This was the fourth class where we were still being tested on our understanding of what is real vs unreal.
The real being the constant and the
unreal being the ever changing and fluctuating. The key is to identify what is real and what
is unreal and always associate with the real the constant that which is the
The students, one by one shared
their understanding of what they understood by what was real and what was
unreal. One student shared how her understanding and discernment of real vs
unreal had a rather beneficial effect on her and how she could step back and
become the witness to her life. Instead of reacting and seeing herself as the
victim, she could now step back and evaluate the situation and not allow the
situation to get bigger than her.
Another shared that she had always convinced
herself about her inability to give up smoking by believing that she was not smoking
in access so it was acceptable, moderation being the key! But as she was doing
the exercise she realized that these were all stories that she had made up to
convince herself about not giving up smoking.
Once she could identify that it
was her ego and the unreal part doing the convincing she realized that she was
doing it because it was more comfortable to stay with the habit rather than
make a change. According to her, the
real vs unreal exercise helped her to understand what emotions were real. She
shared that what is real is the inner calm that stays despite what happens on
the outside. If you can become the observer of your actions you can then
practice more awareness. When she used her discernment she could easily drop
the habit. However she did elaborate that it was not as simple as it sounds to
just stop smoking. She is still coming to terms with the situation as for very
long she had convinced herself that as long as she was not addicted, it was OK.
After all it was all about having a balanced life.
The next student shared how it is
our perceptions that distort our reality. It is our own perceptions and
opinions that colour our outlook, so when we see the world we see it according
to our own pre conceived ideas. She inquired as to how one can reach that place
of inner calm. It is of course very easy
to intellectualize and discuss these things in class but how does one really
reach that point when we can be calm and practice discernment?
Mala Ji, responded by saying that
as we progress and grow in our path of understanding the subtle differences
between what is real and what is not we will automatically be able to make
better choices. Our responses to the situation will change according to the
changes in us, elucidating that if in the past we reacted to a situation in a
certain way; that was because we were not aware of a different way, but with
the new understanding, our reaction to the same situation will be different.
She then went on to elaborate
that in a landscape of flux where the outside situation is changing and so is
our inner condition, what then is real? The student responded by saying that
what appears real in that situation is change. So the constant here is change.
The question then arose, can change be constant and can that be the truth? But
that which changes cannot be the truth, so what really is the truth. We know
that the truth exists and it does not exist in the change. So what is the
Without the changeless principal
we cannot understand the truth. If the reality was flux, it would not appear as
flux to us. The only reason we are aware of the flux is because the truth of us
is changeless, implying that my inner condition is not the truth and the outer
condition is not the truth because they both change. We have chosen to identify ourselves with our
mind and our body and that is why the truth seems veiled to us. For example,
when we are in a dream the dream appears real and in deep sleep neither the
dream is real nor is the waking state real, so what is real?
We were asked to ponder on the
ambiguity that if waking world is not constant and neither is the sleep world
the constant then what is the constant?
The question we should all be
asking is what is constant in my life? What is that which never changes?
Our mind changes and so does the
outer situation so what really is constant? We do know that there has to be a
constant because without the constant change cannot be perceived
The problem we all face is that
our identification with what is real is flawed. We all have identified
ourselves with our bodies and our mind and we look for happiness in all the
Mala ji used the analogy of the
story of an old man who loses his house keys and is searching for them under a
lamppost. Soon a small crowd gathers around him in his search for the keys. After a futile search one person asks the old
man as to where did he lose the keys. The old man replies that he lost them in
the house. When asked, why then is he searching for them outside the house
under a lamp post, he responds by saying that the light here is better J
The message of the story being
that often we look for what we have lost ‘in most cases happiness, peace of
mind and the real meaning of truth ‘in the wrong place. How can we ever hope to find what we have lost
inside on the outside?
The question then went back to
what really is real? Is awareness real? Is awareness of a situation real?
Mala ji clarified that Awareness
per se is real but awareness of something is not real. When we say that we are
aware it does not mean the same as we are aware of? She went on to elaborate that it was similar
to meditation. When we are in a meditative state we are in awareness, but
meditation is not something we do. It’s not an activity it’s a way of being.
The conversation then moved to
The question that was asked by
one of the students was how when one sees or notices a negative behavior/aspect
in another person and gets affected by it, is that a reflection of the same
behavior in one’s own self? The fact that we notice that particular behavior,
does that mean that we need to fix that in our own selves? Another person
interjected and said that the fact that a particular behavior upsets you may
mean that you have a memory of a similar negative behavior that affected you in
the past and that memory had been rekindled.
Mala, ji gave a wonderful example
to explain the behavior. She said that when our arm is hurt and someone comes
along and leans on it we will surely feel the pain but if our arm is not
wounded or hurt and someone leans on it we won’t feel the pain, implying that
only when we are sensitive towards a particular issue can we feel the pain due
to another person’s behavior. We only react when we are in pain because of a
previous injury. She further elaborated
that instead of confronting the antagonist, the better strategy would be to
heal the pain that is within us.
Going back to the example of the
hurting arm, she said would it not be better to apply ointment to our own
hurting arm instead of applying it on to the person who leans on us?
But this does not mean that every
time someone does something that upsets us, it is only to do with us. Yes it
may mean that we need to look into ourselves and identify what has triggered
that pain, but self-flagellation is not the answer either. Every time someone
does something to hurt us we cannot just go into a victim mode and say to
ourselves that there is something wrong in me that I need to fix.
Mala ji shared with us the
example of how India’s inward looking policy at times led to more harm than
good. For example, India never ever initiated an attack on any country and was
always subjected to attacks and subjugation by invading forces. India’s
inwardness in a way led to its constant subjugation.
At times it may be required of us
to stand back and fight. India should
have taken practical action, but it failed to do so.
Self-preservation demands that we
acknowledge and identify the right response/practical action to a particular
Practical action definition- acting spontaneously in the moment to what
the situation requires without a personal agenda)
Going back to the question of
what one should do if we perceive that another person has hurt us or is harming
us in some way.
Practical action requires us to
first look at what in us is causing the pain, next step is to forgive and get
the ego (the i-ness and my-ness) out of the way. The final step would then be
to engage in the right response.
In the previous lesson we were
made aware of the distinction between an emotional person who tends to be
reactive vs an intelligent person who makes a decision based on the knowledge
of the situation. We have learnt that the person who is causing us pain and
hurt is only doing so to alleviate some sort of pain and hurt in
himself/herself. Once we know this basic
fact we are then in a position to exercise discernment in our response. If the
practical action then requires us to confront, we may then do so with the full
awareness that it may or may not lead to the conclusion that we desire.
The right response will only come via the
right education and right education is that which is rooted in the correct
knowledge and has stood the test of time (in this case the study of Vedanta).
Taking ownership of our feelings
and our action and taking full responsibility of our own lives is the first
step towards spiritual growth and healing.
We need to give up the blame mentality and acknowledge that we are in
some way or another creating our life circumstances.
The discussion still stayed on
the topic of how to get over the pain and hurt caused by another. One student
shared that it was easy for her to forgive the person who caused the pain but
how could she get over the hurt and pain herself? How can she just forget the
pain and pretend that nothing had happened?
To this Mala ji responded by
going back to the same analogy of the hurting arm saying that pain only occurs
when there is a wound. If there was no wound, there would be no pain. Our main
focus therefore should be not on figuring out what caused the wound but how to
heal the wound. In order for emotional healing to take place we need to
consider very carefully what is the right thought, the right speech and the right
action? She suggested self-awareness
exercises, meditation and going to retreats in order for us to help heal the
mind, body and spirit.
The key message of the above
discussion was to understand that only a person coming from pain and misery
will cause pain. A person who is happy and satisfied will have no interest in
hurting another so anytime we feel wronged or hurt by another, instead of
passing judgment we need to understand that the person’s behavior is driven by
pain and deserves our compassion and not our wrath.
Although at times it may be
difficult for us to show compassion and kindness towards the person who we perceive
to be responsible for our pain, our main objective must be to heal our own
wounds. At times this may require a lot of soul searching and brutal honesty
towards the self in identifying what the real cause of our pain is. It may have
been something in our past or present, but that does not mean that we go into self-pity
and keep crying over old wounds. The whole idea behind personal spiritual
growth is for us to move to the next level of understanding and discernment.
We need to move away from the
blame mentality and take 100% responsibility of our own state of being and our
happiness. We are also not responsible
for someone else’s happiness. Often we feel extremely burdened by the
responsibility of ensuring another person’s happiness. Mala’ji reminded us that
there is no way that we can be responsible for someone else’s happiness. The
fact that they look towards us to for their happiness means that something in
their life is missing and they are looking on the outside for what they should
be finding inside.
This of course opened a can of
worms on the topic of responsibility and duty. One student shared her frustration
at her inability to really distinguish where her responsibility ended and her
own inner happiness took precedence.
Malaji asked the student to sit
in silence for 5 minutes every three hours if she really was serious about
knowing the answer.
This was a reminder to all of us
to look within our own heart and mind to find the answers to the most
perplexing questions, for what we search for on the outside actually is on the