by Prem Prakash
A man is driving down a road and his car develops a flat tire. He doesn't have a jack, so he is forced to walk to a nearby farmhouse in order to ask for help. The walk causes him to become grouchy and curse his fate. Why should he have to suffer this inconvenience? Why should he have to walk all this distance for help? What if the farmer doesn't have a jack? What if the farmer has a jack but won't let him borrow it? What if the farmer sets his dog on him? What if, what if, what if...?
By the time the guy makes it to the farmhouse he has worked himself into a real snit. He's angry about everything and everyone. He's convinced that the world is out to get him. He knocks on the door, the farmer answers, and all our friend can blurt out is, "Keep your stupid jack, I don't need your help anyway!"
Baba Hari Dass has written, "The world is not a burden; we make it a burden by our desires. When the desires are removed the world is as light as a feather on an elephant's back." What a vision. What a challenge.
How many of us feel that the world is as light as a feather? For many, life is a series of burdens and problems -- health, family, career, politics, money, sex.... Worse, no sooner do we resolve one difficulty than two or three more pop up. Feeling like soldiers walking across a minefield, we do our best to avoid conflicts but still find "it's always something." The world oppresses us, and it seems the best we can hope for is to compromise our dreams and settle for a life that, if we're lucky, is relatively safe and secure.
The issue of suffering is really one of responsibility because, as a result of our own desires and attachments, we create chains that bind us like prisoners to objects, people, and situations. Our minds become petty, and we are only happy when we get what we want. Even then our happiness is short lived. We feel victimized by a world in which we are powerless, a world which wends its way regardless of our wishes and what we may define as "good." A universe of unanswered questions, intrusive phenomena, and random pain carries us along in a chaotic swirl. Every sensitive person who is not planted firmly on the spiritual path will admit that, at one time or another, suicide seems an appropriate reaction.
Into this dismal situation comes a message of light and hope from the great yoga masters: the world is not the cause of our burdens; the cause is in within our own minds. The suffering that we experience is not the result of the world's agenda to destroy us, it results from of the manner in which we approach the world. By shifting our orientation, the world can appear a beautiful place, filled with grace, sweet joys, and love. This is not to imply that life becomes a bowl of cherries. But when one perceives the spiritual reality underlying all events, life becomes meaningful, purposeful, and satisfying. Spiritual perception does not come by wearing rose colored glasses over our eyes, it arises from removing the dirt-smeared goggles we currently see through.
In our society it is considered normal to be stressed-out and overwhelmed. It is a rare person who lives with good health and inner peace, who does not hold grievances against others, and who works at a job which contributes to society. We complain that we wish to be happy, but we refuse to undertake the spiritual work that can provide us with what we say we want. I've come to believe this is because spiritual teachers demand accountability, while we want commiseration. We abhor the message that our lives are of our own making. We yearn to hear that the world is a horrible place in which splendid people like ourselves are misunderstood and mistreated by those who do not belong to the proper social, political, or religious clique.
Like our friend with the flat tire, we create many hells for ourselves as a result of the unhealthy use of our minds. Our minds constantly chatter, broadcasting messages of hurry, worry, fear, and self-doubt. We've gotten stuck on the treadmill of attraction and repulsion, exhausting ourselves in a vain attempt to boost our damaged self-esteem. We've gotten into such a state that when we meet someone who tells us we are responsible for our own lives, we protest in knee-jerk fashion this isn't possible.
The spiritual teacher is like a generous farmer, happy to lend us his jack and show us how it works. He will not actually do the work for us, for that is our duty. How supported we feel, though, knowing that he has changed many flats and can appreciate and respect our situation. He points out possible problems that might arise and cautions us to be sure to tighten the lug nuts so that when the job is done we can continue on our journey. His goal, and ours, is not to have us spend the rest of our lives changing tires. He is simply there to help us get further down the road, in a vehicle which runs on all cylinders and has its wheels firmly on the ground. And for all this help, we smile in glad astonishment, all we needed to do was ask.
All of us, in one way or another, have flat tires in our lives. The choice
about how to address our problems is ours to make. We can moan and groan
about how unfair the world is, or we can choose to take responsibility for
our situation, have the humility to ask for guidance, and then go about
doing the work necessary to become free. Free will means we can choose between
clinging to our ego-centered problems or we can walk the spiritual path
of compassion, detachment, and service. I think God is a genius for creating
a universe in which we are presented such a simple choice.
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