The Precious Silk Pouch
The Buddha told a story about a young man who had a beautiful wife and son. Sadly, his wife fell ill and died, and the young man poured all his love into his little child, who became the sole source of his happiness. Once while he was away on business, bandits raided his village, burnt it to the ground and captured his little son.
When he returned and saw the devastation, he was beside himself with grief. He found the charred corpse of a small child and took it for the body of his son. He wept uncontrollably. At last he arranged a cremation ceremony, collected up the ashes and put them in a precious silk pouch. He always carried that bag of ashes with him and often he would sit alone and weep.
One day his son escaped from the bandits and found his way home. It was midnight when he arrived at his father’s new house and knocked on the door.
The man lay in bed, sobbing, the bag of ashes by his side. “Who is it?” he asked. The child answered, “Daddy, it’s me, it’s your son. Open the door.” In his anguish and confusion, all that the father could think was that some malicious boy was playing a cruel trick on him. “Go away,” he shouted. “Leave me alone.”
Again and again the boy knocked, but the father refused to let him in. Finally he turned and walked away.
We each have a precious silk pouch of ash that we cling to, created by our actions and thinking. Everything in our world is conditioned by what we know and what we believe and, like the man in the story, we cling to the myths we have created for ourselves.
We don’t see our world for what it is; we don’t see ourselves for what and who we are. Every day we carry our silk pouch with us, and our thinking and actions are filtered through the same old stained cloth.
We need to examine ourselves objectively. We need to question our actions, our thinking, our beliefs and our traditions. Many of our customs and traditions have little relevance in our lives today, but we can’t let go of them.
Baba Ji so often tells us to question why we do things. Wrong convictions are the most devastating of all our delusions. Without thinking clearly we may take something to be the truth. Then it becomes engrained in our mind and we cling to our wrong convictions, finding endless reasons to justify them. Where there is an association of fear and evil in the belief, superstition is born. Superstition leads to compulsive behaviour – action without thought.
In Africa there is a broad belief that if you place the legs of your bed in five-litre tins, the Tokoloshe, an evil spirit, cannot visit you and torment you. Given that most Africans once lived in rural villages it may well be that the tins had some paraffin in the bottom to keep insects, scorpions or snakes from crawling onto the bed, but is there any relevance in this tradition in urban areas today?
Many superstitions developed as a means to control people. Often a religious order may have imposed its beliefs through fear, the threat of pending evil or the promise of burning in hell for eternity.
As satsangis we are immune to threats about heaven and hell. Because we don’t have that concept in our belief system we are not affected by such threats. But it does affect many people who do believe in heaven and hell.
What is in our own belief system, our silk pouch? We each have to examine this for ourselves.
Kabir was a great mystic. He lived in the city of Banaras and spent his life in the service of the Lord. He defied religious practices and exposed the gullible beliefs of a society riddled with religious hypocrisy. He fought religious ideology that promised its followers happiness but which in reality subjected them to fear, fraud and misery.
Banaras is regarded as a holy city. It is said that if you die there you go straight to heaven. Even if you have lived the most evil and degraded life, it’s a fast track to Nirvana! By contrast, it was believed if you died at Maghar, a village twelve miles from Banaras, you were reborn as a donkey – no matter how virtuous a life you had led.
At the end of his days Kabir decided to deliver his final blow at superstition and use his death to open the eyes of the spiritually blind. He packed his belongings and moved to Maghar. And this was where he died.
Let’s take a closer look at ourselves. How often do we question the content of the e-mails we receive? Do they contain information, misinformation or disinformation? How many thousands of people actually believe an international company will share its fortune with them simply because they forward an e-mail? Is this any different from believing that if you die in Banaras you will go to heaven? In the twenty-first century we remain as gullible as the people during Kabir’s time.
We too may be in the habit of paying outward respect to mystics while we continue to remain attached to worn-out dogmas and deluded thinking. We are deeply attached to our own convictions about this path and our Master, and we have an inherent image of what a Master should be and how he should act. Did Baba Ji shatter that image when he started playing soccer with us, or when he took part in a karaoke session at the Dera? Like Kabir’s disciples, were we upset because his actions didn’t fit our image?
It is these ‘holy’ images that he needs to break down. He is giving us the opportunity to be close to him on a personal level, to build our relationship with him and take that into our meditation, but we seem to be blinded by the shattering of our image. All we see is a soccer ball; we don’t see the consciousness kicking it.
As Kahlil Gibran writes in The Prophet:
When he speaks to you believe in him, though his voice may shatter your dreams as the north wind lays waste the garden.
For even as love crowns you, so shall he crucify you.
For even as he is for your growth, so is he for your pruning.
The Master will shatter every binding image we cling to because we are unable to do it ourselves. He will take that silk pouch, turn it inside out and upside down and shake out the very last speck of ash. He wants us to open our consciousness, to move forward on our spiritual path and to let go of our antiquated thinking that binds us to false concepts and petty ideals.
Baba Ji has said that if we give him an empty mind he can fill it for us, but if we present him with a mind already filled with concepts and illusions he has to clean it out first.
We are pulled to this path by its teachings and we long for the love, freedom and bliss that it promises, but if we are not careful, our ignorance and misconceptions will spoil what the Master offers us. The more we take refuge behind our wrong views and convictions the less chance we have of transformation.
From Living Meditation:
A misconception that is frequently encountered on the path concerns darshan of the physical form of the Master. When we have an opportunity to ask him a question in a meeting, we may prolong our question as much as possible, not because we want full clarification, but because we calculate that by looking at the physical form of the Master, for as long as we can, we are getting our karmas washed away.
This is just another deception of the mind, and we’d do well to wake up from such delusions. Simply by looking at the Master, no karmas are cleared away. This is a typical example of wrong and misguided thinking.
You have forgotten yourself because of self-deception.
… You have enslaved yourself
To illusion and imagined shadow.
Kabir, The Great Mystic
Isn’t that exactly the effect of superstition and deluded thinking? Dying in Banaras; Tokoloshe under the bed; shadows and demons in our own minds to which we are enslaved. We can no longer recognize the truth if it stares us in the face or hammers on our door. Mental indulgence and wrong thinking are invisible chains that bind us to this world, and our silk pouch weighs down our soul just as surely as sandbags hold a balloon fast to the earth.
As we walk the spiritual path we come to understand more and more that our suffering is rooted in our distorted or unclear way of perceiving the world and, more importantly, how we perceive ourselves. How long will we tread the circling tracks of our minds around our little self and our deluded thinking? God’s plan for us was not this changeless vain repetition.
Spirituality is an inner awakening, an awareness that starts with changes in our thinking. When we are able to recognize that our thinking is misguided, we begin to throw off our defensive shield and start working towards creating the clean mind and open consciousness the Master wants.
Again from Living Meditation:
The battle is inside and it is inside that it has to be fought. In practical terms, it means to keep our attention as much as we can in simran at the eye centre. This is the way to develop clear thinking and to stop the delusion. It is also the way to empower the soul, and is the essence of the path of devotion.
When the Buddha came to the end of the story, he said: “Sometime, somewhere, you take something to be the truth. But if you cling to it too strongly, then even when the truth comes in person and knocks on your door, you will not open it.”
Happiness is our natural state. Happiness is the natural state of little children, to whom the kingdom of heaven belongs until they have been polluted and contaminated by the stupidity of society and culture. To acquire happiness you don’t have to do anything, because happiness cannot be acquired. Does anybody know why? Because we have it already. How can you acquire what you already have? Then why don’t you experience it? Because you’ve got to drop something. You’ve got to drop illusions. You don’t have to add anything in order to be happy; you’ve got to drop something. Life is easy, life is delightful. It’s only hard on your illusions, your ambitions, your greed, your cravings. Do you know where these things come from? From having identified with all kinds of labels.
Anthony de Mello, Awareness