Daily life as spiritual opportunity
All worldly experiences may become doors to divinity if interpreted aright.
Human experience is our laboratory for higher experiment. The world is our school for spiritual discovery. The vicissitudes of personal circumstance are our field for ethical achievement. The great books written by illumined individuals from antiquity till today are our guides.
Those who complain that their opportunities for meditation, study, travel to India, and so on are nil, and that therefore they have no possibility of spiritual growth, need not despair. The common life regarded in an uncommon light, the ordinary activities engaged in from a different standpoint, become part of a spiritual path through which development is possible.
If life is a process of gaining education through experience and reflection, it is also a process of correcting errors and approaching truth, of clearing illusions and perceiving realities.
The ego naturally and understandably revolts bitterly against calamities which are put upon it by chance, by destiny, or by any other apparent cause outside itself. The quester must not accept this emotion but ought to separate himself from it. In this way he advances at a spurt on his quest.
Life presents him from time to time with occasions for improving character and strengthening its weaker places. But whether he accepts them as such, or lets his ego follow its habitual trends without opposition, is his choice.
The various experiences through which we have passed, reflectively and analytically instruct us; the immoderate desires we have checked repeatedly, strengthen us; and the wandering thoughts we have concentrated determinedly, tranquillize us. Life never runs to waste if it thus is attuned to the notes of this quest.
Life is our real school, for it provides the chance to acquire virtue and discipline evil, to nurture the mind and clarify its thoughts.
If he can bring himself to look upon events when they flow upon him as being intended to elicit his qualities and exercise his powers, and thus give him the chance to cultivate them, he will learn to acknowledge and accept the responsibility of choosing whether those qualities be positive or negative, whether those powers be good or bad.
No experience is a wasted one when it is treated philosophically, when not only its final results but every moment of it is used as material for his strivings toward the ideal and his understanding of the True.
No situation or circumstance is really counter to self-liberation. Each one may be used for enlightenment.
Here, in this physical world, the ego is put to school. Here it learns lessons, sins and suffers, yields to passion and then checks it, responds to intuition and is led upward.
All activities in the world are an opportunity both for self-study and for objective awareness of the self in each situation. An intensified longing for the way itself, rather than a too great concern with the particular steps along the way, will clarify these efforts.
The experiences of daily living in the world become, for the quester, occasions for working on himself, for co-operating with the World-Idea as it concerns himself.
When every situation which life can offer is turned to the profit of spiritual growth, no situation can really be a bad one.
The kind of environment in which he lives may hinder or hasten a man's mystical development, but every kind of environment can contribute towards his understanding of life and therefore towards his general spiritual development.
In the end each experience incites the living entity to unfold the powers qualities and characteristics already within itself but still unexpressed.
The whole of his everyday experience can be brought within the area covered by the Quest. Indeed it must be so brought if the self-division from which ordinary unquesting man suffers is to be avoided. The ills and calamities of life, as much as its joys and boons, will then contribute toward his understanding and growth.
Regarded in this way, every experience becomes an instruction, all life a spiritual adventure.
He sees in the end that all his life and business, relationships and contacts in the world really constitute a contest with his own self; that all have the forming and finding of himself as the ultimate result and ultimate fulfilment.
Life on earth for us is not to be a goal in itself, but a means to the goal. All its experiences are to be used to shape our character and increase our knowledge and, above all, to bring us nearer the discovery of, and identification with, our Overself.
Everything, every experience, good or bad, pleasant or unpleasant, may be turned into a pointer towards our true nature, a reminder of the high quest which all human beings are here on earth to follow, whether consciously or not.
Each experience of human existence offers at least one clue, generally more, to the hidden secret of being, the Overself.
Spiritual laws structure experience
If we accept the existence of a higher power behind life and the universe and if, further, we believe that infinite wisdom is an attribute of this power, then, finally, we must also accept life as we find it and as we humanly experience it.
There is no problem which does not carry within it a hidden meaning, no person associated with us who does not bear within himself a hidden message. As soon as we rise above the level of their appearance, and as long as we stay on that level, the problem shows us the way to solve it and the person plays his true note in the harmony of our lives.
It requires a strong faith to believe that even in the midst of the direst distress, of the gloomiest hardship, what happens is sanctioned by, and under the rule of, divinely ordained laws and that it has a rational and higher meaning which we should seek to extract and heed. Those who lack this faith bear strain-ridden faces that betray no inner calm. Yet it is only a single step to turn around and start the journey from inner wretchedness to inner radiance.
The penetrative mind of the deep thinker finds in time that life in this world is not only life in illusion but also in pain. Yet for him to stop with this discovery is to stop at an intermediate stage on the way to truth. He must travel beyond it and learn the hidden cosmic laws and thus come to understand the magnificent goal toward which all this passage through worldly existence is leading.
All the power behind the cosmos insists on meeting cause with effect, action with reaction, evil with retribution.
What controls the course of our lives? Fate is something which descends on us from outside ourselves and to which we have made no visible contribution--as in the death of a beloved one. Destiny is something which arises out of our own causation.
Throw out the idea of coincidence. Remember there is a World-Idea. There is meaning in life, in its events, happenings, karmas, meetings, and opportunities.
The troubles and inconveniences of life do not come to us without the knowledge and sanction of the higher power. Therefore they do not come to us without some reason.
Knowledge is the crying need of the hour, knowledge of the higher laws governing the life and fortune of human beings.
The central message of philosophy to the modern era is that man is not isolated but supported by a friendly power, not left in the dark but surrounded by helping hands.
There is a higher destiny behind all the experiences which the aspirant undergoes. Although purificatory work may at times have brought hardships to him and to those whom he loves, still he must recognize that it may also have afforded protection against dangerous possibilities from which he and they have been saved.
The man who is ignorant of the higher laws, such as the law of recompense, may still display sagacity in certain situations if his character is good and his intellect sharp. But if they are not, then he will display only fatuity.
The man who hesitates to accept the idea of rebirth must confess, in his frankest moments, that he cannot reconcile the sufferings around him with faith in a benevolent power.
The teaching of reincarnation, that every individual enters repeatedly a new life on earth, carries the sister teaching of compensation. The two constitute the most plausible teaching about the suffering of man which he has ever been offered. This teaching sets in place under universal law what otherwise seems mere chance.
The nearer he comes to this insight the larger is his acceptance of life. Each event is seen to be either inevitable, just, or right. No news is ever so bad that there is no good behind it. Less and less is he inclined to attempt to reform others or to meddle in their affairs. More and more he sees that there is wisdom and purpose at work in all happenings, and that the law of recompense never ceases to operate.
In the end, after so many births, all these experiences must lead to the mystical rebirth.
If you live in harmony with Life it will unfold in perfect sequence the exact experience which you need.
There is no situation in the life of a quester, no incident and no contact, which is not a parable to be penetratively read and its inner meaning adequately elucidated.
If he works faithfully on the quest, every experience which is essential to his inner growth will gravitate to him, every thing or person needful to his development will be drawn to him, subject to some synchronization with his personal karma. He, on his side, ought to welcome those situations which can be used to strengthen his inner life.
Nothing in his experience is to be condemned but everything is to be understood. It is there because its lesson is needed. Similarly, no one in his experience is to be despised but everyone is also to be understood. Each is there to test or tempt, to teach or uplift.
The friends of a man who was thrown out of work into unemployment asked, "Why should this evil happen to him? He is so upright in character and so scrupulous not to harm others. Yet he has been without work for the past three months and there is none in sight!" This is one way, the commonest way, of looking at the matter. But the habitual attitude towards events is often an inferior one. It is the ego's attitude. It is possible to regard unemployment from another and superior standpoint, a more impersonal and less egoistic one. For this question, like many others, is part of the larger and ultimate question, "Why am I here on earth?" Only when the answer to this second one is correctly found will the answer to the first one be correctly found. The unemployed man will see his situation not as an evil to be shunned but as an experience to be studied. If he does this calmly and properly, he may find that certain deficiencies in himself have to be supplied, or faults remedied, or capacities developed. With the acceptance of such a discovery, the lack of work will go and a cycle of more fruitful activity than ever before will come. For the Infinite Intelligence which placed him here also provided the necessary conditions for his existence. Where these conditions are not immediately favourable or discoverable, that circumstance does not nullify this statement, for then it is intended to educe his latent resources, to force him to make the efforts needed to develop his character and intelligence, to stimulate the growth of his energies, capacities, and qualities.
The fact that an event has happened or that an experience has arrived must have some significance in a man's life. It could not be there unless he had earned it or unless he needed it. If he is not willing to meet it from this approach and deal with its effect impersonally, he will miss most of its lesson.
The experiences which come to him and the circumstances in which he finds himself are not meaningless. They usually have a personal karmic lesson for him and should be studied much more than books. He must try to understand impersonally the inner significance behind these events. Their meaning can be ascertained by trying to see them impartially, by evaluating the forces which are involved in them, by profound reflection, and by prayer. Each man gets his special set of experiences, which no one else gets. Each life is individual and gets from the law of recompense those which it really needs, not those which someone else needs. The way in which he reacts to the varied pleasant and unpleasant situations which develop in everyday life will be a better index to the understanding he has gained than any mystical visions painted by the imagination.
Every important event occurring to him who follows this path has an inner as well as an outer significance, for it traces back to a karmic origin which is specially selected to promote his self-knowledge and self-purification.
If he will look upon each situation when it comes as a new lesson to learn, or an old one to learn better, he will gain precisely what he needs just at the time he needs it. Books can only seldom speak with exactness to his personal condition, for they are written to suit too many individuals and they are too general to be quite pertinent to his own personal requirements.
If his growth requires a drastic change in his surroundings or his circumstances, be sure it will happen.
Experience as personal teacher
The whole world carries a message--nay, innumerable messages--to the man with ears to hear.
Every event, happening, and action-consequence carries its message to those concerned. Too often that message is the need of abandoning negativity or animality, of becoming positive or disciplined.
Some events happen to a man or some people come into his life to stand as symbols representing a truth of human existence generally, or a fact of inner life, or a principle of ethical, moral, or karmic law. The situation offers a lesson, or a warning, or an instruction or challenge.
Experience is apparently of value only insofar as it leads to thoughts about the experience, but actually it has another and hidden value--in the subconscious mind.
The education of self which is provided by experience is an almost subconscious process.
The lessons remain long after the problems themselves have died.
There is no school of philosophy where instruction is so regularly given as the school of life itself.
There is no substitute for personal experience, no more effectual way to learn the lessons of human existence than to see with one's own eyes and feel with one's own body. This said, philosophy neither justifies nor approves this way, but only explains why it is the commonest one.
Every generation must learn these lessons afresh, must find by its own experience that evil traits will invite the purgation of suffering. Technical advance can be kept for and maintained by the next generation, but spiritual advance is a highly personal and individual matter. It drops out again when the man himself drops out of circulation. This is why real historians who happen also to be deep thinkers tell us that mankind's moral nature changes only slightly during the centuries. The group has to learn its moral lessons all over again but some units in that group need not.
In life we learn that truth, principle, knowledge, or information best which we teach ourselves.
Reflection and imagination, analysis and anticipation, rightly used and harmoniously combined, can supersede experience. Indeed, they are forms of experience. But, being under our individual control and direction, they can be used as instruments to save us long-drawn and emotionally painful results.
Why should we individually undergo every possible experience? Can we not, by creative imagination, intuitive feeling, and correct thinking, save ourselves the need of passing through some experiences? This is so, but it is so only for those who have developed such faculties to a sufficient degree.
Ironically enough, pain and suffering are not always necessary. But only the few understand this. They may learn quietly from philosophy within a few years what humanity at large must learn brutally through suffering, and relearn again in every epoch.
He who will not heed the counsels of reason or accept the promptings of intuitive feeling will receive the less pleasant instruction of experience.
All people are inescapably guided by experience. But the prudent man looks to other people's--especially the best--as well as his own, whereas the fool is limited entirely to his own.
Experience is an expensive way of gaining wisdom.
If a man feels that despite the dictates of reason he should embark on a particular unethical adventure simply to gain some sort of experience, and if he believes that this experience is a necessary part of the whole of his development, then let him go ahead, taste the bittersweet fruits of his actions, and learn at first hand why it should have been left alone.
What is demonstrated by observing contemporary life is that so few men are willing to take their lessons from the past experience of other men throughout history, that so many obdurately prefer to learn under pressure the hard way. The same foolish errors, the old pain-bringing sins are repeated monotonously and regularly. The cost of ignoring such experience is heavy. People are not teachable and their defects not corrigible by the gentle way. They will not absorb guidance from the interior sources of reflection or intuition or the exterior sources of preachment or observation.
It is true that wisdom comes with experience but that experience need not be gained at the cost of one's own suffering. It can just as well be gained by the observation of it in others.
Most people learn and can only learn by the method of trial and error--that is, by the method of experience.
Men are not left to depend for guidance only on what they learn by experience. What they believe by faith also guides them.
The art of living includes the arts of survival and social adaptation. In life, with its pleasures and miseries, its problems and mysteries, these arts must be learned from theory and practice, from surrender and compromise, from teachers and elders.
The truth starkly lights up certain situations, but it is equally valid to say that certain situations light up the truth.
They would not need to get any experience of the world without, if they would get sufficient experience of the world within.
All the experiences through which he passes, and many of those through which he observes others pass, should find their way after reflection and distillation into his wisdom.
The lessons of past experience are not enough in themselves to provide all the guidance needed for present living. We need also the ideals held up by intuition, the principles and ideas presented from within by the higher part of our nature, and from without by the spiritual teachers and religious prophets of mankind.
It is one thing to grope through life blindly and another to fulfil the law of our being consciously.
Where experience is extremely narrow, its deficiency may be supplied by reading, reflection, or intuition.
Only after he has fully tasted and long enjoyed the fruits of striving ambition and straining desire will he be in a position to assess their worth correctly. Only then will he be perceptive enough to consider the vacuity of his ephemeral life.
It is possible for man to learn whether a proposed course is wise or foolish, prudent or reckless, without having to wait for the testimony of events. In that case he must look for the counsel of spiritual teachers.
What he can teach himself from the pages of a book is one thing, and a very necessary thing, but what he can only teach himself from life's experiences is another.
He may learn this truth by reading someone else's ideas or reflecting on his own, by the arguments of logical thinking or the announcements of intuitive feeling.
Life and grief will teach a man through harsh tragedy what reason and intuition would teach him through tender pleading.
If they will not come to the truth by directly accepting it from the truth-seers, then they must come to it by a more roundabout and painful way.
Life is the real tutor; experience is the principal education. The voice of truth is within.
It is one thing to learn from experience, another to remember and not to forget these lessons.
Spiritual truth in practical life
A man's acts constitute the daily declaration of his faith. If he possesses spirituality let him demonstrate it by actual achievement. Action is to be considered the first criterion of philosophic achievement.
His fidelity to the Quest will be tested, both by specially critical periods and by everyday happenings. On the one side, temptations will call him; on the other, difficulties will deter him. Will he bend the knee before the world's idols? Will he stand strong amid the world's turmoil? Only when the hour of testing comes can he know.
The tests through which life itself outwardly puts him may seem appropriate or not but they contribute to the discoveries within himself, to the knowledge of his character, its strengths and limits, its belated ambitions and ludicrous self-deceptions.
I have tried to teach from the very beginning of my writing career--well before I went off to the Orient--and have repeated tirelessly, the close connection between spiritual truth and practical life, as opposed to spiritual imagination. I have insisted that the ordinary activities of everyday existence must bear the impress of this truth, that the inward light must shine in outward conduct. In other words, I tried to say that this is not a matter only for dreamers, useless to men and women who carry on the world's work, but a matter for all, whether they want to live in the busy world or in the cloistered monastery. Philosophy is for use. It is not a thing which is queer, outlandish, and entirely superfluous, as some think.
The beginner should look more to his outer situation and environment, for he is more affected by it; the proficient should look more to his inner reactions to situation or environment, for they then become his test. The role they play in his development depends on the stage he is at.
If, instead of bitterly resenting it, we receive the test in the right attitude or pass through the trial with the proper thoughts about it, we shall find when it is over that the experience has been of great value to us. We shall find that it has lifted us to a new and higher level of character, a new and truer conception of life. Our lower nature is weakened, our better nature strengthened. Our eyes are clearer. Our feet advance another step forward on the Quest.
Knowing that his reaction to whatever happens is even more important than the happening itself, he watches for hidden tests of his character and capacity. Whether he is coping with the problems of his work or moving in the circle of his family, he uses each episode or situation to prove himself worthy or to discover a weakness. In the latter event he will not become discouraged but will probe, analyse, plan, and resolve until he turns it into a new strength.
It is the unexpected situation, when there is no time to calculate a response or prepare a reply, that reveals what measure of strength we can rise to. It is in the sudden crisis--which is only a situation pushed to a complete extreme--when there is no chance to escape altogether or to evade partially, that what wisdom we have, or lack, shows itself.
Life with its variety of experiences is always testing him anyway, but it is when he is under stress that he is tested most.
Theoretical knowledge of the truth is not valueless. Its very presence, even if we fail to apply it, tends to irritate and impel us towards such application.
The test of bringing thoughts and theories, intuitions and revelations, to action is a means not only of expressing them but also of evaluating them. It is only by doing this, by bringing them face to face with the facts of life that he can learn what they are really worth or how they should really have been executed. Even though the opportunity to act wisely has been lost, the knowledge has been gained. Even though he may never be able to make use of it again in this lifetime, it remains in his mind and will enrich his later incarnations. Experience of the world, however studded with faults and mistakes it may be, must always complement understanding of life if he is to accomplish his fullest development. The abstract is man's left arm, the concrete is his right one. As he applies his ideas directly to the outward life, they become fruitful. Thus he is able to see for himself whether the fruit is good or bad, and to judge the tree accordingly.
These eternal truths must be brought down into his simple daily experience. Every act is to be done in their light, every thought held in their atmosphere.
If the practice of meditation is to be limited to recluses and the study of metaphysical truth confined to monasteries, then both mysticism and metaphysics will be in danger of becoming merely theoretical subjects. For active life in the world, with its problems to be grappled with and its realities to be faced and its temptations to be overcome, provides both a necessary testing-ground and a valuable expressional medium for mystical experience and metaphysical reflection.
The carpenter can bring his idea for a piece of furniture to the test by the simple act of making it. The quester can bring his understanding of the teachings to the test by trying them out in actual everyday living. Not before then can he conclusively determine how correctly he has absorbed them, or how utterly foolish and dangerously misleading they themselves may be. Here is the place of the physical plane and the purpose of physical action. Not before then can he have the certainty that they belong to reality, and not merely to his own or someone else's imagination.
When we understand it aright, each test is then seen not to be an ordeal to be shrinkingly dreaded, but a gate to be eagerly welcomed; and this is because it offers us the chance of a higher development, of an entry into a higher state of being and capacity.
Action is the best way to complete a thought.
An impracticable teaching is a defective teaching. What is unworkable in practice is untrue in theory.
The minor details which, in their numerous throng, make up most of our daily life offer a chance to express philosophy's wisdom and apply philosophic discipline just as much as the great ones.
It is largely through such spiritual trial and error that so many find their way through imitations, frauds, sterilities, and black perils to the authentic philosophy and the real quest.
Every new experience or new set of circumstances becomes his teacher. Every personal reaction to it becomes an indication of his spiritual status.
Sooner or later situations will form themselves which will remind him that only by enforcing the teachings in his own conduct can he get their benefits, only by applying them in deeds and linking them to daily living can he verify their truth.
Hardships offer tests but so do easier circumstances, although this is less plainly seen because the tests are so different.
The test comes when they find themselves in situations to which they are unequal.
The spiritual gains made in spite of the world's opposition and in its very midst will be solid durable and substantial. But the gains made in an ashram may be imaginary superficial and transient.
Awareness grows in silence, the test of it in activity.
What is its value for life? This is the test.
The result of his actions will tell him something about the ideas which led to them, about the truth or falsity, the rightness or wrongness, of those ideas. It will tell him whether his faith is well-placed or ill-placed.
The last test must still be how far he brings the truth into his life.
The troubles of a follower do not prove that the teachings have failed. They prove only that he did not actually follow them in reality, whatever else he may have done in appearance, that they were not active in his mind and heart and will, however much they may have seemed so in the sight of others.
When the truth alters his whole conception of life, penetrates his heart and stirs his will, it has become his own.
What he accepts as idea and principle must be applied to experience and sustained in action. Then, and then only, will it manifest itself in fortune and destiny.
Getting the point
Life does not tell us why we are here: we have to enquire of it, seek to understand it, and wait while seeking for the answers.
Every event in his life should be made to reveal its karmic meaning for him. He may not at first perceive this; time, patience, and tranquil invitation to his deeper being--best done after meditation, before sleep, or before rising--can help.
In some way this life is a charade, a play which is being acted out but whose meanings have to be inferred from given clues.
It is not the mere succession of events that make up the essence of a man's life: it is what he extracts from those events.
Every new circumstance or happening in his life has some message for him from the Infinite Mind or some lesson to convey to him or some test to strengthen him. It is for him to seek out this inner significance and to re-adjust his thinking and actions in accordance with it.
"What is the Overself telling me through this experience? What does it want me to learn, know, do, or avoid?"
Many people read the lessons of their experience but alas! what they read is different from what is really indicated. Too often it is an egoistic distortion or even a gross falsification of the real lesson.
It is only if experience is correctly interpreted that it brings discretion, and only if thought is correctly reasoned that it brings discernment.
He should learn to profit spiritually and practically by all his experiences, the pleasurable as well as the painful, the gay as well as the grave. But he can do this only if he reads from them not what he wishes to read, not what will soothe or flatter his ego, but what is really their message and teaching. The unguided seeker finds it harder to succeed in this endeavour than his luckier fellow, but it is worth trying.
The undisciplined mind is easily misled.
An experience may be wrongly interpreted so that little or nothing is learned from it, or, which is worse, the mind's error or heart's evil may be increased.
Reason alone may give him the truth about a situation, but personal feeling may give him a half-lie about it. Yet he will prefer that to the truth simply because the ego is being supported.
An experience involving suffering may not bear its lesson on its face--unless it has repeated itself so many times that the lesson is plain and clear. Although having a teachable and receptive mind will elucidate it more quickly, more often it is dark and obscure. There is needed something or someone to draw the line of connection between cause and effect. That something can be only the intuition, but how seldom is that achieved? That someone must be a teacher or a book.
He sees in the situation only what his bias permits him to. That is, he consciously or unwittingly excludes from sight those factors which he does not wish brought to his attention.
Those who have committed themselves to a particular belief, opinion, or theory may get back its mere reflection when they try to understand their experiences.
The profounder a truth the more it will be misunderstood and misapplied.
It is in the nature of human self-centeredness to appraise things, persons, and events only by the measure of satisfaction or suffering they yield. But such egotism hides their true nature and real value, and obstructs their power to bring about progress.
It was because the Greeks knew that meditative reflection upon the meaning of tragic experience is less effective in the midst of it, while emotion is highly involved, that they avoided actual representation of the tragedy itself. The audience then received it only as an idea, not as a spectacle.
The worst misfortune is not to experience it but to misunderstand it, and consequently misinterpret it. When it makes us worse in character than before, less in faith than before, when it fills us with resentment bitterness anger or hatred, it is we who are injured and not merely our fortunes.
It is better, more prudent, more satisfying in the end to see things just as they are and not foolishly to imagine them in exaggerated, idealized, or wished-for forms.
We look only at the mere appearance of a situation or experience and expect to judge it rightly by that. The divine message it contains is nearly always a hidden one.
The ordinary person judges from the surface of things and at times is deceived in consequence. The seeker of truth must penetrate to the depth of things.
He should cultivate the habit of looking beneath the surface of many incidents in his daily life, both the important and the trivial, to determine the character of the forces they represent. Some show forth the good or evil within himself, or within others; all have some useful lesson to teach. Some, standing for the power of evil, ignorance, or illusion, necessitate constant watchfulness against temptations outside; others symbolize weaknesses inside that must be ceaselessly fought.
If he succeeds in keeping out of the emotional surface of his being the temptation to take his situation rebelliously, and penetrates instead deep down inside where he can take it resignedly, he will gain strength and feel peace.
The art of extracting a spiritual message even from the most ordinary circumstances is worth practising. But it can be done only if one lives in a certain independence of them, if while experiencing them one stands apart from them.
The aspirant lives a kind of double life. He sees all his experiences as personal events just like other men do. But he also sees them again as material for study: what is and what ought to be his reaction to them?
This is the double role he has to play: a looker-on at what is happening around him and an active participator in these events.
Where destiny compels us to follow an undesired path, to consort with undesired company, to work at undesired tasks, a special attitude must be created and kept until that particular cycle is ended. The experience must be studied philosophically--that is, impersonally--in the larger perspective of life's general meaning and our own character's personal needs.
If he is to learn the full lesson of his situation, he must not only examine and analyse it, but he must do so as if it were somebody else's.
It is not only a way of looking at life but also a way of participating in it.
Every circumstance or situation may be looked at from a higher plane than the merely animal or narrowly selfish one so that a higher benefit may be got from it. But this attitude calls for a willingness and detachment and courage which most people lack.
Sunshine and shadow
The misery on which the Indian mind likes to dwell, and which leads to the idea of escape from rebirth as the highest good fortune, does not obsess the philosophic mind. The latter does not deny life's brevity and tragedy, sorrow and pain, but at the same time it notes life's beauty and glory, joy and reward. In this it is very Greek. If the mysticism of India could be married to the sanity of Greece, a broader and better philosophy would be the offspring.
In youth we suffer from an unreflecting optimism or an unknowledgeable pessimism but the years correct that. After we have gone through enough experience, we know better how to be cheerful without permitting our optimism to obstruct our reasoning faculties and without permitting our pessimism to dominate during reaction to difficulties. We know we cannot afford the shallow optimism which thrusts the thorn aside and sees only the rose. We prefer to view the red beauty in all her brutality while enjoying the fragrance.
Neither suffering alone nor joy alone can educate his heart and develop his mind in the right way. Both are needed.
It is the ironic paradox of human existence that both suffering and joy can enable a man to pass to a higher plane. How is this possible? Suffering drives him to seek its own end, that is, to seek peace. Thus he is led inevitably and eventually to the quest of Overself. Joy draws him towards its source, which rises ever higher as it becomes more refined. Thus he is brought in time to recognize that the true permanent happiness is in the Overself. The urge to shun misery and experience joy shows itself on every plane and in every kind of condition because it is finally and fully satisfied only in the Overself.
Life is not all sunshine and no shadow, all fair sailing and no storm, all growing green-leaved trees and no decaying bare hulks. Both halves of each pair are found either side by side or alternate, and none is so far off that the other never appears during a lifetime. The complete optimist is as unjustified as the complete pessimist. This said, it is nevertheless true that personal realization of the higher truth does give a contented mind a perennial hopefulness and an inward security. All these combine and fuse into a quiet sort of happiness.
Human life brings inseparable anxieties along with its joys, dilemmas along with its successes.
Experience in the world at first satisfies his desires but later purifies him of them.
Hiding within our pleasures and lurking behind our possessions are their malignant enemies--change and death. Sickness trails behind the healthiest life and may one day catch up with it. Our joys are insecure, our loves and friendships ever open to separation and bereavement. We may try to ignore these facts by forgetting them but life itself will force us to remember them again. It is better to accept them frankly, even though we individually hope for the best.
The pessimism which Buddha taught in India as religion, the tragedy which Sophocles expressed in Greece as drama, should warn us that the human will cannot hope to achieve all its ends in a universe where fate has the greatest share of power and where that fate deliberately opposes itself to the realization of human happiness--I speak here not only of earthly happiness but also of spiritual happiness. The tragic element in our days is ineradicable. The hostile working of the cosmic laws is inevitable. Yes, life means struggle. Its satisfactions are often short-lived. The man who congratulates himself upon the joy he finds in it had better beware, for frustration and privation are even now travelling around the corner toward him. And the man who finds life wonderful had better keep his thought to himself, or he will tempt the gods to shatter his illusion with a more devastating blow than he might otherwise have received. What are the artificial pleasures of the modern age really but anaesthetics to hide either its boredom or its suffering, its emptiness or its discontent?
What is every man doing but trying to find his way toward the Happiness that intuition tells him is his birthright? His direction may be wrong, his mode of travel painful, but still--when his error is corrected and the means to his end altered--he will seek to be happy in the only way this is really and durably possible, for no other way will be left.
The adherents of sentimental sloppy-cults which refuse to see the dark sides of life but persist in seeing only the brighter ones, which find only Love in man and God, are practising an optimism which can never support them in their hours of severest trial.
He who hopes to find continuous satisfaction in any worldly thing, in any external creature, is either incapable of thinking deeply or inexperienced in the vicissitudes of living.
We ask for contradictory and impossible things--for instance, unchanging happiness in a changing world.
Pessimism turns life into a protracted funeral where we mourn our evils before their time. Such a doctrine can only be to the taste of morose minds.
Here, in this world, the human entity could not have come into existence unless it came in the form and way it did. This meant that the dualities of opposites must ever surround him, that the correlative of his happiness must be his misery.
A happiness which is gained at the expense of others will prove costly in the end.
The seeker should remember that it is possible to learn just as much from joyous, satisfying experiences as from those of suffering and frustration.
No experience is so pleasant that it has not a negative factor, nor so unpleasant that it has not a compensating one.
The egos attach themselves to one another, driven by the blind universal urges translated as personal "loves," passions, or needs. Glamour, maya, creates these attachments; but experience leads to awakening and, possibly, detachment, until maya operates again. So the drama goes on, repeating the old scenes, until awakening is finally carried to a deeper level and the truth seen at last.
In the world we find no perfect situation, look where we can. In the individual person we find no perfect character, behaviour, speech. There is no environment, no human arrangement, which is without any fault.
The same Greek culture whose architects gave us the chaste beauty of their structures, and whose philosophers gave us the Olympian serenity of their teachings, gave us also the horrors of tragic plays. It could not have attained the balance which it did if it had not so frankly looked life fully in the face.
The brevity of human life and the transience of human experience prevent the full realization of human happiness.
Life is a mosaic of brightly coloured pleasures and darkly coloured pains.
All life is tragic, as Buddha pointed out, and ends in frustration. It is only the degrees of frustration that differ with each individual's experience.
Extreme joy stupefies a man spiritually, as extreme misery paralyses him. Too much of either condition bars his way to the Overself since it prevents him from becoming interested in the quest.
The suffering which is attached to life may vary in extent and kind but it is missed by no one.
Life brings its joys and despairs and much of it is an oscillation between them, plus the long flat intervals separating the two.
Along with the mystery and misery of life, we must include its obviousness and gaiety to get a balanced picture.
Life, with its unfulfilled expectations, its unpleasant surprises, its slow disillusionments, is something we learn to bear because there are pleasanter experiences too or because the craving for existence is still not crushed.
The pains of childbirth come to the mother in spasms which strain heart, womb, and lung but which, coming between intervals of rest, are rendered more bearable. So the sufferings and troubles of a whole lifetime most often come in cycles and alternations which give rest from them or afford actual pleasure, and are rendered more bearable also.
What Buddha meant was that if life does not break your heart, it will at least give you plenty of frustrations.
The quest is a joyful labour: its glimpses afford a bewitching happiness. But it is not a blind labour. There are moments and moods when it acknowledges the suffering inevitably interwoven with human life, the sadness of some of the fundamental inescapable human experiences.
They want to keep their personal identity but they do not want to pay all the price for it. They want to keep the satisfactions but not the sorrows of earthly life: but the two go together.
Causes of suffering
The same God who gives you the inner peace of profound meditation gives you also the storm of outer tribulation. Why?
We suffer primarily because we have isolated our conscious being from the universal Being. Only when we renounce this isolation shall we be able to remove our suffering.
Pain and suffering belong to the worlds of limited being, not to the world of infinite being. If man has to endure them, it is because they serve to remind him of this, to warn him against self-deception and to arouse him to take the homeward path.
Men shut the door on their best self, and their best friend the Overself, and then wonder why they suffer.
We read past history and remember present history with the result that we stand appalled. Why all this tragedy and terror, blood and pain? It is not in God's will that the cause of this vast and endless suffering lies, but in man's flight from God's will.
It is this unconsciousness of his spiritual selfhood which is his worst calamity.
So long as men do not believe in the truth of Jesus' message, "Seek ye first the kingdom of heaven and all these things shall be added unto you," so long will they grope blindly and suffer needlessly.
The more anyone resists the fulfilment of the higher purpose of his life on earth, the more suffering he creates for himself. It is the ego and the animal in him which instigate this resistance.
He pays heavily for this forgetfulness of his divine centre--pays in errors and sins, and in the miseries and sufferings which are their results. If the teaching had no other value than this one, to point out to him the need and worth of such remembrance, and the blessings which are its results, propagation of it as well as education in it would be fully justified.
The misdirection of energies, the waste of efforts, and the penalty of useless sufferings constitute the sad result of our ignorance concerning life's higher laws.
It is as if the higher law provides penalties for ignorance of it; as if the higher power, having given man intelligence and intuition, bids him find out the spiritual facts of his situation or take the consequences.
We have heard to the point of tiresomeness the one-sided statements which assert either, "We must blame ourselves for our troubles" or, "We must blame circumstances for our troubles." To get truth, bring the two statements together.
The root of most of his troubles lies in man's own psyche, the beginning of most of his distresses in his own thinking.
Our frail spirits fret at every handicap Fate puts upon us, forgetting entirely the far greater handicap of a mind bound with hard thongs to illusions.
The unenlightened mind sees in the shadows of existence only misfortune where the enlightened mind sees Karmic instruction and opportunity for self-improvement along with misfortune. When it is schooled both by experience and revelation to recognize and admit that its own mistaken behaviour has led to most of its misfortunes, to see the causal connection between personal wrong-doing and the penal troubles or sufferings which follow in its wake, it will act righteously through fear. But later, when it is schooled by subtler experience and loftier revelation to see the divine quest which life ordains it to follow, it will act righteously not from fear but through faith. When it comes to see or believe that most of its griefs are self-inflicted, it sees well.
To react to the pressure of suffering with blind resentment is the way of the ignorant. To study the nature of this suffering and learn its message, self-educating his character accordingly, is the way of the aspirant. He will understand that at some time, in some way, he broke the universal laws and inevitably brought this thing upon himself.
All experience shows what distress and misery often follow undisciplined passion and unruled feeling.
Suffering is the price of wrong-doing. Sin creates its own punishment. Prayer that has no higher purpose than to escape from the consequences of its own mistakes and its own ignorance is like an object standing in the sunlight which asks that its shadow be removed from it--it asks for the impossible. The proper way to separate sin from the price of sin is first, to stop sinning; second, to make all possible amendment and reparation; and third, freely to recognize, humbly to confess, and penitently to eliminate the faults of character which created the sin.)
While he loves his chains, he must be prepared to accept without murmur the suffering they bring. Only when he loves freedom from them more will he have a right to resent the agonies they cause.
We build up mental pictures of what we want. When eventually they are fulfilled, we find the actualities to be accompanied by things we do not want, or to be so different that the happiness both they and the pictures promised is illusion. How much distress we could save ourselves if we could understand and accept the teaching that so many of our griefs are made so by our thinking, by our clinging to mental pictures and emotive thoughts when time bids us let go!
If he finds that his path is beset by opposition, his footsteps dogged by evil, he will learn to put himself on his guard against the shortcomings and imperfections which might bring victory to the enemy and failure to himself. He will accept the law that there can be no strength without struggle, but the struggle to which he is called is not with other men--it is with himself.
When a man has to receive and live for years with the results of his errors or sins, he is likely to remember them.
Only when he arrives at a clear understanding of himself, and especially a correct discernment of his follies and weaknesses, is he likely to arrive at the truth about the situations in which he finds himself and the cause of the troubles that affect him.
Events which are painful as well as unsettling may give him hours of anxiety. It is not enough to reach out only for spiritual comfort and peace in these situations; he must also constantly and rigidly analyse the causes of them in himself, the mistakes and weaknesses which led him into them, the lessons he needs to learn from them. He should carry out such self-examination quite calmly and impartially, taking care not to exonerate himself. He has to find out how far he himself has contributed to these situations even if the larger share comes from those offending him. It could be that he needs to understand that there is so much evil in this world and in people that he should keep his eyes open accordingly. He cannot take all people on their face value nor believe their words have much value if contradicted by their actions. He may have to develop critical judgement. Life brings contacts with people who show different and opposite facets of their character. Each type has its positive as well as negative qualities. The aspirant who is growing in sensitivity should keep away from those who show more of the negative than the other, who are unscrupulous, or who are emotionally unstable or physically dissipated. He should form no friendship or association with persons who are not clean, wholesome, honest, and stable. It is better to be alone than to get involved with undesirable characters. Having understood the needful lessons, he must resolve to govern his future conduct accordingly. Then and then only should he seek help and comfort through prayer and meditation. There will then be no need to despair, for these situations will work out in the end. If he adheres to right thinking he must accept them as working for his ultimate good.
Your suffering may be shortened or even ended if you will express the fullest self-inculpation and throw no blame for it on others. For their misbehaviour does not absolve you from the responsibility for your own.
He must thrust aside the unsatisfactory common habits--often unconscious but sometimes wilful ones--of overlooking mistakes, exaggerating difficulties, evading problems, excusing selfishnesses, explaining away failures, rationalizing evil conduct by shifting responsibility for his own shortcomings through blaming other people.
If a man will not take the trouble to discipline himself, then life, soon or late, will do it for him.
Life gives us enough problems from time to time without our own addition to them of still more which are self-created entirely.
If pain did not creep on the heels of passion, men would rarely desire to tame it, much less do so.
So long as we set up the goal of outward gain against the ideal of spiritual growth, so falsely and so unnecessarily opposed to each other, so long shall we continue to suffer.
A human existence cannot be separated from a painful and suffering one, however small its measure, so long as it is tied to the flesh or emotions.
Every tenant of the flesh pays a rent for the pleasure it affords him. He pays in limitations or infirmities, disobediences or pains.
After all their conniving and calculating, those who eat the coveted fruits of selfish ambition will have to eat along with it the fruit of their egotism, illusion, and passion.
While man identifies his highest good with momentary pleasure, he will continue to receive the educative experience of suffering.
If moral instruction and spiritual direction fail to lead a person on the right self-controlled course, then troubles, sufferings, shocks, and scares may have to do so. Sooner or later he will have to surrender himself to strict principles--the sooner the pleasanter in the end.
Years of error and suffering could have been years of success and peace if the man had known the principle of right thinking and right living. Wasted and spoiled years become so because of this first and fundamental ignorance leading to mistakes in judgement and sins in conduct. This is the reason why a man suffers and why he causes others to suffer.
Unless we learn something about how to live, or, rather, how not to live, we have suffered in vain. And this applies both to physical and to mental life. I like the words used by R.W. Emerson in conversation with a friend: "Why be sick, if to no purpose?"
In terms of lessons learned, no experience is wasted. All experiences contribute in the end. But because of the ego's reluctance to accept, many lessons are submerged until their cumulative effect pushes them into awareness.
Why should we be ashamed to learn new truths from life's experiences and, dramatically or slowly, to reverse our views in consequence? The answer is that the ego does not wish to humiliate itself, nor to inculpate itself.
The fortunes and vicissitudes of life have an educational value but if the conscious mind refuses to receive it, then the subconscious mind will have to do so.
He may undergo a vivid experience and yet seem to learn nothing from it. This may repeat itself several times. But on one of these repetitions the process of learning will start to actualize itself on the conscious level.
It is utter foolishness to bear in complete blindness, and with unlearning stolid apathy, the unpleasant results of wrong thinking or evil doing.
We suffer emotionally when our view of a situation is shown by experience to be self-deceptive. But if this view is itself involved in, and part of, our general view of life, then this disillusionment gives the chance to introduce a truer and higher one. Thus the suffering becomes its purchase price. But if we prefer to hug the emotion and refuse the lesson, we invite its recurrence at some future time.
Without the willingness to learn, all experience becomes doubly painful, although never futile. Without the willingness to apply what is learned, all experience becomes a source of inner conflict and self-division.
If a lesson has been learned so thoroughly that both character and outlook have altered in consequence, there is no necessity for the higher power which manages life to recur to it again.
Some sufferings entirely fail to improve character, so the sufferer continues to repeat and repeat the cycle of self-originating cause and painful effect.
We learn our lessons from suffering, it is true, but so inadequately that we forget them all too quickly. Out of this failure to comprehend life comes the continuance or recurrence of most human trouble.
When this curious feeling of having tried the same experiment or tasted the same experience dozens of times before in dozens of lives comes abruptly to the top of his consciousness, it is a warning not to waste his precious years in behaving like an ass--that is, not to let himself be tutored in the same lessons by the same disappointments again and again without end.
Even when extreme or prolonged suffering has forced a willingness to accept the peace of non-existence, a man cannot wrench himself away from his "I."
The result of wrong-doing will reach a man in the end and teach him the value of its opposite. If he stubbornly needs many lessons and many classes in life's school before he is willing to accept this value, the fact is regrettable and his suffering is inevitable.
A lesson which must be learned in the end had better be learned in the beginning. The price of lateness is multiplication of suffering.
Most people do not seem to learn at all the wisdom that life is trying to instill into them. Of the few who do learn, most learn either too little or too slowly or too late for it to be of any use.
They suffer but they do not learn. Yet this is true only of society as a whole, not of certain individuals in it.
Every experience carries its own lesson with it. But if a man is unteachable, through stubbornness or stupidity, through egoism or animality, he will not be willing or able to receive that lesson.
It is not enough to say that you have suffered. Have you profited from your sufferings? If not, all your weeping was useless.
Good fortune may put a stop to the suffering caused by ill fortune, but where the ill fortune has been the end-result of tendencies in our own character or defects in our own mentality or deficiencies in our own personality, these things will remain like seeds within us and will one day sprout again; then the ill fortune will reappear and the suffering with it.
The man who does not want to look at Truth because it is unpleasant hides from it or throws out the thought of its presence or excuses himself with sophistries and hypocrisies.
Stupid sincerity can go from one mistake to another, yet be none the less sincere.
If it were true that men gained nothing from self-earned suffering and learned nothing from it, that they went on making the same errors and committing the same sins again and again, then they would not be men but the lowest of the lower animals. The capacity to think distinguishes men from these creatures. It may be very feebly and most imperfectly used, but this capacity is still being used in some way. Such mental activity may lead to wrong results or to little results, but it cannot lead to no result at all. The conclusion is that if men do not learn from experience today--that is, in one lifetime--they will inevitably do so tomorrow--that is, in another and a later lifetime.
Different reactions to suffering
Some say suffering is ennobling, others say it is degrading. But if we look around us we shall see that both assertions are right in some cases, wrong in other cases. It does not have, and cannot have, the same effect in all cases.
Life for some is a slide to Hell, for others a bridge to Heaven.
The very struggles and sufferings which bring both practical and metaphysical wisdom to the mature and reflective person may bring evil emotions to the undeveloped and unthinking person. It is possible to read wholly opposing lessons from one and the same experience. Thus when afflicted by a common distress men rise to higher virtue or fall into deeper wrong-doing.
The same kind of shock experienced by two different kinds of men may have entirely opposite effects. The extremely materialistic may find the ground slipping under their feet and may feel, for the first time, the urge to seek spiritual help. The extremely unworldly may fall for the first time into a dark night which casts doubt upon the truth of their treasured beliefs and which drives them toward a worldlier outlook as being closer to the real facts. Great traumatic suffering, whether bodily or mental, points two ways.
Such is the intractability of human egoism that if suffering ceases too quickly he learns little or nothing from it. The old habits of thought and patterns of conduct will remain only slightly erased or else not erased at all. If suffering continues too long, it may arouse negative emotions of bitterness, resentment, anger, despair, apathy, or self-pity. Again little or nothing is learned.
If men suffer too much or too long, this drives them into being even more preoccupied with their ego than before. If they have to struggle continually for their livelihood, the same effect happens. Egoism is increased.
When suffering is too prolonged, too acute, or too large, it may induce a hatred of life and a longing for death.
Who shall blame them if the struggles, the frustrations, the difficulties, and the adversities of life become intolerable and leave them beaten, unable and unwilling to make any further effort?
Great hurts lead the perceptive to great surrenders but lead the unseeing to greater bitter blindnesses.
The tears of suffering may blind us to the truth behind suffering.
The passage from anguish of life to anger at life is often a short one.
Outward circumstances injure character for the weak man but improve it for the strong one. In the first case, the man lets himself be moved still farther away from his spiritual centre, but in the second one he moves closer to it.
Those who have had ample experience of the world may draw from it either despair and cynicism or advance in, and confirmation of, the Spirit's truth. For their capacity to learn correctly will depend on the extent to which they keep the ego out of the way.
What happens to him may tighten his bondage or, paradoxically, stimulate him to escape from it. The particular result depends on how satiated he is with this kind of experience.
What seems a wholly evil event to one man may seem a mixed good and evil event to another. The first man may see only that it brings affliction and distress. The second may see that it not only does this but also corrects error and checks weakness.
When a man is stretched on the rack of suffering, he may not be able to see or willing to accept in his anguish its spiritual lesson.
Experiences take on their different private meanings in different men's minds. A public calamity may confirm the religious man in his belief that God's hand is behind history. But the same calamity may confirm the atheistic man in his precisely opposite belief.
Humiliation, which dwindles one man's stature, adds to another's spiritual opportunity.
Setbacks, and even more drastic shocks, may force a man to see what he could not or would not see before, and thus bring him into better balance. But, to the contrary, they may confuse and bewilder another man.
Intense suffering may dull the capacity for higher thought, as intense pleasure may lull it.
Experience, which gives the true quester fresh opportunities to eradicate errors, merely gives the foolish man fresh opportunities to repeat them.
Purpose of suffering
Philosophy does not ascetically applaud suffering and pain. It deplores them. In themselves, they are regarded as evils. It accepts them as good only when they succeed in bringing about a change of thought--a conversion of heart or an ennoblement of conduct.
Those who, like Gandhi, can find beauty in human suffering are welcome to do so; most of us cannot, but we may appreciate the values and benefits it yields without enjoying such "beauty."
Since our faulty ways of thinking and living can be pointed out to us by suffering and since we are thus given the chance to put an end to them, does not suffering prove itself to be a useful part of the world-scene? Is it not, at least sometimes, a friend disguised as an enemy?
No experience which turns a man more than before to recognition of the truth and the sense of its worth is really an adverse one. Even though it is a source of pain, it is still a step forward in his growth.
To the man on this Quest, the man willing to step aside from his ego, earthly misfortunes may sometimes be seen as disguising spiritual blessings if they force him to fall back on the eternal truths and his own deeper resources.
It is sometimes spiritually beneficial for a man to lose part of his wealth, an official his position, a nation its empire. For then they may lose the arrogance which too often accompanies these things.
Instead of complaining of difficulties, we should welcome them for the opportunities they give us.
The error of thanking God for good fortune is that this forces us to blame God for ill fortune.
When painful experiences are undergone by mind on the lower levels of evolution, very little is learned from those experiences--and that little slowly. When the same experiences are undergone by mind on the higher level, much is learned from them--and learned quickly. This is because in the one case there is no desire to learn the causes of that suffering, and no capacity to learn them even when the causes are evident; whereas in the other case, there is a keen desire to master the lessons and a prepared attitude wherewith to receive them. When, therefore, the really earnest disciple who has asked for a quickened advance on the Quest finds that all kinds of experiences begin to follow each other for a period, he should recognize that this is part of the answer to his call. He will be made to feel loss as well as gain, bliss as well as pain, success as well as failure, temptation as well as tribulation at different times and in different degrees. He needs both kinds of experience if his development is to be a balanced one. But because he is still human, he will learn more from his sufferings than from his pleasures. And because their memory will last longer, he will not pass through this period of quickened experiences and extreme vicissitudes without much complaint. Each of those experiences represents a chance for him, not only to conserve what he has already gained, but to pass to a farther point where he can gain something new.
The wine of wisdom is distilled in the grape presses of bitter agony. The best tempered steel comes out of the fiercest fires. If you have suffered more, you have learned more and may perceive more than others.
If Nature's way of evolution is cruel, it is also necessary. For the human entity would soon be led astray from its true path if there were no suffering to warn it of wrong direction, no pain to signal a disharmonious condition.
The sufferings which destiny brings us are not to be looked upon as punishment so much as instruction. They are intended to teach us right thinking and to turn us to right doing.
Lessons so painfully learned indicate that we are being nourished by truth.
All circumstances are used by the divine forces of evolution to develop the human soul and, distasteful though it is to us, suffering is one of the chief forces of such evolution. Humanity, having so deeply and so widely lost sight of the higher purpose of its life on earth, has had to undergo calamity and distress in consequence. To recall blind men and women to this purpose is a noble task and a compassionate duty for those who tread the path of philosophy.
Whatever difficulties we encounter in the course of a lifetime, we should remember that some reason has put them there: they are not meaningless. But whether put there by our own fault or by other people's fault, or by an implacable destiny, it is usually possible to extract profit from them, at the least, or to get through them successfully, at the most. Through the capacity they draw out, the power they develop, or the discipline and correction they impose, they can be made to yield personal advantage.
The impulses of Nature push men helplessly onward until necessity, suffering, reason, or aspiration forces them to make a stand and practise control.
The depth to be penetrated from the surface to the deepest layers of the human psyche is too great to be reached quickly without acute sacrifice and intense anguish.
The sugar cane yields its sweet juice only after it has been crushed relentlessly in a mill. The human entity yields its noblest traits and truest wisdom only after it has been crushed repeatedly in the mill of anguish.
He has the duty to learn why he suffers.
Environments which present no problems, relationships which bring no anxieties--these are pleasant circumstances and help foster pleasant qualities in us. But other qualities also need drawing out and developing and can be fostered only by tougher, even opposing, circumstances.
The extreme contemporary human suffering has also been an educational discipline in this wisdom. What men cannot yet receive with their conscious intelligence they are already receiving with their subconscious intelligence.
Suffering has a purgative place, in the scheme of things. If in the earlier stages of man's growth it tempts him to seek relief in evil courses, in the later stages it presses him to seek out its real cause and final cure. Next it has an educative place for it leads him to analyse experience and learn to understand its lessons. Last it has a redemptive place, for it drives him to confess his weakness and seek mercy, grace, and help.
Every outward experience has its inward benefits, if only we will look for them with ego-free eyes. And this is true even when the experience involves suffering. Behind suffering we may learn to find some lesson to profit by, some purificatory discipline to be undergone, some ignored fact to be faced, or some wisdom to be gleaned.
If what he is undergoing is hard to endure, it is also an opportunity that will not recur again in the same form and under the same circumstances, an opportunity to master a special lesson or to arouse a latent energy or to work on a particular character-trait.
We ought not ask limited man to look at his painful predicaments with the same infinite tolerance that the higher power does. Only time, as it brings him to discover and desert the ego's outlook, can do that.
Pain lessens or even destroys attachment to the world and the body. Its misery is not all loss or waste. Attachments hold shut the door to heaven: when they are removed or reduced, we get the door to open much more easily.
Where suffering fails to detach us from the thing or the person outside us, from our body, or from the ego inside us, it fails to achieve its metaphysical purpose. To that extent it is wasted, even though the surface lesson it conveys, the practical purpose, is successfully achieved.
We must cultivate the philosophical spirit which seeks, through calm reflection, to learn and profit by the widest experiences and the commonest errors. It is important that disillusionment should not create bitterness, that we should blame no one but ourselves for our premature judgements. We shall be shamefully defeated in our quest of the Overself if the pain of our experiences makes us less generous intellectually when it ought to make us more so. Yes, our heart must not shrink; the more it has suffered, the more it should expand in forgiveness, in compassion, and in freedom from prejudice.
The quality of compassion presupposes the existence of some form of suffering toward which it is directed.
There is no situation so bad, no predicament so undesirable, no crisis so formidable that it cannot be transformed, either in its physical actuality or in our mental picture of it, into a good. But this requires a willingness to work upon it spiritually, that is, egolessly.
Perhaps more trials, more sufferings, will bring about the reformation of life and character which more preaching and teaching have failed to bring about.
Poignant suffering may foster profound thought.
Those who trouble to follow virtuous lives and ask why God should strike them down with some great misfortune or some grave malady and leave other uncaring ones unscathed, may find a possible answer in the idea of karma, but they will find a certain answer in the idea that their suffering is an ego-melting and ego-crushing process. Only after this experience is the truth about happiness revealed.
What else can be so beneficial and so necessary to him than an experience which tends to detach him from his ego? With some persons or at some times, it may be a joyous experience; with others or at other times it may cause suffering.
Every self-created unpleasant episode can be turned to constructive worth. It then becomes a disguised blessing if it arouses one to develop the qualities needed to overcome its painful consequences and to prevent a recurrence of similar episodes. It may sound a call to desert an old road of thinking and to discard an old way of living. It may even give a chance for a new man to be born.
Long ago Virgil believed that the agriculturist's troubles were sent to him by the powers that be to sharpen his wits. This view could be considerably broadened, if applied to life's troubles generally. They can not only sharpen wits, in the effort to overcome or evade them, but also nurture moral attributes.
Those sufferings which he brings upon himself will serve a useful purpose if they surprise him into discovering his inefficiencies and shock him into discovering his incompetencies. For after the first emotional wave of shame and the second emotional wave of despair have passed, he has the chance to set about putting himself right.
No man is so uneducable that suffering leaves no residue in his mind.
A member of the former Czech government, now imperilled anew in the Red blight which has fallen on his land, told me about his three-and-a-half years' suffering in the worst Nazi concentration camps. "Now, alas, I have lost the capacity to weep. My heart is tired, does not feel emotion. I have borne all and am above it all." Thus he had learned a forced detachment. Although it cannot be a durable one, some reserve will remain.
The aspirant who has experienced a great deal of suffering during his lifetime may be comforted by the thought that, undoubtedly, much unfavourable karma has been thus worked off. Moreover, such experiences lead to a better balanced personality, as a rule, which is as essential for the Quest as meditation.
If the aspirant could assume a perfectly impersonal point of view he would be able to see how much of his spiritual development he owes to the heartache, loss, and suffering which he once complained about or regarded pessimistically. He would then understand how these very factors have helped immeasurably to deepen his determination, sharpen his intelligence, and, above all, improve his character.
Disillusionment often breeds sourness and cynicism. But if it passes away it may leave true balance and philosophy.
Wisdom may grow out of anguish just as practicality may grow out of necessity.
A dangerous situation in which we become involved while dreaming may so frighten us as to cause us to awaken with a start. The situation is entirely imaginary, yet it is enough of itself to shock us out of the whole sequence of imaginary situations which constitute the dream life and into the relative reality of waking life. In the same way, the sufferings of earthly life, although ultimately just as illusory as the rest of that life, awaken us to search for reality that transcends it.
The world would like to settle down, but every now and then comes iconoclastic news which disturbs its comfortable rest in a most unwelcome manner. But unless the gods send things to stir up men, this rest is likely to pass into sleep and the sleep will pass into spiritual death.
When man becomes so engrossed in his own work and so entangled in his own creations that he does not know he is more than body, then life itself will one day jolt him out of his error. The body's needs, comfort, and surroundings must receive his attention. But they should not receive attention out of all proportion to their value. Is he here on earth for these things alone? Is the higher purpose of life to be entirely ignored? A sounder balance is required.
So long as the mass of men are contented with illusion and seek neither truth nor reality, so long will they be beset with adversities, dragged from pleasures, surprised by shocks, and tossed about from one birth to the next.
The shock of unexpected trouble may be followed by a mental awakening, may lead to the asking of questions about life and from Life. It stops the habit of half-dead, mechanical, routine thinking for a while.
The average man's mode of living becomes fixed by routine, by convention, and by the community. Unless he is an exceptional person, he is not particularly interested in teachings and counsel that directly oppose the desires, feelings, inclinations that he has come to regard as normal. No matter how true those teachings may be or how excellent the counsel, he will remain deaf to both until whipped into an about-face listening to them by sheer pressure of last-resort necessity, the desperate attempt to find relief or escape when all the usual channels fail him. Suffering becomes first his awakener and later his tutor.
Suffering assaults our shallowness and disturbs our ethical apathy.
If they are not born with the desire to pursue truth, meaning, and peace, men will not awaken until catastrophe comes.
Despite the imperfections and limitations of this earthly human existence, enough is caught and kept by it to provide a link with that invisible but little-known divine plane of being which is its source. It is this secret connection which pushes men to seek through their desires for happiness or pleasure, to pursue their ambitions or hopes until nothing is found except frustration. It is then that they can turn nowhere else except inward. For subconscious memory of the hidden link revives and points out its direction. So the true and final quest begins. Still only dimly aware of its goal, its power and beauty and serenity, he gets new hope, sometimes a gleam or two of true light.
You may have lost your long-held fortune, your wife may have shamefully betrayed you, your enemies may have spread false accusations against you, while your private world may have tumbled to pieces over your head. Still there remains something you have not lost, someone who has not betrayed you, someone who believes only the best about you, and an inner world that ever remains steady and unperturbed. That thing and that being are none other than your own Overself, which you may find within you, which you may turn to when in anguish, and which will strengthen you to disregard the clamant whine of the personal distress. If you do not do this, there is nothing else you can do. Whither can you turn save to the inner divinity?
The presence of tears in the human constitution is another expression--remote though it be--of his divine connection.
Katherine Mansfield, the story writer, died early but not before she could write that the closing years of bodily suffering had changed her outlook on life. She had come from doubt about God to faith in God, from despair to a feeling that perfect Love behind the universe called for perfect trust from her. The tuberculous body, which had kept her so immobilized for so long a time, brought her nevertheless to a kind of meditation wherein she lay, feeling the stillness within grow more and more palpable and the aspiration to merge in it grow stronger and stronger.
Suffering forces man to pause on his onward way and reflect, however briefly, upon its cause, and search, however wrongly, for its cure. At such a moment he may be led to consider his life as a whole and so be led to the Quest itself.
When a man reaches the breaking point in his suffering, he is more likely to turn to the inner life. But when pleasure and health and prosperity fill the years, why should he?
His understanding of human misery and tragedy, their roots and growth, will develop with the quest's own development.
These sufferings cause us to seek relief and act as spurs to stimulate aspiration, as propelling forces toward spiritual efforts, as goads to drive us on to the quest. Without them we would live on the surface of things, squandering our energies on the petty, and tend to miss the true meaning of life.
The prophets and teachers may attract a man's interest in the path, but only misfortune and suffering will compel him to follow it.
The pressure of a difficulty or trouble for which no ordinary physical solution seems available has forced some people to seek an extraordinary solution. This has been their first introduction to a spiritual teaching, their first recognition that hard realism has failed them.
Transformation of suffering
The philosopher is quite capable of enjoying life even though he is deeply determined to realize life's highest goal. He is well able to get some fun out of life even though he does not believe with the thoughtless crowd that this planet was born to be an amusement park, or constructed as a dancing hall.
Philosophy is not darkly pessimistic and fatalistic, as a surface view makes some think. Nor, on the other hand, is it childishly optimistic and voluntaristic, as some mystical cults are. It takes fair and proper note of the real state of the world, refusing to be deceived by misconceptions and illusions or by wishfulness and egoism.
This is not to devalue worldly experiences but to look at them in a new way.
He who can rise superior to circumstances, crises, or vicissitudes is an admirable character, but we deem him hardly human. Thus have we hypnotized ourselves into a negative complex. But the really great ones are not supermen, they are truly men. It is for us to be what we divinely are; this the sages have perceived and accomplished.
We have to endure this ever-changing, unstable, and undependable characteristic of the world just as others do, but at least we are not taken by surprise and at most we can keep a kind of peace above it all. We have to face the brutal fact that life on this earth is not intended to afford lasting satisfaction or continuous pleasure--as so many used to think before the war--but our philosophical studies have prepared us to cope with it. Thus detachment becomes a part of our daily experience.
If the quest is good only for our brighter hours and not for our darker ones, it is no good at all. But if men desert it because of their troubles, then they have neither properly understood it, nor ever adequately followed it. For the quest is our best support when times are worst and emergencies are gravest.
If they have no assurance from within themselves, then they are forced to seek it from without; if the Overself's supporting intuition is lacking, then money and possessions, status and family must support them; if there is no faith that the higher laws by which they live will protect and care for them, then there must be fear that the world is a wild jungle around them; if they are unaware that at the very core of their being they are unbreakably linked with the World-Mind which is at the very core of the universe, then they have to tremble at the thought of their helpless situation when the great blows fall.
Should we not say with Plato that it is better to suffer wrong than to do wrong? The problem of suffering does not exhaust itself with its practical aspect. We have also to consider its metaphysical one. If we have the intellectual and moral courage to do this without the egocentric attitude and the surface emotionality which normally govern our approach to it, it will be possible to see it in a clear light. Such is the self-discipline which philosophy asks from its students and such is the emancipated outlook it gives in return.
We form different conceptions of the same event as we pass during life to various standpoints. Yet these conceptions will approach nearer to or diverge farther from the ultimate truth about it which philosophic insight would yield us. This is the worth of our passage through space and time, for it is bringing us to a standpoint beyond space and time.
Even if this philosophic attitude towards adversity and calamity did nothing more to change matters than to change his attitude towards them, it would have done enough. Even if it could not save him from the suffering they cause but enabled him to suffer with understanding, it would have done enough. Even if it only guided him to study his suffering and to listen to the message that it had to deliver to him, it would have done enough.
While he is a tenant of this body, so long as it lasts, while he finds himself in this world, receiving from it and giving to it, a man must pay due attention to care of the body and work in the world. This is his lot. If he becomes a quester, it still remains his lot. But his inner attitude to it will change, will be grounded on a higher level and ruled by a higher ethic.
He is to meet each experience with his mind, remembering his relationship to the higher self and, consequently, the higher purpose of all experiences. He is never to forget the adventure in identity and consciousness that life is.
The philosopher will look his sorrows and troubles, his cares and burdens, in the face. He will not deny them. But he will not attach to them the interpretations which are commonly attached to them. Instead of lamenting his ill-fate, he will seek out the reasons why they particularly are present in his life. Instead of sinking into melancholy, he will remember that he is more than the ego, and refuse to let go of the peace that is behind and above it.
Will he accept also some disappointing, unpleasant, but inevitable occurrence just as calmly as a fortunate and pleasant one? Yes, he will, perhaps a little sadly but not sadly enough to disturb his inner peace. But knowing that the event itself is caused neither by the arbitrary fiat of a personal God nor by the chance deed of his own self, he will seek to understand its derivation and to trace the current of causation back to its source.
He will then be able to take all the happenings of his life as divinely preordained, to accept them without revolt as being perfectly right for him.
Thus the very events and experiences of everyday life, which usually involve a man more and more in egoistic outlook and worldly attachment, usually involve the faithful philosophic student less and less.
A shallow person enjoys the acclaim of others: a profounder one couples it with the critiques of his enemies. This is not necessarily because he is humbler but because he is honester.
His must be a life guided more by principles than by circumstances.
The very situations which drag other men down become for him a means of growth.
Insofar as the training gives him more discriminating judgement and a better sense of proportion, it gives him more fitness to hold responsible situations or to dispose of important matters.
When we learn to play aright this gorgeous game called life, to move with a magnificent insouciance through all the glamours and repulsions, the fears and tensions, which hold in thrall nearly all mankind, we find true freedom.
Life may be hallowed or degraded or left just as it seems--commonplace and trivial. It all depends upon the attitude, the inspiration or lack of it.
The thoughts we hold and the actions we perform are dictated in the end by our attitude towards life.
If untoward circumstances obscure our pleasure in life and obstruct our aims in life, they also teach us something of the ultimate truth about life. If we react to them according to the blind instincts of the ego, they plunge us into greater darkness: if, however, we react according to the inner promptings of the Overself, they lead us toward greater light.
Karma is the precise result of what a man thinks and does. His reaction to events and situations is the precise result of what he is, his stage in evolution. Therefore, lesser reactions and hence better fortune can come only when he elevates his evolutionary status.
Your thinking will have its effect not only upon your inner character and outward activities, but also upon other people. This last is quite conceivable when we remember that telepathy is no longer a mere theory, but a proved fact.
How far does a man possess his external condition? He can do much in this regard but he cannot do everything, for obviously there are certain limits beyond which it is humanly impossible to go. The balanced fact is that Man's thoughts make his surroundings and his surroundings make his thoughts. When the materialist tells you that man is what his environment makes him and when the idealist tells you that man is what he creates out of himself, both are telling you the truth. But each is not telling you the whole truth. The philosopher must accept both apparently contradictory standpoints because he insists on seeing life whole, not in bits and pieces.
The philosophic man has to make up his mind that his attitude towards every experience counts more than the experience itself, that the way he thinks of it will either help or hurt his spiritual evolution. If his reaction to an event weakens his character and dulls his intuition, then it is really an evil one for him; if, however, his reaction is to utilize it for his spiritual growth, then it will in the end be a fortunate event.
If we bring a correct attitude to our life-experiences, they help us to gain greater inner balance and truer moral understanding. But if we bring the wrong attitude, then these same experiences plunge us into emotional unbalance and mental distortion.
Problems and troubles come to all alike at different periods of their incarnation, to the wise and the foolish, the passionate and the controlled, so that it would be futile to try to find one person who has never had them. But wisdom or foolishness will be revealed by the attitude, mental and moral, brought to deal with them, and by the dependence on self alone or on self and Overself together.
Outward changes for the better are almost always the result of improved inner conditions--that is, better, more inspired thinking, plus elimination of negative thoughts and actions.
He may react to the experiences of life and the course of events with either the animal part of his nature or the spiritual part. The choice is his.
The mental states and emotional moods that are strong and sustained within him are related to the events, environments, and situations which subsequently form around him.
The state of mind is not just a product of physical conditions: it is also a creative force which contributes toward those conditions. It is both a hidden cause and an evident consequence.
Beware of your thoughts, for when long sustained and strongly felt, they may be reflected in external situations or embodied in other humans brought into your life. But they cannot, of themselves and devoid of physical acts, make the whole pattern of your life--only the adept can do that. For other factors are also contributing, such as the will of God--that is, evolutionary necessity, or the World-Idea.
When the sage looks back on the line of travel which brought him to this illumination, he sees how everything that happened could have been different only if he himself had been different. His sufferings could have been avoided, yes, but only by his being transformed into another person.
Assume attitudes that the spiritual teachers hold up as desirable. Put them into your mental and emotional picture. Carry them into your physical doing. For this is to be creative and to seize upon your own inherent possibilities by belief and conviction. What you believe must be really there and fully there, in the shadowy background of your mind as well as in the clear foreground. The faith must be intense, active on all levels of your being.
Every important event or change in his life offers a challenge to meet it properly, which means philosophically. This applies, of course, equally to good fortune as well as bad fortune.
This declaration of the power of mental attitude to realize itself becomes invalid if the attitude assumed is a false one. We have no right to demand what we are not entitled to.
In their mysterious way these forces of destiny move in response to his inner needs as well as in reflection of his inner state.
He may transform opposition into opportunity simply by a change of viewpoint.
As this inner work brings about a change in his outlook, attitude, and especially consciousness, so a corresponding change or test in his outer conditions will, after some lapse of time, come about.
Strain and misuse of the mind create harmful habits. The one appears in tensions, the other in negative thoughts.
Each man responds to his surroundings and contacts, his experiences and fortunes in his own personal way. "As you are, so is the world," remarked the Ramana Maharshi at our first meeting.
What happens to us is a continuing audit of what we are.
If you live inwardly in love and harmony with yourself and with all others, if you persistently reject all contrary ideas and negative appearances, then this love and this harmony must manifest themselves outwardly in your environment.
Life is still the greatest of games a man can play. But he must play to win in every minute of it, with every move on the board. Every time despair comes and whispers to him, he should put cotton-wool in his ears. Man was born to master--not to be mastered. Faith can fight despair, and win, too. Let him look upon his difficulties not as stumbling blocks to trip him up, but as things waiting to be conquered.
Truth and love will conquer in the end--however far off that be--for they are deeply buried in the hearts of men and will be slowly uncovered by the instruction which life itself gives. We must acquire something of God's patience.
The human failing which makes so many worry and create avoidable mental suffering about themselves and about others, can and must be met by a strong positive endeavour to keep the mind in its highest place. It is not in the nature of our godlike inmost self to feel depressed, to suffer melancholy, or to express worry. If we are to turn to that nature as our true being and basis for living, we will reject these negatives.
Why add to any dark or difficult situation? Is it not enough to have to endure it that you must enlarge it by setting up the tension of your negative emotions or disturbed thoughts about it? Keep them out of it.
When he feels that his life is in the hands of a higher power, his fortunes governed by great laws whose ultimate intent is utter beneficence, his courage will be unassailable.
A time comes when we learn to stop worrying about ourselves, when we take the burdens off our shoulders and, in Jesus' words, "Take no thought for the morrow." We gain new fresh strength when we refuse to worry ourselves into misery, when the possible or impending troubles of the future are left where they belong.
But such calm does not mean he should do nothing at all about the situation. If it is going to affect his personal circumstances he may choose to take certain protective action, to avert or at least mitigate its effects, just as he may choose to put up an umbrella or wear a raincoat if the weather indicates the likelihood of rain.
This done, however, he still holds to his positive mental attitude, not only because he refuses to live with fear, but also because he refuses to become obsessed by the future and live in time.
Sometimes it is wise to follow Livy's counsel: "In great straits and when hope is small, the boldest counsels are the safest." Then the early manifestation of brief panicky fear will be followed by a new courage, despair will be succeeded by determination, weakness will yield to iron strength.
The anguish and cries of the ego in suffering are, to the aspirant, an opportunity and an inducement to make the great surrender and to rise to a nobler viewpoint. Giving way, in suffering, to negative emotions of resentment, anger, despair, and bitterness is very easy. The wiser attitude of doing all that can be done in a bad or difficult situation and then calmly accepting the issue is much less easy, but it must be attempted.
It would be easy to misconceive the philosophic attitude towards these negative feelings: anxiety, worry, fear, indignation, and righteous wrath. Philosophy does not teach us to avoid facing the situation or circumstance which gave rise to any of these feelings, but only to avoid the negative reaction to it. It tells us to learn all we can from it, to understand why it is there at all, to analyse its meaning and apply its lesson. Only after this has been done, and especially only after we have attended to the correction of whatever fault or failing in us helped to create the situation, are we advised to forget it, turn our face away, and calmly put ourselves to rest in thoughts and remembrances of the impersonal Overself. Only then is our sorrow and suffering to be discarded, and we are to recall that there is no room for despair in the truth. That reflective wisdom must be followed by courage and even joy.
The ability to hold on during a single dark period, when the frustrations and humiliations of poverty seem unbearable, may turn the fortunes of one's entire life for the better.
No animal except man lives in such constant fear, for no animal lives in the past, the present, and the future so much as man.
As soon as we succumb to moods of despondency, hopelessness, and helplessness, we are doomed. As soon as we triumph over them, we are saved.
It is not that he is required to be unwrung by calamitous events, or remain immune to them, but that after feeling the emotion he is to remember the Quest and try to rise superior to it.
When he is born again, adversity becomes an advantage, his evil hour becomes a good one. With it he lifts his drooping mood, whips his irresolute spirits, and instills perseverance into his arduous struggle.
We sometimes wonder whether we can bear more, but no experience goes too far until it crushes the ego out of a man, renders him as helpless as the dying person feels.
An American millionaire once told me how, in quest of making his living, he tried New York. The twenty-five dollars he arrived with went very soon and the penniless and friendless young man met with rebuff after rebuff. Came a time when he was almost starving, and he had to sleep out in a park because he could not afford a lodging-house. Finally his troubles and utter loneliness brought him to the horror of trying to commit suicide. But the strange hand of Fate sent someone to stop him; this very person who intervened was carrying the burden of still worse woes upon her back--but enduring them. When the young man heard of these from the lips of the woman who saved him, he realized as in a flash how unmanly it was for him to give up the struggle. So next morning determination took the place of despair. He started out again to look for work. He persevered so doggedly that the same afternoon brought him his first job.
Address to Muslim College, India:
You, young men, will sooner or later have to go out into the unfamiliar and sometimes unfriendly world to make your own personal careers. The change from the sheltered seclusion of college life to the open struggle for existence will necessarily be an abrupt one; the adjustment to the new conditions which will have to be faced necessarily a hard one. Moreover, the conditions in the world today are admittedly disturbed and unsettled. You are therefore likely to meet with many gloomy prophets who will tell you dismally of the difficulties of getting on and of the impossibilities of getting good positions. Let me warn you against these melancholy pessimists who paint only one side of the picture and wrongly regard that grey side as being the whole picture. There is another and brighter side which is equally deserving of your consideration.
You may have a discouraging time at the start. Opportunities may be few. But they are always there for the right men. So long as you nurse the unflagging spirit of ambition, so long as you set up a staunch determination to overcome the obstacles in your way, to master the difficulties that may surround you, so long as you say to yourselves "I will" and "I must" instead of "I won't" and "I can't," you will find yourselves on the highroad to eventual success. For sooner or later there are always openings for bright, keen, and determined young men. Why? Because the world wants such men.
If you will only remain faithful to the principles of truth, goodness, and unselfishness which are embodied in religion, you will certainly bring to your help heavenly forces which will ultimately assist you in your career. Do not be deceived by the cynical talk of superficial croakers. A man who lives according to these principles will eventually win the respect of society, and society in its turn will reward him with her gifts of place, honour, and prosperity. Therefore you should endeavour to cultivate an optimistic frame of mind; you should regard whatever difficulties the future may bring not as permanent setbacks but as opportunities to arouse grit and to enable you to show forth the powers inside you that can overcome them.
You should read the biographies of men who have risen in life from humble circumstances to high positions, as well as the biographies of others who were more fortunately born and, by their good character, developed capacity, and keen determination, have left their mark on history. What they have done some of you at least can also do, while all of you can certainly create a habit of looking to the bright side of life and thus make life easier both for yourselves and for others.
Our outer lives to some extent reflect the state of our minds. Many of the trials we have to bear would dissolve after we faced ourselves and removed the negative characteristics within our minds. But there are some karmic difficulties which cannot be altered, no matter how clear and pure the mind becomes.
When we are brought face-to-face with the consequences of our wrong-doing, we would like to avoid the suffering or at least to diminish it. It is impossible to say with any precision how far this can be done for it depends partly on Grace, but it also depends partly on ourselves. We can help to modify and sometimes even to eliminate those bad consequences if we set going certain counteracting influences. First, we must take to heart deeply the lessons of our wrong-doing. We should blame no one and nothing outside of ourselves, our own moral weaknesses and our own mental infirmities, and we should give ourselves no chance for self-deception. We should feel all the pangs of remorse and constant thoughts of repentance. Second, we must forgive others their sins against us if we would be forgiven ourselves. That is to say, we must have no bad feelings against anyone whatsoever or whomsoever. Third, we must think constantly and act accordingly along the line which points in an opposite direction to our wrong-doing. Fourth, we must pledge ourselves by a sacred vow to try never again to commit such wrong-doing. If we really mean that pledge, we will often bring it before the mind and memory and thus renew it and keep it fresh and alive. Both the thinking in the previous point and the pledging in this point must be as intense as possible. Fifth, if need be and if we wish to do so, we may pray to the Overself for the help of its Grace and pardon in this matter; but we should not resort to such prayer as a matter of course. It should be done only at the instigation of a profound inner prompting and under the pressure of a hard outer situation.
Suffering and pain are parts of the divine pattern for human growth. They fulfil a wise and understandable purpose. But this does not mean that we are to look upon all suffering and all pain as necessary parts of that pattern. Some of it is avoidable and, to that extent, not necessary.
The more he remembers to think of asking what the divine intention is in these situations and hastens to co-operate with it, the sooner will they be rectified.
But even for those who lack the capacity to think for themselves or to intuit for themselves or to imaginatively work out the lessons of possible experience, God has still provided a way of avoiding pain. For He has provided the prophets and seers and holy messengers who point out the right way to think and live.
The lessons which life, guided by infinite intelligence and invested with infinite power as it is, seeks to make available to us through the turning wheel of destiny may bring suffering but they also bring the wisdom which will shield us from suffering in the future. This is possible only if we accept the suffering as self-earned, humbly study its lesson, and set to work on self-improvement. But if we are too proud, too weak, too foolish to receive the lesson, then the same suffering will reappear again and again in later years or later lives until we do. It will come as before through the same events, at the right time and in the right place. Whether it is life that punishes us through its eternal laws or we through our disobedience to them, we cannot dodge the step to be mounted.
He should begin by searching through his feelings to discover which one, if it exists, is the block to a speedier and favourable end to the trouble, which one is shutting out the forces of help, as well as which one is blinding him to the vital lesson behind the situation.
There is no permanent way of escaping difficulties other than the way of seeking spiritual realization. That is what we have really incarnated for. This may seem hard on us, but life on earth as it is known today is also hard for many people.
Those who turn cruel destiny or harsh accident to opportunity by taking a spiritual profit from it, abandoning natural bitterness and emotional rebellion, coming creatively in mind and positively in feeling to their suffering, thereby bring about its redemption.
If he remains true to philosophic principles in the various situations in which he finds himself, every so-called evil in them will be consciously turned to good.
Acceptance of suffering is sometimes a key to the way out of it. The greater the suffering, the greater are the possibilities of Peace succeeding it--provided that the lessons to be learned from it have been correctly interpreted and actively applied to daily life.
To see why our suffering is there and to know that it will pass gives us a great advantage over the ignorant who suffer blindly and forget its ephemerality; for it replaces rebellion and resentment with patience and endurance.
To understand the true cause of the trouble is already halfway to perceiving the remedy.
The wise man knows that suffering has been essential to his development and has helped him to learn certain lessons. When others fall into the same experience, therefore, he does not wish that they should not have it so much as that they should learn the lesson of it. It would be illogical to apply his wisdom in his own case but to withhold it in the case of others. If a sentimentalist says that because he feels sympathy for others, he wishes them not to suffer, then that is all the more reason--not less--for wishing them not to suffer blindly.
Where the understanding of life is deep and true, where the training of self for spiritual awareness has been long and earnest, men suffer less from their personal troubles than where these things are not present.
We may often escape the penalties which follow wrong thinking and evil doing only by altering the one and counterbalancing the other. But even such ameliorative measures must be taken in good time, or they will be useless.
The aspirant who heeds the injunctions of the Stoic sages and the Galilean preacher to dismiss excessive care for the external paraphernalia and possessions of life, who believes in and practises the doctrine of mental detachment, will not need to have forced upon him the physical renunciation and physical detachment taught in a more salutary and painful form by loss and misfortune.
From the first moment that we accept personal responsibility for our troubles, we take the first step towards relieving them.
To escape mentally into the past in order to take refuge from a present disagreeable situation may bring comfort but will not bring help.
The more he can inwardly free himself from the claims of his daily regime--that is, the more he can become emotionally detached from it and transfer his interest, love, and desire to the higher self--the greater will be his power to achieve dominance over undesirable conditions.
If misfortune is explored with understanding and its hidden message sought, it becomes something much more than an exercise in faith and patience, as the religious-minded would have us believe.
The wisdom that one is offered the opportunity to learn through experiences of suffering should lead not only to some self-renunciation, but also to some true self-humblement beneath the will of destiny, which has revealed itself as insuperable. Once he becomes inwardly submissive, he will find that time quickly heals its own wounds, and that a great peace will be bestowed on his inner life.
When one is sustained by truth and inspired by communion, the most bitterly discouraging experiences can be borne, examined, understood, and mastered.
Assets become problems by the fluctuation of fate. But problems can be turned into assets by the wisdom of man.
"Failure" is a tricky word. We often apply it indiscriminately upon hearing the glib voice of Appearance. Real failure is rare. He only has failed who has lost his soul. Such are hard to find, though millions today have chloroformed their souls.
Out of his own heart a man may seek guidance for his future. His former sins become his future teacher. His errors, once perceived, show him the right way. His thoughts, once overcome, provide him with new strength and new virtues. His trials, met and mastered, open new doors of consciousness to him. His weaknesses offer him a challenge and if he takes it up and if he uses his will to transmute them, he will be the gainer.
It was one's own ignorance and immaturity which made one act in a way which now seems very wrong and to be ashamed of. It is no use accusing oneself forever and ever of it. It is better humbly to distill its wisdom, gain its constructive teaching, and uplift one's character. For a man to accept himself as he is would be foolish counsel if he had nothing more than his sins and guilt, his ego and passions, his folly and stupidity. But it is because he has a deeper self--one that links him with the gods--that it can now become a wiser counsel. Let him take it now and work upon himself with this better self.
Frankly confess your past mistakes, then analyse and absorb their unpalatable lessons, and resolve to apply the unpleasant result to your future actions. This is practical wisdom. It may be a saddening procedure, and if it is to be an effectual one, it ought to be. But having done it, be done with it. Turn your face toward the sun of hopefulness. Remember the strength, light, and joy waiting to be drawn from your higher self.
If, in looking over the past, he feels shame over the crowd of his frailties, it is well. It is not good to forget experiences from which he has not thoroughly absorbed the lessons. But when he has done so, the sense of shame will depart and the sense of having been cleansed will take its place. He has been granted absolution, and may be at peace.
It is not always possible to judge appearances. There are failures in life who are successes in character. There are successes in life who are failures in character.
If a man has failed in life, most likely he has also failed to look to his higher self for aid or guidance.
A man's personal history may teach him what it ought to teach him only as he is able to bring some part of his mind away from his habitual ego-standpoint into an unfamiliar aloofness.
No failure is to be considered a total one. All experience is tuitive, although the finest experience is intuitive. It is not necessary to get unhappy, morbid or agitated about a failure, although it is necessary to take its lessons seriously to heart.
It is not what the world calls success that philosophy endorses. A man may suffer the ignominy of defeat and failure and yet fulfil the highest function, the true purpose of his life. It is an ignorant and mean definition of success which ties it to social recognition and worldly prosperity.
A mistake comprehended as such may be the beginning of new wisdom.
One reason why we need at times to break away from the pattern of habitual thinking is that it is limited by our past experiences. This tends to keep us from our greater possibilities and to inhibit our true creativeness. If we were failures in the past, the auto-suggestion of failure in the future handicaps us and is eventually converted from thought to fact.
However much he may wince at the memory of them, he is answerable for his mistakes and should so regard many of the pains and penalties he suffers from. To the extent that he intellectually analyses the whole course of his conduct and comes to the right conclusion about it so as to discover where and how he went wrong, his anguish will be somewhat compensated in the end. To do this he needs to perceive those weaknesses in himself which led to his blunder and to set to work to eliminate them. If he omits this and merely surrenders to the emotional suffering, letting himself go into barren despair or falling into egocentric unbalance, he makes the bad worse.
Who has not made mistakes in the past? Wisdom lies in not making the same mistake twice. Situations which bring to the surface what might otherwise have lain hidden in his character and which put his quality to the test give him a chance to adjust himself accordingly. Every important event which leads to them has an inner as well as an outer significance, for it traces back to a karmic origin which is specially selected by the Overself because he is on this Quest to promote his self-knowledge and self-purification.
If he follows the deeper lead, these situations will surely work out for the best in the end, but if he follows the ego's lead, it may easily make a bad situation worse.
However the external situation develops he must cling to his ideals, to his faith in the higher power's intuitive guidance. In this way he does not depend on his own strength alone. At the same time, he can use all his human powers of judgement to fill in the details of what is necessary and right in his own personal behalf.
It is because all private history is never written that people unconsciously falsify it by looking only at a saint's moral successes and not at his moral failures. Did he never lapse back into a lower condition of mind, suffer uncertainties about what to do, or fall into despondency?
Human beings act wrongly or commit blunders sometimes. Mature human beings admit these failures but immature ones place the blame elsewhere.
If these things have humbled your self-love by showing you that the thing so much loved has its ugly blemishes, they have served a useful purpose. But you need not stay at this point. You don't have to moan over it for the rest of your life.
His past failures in human relations should be remembered with humbled, bowed head, and the lessons to be learned therefrom thoroughly digested. He should be grateful for this privilege of gaining self-correction.
To re-examine the events of ten, twenty, thirty years ago, much more to relive them, can only be justified if it helps to loosen one from the ego rather than fixing him more tightly in it. This requires a detached learner's attitude.
Failures directly contribute towards success, if he is wise enough to take their lessons so deeply to heart that his whole character undergoes a change in consequence.
If he has the sagacity to take in the sad lesson of these experiences and the practicality to turn it to moral profit, he is a true student of philosophy.
Hold no experience longer than its allotted time.
Listen to the message experience is trying to give you, then learn it and obey it.
Every situation which shows up the ugly results of his faults offers an invitation to repair them. Its profit lies in his egoless acceptance.
It is the business of intelligence to study the follies of misspent years, to reflect upon the mistakes of a wasted past, and to extract both warning and knowledge from such experience. If it does this, if it firmly resolves no longer to repeat endlessly those courses which bring loss and pain, it will lead the man to victory over failure. He may have made every blunder and committed every sin, but he can yet emerge triumphantly into peace.
But if man is to achieve this full welfare he cannot live solely on a negative wisdom, cannot be guided merely by the lessons gained from his mistakes. He also needs a positive truth to complement them.
If disillusionment is the prologue and substance of our lives, the cheering message of a mysterious Hope shall be its epilogue.