When you are fully aware, you need not suffer anyone, anymore


There are some people in whose presence we feel extremely uncomfortable. Something in the way they conduct themselves puts you off. And at another level you do recognize that you are made very differently and there can be no chemistry at all between both of you. So, every time you have to meet this person, you go into a agonizing dilemma. You are thinking of ways and means to avoid the encounter. You make excuses. And when you can’t avoid anymore, you suffer deeply in this person’s presence. Your physical discomfort morphs into awkwardness and eventually into unhappiness.

I have been through such experiences too. And at many times I have had the urge to tell the person, whom I loathed meeting, what I felt deeply about her or him. But social niceties, the intricacies of the relationship between us, would force me to not express myself frankly. Even so, suppressing what your true feelings are always leads you to more unhappiness and grief.

I used to have a neighbor who is very, very wealthy. He simply loved to talk about his wealth. He talked about his cars. His yachts. His vacation homes. His businesses and how much profits he had made from recent projects __ giving details brazenly of which politician or bureaucrat he had bribed. And he talked endlessly. He would accost me in the elevator, in the parking lot or even, at times, invite himself over into my living room to launch off into his completely unwelcome self-expositions. There was no way I could escape his tyranny because he simply had no sensitivity. He didn’t bother about another’s time, space or privacy. For several months I suffered. It came to a point when I would dread bumping into this neighbor and so I would be very wary of even stepping out of my apartment. I would rush out or in so that he did not see me. It was a stupid way of living in my own house. But there seemed no other way! I could have perhaps told him off. Or had a showdown with him and put him in his place but then he was a neighbor and nobody wants to spar with a neighbor. So, I simply kept suffering.

That’s when I read this story about Swami Vivekananda. Just before his famous trip to the USA and his iconic speech in Chicago, Vivekananda visited Jaipur on the Maharaja’s invitation. The Maharaja gave Vivekananda a grand reception that was worthy of a king. There was a public procession…flowers, lights and the royal works. In the main court, the durbar, of the King, an elaborate dance performance by the leading courtesan, a devadaasi, of the King was organized. When the performance was about to begin, and Vivekananda came to know that the dancer was a prostitute, he rushed up to his room and locked himself up. He refused to come out. He was afraid the prostitute’s presence would corrupt his moral pledge to be celibate. He was even angry with the King for having the audacity to invite a prostitute in a Swami’s presence. The King came up to the room and profusely apologized. But declined to send the prostitute away because his value systems prevented him from sending anyone away from his court. He said he could not insult or humiliate a guest in his court, even if she was a prostitute. The prostitute, when she heard of what was going on and delaying the start of her performance, was very hurt initially. She had heard a lot about Swami Vivekananda’s brilliance and had considered it her privilege to be dancing in his presence. She then took a momentous decision to begin her performance without either the King or his important guest being in the Court. She sang as she danced. The song is very beautiful. The song goes – “I know that I am not worthy of you, but you could have been a little more compassionate. I am dirt on the road – that I know. But you need not be so antagonistic to me. I am a nobody – ignorant, a sinner. But you are a saint – why are you afraid of me?” As the song wafted through the palace corridors and reached the young Swami Vivekananda’s ears, something happened to him. He confessed later that he was defeated by the prostitute. He came out of his room. And he watched the whole performance in the court. That night, he wrote in his diary: “A new revelation has been given to me by the divine. I was afraid… must have been some lust within me. That’s why I was afraid. But the woman defeated me completely, and I have never seen such a pure soul. Her tears were so innocent and the singing and the dancing were so holy…. Sitting near her, for the first time, I became aware that it is not a question who is there outside, it is a question of what is.” Surely, with that experience Vivekananda transcended to a new level of consciousness. He became fully aware.

Reading this story, I awakened too. I realized that in the context of either my bombastic neighbor or in some other key relationships, where there was a complete absence of chemistry, wherever I was struggling, I needed to look deeper. I needed to look at what isthan who is there outside. What is behind the exterior, behind the packaging is the same beautiful cosmic energy that powers each of the Universe’s creations. The diversity is in the packaging. The shapes, the sizes, the colors, the bells, the whistles, the bows and ribbons, mislead us. We develop a distaste for and suffer people, or even start hating their very presence, without focusing on what is in them. My awakening led me to learn to tell people, like my neighbor, politely that such intrusions and self-expositions were not welcome anymore. I did this with complete equanimity__no agitation, no hesitation, no fear, no pride__and honesty. And ever since I told him that, he stopped behaving in that manner with me. In another relationship, I simply told the person that the chemistry between us doesn’t work. Period. Even so, I have learned to appreciate people just as I appreciate myself. I still struggle sometimes missing ‘what is’ for the packaging, but my awareness does a great job playing the role of a reminder service. It quickly reminds me to go beyond the outside, the exterior, the packaging, every single time. With this awareness there is no more suffering, no more unhappiness, in anybody’s presence!