- Rabbi Zusya of Hanipol
The Sikh Holy Book, Sri Guru Granth Sahib (SGGS), starts with the letter Ek Onkar, which means that there is only one ultimate reality that governs the universe. The second word Satnam, means true as well as truth is that reality’s name. With this word, we are given direction showing that in order to experience the beauty of cosmic consciousness and enjoy the countless boons emanating from the experience, one must live a truthful life in accordance with his/her true nature. Rabbi Zusya’s internal tussle stems from knowing that there is no liberation without living a life according to one’s true self.
Often, we live our lives not according to our true nature, but instead by rules and expectations imposed by tradition, culture and religion. We see ourselves through the eyes of others. We are swayed by societal norms like good looks, money, respect from others, raising good children, etc. I saw life from the same angle. Living according to needs of one's true nature was always a project for tomorrow, if at all it was in thoughts. The following lines from SGGS beautifully describe the grasping nature of human beings, which is relentlessly encouraged by society:
Ras Soyena Ras Roopa Kaman, Ras Parmal Kee Vas
Ras Ghore, Ras Seja Mandar, Ras Meetha Ras Maas
Aete Ras Sarir Key, Key Ghat Naam Nivas.
- Srirag Mahala 1 ( SGGS, Page 15)
(You are submerged in pleasures of owning gold, beautiful women, fragrances, horses, beautiful beds, and palaces. You are busy relishing all kind of sweets and meats. With so much involvement in so many physical pleasures. How can the word of lord enter your heart)
I had in my own way mastered the art of living according to outer modern norms. A time comes in our lives one the rules mastered and lived by do not get you peace and satisfaction. This happens mostly during the second half of life. It is said that in the second half of life, the journey should have different priorities and it should take a turn towards finding oneself.
One cannot live the afternoon of life according the program of life’s morning. For what was great at the morning will be of little importance in the evening and what in the morning was true will at evening have become a lie.
- Carl Jung, The Structure and Dynamics of the Psyche
Assuming an average man’s life in USA is 80 years, the afternoon technically would start at the age of 40. I am 65 plus years old and around three years ago I was diagnosed with advanced stage of lung cancer; therefore, I potentially have far less time available. The fear of not having lived as per my true nature started haunting me. 14.7 billion years ago the world was created and the symphony that was created plays outside as well as inside us. I was not in a place to recognize and listen to this inner symphony, and the desire to listen and experience was growing and making me restless.
I began to think about how to go about living this phase of my life. Sikh Gurus did not believe in rituals and dress codes as a path to find the truth, thus I did not prioritize these modes. I thought of going to a spiritual retreat, but then remembered the story of Mulla Naseerudeen; he went to such a retreat. Upon his return, a friend asked him how was it, to which he replied, there were a lot of beautiful women mingling with the crowd and in the end they tried to sell us clothes. I dropped the idea. Then, I thought of reading self-help or spiritual books. Buddhists say reading and not practicing is like having a chicken farm and instead of gathering eggs, collecting chicken droppings. So, while I could gain insight from these ideas, none of them were going to push me into my true realization phase.
The frustration would sometimes generate a deafening cacophony of emotions and sometimes a taunting eerie silence. Anne Lamont once said, “My mind is like a bad neighborhood, I am afraid to go there alone.” I was in similar situation. The mind was still running on old obsolete software. I prayed for the thoughts to become silent so that I could hear the guiding voice. I prayed to see perforations created by loving arrows of wisdom in those dark heavy clouds of disillusionment. I prayed for new software. I knew that home was somewhere beyond those dark horizons, but I had no map. Herman Hess in Penwolf said that “We have no one to guide us. Our only guide is our home sickness,” and I was homesick indeed.
I read the following lines of SGGS almost every day, but never stopped to ponder at them:
Kiv sachyara hoviye, kiv koorey tutey pahl
Hukum rajaee chalana, Nanak likhiya naal.
(How can one live a truthful life so that all the illusions are broken? Nanak says that it is possible by accepting the universal law and living accordingly)
David Whyte, an American poet, says that poetry is a language against which one has no defense. One has to wrestle with it. As I contemplate on these words again and again, I came to the conclusion that Guru Sahib is telling us that in order to live a truthful life, we must surrender to the will of higher power. Surrendering makes one open to receiving guiding instructions. Hafiz said it beautifully in his following composition:
What is the difference between your existence and that of a saint
The saint knows that I take the spiritual path is sublime, a chess game of God
That the beloved has made such a fantastic move
The saint is continually tripping over joy and bursting with laughter
Saying I surrender
Whereas my dear I am afraid thou still think
That you have thousand serious moves.
I come to the conclusion that surrender is the path. I am beginning to reimagine a new universe, ready to get on new adventure, a new odyssey. When I close my eyes to imagine this path, I see a young boy who enjoyed bicycling, singing melancholic songs, playing lord Shiva in plays, taking walks in wilderness, and going to Sikh Temple every evening at the time of singing praises (Aarti) of the timeless. The boy used to spend hours sitting next to a pond full of lotus flowers. That gave him joy comparable to Nirvana. I have started rediscovering that boy. The process is giving me tremendous joy and the journey continues and as per the words of poet David Whyte, I feel everything is waiting for me.
Put down the weight of your aloneness and ease into
the conversation. The kettle is singing
even as it pours you a drink, the cooking pots
have left their arrogant aloofness and
seen the good in you at last. All the birds
and creatures of the world are unutterably
themselves. Everything is waiting for you