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Escaping the Sword of Damocles

The story is told that more than 2,300 years ago in what is now southern Italy, a cruel king named Dionysius ruled in great splendor. As decadent leaders have done throughout time, he surrounded himself with fine luxuries. His dining couches were draped in gold fabrics, his silver dishes filled with exotic foods of all types, laid before him by servants chosen for their physical beauty. A kingdom of citizens and armies obeyed his every command. He appeared to truly “have it all.”

Among his court attendants was a man with a flattering tongue, Damocles. This courtier was often heard praising the luxurious life his king had created. His royal palace was so grand, his armies so vast, his storehouses so bursting with riches.

One day, Dionysius – perhaps tiring of the endless pandering – suggested that he and Damocles trade places, which Damocles eagerly agreed to do. Damocles sat among the rich foods, waited upon by the beautiful servants, indulged by everyone at court. What was there not to like?

But then Dionysius ordered that a sharp sword be suspended by a single horsehair above the head of Damocles. Suddenly, the delicious foods, scented ointments, and exquisite surroundings lost their appeal. He begged to be allowed to return to his former position as a man of no importance.

What can we take from the story of the sword of Damocles? Traditionally, this tale is referred to when we speak of an impending threat or that death is hanging by a thread above us all, or sometimes to remind us that happiness cannot be found in material possessions.

Baba Ji often teaches us that we should live life happily and not in fear, that we should learn from our mistakes and be relaxed. He emphasizes that we have to live in the present, and if we take the right actions in the present, we have nothing to fear in the future.

Yet we often struggle to follow his advice. Who can claim not to be afraid of anything – not poverty or loss of family or a diseased old age? Who hasn’t done or said something they deeply regret? But Baba Ji is urging us to let this go, to build a future free of any fear. When we follow the advice he often gives to become good human beings, we naturally create a more relaxed, positive life in both the present and the future. The past loses its power to hang over us like the sword that Damocles was constantly aware and afraid of. The future becomes a product of our present actions.

When we take refuge in the Master and his teachings, we step out from underneath the dangling sword of despair and dismay. How Damocles must have wished he could gently rise from his cushy seat and tiptoe away, past the luxuries and enticements around him! To see blue sky above his head rather than a murderous sword!

But we can do just that. Slip away from all that the world has placed at our feet and the constant threat looming above us and take refuge in the Master. We can begin to see our mistakes as guideposts on the road to becoming better human beings rather than ravines where we’ve crashed and burned. Give up fear! Gain confidence and contentment.

Again and again, Baba Ji encourages us to be objective and to respond rather than react. As we follow his advice, we find a freedom that reduces our fear of the world’s weapons. In addition, the number of messes we create and then step into naturally lessens.

And we become ready to steal away from a room where a sword hangs suspended and slip, free from fear, into the presence of our Master.