I got an opportunity to attend a talk by Swami Chidananda, a spiritual teacher, in Mumbai on March 9, 2014. Two things took me to the talk: One, I found the title interesting – “Learning from the book of life” and two, it was organized by Krishnamurti Foundation India (KFI) of which my father has been an active member. It was nice to give him company and meet his friends from K-community.
I enjoyed the talk and this article gives a few highlights from the talk that appealed to me. This is derived from the audio recording of the talk made available to us by Fowai – Swamiji’s organization. I am thankful to Vibhaji for sending the audio CD. I have kept the wording as close to Swamiji’s talk as possible.
What is learning from the Book of life? There was an Army General who deliberately used to come home late. When he was asked, “Why do you go home so late?” He said, “In my job, thousands if not tens of thousands are afraid of me. But at home I am afraid of my teenage son. Some of the comments he makes e.g. ‘Dad, you won’t understand this, you are out of touch with reality,’ make me miserable. I feel, may be he is right.” Like this Army General, we feel comfortable in some situations and uncomfortable in some other situations. Some places we get attached, some other places we feel “fish out of water”. What is going on? Instead of reading big books on Atma, Brahma, Heaven & Hell, concepts of liberation, bondage, 24 tatvas and 36 principles, is it possible to learn about our reactions to variety of situations directly from our life experiences?
Tragedy of bookish knowledge: Knowledge of symbols and concepts helps us in various contexts. For example, if power suddenly fails here and one of you knows very well how to handle mini circuit breakers or fuses and then you quickly go there and open and set something right. And the power comes back. Of course, many others will thank you. “Oh, how nice you are with us today, you set it right immediately,” people will say. In that context, the knowledge of electricity helped you. Similarly, knowledge of languages, etiquette helps in certain contexts.
But does knowledge help in deeper inner freedom where we suffer from a number of self-created blockages, self-created mental hang-ups? The tragedy of bookish reading is, instead of understanding what you are going through, you are trying to remember, “What did the author say about this kind of scenario?” If you read a book on anger, when you actually get angry, you don’t think of the book at all. You go about your response in a mechanical way, in a habitual way. This habit, this mechanical way is to be tackled.
Over-investment of I, me, my: Suppose I happen to be a Bengali speaking person and I say, “There are 3-4 Bengali speaking people here. Let me go and know them.” This is alright. But imagine if my mind also says, “You see, others may feel bad to hear this, but Bengali is the best language”. You ask me, “But have you studied other languages?” I say, “No. But I know my language is the best.” “My food habit is the best,….” That is called psychological domain. This is the place where “I, me, my” is over-investing in certain conclusions –positions. Can learning from the book of life help us to be free of these conditionings?
How to learn from the Book of life: The way to be free is to look at our conclusions right when they arise, not even in a post-mortem fashion, towards the end of the day. Like a dying duck, you analyse your day before you go to sleep, “Today, during the day, what did I do? What were the highlights? How did I treat people?” Such introspection has serious limitations. Can you examine a judgmental behaviour on your part right when that behaviour is taking place? For example, some of you may be feeling bored listening to this talk. Is it possible for you to take a look at what is going on in your thought process and look at it dispassionately? On the one hand you are looking at your thought, your emotion. On the other hand, you should not be in a hurry to label it. This is a very interesting science where the book from which you are learning is your psychological process.
Precious pages of the Book of life: Negative emotions are the precious pages of the book of life. You and I learn the operation of the self much more when we are disturbed, depressed, when we envy somebody or when we are afraid.
Can I stay with fear, look at it with all alertness? If you are not alert, then you start thinking about something else, “Whom shall I call to help me? I wonder how long will the fear last?” or “This fear is stronger than last time.” etc. These are all secondary thoughts, secondary considerations. Primary consideration is, “Here is fear. What is it?” The objective is to use this tool of attention or alertness without succumbing to or getting caught in all those this-fear-is-stronger-than-before kind-of secondary engagements. Not even saying, “This is undesirable.”
To conclude, reading the book of life is nothing different from living in self-awareness. If you become aware of what bothers you, what delights you, what is going on in your mind or if you become aware of getting inattentive then you are already reading the book of life.
Related article: Eckhart Tolle’s “Catch me if you can” experiment, Feb 2, 2014.
Photo: From the audio CD of the talk.