Why is there so much suffering in, and around, us – despite so much emphasis on religion and rituals?
We were with some friends yesterday. And the conversation slowly wound its way to us sharing notes on the inscrutability of Life and the power of prayer and surrender.
A friend threw up these questions: “Is ritual an enabler for prayer? Is it necessary to be ritualistic to realize God – and happiness and equanimity? And does any ritual aid the process of surrender?”
Now, those are important questions. And I believe the answers, as I have gleaned from learnings from my lived experiences, lead us to a deeper, better, understanding of Life.
We must realize that we have all been created without our asking to be born. This is a choiceless birth for each of us. So, we must recognize that there is a Higher Energy, Creation, that has given us this human form and has given us this opportunity to experience this lifetime the way we are experiencing it presently.
I see this Higher Energy as Life itself. And I humbly submit to its intelligence, to its might and to its grace.
Some look upon this Higher Energy as ‘God’ – and their religious conditioning gives this ‘God’ a name, shape or form. But clearly, there is no disputing that there is a Higher Energy that powers this Universe, that has designed, and is administering, the cosmic Master Plan. Otherwise, why would you and I be human? We may well have been created as a less endowed species in the animal or plant world or even be an inanimate object – after all, they were all created too, without any of them asking to be!
So, to me, there are only two states to be in – eternal gratitude and total surrender. In fact, it is when these two states are maintained in unison, it is when they confluence, in us, in our view of our world, that true happiness and equanimity can be experienced and sustained.
Prayer is nothing but a way of expressing gratitude – Thank ‘you’, Thank ‘you’, Thank ‘you’! And prayer itself denotes surrender – I don’t know, I don’t understand, so I give myself up to ‘you’. The ‘you’ here is the Higher Energy, Creation.
This is all there is to Life. It is simple, easy to understand and easy to practise. The truth is you can never understand the mind of Creation. You simply cannot understand Life. At best, you can be forever grateful for who you are and what you have, and in complete surrender, flowing with Life for what it is.
We however complicate this process of flowing by resisting what is, by bringing in our logic, desire and expectations. Much of all human distress stems from our wanting our Life to be a certain way – to be different from what it is. As long as we want something, in a certain fashion, we will suffer. And that is what is happening to – and in – all of us.
The human mind, when it is suffering, is like a smoldering cauldron of myriad, uncontrolled, often wasteful and debilitating, thoughts. And religion, as a means of suggesting a method to calm the mind, to weed out debilitating thoughts and emotions, recommends rituals. The larger idea is that the rigor of ritual – in spirit and activity – will help you learn the value of gratitude and surrender. Deep at the core of all rituals, across religions, is this idea of complete, total, surrender. But what have we been conditioned to believe? Practise rituals to cleanse your sins; be ritualistic or you will be punished by ‘God’; if you want your prayers answered, your wants fulfilled, follow this ritual or that; rituals can banish your ‘bad’ phases and so on and on. Bottomline – we have been fed loads and loads of garbage in the name of religion and rituals. Which is why, despite all the rituals, despite all the religiosity in us, many of us are still unhappy, fearful, worried and are suffering endlessly!
So, my answer to my friend’s questions was this: “Do you normally need any apparatus to help you breathe? Not really. But, if your body systems are weak, well, you do need a ventilator. Similarly, do you need a method to practise gratitude and be in total surrender? Surely not. For, if you understand that being created in this human form is a blessing, you can only be grateful, you can only be in surrender. But if you don’t realize – or reflect on – this blessing, well, you then need a method, a device – a.k.a ritual and/or religion – to help you along. But, clearly, no method can help you live happily – in gratitude and surrender – unless you are willing to flow with Life’s Master Plan, for you, the way it is.”
What do you do when you don’t know what to do in Life?
A young lady reached out to Vaani and me recently. She said her 2-year-old marriage was breaking up. Her parents were both diagnosed with cancer. Their family property, which had been under litigation for years, was decreed in favor of her uncles. And she had been laid off at her job. “Where do I begin to fix my problems? I have nowhere to go with my ailing parents and my one-year-old child. I don’t know what to do,” she confessed, breaking down inconsolably.
Vaani and I have been in her situation. We too have felt clueless and lost. What do you do when you don’t know what to do in Life?
I remember Thursday, April 29th 2014 vividly. On that day, we went ‘zero-cash’. We spent the last eighty rupees with us on an auto ride and lived in Chennai, in spells of pennilessness, for months on end after that. Our bankruptcy had blown up into an incomprehensible phase of prolonged worklessness and pennilessness. At one time, we endured 30 months, between 2012 and 2014 when we had no work, no income. (Read more here: Fall Like A Rose Petal and watch this Fall Like A Rose Petal Talk.) This, despite, our best efforts to work our network of contacts, pound the pavement, restructure our delivery model, and put our business back on track. It’s a phase that we are still enduring at varied levels of intensity and challenge from time to time.
It is through this darkest phase of our Life that Vaani and I have understood the true meaning of faith.
We have understood that faith is not quite about trusting an external resource or agency, also popularly known as God. Faith truly means trusting the process of Life – and being happy despite the circumstances; which means, being non-worrying, non-frustrated and non-suffering. We realized that despite our excruciating circumstances, Life was providing us all that we needed. Nothing went according to our plans. Nothing still does. But we have survived a decade of bankruptcy and its attendant, often imponderable, challenges. In this time, our children graduated – our son from an overseas University in 2012. Our daughter too is doing her Master’s abroad. Miraculously, every time we came to the brink, a helping hand appeared from nowhere and hoisted us up or ‘someone’ opened our wings and taught us to fly. That’s what faith has come to mean to us – to know that since you have been created without your asking for it, you will also be, unfailingly, looked after, provided for and cared for. We have learnt that just because we find the going tough, we must not conclude that Life is cruel. In fact, as we have discovered from our experience, Life is most compassionate – always giving you a situation only so that you grow better from dealing with it.
This is what we told the young lady too who sought us out through our Let’s Talk Happyness Program. When you don’t know what to do in Life, you simply let go and you let Life take over. To be sure, you never were in control of anything. Life was always, Life is, and Life will always be in control. Or simply, the Master Plan has no flaws. All that you have to do when you are clueless is to trust the process of Life, keep the faith, and take each day as it comes.
If you wish to seek our perspectives on a Life challenge you are faced with, please reach out here – Let’s Talk Happyness! If you have a personal story of faith, please share. Or tag someone for whom this Post is likely to be useful.
The Master Plan has no flaws.
Yesterday, just ahead of a very important workshop that I was leading, the sole of my decade-old pair of shoes came off – as in, there was a yawning, gaping crack on the sole of the shoe on my left foot. I was already dressed up and set to leave home. It was raining. And the car that had been sent for us by our host had arrived. I could have changed into another pair of shoes. But they were brown in color and would not match the trousers that I was wearing. So I decided to just go on – broken sole, that uncomfortable, worn out, feeling in one foot, et al!
Just a day earlier I had revisited a Japanese concept – wabi sabi. It basically means that Life is transient and imperfect; and that it is in embracing our imperfections that we must find beauty and inner peace!
As I walked on to centre-stage at 9.30 am to anchor my day-long session, I decided to celebrate that imperfect, uncomfortable feeling under my left foot. I didn’t try to push it away or forget that discomfort. I just accepted it for what it was. And I had a whale of a time delivering my 7-hour marathon workshop! The audience was fantastic and I immersed myself in doing what I love doing.
It was only when I finished closer to 6 pm that I actually realized that I had a broken sole below my left foot! When I reached home, and literally put up my feet, I thought back to my favorite poet Jalaluddin Rumi’s lines: “Live your Life as if everything has been rigged in your favor.” Vaani and I should know the value of this line. In a material sense, our Life over the past decade (Read more here: Fall Like A Rose Petal) resembles that broken sole of my left shoe. We know it is broken. But we clearly have been unable to fix it. And yet, like the workshop yesterday, our Life in the same decade has been miraculously flowing along – beautifully. At most times it has been painful, yes, but there’s a beauty, an indescribable sense of liberation that accompanies that pain. In every sense we have been, like yesterday’s shoe episode and workshop, celebrating wabi sabi – the impermanence and imperfection of, and in, Life!
This morning, on the eve of a very important milestone in my Life, my 50th, I recognize, yet again, that the Master Plan clearly has not flaws! Every minute of my Life I worship this truth and celebrate it!
This is what the ‘light’ of Diwali truly is.
We met a young man at the mall yesterday. He follows my daily posts on my App (“AVIS Viswanathan” – available for free download on Google Play and the App Store). He walked up to us, introduced himself and said, “This is the darkest Diwali of my Life. I have no work. And I have no money. I have no one in this world that I can relate to. I am not sure where my Life is headed.” Holding back his tears, he then asked, “Can you tell me what I must do?”
I gave him a hug and told him this: “Trust the process of Life!”
Vaani and I have been where this young man is. In several contexts, we are still where he is. We don’t necessarily know what to do in Life – not when whatever we do often comes unstuck; not when some of the problems we are faced with defy a logical solution! But what we have learnt absolutely well to do is to trust the process of Life.
This means, metaphorically, when you are going through a dark tunnel and when you don’t see any light at the end of it, you become the light yourself. Now, how do you become the light? Simple: know that since you have been created – not because you asked to be created, but because Creation willed it – you will also be looked after, provided for and cared for. Even in the darkness that engulfs you, keep taking one step at a time. And do that with total faith in Life. That faith within you is your light. You see, faith and fear are mutually exclusive. Faith is like light and fear is like darkness. They both can’t co-exist. You can bring light into a dark room. But you can’t drive away light by bringing darkness. So, when you have faith in Life, you will not be in fear. And, conversely, if you are cowering in fear, it means that you don’t have faith! When I say that you become the light, it really means that you drop all fear and embrace your Life for what it is – despite the circumstances, inspite of the darkness – trusting Life completely to show you the way.
I have recounted numerous anecdotes on this Blog, in my Book and in all my Talks of how Life has shown us the way, how doors have miraculously opened for us, every time we have come to, what we perceived as, the end of the road – enduring as we are, a bankruptcy (read more here: Fall Like A Rose Petal) I believe that when you don’t know what to do, you must simply surrender to Life and offer yourself to be led. When you trust Life, you may not necessarily be able to see the entire road ahead of you – the darkness in the tunnel may not really vanish, but you will find enough light in you and immediately around you. That light will show you just enough of the way for you to inch forward. And that’s how you claw your way onward through a dark, difficult phase in Life – one step, one day, at a time.
So, when you don’t know what to do in Life, be the light yourself. In every sense, this light in you, this faith in the Master Plan, this trusting the process of Life – this is what the ‘light’ of Diwali truly is.