In my quest to combat my inner demons (of which there were many) and live a happier life, I read a multitude of self-help books, visited innumerable psychologists & healers, spoke to a multitude of Guru’s and even read the odd verse from the Mahabharata and Bible. All the gyaan I received eventually condensed into telling me that at the very core, I was a spark of divinity.
A much-revered Holy book spoke of ‘God being One and Everywhere.’ I further studied that I was supposedly a part of the very same universal consciousness that was also in the spider in my bathroom, that pest of a pigeon that soiled my balcony daily and even Aditya – my irritating and noisy neighbor next door. Aham Brahmasmi a profound statement much advocated in ancient Hindu texts translated into I AM THAT and THAT refers to the consciousness supreme! This was too much to digest, let alone accept.
The advice of another great sage, ‘To treat every person as you would treat yourself’, scared the living daylights out of me. For I had done terrible things to people and if I was to be rated-on by this metric, I was definitely going to fail the exam of life.
To ‘treat other living forms with kindness and practice compassion’ was another famous adage I was often told repeatedly. How could this ever be possible with my malicious colleagues at work who sabotaged my efforts, sneaked on me to my boss and spread false rumors about me? This spiritual stuff was all a bunch of nonsense and spiritual humbug – unrelated to ‘normal’ people like me who lived in the ‘real’ world.
So my search for a greater meaning continued and I desperately tried to find a way to not be engulfed by anxiety and gripped by fear of the future. The teachings and texts of great sages, brilliant and profound as they were, left me puzzled and fearful. After all, how on earth could anyone see divinity in themselves and in others when one lived in this dog-eat-dog, highly competitive world which was so evidently governed by Charles Darwin’s theory of Survival of the Fittest?
Then life happened, my mother died of cancer, my children grew up and flew the nest and I lost my job. Don’t get me wrong, there were also some happy times – birthday parties, sun-kissed holidays on Goan beaches and memorable events with my loved ones. But through all this my quest to figure out how one could possibly see oneself as divine and also see others in the same light, continued unabated – though with no success.
I distinctively remember that dull afternoon in June as I lay in bed staring at the Gulmohar tree beside my window when I had my eureka moment. The tree in question was crooked and quite an ugly sight. Not like the other trees on the street which were laden with flowers and home to various birds and insects. My Gulmohar tree stood droopy and almost sad. But stood it did. Then suddenly a thought, for which I will remain ever grateful, struck me. This was a perfect tree! Oh yes it was!
It did not flower as abundantly as its neighbours did, its bark was definitely not as thick and strong nor did it have many green leaves let alone flowers! It’s foliage did not provide respite from Delhi’s scorching summer sun to the drivers taking an afternoon siesta and its branches were twisted and dwarfed, perhaps dying.
I remembered how as a little boy, I was taught to draw trees by my art teacher – they were picturesque creations with big, hefty barks, large green mounds of leaves and a plethora of juicy fruit literally falling off their branches. No – my tree was nothing like the trees I had conjured up in my childhood. So then how did I come to think of this particular Gulmohar tree as the very personification of perfection – despite its glaring flaws?
That’s when I came to understand the idiom that all living creatures were a sum total of their past experiences. We Are What We Are based on events that have occurred in our past. Some refer to these as samskara’s – or imprints and deeds from the past which determine our present. In that sense, I was what I was and who I was based on the sum total of my past experiences – and that too not just experiences from this life but past lives as well. Every single event since my procreation had in some way transpired into making me the person I was today. So, for instance, my overtly competitive nature was a function of my Tiger Mom who pushed-pushed-pushed me to come first in class; my anger issues were based on my frustration at being abandoned by my children who rarely bothered to care for me through my mid-life crisis in the way I had expected them to and my insecurity about food was probably a function of being sent to a boarding school and being deprived. As I probed deeper into my personality it became crystal clear that not just who I was but even how I looked, what I did, how I behaved and where I was today in my life, was all a culmination my past experiences – some positive and some negative.
So given that I was the way I was not by choice but by my past actions, I came to understand that this seemingly unsightly Gulmohar tree was also the way it was because of its birth in a specific spot, with specific access to sunlight, specific availability of nutrients and a specific DNA. For the long and short of it, like me, this Gulmohar tree was also a perfect amalgamation of its past experiences and density. It was a flawless emancipation of what it was destined to be. Tall or short, stout or lean, weak or strong, flowering or decaying – it did not matter for it was an unflawed embodiment. It’s past had culminated into its present, just like my past had culminated into my present – we were both perfect specimens!
Then, rather than feel guilty about all the supposed flaws in my character, I understood they were simply a play of my past experiences. My parents very tough on me as a child and I knew no other way to discipline my own children. So why feel guilty now about how I brought up my own kids? I did not know any better way at that point in time. Similarly, my near-constant insecurity about whether or not my wife was cheating on another man stemmed from my own mother’s adulterous nature and the agony it caused my father. My lusting for material wealth was a result of not having much of it growing up and feeling poor and inadequate compared with my richer friends at school.
So why must I feel even remotely guilty about being materialistic today? It was simply a deep-routed complex I carried from my past – a symptomatic behavioral trait. It would have been almost abnormal if I did not have some of these complexes about money given how rich my friends were and how deprived my background was, in comparison! So must I feel guilty about being money minded today or shall I be wise enough to simply understand and accept that I have certain characteristics which are near-perfect results of my past experiences that were bound to make me end up in the status quo?
In the same light, my strong values of compassion and sewa were a result of my watching my grandfather who took me to Lord Hanuman’s temple every Tuesday for years on end and watching him empty his pockets as he fed the destitute. Similarly, my love of classical music was a result of a caring music teacher at school who patiently taught me to play the piano and appreciate the subtle nuances between Mozart and Beethoven’s symphonic styles. Not to sound narcissistic, but perhaps a little guilty if charged – but it seemed that almost everything in the universe had conspired to create and make me into the person who I was at this current time and date.
I realized that I was perfect creation no less and no more than Michelangelo’s magnificent sculpture of David and like me so was the Gulmohar tree outside my window. This has been perhaps the greatest learning in my life for it enabled me to accept myself on as ‘as is where is basis’. To understand this prophecy, think of a used car salesman you may have visited who will tell you to buy the car ‘as is where is’ upon examining it thoroughly – in spite of its flaws and/or innate beauty. You may have also visited a dog breeder who would also tell you to choose the puppy you wish to buy with the attributes you see – good looking or not, affection or not.
Now, I too see myself as perfect on ‘as as is where is’ basis because how else could I possibly be? Realizing this simple fact taught me that everything and everyone around me is also a sum total of their past experiences, so why must we judge them and why must we judge ourselves?
Yet, society will always tell us ways to improve ourselves, work on this or work on that, achieve this or achieve that in order to be happy and become better humans, but what if we, for a moment, reflected on our individual journey and saw ourselves simply as creations of our past and hence not guilty of who we have become – even if we were a bit overweight and lazy! It would be so relaxing and perhaps even a little pleasurable to accept ourselves and just BE! Take a think about it…