Nelson Mandela once said that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man or woman is not someone who feels unafraid, but one who has learned to conquer fear. And the ancient philosopher Aristotle said that courage is the first of human qualities because it is the quality which guarantees all other qualities.
In other words, courage is the most important of all virtues because without it we cannot practise any other virtue consistently. Our lives are filled with ups and downs; no one can skate through life without any problems. And if we try to run away from our troubles, we only delay our growth and end up suffering more. We have to face up to these difficulties, with courage.
When we are going through a stormy period in our lives, instead of saying, “Master, why me?” we should ask, “Master, what can I learn from this? Master, please give me the strength, the courage to go through this.” As is often said: life isn’t about waiting for the storm to pass; it’s about learning how to dance in the rain. What the Master is trying to teach us is just that: how to dance in the rain.
The most painful experiences have a constructive purpose behind them. And, like everything in this world, suffering cannot last forever. Successful author J.K. Rowling once said that at one point in her life, “I was the biggest failure I knew” - she had a failed marriage, she was jobless, and poor. But she saw in that failure an opportunity.
It enabled her, she said, to stop pretending to herself that she was anything other than what she was, and to begin instead to direct all her energy into what mattered most to her. Had she succeeded at anything else, she might never have found the determination to succeed in the one arena in which she truly belonged.
J.K Rowling’s failure acted, she believes, as “a stripping away of the nonessential”, allowing her to see clearly what for her was most important in her life. So failure in this world can be a true blessing, because it can refocus us towards our real work. And what is the only work that matters to us, as satsangis? What is the one arena in which we truly belong? It is the spiritual life, of faith and meditation.
Whatever difficulties we must go through are, the mystics tell us, the result of our own past deeds. The individual is, in this sense, the maker of his or her own destiny. But we need not see our sufferings as a punishment for misdeeds; if they push us towards the right path and contribute to our spiritual growth, then they have benefited us. When we are finding it tough to get through life’s troubles, it can help to remember this. If we can assert a positive outlook towards everything in life, we will be able to face our obstacles with courage.
So we should try not to become discouraged and let negative thoughts dominate us. Our minds can become cluttered by little thoughts such as ‘I am afraid’, ‘I cannot do it; it’s too hard’, or ‘something terrible will happen’. But the saints tell us that nothing is insurmountable; ultimately, it all lies not in our hands but in those of the Master, and he can do anything.
In initiating us, the Master gave us the opportunity to discover an ocean of love and bliss. But before we can embrace our mysterious reality, we must first start walking away from the secure illusion in which we live. This usually requires an enormous amount of courage. Without courage, we cannot move forward on this path.
When we hear about the bravery and the courage of the saints and their ardent love for the Lord, we find ourselves so inadequate. But then, discipleship is not about being perfect, it is about striving for perfection. It is not easy to bring back our attention over and over again in meditation when the mind keeps dodging us. It is not easy to accept the hard blows of life that strike us because of past karmas. It is not easy to smile at the world when the soul is deeply aching for something more meaningful. But when the Master accepted us for initiation, he never said it was going to be easy.
Effort is all
And yet Baba Ji has made it easy for us, if only we learn to live in his will. All the Master expects from us is that we put up a courageous fight, against the mind. The result of that fight is not something with which we should concern ourselves: there is no such thing as success or failure in spirituality, only effort or the lack of it.
Sometimes we are able to control the mind and sometimes it will control us; this is why, as disciples, we need the courage to continue without losing heart. Somebody once told Hazur Maharaj Ji that before coming to this path he had been scared of death, and now he was scared of life. Hazur replied that we are all struggling souls but we are never alone; and then he said: “Have courage.”
Courage is a quality that is developed as we keep practising, just like a muscle that becomes stronger with constant exercise. Initially, we can just pretend to be courageous, but eventually we will find we have built within us an unwavering inner strength. Times of misery are our biggest benefactors, because they give us the opportunity to build up that muscle of courage.
The finest steel is produced from the hottest fire. Similarly, each of life’s many challenging moments offers an opportunity to experience the Master’s grace, to put our faith in his love, and to strengthen our courage. We need to take each heartache, each moment of hopelessness, each instance of doubt, each anxious cry, and turn it into unrelenting courage. When the Master sees us trying, he has no option but to embrace us, no matter how unworthy we may be.
What pleases the Master most, of course, is to see us trying in our daily meditation. Baba Jaimal Singh once wrote in a letter to the Great Master that even if our attention remains focused for only one or two minutes, the news of our effort will immediately reach Sach Khand. Meditation awakens and nourishes the love within us. It is the process by which we strip away the non-essential and focus on the essential.
Love always trusts, love always hopes; love always perseveres with courage. Winston Churchill once said that success is the ability to have the courage to keep going without losing our enthusiasm. We should never dampen our enthusiasm by criticizing our own efforts, however small, because every little bit of effort is a step forward. We know we can achieve God-realization in this lifetime, because the Master has told us so. We need only to build the courage to keep steady on this path.
Look to this day! For it is life, the very life of life.
In its brief course lie all the varieties and realities of your existence;
The bliss of growth,
The glory of action,
The splendour of beauty;
For yesterday is but a dream,
And tomorrow is only a vision;
But today well lived
Makes every yesterday a dream of happiness,
And every tomorrow a vision of hope.
Look well therefore to the day!
Attributed to Kalidasa