The Fifth Dacoit
A huge challenge that spiritual seekers must overcome are the five passions of lust, anger, greed, attachment, and pride. They are often referred to as the five deadly sins, the five thieves, or the five dacoits. They intoxicate the senses and lead the mind astray, driving the soul under the wheel of eighty-four, farther and farther away from our true home with the Lord. Of these, the fifth dacoit, pride, or ego, is the most difficult to conquer.
Pride is often referred to as the greatest of human frailties, the deadliest sin. At its worst, it makes us arrogant and conceited, constantly wanting praise, and unwilling to accept being wrong. Even when we try to rid ourselves of it, our attempt at control makes us feel proud. At the same time, the ego is a necessary faculty which gives us awareness of the self and allows us to function in this world. But when pride exaggerates our ego, it turns into egotism and narcissism. As I-ness overtakes us, we begin to think of everything in terms of “me and mine.” The necessary faculty for functioning in the world turns into a devouring cancer of egocentricity.
How do we know if we suffer from the cancer of pride, of self-absorption? We can find the answer by observing our everyday behaviour. Do we talk more about ourselves, or do we ask others to talk about themselves? Do we constantly brag, or do we keep quiet and let others talk? Do we take credit for others’ work?
A story is told of two ducks flying, each holding the two ends of a stick in their bills, with a frog hanging on to the middle of the stick with its mouth. A farmer looked up and said, “What a clever idea! I wonder who thought of it.” The frog at once opened his mouth and said, “I did” and fell to his death. That was the end of the story for the frog. When we honestly look at ourselves, what we find might give us pause.
Do we think we are always right? Under the influence of pride, we think that we are infallible and that anyone who has a different opinion is wrong. The difficult part about candidly evaluating ourselves is that we do not even realize when we are wrong, and we rigidly adhere to our belief, even becoming arrogant and self-righteous.
Next, we need to ask ourselves if we think we are better than others. Do we feel proud of our appearance, family, wealth, and so on? C.S. Lewis, the British novelist and lay theologian, warns us:
As long as you are proud you cannot know God. A proud man is always looking down on things and people: and, of course, as long as you are looking down you cannot see something that is above you.
This sense of superiority drives us to get a bigger house, a fancier car, a larger TV, whether we need them or not, because we derive pleasure from possessing status symbols and the latest electronics.
The antidote is also in Lewis’s words: we have to do those things that help us look up, towards the Lord, rather than down on other people. Sant Kabir puts us in our place:
O Kabir, be not proud of your body –
It’s just bones wrapped in skin.
Those who rode on stately horses
With a royal canopy over their head
Now lie buried deep.
Everything associated with the body – youth, strength, beauty, wealth, fame, power, prestige – are perishable and do not go with us when we leave this world. Why do we think it’s so important to impress others? After all, when we are ready to depart this world, no one will be there to help us or go with us. As the English poet William Wordsworth says:
It seems now of little moment how long I may be remembered. When a man pushes off in his little boat into the great seas of infinity and eternity, it surely signifies little how long he is kept in sight by watchers on the shore.
We can also ask ourselves if we are victims of “conspicuous consumption,” loving to show off and be in the limelight. Trying to dazzle others with a display of bravado, possessions, connections, talent and so on, reinforces the feeling of superiority. Soami Ji asks: “O mind, why be proud! One day this body will mingle with dust and you will be cast back into the cycle of birth and death.” Everything is temporary in this creation, so why we should be proud when we are in bondage to the karmic cycle. We need to be mindful of how our pride affects the spiritual journey of our soul. Hazur Maharaj Charan Singh says:
Ego is a block between us and God. It is a definite block and a very solid block. Without elimination of the ego, the question of meeting the Lord doesn’t arise at all.
What could be clearer? If our purpose in life is to achieve God-realization, we must first remove the barrier of ego. Many mystics and poets have described this process metaphorically as “cutting off one’s head” – to wrestle with ego and take it out of the picture. We can accomplish this only by surrendering ourselves, totally and unconditionally, to the Master. Hazur says, “Elimination of ego is submission to the Master.”
The Master graces us with initiation and teaches us the technique of meditation. Once we are under his refuge and grace, our submission implies obedience to his every word: we should diligently follow his instructions, putting in our effort and leaving the rest to him. Hazur lays it out clearly: “Only by the spiritual practice, only by that meditation, can we kill the ego.”
Gradually, the fifth dacoit will be driven out, but only through meditation. Hazur leaves no room for doubt:
Meditation, meditation. I wish I could tell you some short cut. If there is so much rust on a knife, there is no other way but to rub it against the sandstone. Go on rubbing, go on rubbing, go on rubbing, and someday it will shine. That is the only way to get rid of the rust from the soul, from the mind. There is no other way.
This is a terrific analogy and a striking picture – we can literally see the rusty knife being rubbed on the sandstone, over and over again, the sparks flying as the rust is removed, a gleaming blade slowly emerging. By the Master’s grace, our karma will be ground down on the sandstone of meditation, along with our ego, and our soul will shine.