To anchor in peace, be in an “Is that so?” mode, accepting what is!

Does Life challenge you more because you graciously accept whatever comes your way?
That’s an interesting question that someone who follows me on twitter asked me the other day. Well, the answer really is that whether you accept it or not, Life goes on happening to you. When you don’t accept what’s happening to you, you suffer. Because suffering comes from resistance. While acceptance, of what is, can take away the suffering, it cannot stop a problem from arising, a challenge from cropping up or a painful situation from surfacing. Acceptance cannot change the Life that is designed for you. Acceptance can only make sure you don’t suffer from whatever that happens to you. So, to imagine that Life should not challenge you just because you have learnt acceptance is a naïve expectation. And, as always, expectations bring agony; they bring suffering. So, abandon such an expectation and just be accepting of whatever is!
One of my favorite Zen stories is an illustration of unconditional acceptance. Three hundred years ago in a small Japanese village Zen Master Hakuin lived a quiet, contemplative life and was much loved by the villagers. A beautiful girl, whose parents owned a food store, was his neighbor. One day the girl’s parents discovered that she was pregnant. This made her parents very angry. She would not tell them who had fathered the child, but after much questioning she at last said, “It is Master Hakuin.” The distraught parents went to the Master and expressed their rage. “Is that so?” was all he would say. When the child, a boy, was born, the parents brought him to Hakuin, who now was viewed as “a sinner and an outcaste” by the whole village. They demanded that he take care of the child since it was his responsibility. “Is that so?” Hakuin again said calmly as he accepted the child. A year later the young girl could stand it no longer. She told her parents the truth – that the real father of the child was a young man who worked in the fish market. The mother and father of the girl at once went to Hakuin to seek his forgiveness, to apologize at length, and to get the child back. Hakuin calmly placed the baby in the grandmother’s arms. In giving back the child all he said, again, was: “Is that so?”
There’s a phenomenal lesson here in Hakuin’s story. Don’t analyze Life. Just live it. In total acceptance. There’s really no point in wondering if Life will “challenge” you more if you are accepting or if Life will “understand” you better if you are accepting. Just live the Life you have been given. Be in Hakuin’s “Is that so?” mode all the time – accepting what is and being open to experiments, adventures and possibilities. This is the only way to avoid suffering – despite the circumstances – and anchor in peace!  

Being prayerful is being mindful!

Being prayerful means being alive to the moment. It is not about rituals, hymns and mantras. It is about being thankful for this lifetime and this experience __ as you are living it__at this precise moment!

A lot of time, resources, effort, spirit, and even money, gets invested in trying to be pious. People simply lose their way, their focus and, at times, even their sanity looking for ways to reach “a” God. The mandarins of religion only complicate matters, confounding already confused souls, by championing the concepts of sin, hell and heaven. So the whole industry of religion works on inducing fear in vulnerable minds. Nothing can be more sinful than making God seem unattainable, unwieldy and distant__that too through, and despite, prayer!

First let me share an interesting Zen story I came across that demystifies and demolishes this whole concept of hell and heaven.

Hakuin, the fiery and intensely dynamic Zen Master, was once visited by a Samurai warrior.
“I want to know about heaven and hell,” said the Samurai. “Do they really exist?” he asked Hakuin.

Hakuin looked at the soldier and asked, “Who are you?”

“I am a Samurai,” announced the proud warrior.

“Ha!,” exclaimed Hakuin. “What makes you think you can understand such insightful things ? You are merely a callous, brutish soldier ! Go away and do not waste my time with your foolish questions,” Hakuin said, waving his hand to drive away the Samurai.

The enraged Samurai couldn’t take Hakuin’s insults. He drew his sword, readied for the kill, when Hakuin calmly retorted, “This is hell.

The soldier was taken aback. His face softened. Humbled by the wisdom of Hakuin, he put away his sword and bowed before the Zen Master.
And this is heaven,” Hakuin stated, just as calmly.

Another Hakuin Zen story
I don’t think any scripture can simplify these concepts to the extent this simple story has. Being humble, humane and bowing to the God ‘within’ others makes us loving, compassionate and awakens us to the ‘God’ within us too! Being vengeful, unforgiving and refusing to respect another Life makes us miserable and causes all our suffering! So, now you know what is causing you a hellish experience and what can heave you up to ‘your’ heaven!

The question we need to ask ourselves is, of what use are all the religious rituals that we conduct monotonously and mindlessly when we are not mindful of Life’s gifts__the grace, abundance, blessings in our lives__ itself and we continue to still worry, fear and agonize over what the unknown future holds for us?

I am reminded of a conversation that I had with our family priest a few years ago. A self-confessed champion of piety, who called himself a ‘strict Brahmin’, he came to me asking for career advice for his son who was looking to join an IT services company after completing his undergraduate studies in software engineering. He explained that his son had been selected by a leading software company through campus interviews. Yet he claimed he was worried. Our conversation went somewhat like this:

Me: Why are you worried Sir?

Him: I don’t know if IT companies can offer job security the way the government can!

Me: Why would you, a faithful servant of the Lord, for years now, be insecure __ and want to seek security in a government job?

Him: Sir, how can God guarantee job insecurity?

Me: What is God there for then if HE/SHE can’t guarantee you security?

Him: Sir, velayadathengo! Don’t pull my leg, Sir! God can’t come and tell me that my son’s future is assured!

Me: If God can’t tell you that, the one who has direct access to HIM/HER, who else can reach God? Why do you pray then?

Him: Sir, praying to God is my profession. I still need something else to tell me that my Life is on track and that my family and I will be secure!

With due apologies to my family priest, I must confess that this is the problem with praying mindlessly. That ‘something else’ which my priest was looking for__and I hope he found it in his own way subsequently__is ‘mindfulness’. When you are mindful of the present moment, and are grateful for it, that would be prayer enough that would make you realize God!

You will then find God in this blessing__that you have to access facebook and are  able to read a post. You will find God when you feel the air in your lungs. You will find God in the sunrises and sunsets that happen outside your window every single day without fail. You will find God in a child’s smile, in leaves rustling in the night breeze, in a cow mooing and in a dew drop! You will find God in every form of creation that you connect with. You will find God in each moment. And then you will understand and value what being prayerful is all about. You will then realize that such true prayer, of living in the moment, alone can lead you to bliss!