The Best of Times
It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair…1
These familiar words from A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens seem to echo the mood of many people today. It reflects a time of transition, of insecurity, of confusion. No one knows what’s happening! Dickens was writing eloquently of the time of the French revolution in the late 18th century. We are living about 250 years later. And in our times no one knows what the future holds either. From the global pandemic of Covid-19, to the suffering of migrants and refugees fleeing war and famine – running from one country to another – to environmental disasters like massive flooding and forest fires, we are being constantly reminded that we human beings have no control over current or future events. As much as we like to think that we are modern and civilized beings, with our highly developed analytic minds – with instantaneous internet connections, smartphones, and streaming video – we are really totally helpless in the face of the flow of events, the flow of history. We have no control.
The Chinese mystics write about wu-wei, the art of doing everything while doing nothing. Expressed otherwise, it means that one needs to adapt to the flow of events rather than putting oneself forward and trying to control events. We need to let go. It is similar to karmaless action (nishkam karma), as if we take motive out of it, then we are not acting, but all action and life just flow in their natural currents.
Many Chinese texts advise us to hold on to the pivot of Dao (the unchanging and eternal divine spiritual power), while allowing the flow of changing events to continue around us. If we do so, we will be unaffected by the changes and the transformations.
The Huainanzi, an early Daoist text from the 2nd century BCE, explains how the sage or mystic deals with the changes and transformations encountered in life:
The myriad things have their creator,
Yet he (the sage) alone knows to abide by the root;
The events of the world have a source
out of which they come,
Yet he alone knows to abide by the gateway
(to the inner realms).2
The Huainanzi urges us to live peacefully and respond appropriately to the world around us, “and to observe and match changes as they arise. As easy as turning a ball in the palm of one’s hand, it enables one to find personal happiness.”3 Rolling the ball in our hand is easy. If we relax and don’t hold on too tightly, we will be able to drop our obsession with the external world. The Dao puts us in touch with our intrinsic nature, our inner equilibrium. This is the stillness that allows us to hold on to the pivot and be in tune with the Dao, our inner nature, thus allowing ourselves to rise above any worry and anxiety, pleasure and pain.
Baba Ji and, indeed, all the previous R.S. masters, have urged us to stop reacting to events or people and to focus on the master and his teaching – to give up our calculating nature, to take our minds out of it all. It is his miracle of love that he has made us aware of the true state of the world, the instability of human life, so that we can be free to take our mind to the true reality of the Shabd.
Dickens, when he says that this is both the best and worst of times, a time of both light and darkness, a time of wisdom and disbelief, of foolishness, is echoing the Master when he tells us that whatever we experience or see in life depends on our perspective. We normally live in the duality of pleasure and pain, and we ricochet between both types of experience, as we believe that they are both real – it is just a matter of perspective and the attitude we adopt. The glass is both half-empty and half-full; it is just the way we look at it. Both perspectives are true, so it boils down to our choice. The glass is symbolic of our attitude to life. How do we want to live our lives? Do we want to see the negative and focus on the frightening? Or do we want to stay in the Master’s “comfort-zone” – the inner space where we can be with the Master and nothing interferes? Of course, we need to navigate through life, through the muck as well as the fields of wildflowers, but if we try, we can cultivate a positive attitude no matter what the external situation, and that will free us from the tentacles of despair and confusion.
Hazur Maharaj Ji advised us:
We have to go along with the waves of destiny. You can never change the events of life, no matter how much you plan, no matter how much you pray. But you can always adjust to the events of life. Adjusting to the events of life will give you happiness; events will never adjust to your liking.4
We cannot change the cycle of our life, the cycle of our karmas. We have to swim along with the waves; we cannot swim across the waves. So we have to accept the facts of life as they come. The very fact that we have to go along with the waves automatically makes us happy – there is no other way. We have to accept the facts.5
There really is no absolute, objective reality. What we experience depends on our angle of perception. This is illustrated by a famous “visual illusions” exercise that shows a black and white image of a wine glass.6 It appears to be an outline of a wine glass, but if you look at it long enough, or change your focus a little, you’ll see the profiles of two people facing each other instead of the edges of the glass. The edges of the glass become the outline of a face. This is an exercise in visual perception but symbolic of the deeper truth the Master is teaching us, that we can see things from different perspectives. We can choose how we want to see our lives. As he says, we will experience disease, illness, heartbreak, but what we make of life is up to us. There will be happiness and joy and fulfillment also. And he is with us to help us.
By attending to our meditation, we gain the strength to overcome the negative pull of the “mind of sadness” – that aspect of our mind that wants to keep us scared, sad, lonely, unloved, that is locked into negativity. We have to make effort to keep ourselves in the mind-zone of joy – and make that our very familiar “comfort-zone.”
Maharaj Ji also emphasized that if we didn’t experience some pain and difficulties during our lifetimes, we would never turn to the Lord at all. We need to feel the need, the pull, to seek him out. So the pandemic, the environmental disasters, and the social upheavals we are going through can also be a blessing in disguise. They can act to turn us to the Lord, for his succour – to open our hearts to him to receive his grace and blessing. Hazur Maharaj Ji said:
Well, brother, no doubt mystics try to depict the darkness of this creation. But for that, we wouldn’t want to escape from it, we wouldn’t want to go back to the Father. But as I said a few days ago, why curse the darkness? Light the candle, and then there will be no darkness. No doubt the world is unhappy. We see misery all around us, but we can build our own happiness within ourselves, and then wherever you go you radiate happiness. Happiness is within. …
And the moment comes in everyone’s life when we do realize that nothing belongs to us, and we don’t belong to anybody at all. So unless we belong to the One to whom we really belong and who belongs to us, we can never be happy. And that One is the Father, the Lord.7
Maharaj Ji reassures us:
We become happy by accepting what the Lord gives us, being content with what we have and by attending to meditation. You see, the more our mind is scattered in this creation, the more unhappy we are. The more our mind is one-pointed at the eye centre, the happier we are. The more it is scattered outside, the more unhappy we are. So we have to see that our mind doesn’t scatter out into the world. The more it is concentrated at the eye centre, the more happiness and bliss you will feel. No matter what situation you are going through, you will feel that bliss and happiness within yourself.8
So we can truly say that it is “the best of times,” a time of hope and love, in the refuge and protection of the master.
- Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities, Global Classics edition, p. 9 (opening page)
- D. C. Lau & Roger Ames, Yuan Dao, p. 93
- D. C. Lau & Roger Ames, Yuan Dao, p. 8
- Spiritual Perspectives, Vol. III, # 259
- Spiritual Perspectives, Vol. III, # 268
- There are numerous such exercises; you can do an internet search for “Visual Illusions.”
- Spiritual Perspectives, Vol. I, # 422
- Spiritual Perspectives, Vol. III, # 545