanding in terms of concepts and logical ideas. Listening is having no mind to analyze and judge. When your mind stops analyzing; when it listens with its senses, then you are present in the NOW and you do not need to go anywhere else. You have reached home.

Now if you are able to listen deeply to what I have said, you can see immediately the truth of it and the falsity of a guru.

The mind describes a desired outcome and seeks it constantly. And when it is lost, as it usually is, it searches for a guide. But if only we can drop the search, knowing that it is only the restless mind at work, we can remain in the present moment.

How can there be a path and direction to come to the present moment?

It is possible that one hears some teachings of a particular man and gets the insight. Then that man becomes a guru for him but that is only as a mark of respect. The real work was done by the person who listened, not by the guru. Therefore, they say that one can learn from nature because nature changes every moment and if you follow the previous moment, you are dreaming. As soon as you realize you are dreaming, you are already awake. That’s all.