Let me start this post by sharing a story I had heard a while back. I don’t remember the source so unfortunately cannot share it — however, it is one of those timeless Indian fables of yore.
There was once a great sage who took on a dedicated and serious student. The student went to live in the sage’s hermitage. The student had heard that the sage was a jivanamukta and would surely lead the student to moksha. So, he dutifully served the sage and tended to all the business of the ashram. After a few years, the student, taking stock of his condition, mentally rued “My master has not shown me the way to liberation yet! And it has been so many years already! I ask him every day for the secret but he doesn’t share it. What more do I need to do in order to earn this greatest of great secrets?!?”
So finally, in a fit of anger, he confronted his master and told him “I’ve been coming to you for so many years…why haven’t you shown me the secret to liberation? I meditate every day, I pray every day, I serve you every day. When will you show me this secret?!? WHEN!??!!”
The sage paused a moment and then told him — “Come tomorrow morning at the crack of dawn to the banyan tree where I meditate and I’ll tell you the secret!”
The student was so excited, that he could barely sleep all night. He quickly ran to the banyan tree at the break of dawn, and saw his master holding on to the banyan tree and screaming…”Let me go…set me free!!!!”. Really concerned, the student ran closer and asked the master, “What happened?!? Did some evil being take hold of you? Dear Master, tell me what I can do?”
The Master kept screaming “let me go…set me free…”
Eventually the student said “there’s nothing that seems to be binding you to the tree…why aren’t you just letting go of the tree?”
The sage immediately let go and turned and told the student “Exactly…why aren’t you?”
The student realized in a flash, what was being said and was immediately free from the bondages of samsara.
The subject of freedom or liberation seems to be a very complex one. What does liberation entail? In the classic dharmic framework, liberation or moksha is in breaking out of the cycle of birth and re-birth. This cycle of reincarnation is the source of suffering it seems, and based on actions we take, we accrue positive or negative points, which in turn determine the state of our being in the next incarnation we take. This is the theory of karma, albeit an extremely watered down version.
Even before we seek moksha, or know enough to seek it, those of us who have suffered a lot and realized something has to be done in order for the suffering to end, seek the cessation of said suffering. What is suffering? Suffering is a mental agony experienced as a result of resisting change. As sentient beings with our five senses and a mind/intellect, we tend to seek pleasure and avoid pain. We chase after things that can give us pleasure and run away from things that can cause us pain. Not just that, we also then very fiercely try to guard the things that seem to cause us pleasure, and avoid things that cause us pain. But our experiences tell us that neither the pleasure, nor the pain is continuous or sustainable over any reasonable duration. The pleasure and pain we get from things (objects, actions, behaviors, etc) are momentary. Just like we are constantly in flux, in that, our body, mind, health is constantly changing, similarly every “thing” we can ever experience is also constantly changing. Nothing is permanent in our experience. Even the earth itself is changing, albeit at a much slower pace than we are. We were born and one day we will die.
The only permanence in our experience seems to be that of change itself. Another permanence in all our experiences is our awareness/consciousness, without which we cannot experience anything at all (but that is another topic of discussion).
Given that, what then can end this cycle of chasing pleasure, avoiding pain, and suffering as a result of resistance to the change (that seems to eliminate pleasures and causes pain)? All we have to do is give up our addiction to pleasure and our fear of pain. That we will experience both is a given. What then is the need to remain addicted thus?
In order for this to happen, a few things preparatory steps need to be taken.
- The mind needs to be cleaned, so that the underlying awareness in which all these phenomena rise and fall can become self-evident. Most of us go through life without even a second thought about that which makes us sentient (awareness/consciousness). This cleansing can be brought about by repetitive action performed regularly (observing the breath, doing some mind-body activities like yogic practices).
- The ability to watch the contents of our mind (thoughts, emotions, etc) will reveal the way our mind works and show the ridiculous nature of how patterns of thoughts seem to govern us and affect our choices and behaviors. This is called “meditation”.
- With sufficient time, we can abide as the underlying awareness and let the waves of thoughts rise and fall without attaching to them. This is called “letting go” and results in what is called a non-grasping mind.
I won’t belabor the points by explaining where and how the student in our story practiced these various activities – I’m sure you, the reader are quite capable of identifying that. The key of the story however was in the simplicity of the realization that “We can let go anytime we want. And what do we need to do in order to let go? Just stop clinging. Let what comes, come; let what goes, go!”
More posts by this author:
- The absurd Truth, hiding in plain sight
- Sometimes we need the spiritual milestones and the signposts
- The Heart heals the Head
- Medhavi Sessions Episode #2 – With Master Jose Perez, Temple Style Tai Chi
- Zhan Zhuang – Standing Meditation