Category Archives: On Knowing Oneself

Are You Aware of Your Assumptions?

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In life we are making assumptions of all kinds all the time. We assume that the milkman will come on time, the product you bought online will turn out to be good, the traffic will be as usual on the way to the office, and the spouse’s mood will be normal in the evening. And because on most days, these things turn out to be according to what we assumed, we tend to take these assumptions for granted.

So when, the next time we are caught in an unexpected traffic jam, we either curse ourselves or wonder how the city life is deteriorating. Next time when the maid does not come on time, we pick up an argument. Next time your boss overlooks your report, you become uneasy and start to worry about your impression.

Assumptions in themselves are not a problem. We need to make assumptions to keep our life running. If we had to live our life without any assumptions, then we would be living in a constant state of panic and fear, not trusting anyone around us.

The mistake we make is that we are not aware that we are making assumptions.

When you sit in a cab, you make an assumption that the driver will take you to the destination you told him. It is possible that the driver will take you somewhere else. The possibility, however small, does exist. And when that happens, you panic, you begin to shout, become angry and later start to wonder why it happens to you only.

There is another assumption at work here – your assumption that the world moves according to how you think it is supposed to work. The truth is that the world moves in mysterious ways and despite all the patterns and laws we have superimposed on reality to make it more predictable, we encounter situations where our assumptions turn out to be false.

To stop taking reality for granted, we need to develop awareness of our assumptions, even when they seem to be serving the purpose.

Reality is not following our assumptions but it is the way it is.

If we observe reality keenly and accept whatever it presents to us, we will be in a better position to navigate through life.

Whenever you are in a situation which makes you suffer, try to discover what assumptions you made about something or someone and instead of blaming the situation or another person, realize that it was merely your assumption.

Alternatively, ask, clarify, investigate and inquire about the cause of the situation. This will help you to update your assumptions. For instance, if you notice that your spouse is in a bad mood, ask what is the problem instead of reacting to the mood. You might think this is difficult to do but who knows it might be another assumption you are nurturing.

The ability to become aware of our own assumptions is a skill that can be developed with some practice. You will realize that your experience of life moves several notches up when you are more aware of what assumptions you are making about your life and are able to realize them as assumptions and not laws of nature. You will then be able to learn every moment and enjoy life every moment.

Is Reality an Illusion?

Is reality merely an illusion? The wise keep saying that. But it is difficult to wrap our heads around this notion. After all, we see, hear, smell, taste and feel things. How can all this be an illusion?

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Imagine you are in a movie hall engrossed in an exciting movie. As the movie captivates your attention, it begins to influence your emotions and state of mind. Depending on whether the movie is a thriller or a horror movie, you experience the ups and downs of emotions along with the characters in the movie.

So the question is – Is the movie real? Yes it is. It is playing in front of you. But it is not real. The characters are not real. It is an illusion created on the screen in front of you.

I am sure you would have experienced a movie which made you cry, laugh, and once in a while make you jump out of your chair. We think the movie is good, well made, well directed and the actors were superb. However, we forget one very important thing – the fact that we invest reality into the movie. Although it is not done by explicitly thinking “I am going to consider this movie as real” but the overall effect of lights out and loud volume immerses you into the movie and makes it appear as real. Without this serious participation in the movie on our part, we will not enjoy it.

Similarly it is with other things in life. Take for example sports. We have to invest seriousness into something which is fundamentally non-serious. Scoring a goal or taking a wicket is nothing in itself without us making a serious business of it.

Therefore, the wise say that life is merely the game of God – Lila.

All the world’s a stage and all the men and women merely players… (Shakespeare)

So it takes a slight turning around of our view, although happening in an unaware state, to consider an illusory thing as real. Similarly, it takes a reversal of that turning around in our view, by doing it consciously, to come back to normal perspective on things.

As a child, I cried when Amitabh died in Sholay. My parents told me it is only a movie and that he did not die in reality. Many people are upset when their team loses a match. But it only takes a minor realization that it is only a game in order to get over the sadness.

Getting Stuck

The problem is not that we consider as serious business what is not serious but it is staying for long in that specific state. When we continuously invest seriousness into everything in life, we experience stress. Even a small one minute delay will raise our blood pressure. We become cranky, demanding and pushy if we take everything as real.

However, staying too much on the other extreme is also equally problematic. If we assume the position that nothing in life is serious, then we will not be able to act appropriately in life. We will become casual, non committal when we take everything as illusion.

Those are the two extremes. The true path is in the middle. Discard both views that life is real or illusion and take life as it is. Do not ask how!

Everything is real and is not real. Both real and not real. Neither real nor not real. This is Lord Buddha’s teaching. (Mulamadhyamakakarika – Root verses of the Middle Way by Nagarjuna)

Just notice and be aware and be conscious whenever you invest seriousness (when you act as if it was real and it mattered) or non-seriousness (when you act as it it did not matter at all) into any situation in life.

So life is not serious but let us not take it casually or life is serious but let us not take it seriously!

 

Stop! Really Stop

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Can you really stop? I mean really stop – not just physically but mentally also?

Say for instance, you are walking and you decide to stop and you stop. That only means your body stopped moving. What about your mind, your thoughts? Did they also stopped? Let’s take another example. You are reading this sentence. And I ask you to stop reading. STOP!

 

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What did you notice? Different people might notice different things. Some would have tensed up and started to stare at the word STOP!. Some would have gone blank for a few moment before their thoughts started to flow again. Some would have started moving their eyes around and maybe scrolled down to read further. Some would have started to hear sounds around them or started to feel some sensations in their bodies which were blocked out from consciousness because all the attention was on reading. This is an important observation if you noticed it. Try it again. Go back to the beginning of the post and do it again.

As we get engrossed into our tasks, our attention starts to get focused on the activity and the stream of thoughts (relevant to the task or not relevant). Simultaneously, the inputs from our bodily sensations and the sounds around us are filtered out. Muscles are tensed, even those which are not used in the activity. For instance, if you are working on a computer screen, comfortably sitting on a chair, yet if you notice, your leg muscles are tensed up for no reason.

What does it mean to stop? We really do not experience the state of a full stop because the mind is constantly throwing up thoughts and is literally pushing us around, even if the body is stationary. A mind that is constantly moving is not a happy state of mind. But that’s what is the situation for everyone. Where is the problem?

It is just that some people have reported that there is a state of mind in which there is complete stillness, and when there is complete stillness of the mind, you will experience bliss. So this revelation causes many other people to seek this still/blissful state of mind. Unfortunately, they end up increasing the velocity of their thoughts through this very seeking even if they are sitting absolutely still in meditation. It is not that these people are seeking a mirage. In moments of wonder, for instance when one comes across a breathtaking landscape or some other natural scenery, one’s thoughts are blown away for some time and one experiences that stillness of mind and the accompanied bliss. But it is obviously not possible to experience that bliss/that stillness in the cacophony of a honking traffic jam. Is it really so?

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When Angulimala saw a monk walking in the forest, he thought to himself, “Ah, with his little finger, I will finally be able to get my hundredth finger”. As the story goes, he started running after the monk but even though the monk was walking, Angulimala could not catch him. Tired after a long run, Angulimala called out – Stop. Hey monk. Stop. How come I am running and you are walking and yet I am unable to catch you?. The Buddha replied, “I have stopped long back. It is you who are moving.” That struck a chord somewhere in Angulimala’s mind and he bowed down to the Buddha and the story goes on.

The stopping here refers to the stopping of the seeking mind – the mind that is constantly fluttering like a butterfly from one thing to another.

In this sense, we never really stop. Since the time we are born and since the time the first thoughts come to our minds, they have never really stopped. Even when we are so to say relaxing on a beach or while listening to our favorite music, the mind is constantly latching on to something. And when the mind is doing that, we are living as if in an automatic mode, like a self-driving car controlled by various signals and you are just the passenger who is busy with his work.

Have you played the game of Statue (aka Freeze) in your childhood? In this game, one child calls out “Statue” and all the other children have to literally freeze in whatever position they are in till the time they are relieved. There is even a musical freeze version in which music is played and everyone dances. As soon as the music stops, everyone has to freeze.

While these games are for fun, Gurdjieff designed an effective STOP exercise for the purpose of self-observation. As his students were working on the assigned activities, Gurdjieff would sneak in unannounced and say STOP. Everyone would have to freeze in the position they are in, without moving a muscle and simultaneously observe what they were thinking and observe any sensations in their bodies. The purpose of this exercise was to demonstrate how unconsciously we do our work and in effect begin to develop self-awareness in all positions at all times.

There is another story of a Zen master who would hit his student with a stick from behind while the student was walking, working, meditating, eating, and even while sleeping. The intention was to develop alertness. Initially the student was irritated by the teacher’s behavior but eventually he started to develop his awareness and one day, he instinctively caught the stick before the master could hit him.

So what is the moral of all this? Is it possible for you to be alert and aware in all that you are doing? This is only possible when your mind is still, even while working, while eating, while walking, while talking, while sleeping.

Here is a STOP exercise for your practice.

Just before you get on or get in your vehicle, stop for a few seconds, note what you have been thinking, note your posture, pay attention to your breathing, realize that you are present right here right now. Then continue where you are going.

Self Help

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We all need help in some or the other way in what we wish to achieve. Right from childhood, someone has helped us to walk, to eat, to read, to write, to speak and to play. We have also been told directly (through instructions) and indirectly (through actions) how to live life, how to understand things, how to draw conclusions and how to make sense of what happens to us.

When we do something wrong, we are told what is right and how to correct it. When we are young, we blindly accept everything we are told by parents and teachers. As we grow up and as our knowledge increases, every new information that comes our way is evaluated on the basis of what has already been told to us. So we start to agree or disagree with new information. To change our mind, we demand more concrete proof.

Once the knowledge is engraved in rules and policies, it is even more difficult to make changes. Many people cannot change their views despite all the proof to the contrary. However, help is always available when someone wants to listen. As the saying goes: You can take the horse to the water but cannot make him drink it. In the same way, help is available when you are thirsty.

Help does not have a specific form. It is not necessary that what helped one person will help another in exactly the same way. It depends on where the person is, in what state of mind, and what he has achieved before. It is a common realization for many people that they find new insights from the same book when they read it the second time and a third time. The book is the same but in the first reading, not all levels of meaning were apparent. As the level of the reader increased, he discovered more meaning in the second reading. In rare instances, if a reader has deeper understanding, he can gain new insights from a book which even the author had not intended to express.

To awaken we need help in different ways again and again. In the final analysis, it is you yourself who has helped you, not anyone else. We can learn immensely from books, movies, stories and metaphors

BOOKS

What is life without books! Reading is our only source of knowledge – knowledge which we cannot experience ourselves. And we must read a lot – different styles, different subjects, even from different ages. The more the variety we read the more our minds open up to new concepts. While it is true that concepts imprison us, it is also true that only through other concepts the road to freedom opens up.

MOVIES

Movies are not just for entertainment. There are some movies that help us reflect on our lives and show us things which the usual movies don’t.

STORIES

The purpose of telling a story is to convey a coded message. While the story can serve to entertain and pass time, it is the responsibility of the listener to grasp the meaning which is woven in the story, even if the story teller does not make it apparent. Stories serve to develop the faculty of attention in the listener.

METAPHORS

Metaphors and analogies are excellent means for explaining a concept. Drawing a parallel from what one already understands, makes it easy to grasp what one does not understand.

I wish you good luck in your endeavor.

 

A Different Kind of Work

We are all doing some work, isn’t it?. From the time we wake up to the time we sleep, we are doing some kind of work. It can be as simple as brushing our teeth or cooking our food to as complex as designing a rocket or performing a heart transplant.

To do any kind of work, we need a certain knowledge and a certain skill. By applying our knowledge and skills in our work, we generate some outcomes. These outcome can be measured for quantity and tested for quality based on the parameters we have agreed upon. Without this measurement, we will not know when the work is completed or when more work is required. This is the case whether the work is as simple as combing our hair or as challenging as flying a fighter jet.

THE OUTER WORK

We are trained in schools and colleges to acquire this knowledge and then as we do something repeatedly, we learn the skills that are needed to do our work. Over a period of time, we gain experience to be able to work more efficiently and effectively. By doing work, we earn money and with money we buy the things we desire.

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In a nutshell this is the typical story of all human beings. Whenever we meet someone new, we ask him – what do you do? Essentially we are asking what work do you do to earn your living or what work do you do to make money? Anybody who does not have to do any work is either filthy rich or a vagabond. Most people have to work. Even the economy is measured by its ability to create work opportunities for people.

As we understand what work needs to be done and what work opportunities are there, we lose no time in automating it or making a process of it. So we have millions of schools teaching the same subjects, colleges teaching engineering, medicine, commerce and so on. Learning on the job involves doing the same thing repeatedly, just like learning in school involved writing and verbalizing concepts repeatedly. They even took an exam to check how much we retained through the process of repetition. At work, we are rewarded for doing the same task consistently. So the emphasis is on repetition and following a pattern.

THE PATTERN

If one observes closely, most people follow some regular pattern and adopt a rigid set of trusted habits to help them succeed in their work. Once this pattern is adopted, then people conveniently stop thinking – why fix something which is not broken? People stop thinking to such an extent that they do not realize what they are doing. And then they complain that life is sad, unjust, dull and boring.

Because of the work patterns we have created, we have lost the ability to inquire and to think on our own. We have become masters at learning a repetitive pattern but we have lost the ability to question the pattern we are following and the ability to work from first principles.

In the pursuit of external work, we have forgotten to do inner work. We all have brains. The brain is considered to be the most complex instrument in the whole universe. Yet all we do with our brains is to train it to follow certain patterns of thinking, which ultimately drives our external work patterns.

The challenge with this is that we do not know what is happening in our brains much less anyone else’s brain. There are thoughts and feelings, emotions and intuitions but we do not have any control on them. They all happen in a random manner, depending on how the information was recorded in the brain during our school days or college days or past experience in working on the job.

Most people take this as a given – something that cannot be changed. They resign themselves to the situation by saying – I am like that. Despite the fact that the external world is constantly putting their pattern under stress, people simply think they must try harder to succeed.

It is not our fault because we have no clue about this power of our own mind to change our own pattern. Nobody throughout school and college told us about our own ability for independent thinking and inquiry. We were only told to repeat and become better at a certain pattern because the pattern would help us earn money to survive.

THE INNER WORK

The ability to inquire and seek to understand the nature of our mind and how it works is what is called as inner work. It has to be done by oneself. One comes to see this fact only after something external breaks the regular comfortable pattern and when one realizes that even when the pattern has broken, one is not, so there must be something other than the pattern which has the power to regenerate.

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Inner work has the potential to transform our way of looking at the world, the way we do our external work and our understanding of ourselves.

Consider a film actor. We see him or her acting out an external role, saying some dialogues and performing some actions. But that is only the external manifestation of the inner work that the actor does on the character he or she is acting. The depth and the quality of the inner work of the actor will determine the quality of the outer performance.

THE NATURE OF INNER WORK

Inner work begins by starting to pay attention. The ability to pay attention to what we are doing needs to be learnt. All further inner work is based on developing this ability. Just like we wobbled when we took our first steps as a child learning to walk and we blabbered when we tried to learn to speak as a child, we will face teething troubles while learning to pay attention. It is really a tragedy of humanity that we are not taught early enough the importance of the faculty of attention. And a real pity that most people live their whole lives without even knowing about this.

When we start to pay attention to what we are doing, we immediately lose it because something in our external circumstances draws us out and we get immersed in the event. Maybe after the event, we realize that we forgot about paying attention. So when we start inner work, it is like this. Gradually we need to work more.

If you are thinking – what are the benefits of doing this inner work – then realize that the whole notion of benefits is a pattern we have grown up with. We are trained to look for benefits in everything we do, otherwise we don’t do anything. When we are free of this pattern, we will be able to be free in the real sense to do what we want and to live the way we want, to be happy in what we do and who we are.

Everything real starts with attention. All else is unreal.

Awareness – The Goal As Well As The Means

If you care to observe the people around you – family, friends, co-workers, shopkeepers, people on the street, people on television, people in the market, and people in general – you would surely have noticed several times that most people are unaware of what they do, what they say or how they behave. That is to say only when you consciously pay attention to how people are going about doing their work. Otherwise, you also are one of them – going about your work, lost in thoughts. This is not to say that you are not doing important things but only to point out the quality of the awareness that goes with the activity.

The problem is common across people of different countries, races, ages and gender. No doubt, there are people who are more aware than the general population but for the majority, limited awareness (almost as if walking in sleep) is the rule.

Consider a spectrum of awareness beginning with the whole universe, only a part of which is perceivable to the human senses. There is a vast portion of the universe which cannot be perceived by humans, even with high tech instruments. Of the perceivable world, people are aware only of a limited fragment which is based on our conditioning. Each person selectively experiences the world. And of that small portion of the world that people selectively experience, people limit their awareness to quick judgments, conclusions, opinions, likes and dislikes.

Spectrum of Awareness

For most people, the real world is external, what is out there, outside of themselves. They believe that they, with their bodies, are living as a separate unit within the external world. At best, they have only a very vague awareness of what goes on inside their bodies and minds. There is a huge stream of thoughts, emotions, instincts and intuitions that are constantly flowing through the mind. And yet, because it is through these thoughts and emotions that humans make sense of the external world, these are almost totally hidden from normal awareness.

Only when the body screams out with tiredness or a headache or stomach ache that we have the opportunity to recognize there is something inside us which we are not aware. Only when there is anger or frustration that we have the opportunity to note that there is something inside us that we are not aware. We only are aware of the external manifestation of those elements when we have to face their consequences, which are usually painful.

All human suffering arises from a lack of awareness. As awareness increases, suffering reduces. This is the law of nature. Despite all the clues and pointers that one must look within, most people find ways to blame the external circumstances or other people for their troubles.

Left to itself, the nature of awareness is to shrink, to focus on only the most important elements. People are anyways conditioned by education and environment to focus on limited goals, limited choices, limited alternatives, and limited outcomes. So people learn very fast what is desirable and what is not, what must be done and what must be ignored. As people practice limiting their awareness, they become experts at it. Therefore, when problems arise, the prescription is to increase awareness – through relaxation, meditation, out of the box thinking, going off on vacation to seek new experiences. All of this temporarily increases awareness and people feel fresh but when they go back to normal life, they stop investing in awareness. They give credit to that nice beach, or the thrill of the speedboat or the soothing music used for relaxation but do not realize the importance of their own awareness in healing themselves.

Awareness is the goal and awareness is the means of achieving that goal.

One must consciously be aware and expand that awareness in order to experience life more fully. Right now, sitting where you are, you can notice how limited your awareness is – limited to the words on the screen of your computer and some sounds that reach your ears. Right now, you can consciously increase your awareness by being more aware.

  • Become aware of your posture
  • Become aware of the contact of your feet with the floor
  • Become aware of your weight on the chair on which you are sitting
  • Become aware of the variety of sounds around you
  • Become aware of the things you can see from the corner of your eyes

Notice that as you become aware, small corrections happen automatically – maybe you shift your posture, become more centered in yourself, relax a little, notice the change in breathing… As you become more and more aware, your experience undergoes a qualitative change, maybe you can notice what mood you are in right now. When you are aware of something, you have the opportunity to act in full knowledge of what you are doing.

Awareness cannot be increased mechanically by taking a pill or an injection. It cannot be increased by doing exercises in meditation and yoga. All those have temporary effects. The only way to increase awareness is through a gentle conscious effort which begins with noting that one is not aware in the moment.

Awareness is its own reward. As awareness grows, one realizes that all activities in life, whether it is family or career are not ends in themselves but a stage or platform on which to develop our awareness. Awareness can make every moment in our life seem divine. What else can we desire for?

Renunciation – The Last Step

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The most debated topic when it comes to spirituality is renunciation. No wonder, there are many misconceptions about it.

Renunciation, the way it is understood by most people, is the act of leaving home and family life in order to pursue the spiritual life – to live the life of a wandering hermit in search of the ultimate truth. The central question is whether it is necessary to renounce worldly life in order to achieve enlightenment.

Before we enter the debate on the pros and cons of renunciation, we must understand some basics about enlightenment. Enlightenment is the same for all human beings. In fact self-realization is about discovering your true self, beyond the illusory person that you think you are. So the question is about the approach – whether leaving family is going to help you to achieve that.

Let’s pause for a moment and reflect on the situation. We know that we have to be born in a family setting. No human being is born without a mother and a father and if he has grown up to get enlightened, then we can be sure, he or she has spent significant time in the care of the family and society. If there was no family, no society, then there would be no enlightened individuals also.

Society at times or rather at all times is a place full of chaos, where every individual is seeking his self-centered happiness and does not hesitate to harm others and cheat others to get what he wants.  Children are prepared through education to get ready to enter the society and sustain its existence. Customs of marriage and rituals of coming of age are all significant for the sustenance of the society.

One cannot force anyone to exit the society, except as an outcast for breaking some of the agreements of the society. So by default, everyone is condemned to live in the society despite its cruelties. All one can do is to further one’s own goals, hoping one gets through life without serious incidents. The whole desire for enlightenment has no place in this structure. Society does not encourage the seeking for truth. Its existence depends on the illusion of progress and civilization.

A PRACTICAL SOLUTION

When an individual who perceives these illusions promoted by the society, he tries to understand what is going on. He comes across other individuals who talk of a true life, self-realization, etc and he is intrigued. He tries to find answers in the society but quickly comes to the conclusion that nobody knows anything about it.

His mind is boiling with the question and he is not finding any outlet because he has to fulfill the responsibilities of his life. He cannot focus on anything unless he gets an answer and therefore needs time and space to go within to explore. However, life has no mercy. It is unrelenting in its demands for survival and sustenance of the family and societal institutions.

Therefore, the only practical way out for a person is to renounce the family and go off to live alone in search of the truth. This has been happening in India throughout history. All those who had this inner calling have promptly renounced their worldly life and went into the forest. Whether they were successful in their search or not is another question.

The search for one’s true self requires meditation for long periods so if you are sitting and doing nothing while at home, other people will think you are lazy and a shirker. They do not appreciate the inner calling of the person. On the other hand, if you are in the forest, away from the home life, then  there is no one to disturb you in your meditation. You have voluntarily retired from all responsibilities so you can focus singlemindedly on your goal.

The Buddha used to say that going from the home to the homeless life was the fastest way to self-realization. Hundreds and thousands of young men left their homes to join the Buddha’s Sangha. Even today, many people leave their homes and join a spiritual order, whether Buddhism or Christianity or Hinduism.

Point to note is that if a person is leaving home just to avoid the arduous responsibilities, then that is not the right renunciation. It is right renunciation only when the individual’s intention is to realize his true self. Only then is the renunciation a practical choice because there is no other way to live in the society and seek the higher reality.

So the question naturally arises. Is enlightenment impossible without this renunciation of worldly life? It is not impossible. There have been many cases of family people getting enlightened by hearing the teachings of masters.

In fact Gurdjieff actively promoted the fourth way, a way of self-realization while living the ordinary life. He was of the opinion that the situation one finds oneself in in one’s life is the most appropriate situation to start the struggle against sleep in order to awaken.

The truth about awakening is one of conditions. If a man is living in conditions that are conducive to enlightenment, then it will happen whether he is living at home or in the forest. And if the conditions are not suitable, then awakening will give him a slip even if he has renounced worldly life.

THE MIDDLE WAY

So is there a middle way between renouncing and not renouncing? Yes, definitely there is a way for the intelligent person who knows the conditions to be created. These conditions include first and foremost unobstructed time and space for meditation. If a man is able to organize this time wherein he is able to devote time to meditation with the sincere aim of awakening, then he will be in a much better position than a man who has renounced the world and is living troubled with the thought of where to get his next meal in the forest.

True renunciation is the renunciation of the idea of ‘I’. This can be done anywhere. The only problem of living in the society is that others remind you of being you all too often for you to practice the inner renunciation of ‘I’. However, for a person who is able to maintain self-awareness in all his worldly interactions, he will not be troubled. Within his mind, he has renounced while he is still performing ‘self’-less actions in the world outside.

If at some time, the awakened person wants to really change his way of life and live away from society, then the outer renunciation is only a formality. True renunciation has already happened when the person stopped identifying himself with his body and mind.

Therefore, it can be said that renunciation is the last obvious step rather than the first courageous step.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Prisoners of Philosophy

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Are we truly free or freedom is an illusion? Aren’t we all prisoners of our own philosophies?

You wake up in your house, use a toothpaste of your choice to brush your teeth, a soap of your choice to take bath, drive in a car, walk freely in the market, go to office, travel freely to places of your choice, watch television programs when you want and eat and sleep when you want. Can anyone say you are a prisoner? No way. A prisoner is locked in his cell, gets to eat only limited food, has to do work he cannot refuse to do and cannot do anything to get out the prison. The prisoner and you are not the same. Yet, at the level of the mind, we are all prisoners – prisoners of our own philosophy.

We are all philosophers whether we accept it or not or whether we speak philosophically when we are down a couple a drinks. What we think about our life is our philosophy. It consists of our beliefs, ideas, and assumptions of all kinds. There is no question we live our life with hundreds and thousands of beliefs. Some of them are conscious beliefs and many of them are tacit, hidden below our normal perception. Some beliefs are useful to live in society while some don’t make any sense.

For instance, you do believe that cleaning teeth with a toothpaste prevent bad mouth odor because you have some experience to back it up.

But you do not necessarily believe that the toothpaste will make your teeth sparkle like a diamond as the advertisers would like you to believe. You might have many more things to say about a toothpaste and brushing of teeth and all those ideas form your philosophy.

That was a simple example but as we live life, there are many things which are more complex than a toothpaste. Say for example, your philosophy about your work, how much should employees work in the office, what should be their attitude to work, what you think about your spouse, about men or about women in general, about politics, about economics, health, etc, etc. We all have come to certain conclusions about everything in life and we debate it out with our friends and colleagues. Despite the wide variety of positions and opinions about things and people, everyone believes that his opinion is the right one. We accumulate all these ideas and opinions and then because we are so imprisoned by them that all our actions that follow must be consistent with our previously formulated conclusions, even if we have lot of evidence to the contrary.

Lets say, that your job is not working out. It was good for the first 2 years but then it is no longer enjoyable. Yet because you want to show to the world that you love your job, you continue in it. Same with relationships.

So what starts as a mere opinion in the mind has the power to lock you physically into a pattern of action. Isn’t that living like a prisoner. You might have a choice but the options are limited so it is a pseudo choice. And most of us are happy with that variety. We are happy to live as prisoners because we get to watch a movie once a week or go out on a vacation once a year. And the situation becomes worse because everyone else is also a prisoner of his own philosophy. So very few even thinks of escaping or living a free life.

Life is meant to be lived in freedom. Yet we are afraid of that freedom. We create a pattern in our life. That pattern creates familiarity. In that familiarity, we feel secure and so continue in that. So even though we are free from the beginning, we enclose ourselves in to limited notions and ideologies. The one idea is especially very harmful, which keeps people in their prison is the idea of putting efforts to be free from the prison. There is no more ridiculous thing than that belief.

If you are in an open field, you are free to walk in any direction. Now somebody has created a pattern of roads and you cannot leave the road. In that sense you are prisoner of the road. But at the same time, you are free to wander off the road into the field anytime. That is freedom. You have always been free. The story of being a prisoner of philosophy is told just so that you recognize your eternal freedom once again and not be limited to be on the road forever. Then it does not matter whether you are on the road or in the field, it is just that in the mind you have no philosophy to get bound to. And that is awakening, enlightenment. Here is wishing that all of us live a free life with awareness and insight.

The Emperor’s New Clothes

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The emperor’s birthday was nearing and many celebrations were planned in his honor. For this special occasion, the emperor wanted to look his best & wanted a new dress stitched for him. Tailors from across the kingdom were invited to present their designs. Although tailors came from far and wide, the Emperor did not like any of their designs. He announced a big reward for the person who could make the most unique dress for him.

Then one day a stranger appeared in the court & claimed to have the most unique fabric in the world with which he would make the emperor’s birthday suit. The specialty of the fabric was that it could be seen only by one who was wise and could not be seen by one who was foolish. He produced a sample of the fabric from his bag and displayed it to everyone in the court. Although no one could see or touch the fabric, they all exclaimed that they had never seen such a thing. Even the emperor could not say anything for fear of being discovered to be foolish. He had to agree that it was indeed a special fabric most suitable for his birthday. The stranger was then allowed to spend several weeks weaving the imaginary clothes.

On the day of the emperor’s birthday, he got ready to wear his unique clothes. He got down to his inner wear & the stranger put the new clothes on him. Although no one could see the clothes they all appreciated the dress because they did not want to appear foolish. Even the emperor could not say anything. He even rewarded the stranger for his superb work.

Dressed in this invisible suit, the emperor rode his royal horse through the city wearing acknowledging the birthday wishes of his people. All his citizens, seeing the emperor wearing his inner wear on his horse, were in a shock. But no one said anything for fear of attracting his wrath. Suddenly one child in the crowd started laughing & pointing to the emperor said – Look there. the king is not wearing any clothes. The king is not wearing any clothes. ha ha hah!

The emperor immediately realized the truth & rushed back to his palace in shame.

In the very effort to appear wise, shines our stupidity.

Life is such. When there is a great desire for something, it makes us blind. We ignore the truth staring in front of our eyes. We do not believe our own intuition but believe what someone else is saying.

Fear of being termed foolish makes us do things & say things which are contrary to what is. We accept other people’s interpretation of the situation even if we are able to see the same situation differently. The underlying assumption is that the crowd cannot be wrong, all at the same time.

The crowd on the other hand is afraid of itself. So only a small child, pure of heart, without any preconceptions, one who has not yet become a part of the crowd, is not afraid to speak the truth.

We are all like that Emperor who goes about the world displaying our good qualities, nobility, holiness, acumen and spirituality without realizing that others, even though they may see through our nakedness, pretend to see our clothes.

Nakedness is our truth. Even if we wear layers of clothes, fundamentally we are naked inside. How can we ignore that fact? When all the traditional dresses and functional uniforms are taken off, we are all the same.

Going further when we divest ourselves of our stories about who we are in terms of name, family, education, designation & achievements; fundamentally we are pure emptiness, the stuff of what existence is made of. From this place you will never see any clothes however hard someone like that stranger would make you believe that the clothes exist. Because now you can really see and the child in you starts laughing.

The Presence of the Absence of Ego

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There is much going on in the world with the ego.

People with ego are supposedly a nuisance. People without ego are supposed to be saints. Some people are seeking to destroy their own ego. Some are engaged in destroying other people’s ego. What is this ego? Does it really exist?

We can all agree that the ego cannot be seen directly. You cannot look at a person & know whether he has ego or not. Ego is supposed to be seen in action. It is implied to exist in a person when you observe his behavior or reactions to other people. Pride, Anger, Jealousy & other outward expressions are taken to be the result of having an ego. But the ego is never seen directly.

With so much talk about the ego, people already believe they have a personal ego. Not just that, egos are measured in sizes. There are tiny egos; there are small egos; there are large egos & there are gigantic egos. Egos are also measured in the amount of possessions one has, the type of car one drives, the type of house one lives in, and even the size of body parts.

There is much going on in the world with the ego.

Some people are not ashamed of their egos & are happy to increase it everyday. They believe ego is the source of their happiness. Some others who believe or are told that ego is the source of their suffering start to follow practices to destroy their ego. They understand that to be free of anger, hatred & other unwanted emotions, their ego must be destroyed. There is no dearth of teachers or ego fumigation experts who come up with meditation practices & other therapies to help their disciples to get free from ego.

Some wise men even point out that the whole attempt to get rid of the ego is an action of the ego itself so you are only boosting it in the process of eliminating it.

There is much going on in the world with the ego.

The point to realize is that the ego is just a name given to certain outward expressions of people or their behavior. These expressions are usually reactions to circumstances or to other people. And reactions are a natural process. When it rains, clothes get wet. When your car hits something, it gets scratches. Now scratches do not exist. There is only the car & its metal body which is disfigured. Scratch is the name given to that disfigurement or the removed paint. But a scratch does not exist by itself. But if you see around, you will find so many solutions to remove scratches. You cannot remove scratches. You can only try to re-form the metal shape to its original form or paint the surface.

Similarly there is no ego entity. You can neither increase or decrease your ego. You can only watch your behavior & correct it. Do not go on the invisible witch hunt of eliminating the ego.

There is much going on in the world with the ego.