Our Current Situation
Who wouldn’t like to be happy? The desire for happiness is one of the most powerful fuels that drive human life. Yet how many people could say they ever really achieve it? Is it not a fact that most people spend most of their lives pursuing happiness in one way or another? And they want their happiness to last. They search for it in many ways – in relationships, careers, making money, having sex, reading books, going to the movies, consuming alcohol, taking drugs, going out to eat, going shopping, buying clothes, and in seeking power, popularity or fame. Basically all these things lie outside the person, which implies that happiness is thought to be found through the outside world.
Sometimes, for a brief interlude, a person may feel he has achieved what he was looking for, but then the next moment that feeling is gone. If some sense of satisfaction is experienced through outside things, it never lasts long – and that’s the problem. Sooner or later something else is needed. A new source of happiness has to be sought. The mind tires of what it has, and once again the person becomes frustrated or feels that something is lacking. Once more he or she goes out into the world looking for something new. If it is a new car that brings delight, then after a year the delight wears thin and the car becomes just an old model that does not satisfy any longer. It is the same with relationships, the same with careers, the same with entertainment, the same with everything money can buy and with all the so-called thrills of life.
Now, a person may ask, “In this world, is there any joy and happiness that doesn’t change and that will remain with me all the time?” Something inside may say, “Yes, such happiness is possible if only things were different … if only I got that promotion … if only I would lose twenty pounds … if only I could find the right person.” But then, the world doesn’t conform to what we want, and back we climb onto the same old platform of discontent.
So the next question one has to ask is, “Is it possible we are going about looking for happiness in the wrong place?” And to answer this, one needs to answer another question first, “Who or what am I?”
If we took a lion and put it in a cage in the circus, could we get any idea of the animal’s real potential? If we took a freshwater fish and put it in the sea, do we think that the fish would survive? The lion would feel imprisoned and suffer; the fish would surely die. This is because each creature, by its very nature, has specific needs. What are our needs as humans? Do we know our own nature? Only if we understand who or what we are, can we know what will satisfy us. Is it possible that we are mistaken as to our real nature? Is this perhaps why we find it impossible to stay happy for long?A spiritual worldview
Since the human body is constituted of matter, human beings have a physical dimension; but they also have a mental, emotional and spiritual dimension. In order to realize what they are and to experience their full potential, they need to develop all four dimensions. These four aspects of being human may be compared to the four tyres on a car. If one of the tyres is flat, the car does not function properly. Most people dedicate a lot of time and energy to developing their physical, mental and emotional nature. Often they develop one at the cost of the other two. But very few people have any inkling of their great spiritual potential. In fact, many have no idea this exists at all. Consequently, their life lacks balance just like the car with a flat tyre.
The secret to a meaningful and harmonious life is to develop this spiritual dimension. But to do this we need to reorient ourselves. This new orientation towards spirituality will give us a new perspective, the spiritual perspective. It will affect the way we respond to the world. It will help us redefine the way we approach daily life, redefine our values and priorities; and by doing so, it will provide us with a truer picture of who and what we are. With a spiritual worldview, we will better understand our nature and its great potential. This understanding will offer us the key to a deeper and more constant happiness by opening the door to a more balanced and complete life. As the fish needs fresh water to live, and the lion needs the wilderness to thrive, so human beings need spiritual food and spiritual life to feel well and to develop their full potential. The key to happiness lies in bringing spirituality back into our lives. The secret to a happy, carefree and fulfilled life is to make spiritual growth our first priority.The objects of desire
The main difficulty we face in recognizing our spiritual need is that we are too engrossed in the world and its objects. Our mind has no time or space in its daily agenda to consider anything else. Like a cork cast out on the ocean, the mind rides on one wave of sense impressions after another. Like a monkey, it is never still. The mind is completely absorbed in everything it experiences outside itself. Its every pore is full to the brim with sense pleasures. It is bombarded with dreams and possibilities, saturated with the promises of the world.
The never-ending mental activity of our self-centred egos is reflected in our engrossment with what we think of as ours – our family, friends, career and possessions. But what if none of this truly belongs to us? We know that when we die none of this goes with us. Everyone knows that nothing from this world has ever accompanied a person beyond death, nor can it ever do so. We all know that eventually we have to leave our bodies. We leave behind all the treasures we have accumulated. We say goodbye to our loved ones. Whether we like it or not, everything that concerns the physical world has to be surrendered at death.
In theory, we know all this. But is it also possible that when death comes we will clearly see that we have been deluded, that what we thought was real was just a shadow of reality? Is it possible we will realize that life is something more than what we have just been through?Building castles in the air
Imagine, as Shakespeare said, the world is a stage. We all come here to play certain roles – as husband or wife, as son or daughter, as creditor or debtor. After our part is played, we make our exit just as actors do in a play and revert to being who we ‘really’ are. The world, like theatre, is not permanent. If we develop a worldview that puts life in its correct perspective and gives the things of life their proper value, that perspective will also give us the strength to keep from drowning in life’s storms. With it we will learn to be in the world without getting pulled down by it. A boat floats on water, but water must not be allowed to get into the boat. If it does, the boat will sink.
Have we ever thought to ourselves how extraordinary it is that we work day and night throughout our lives to possess things that can never be truly ours? We exhaust ourselves running after illusions. Parents, spouse, children, friends, wealth and possessions all disappear at death, and sometimes before we die. With our last breath they are gone forever, yet, throughout our days, we live and work only for them. We discover too late that we have spent our lives building castles in the air.Pushing and shoving
For many people, much of life consists of trying to keep a balance, as though they were fighting to keep on their feet amidst a vast crowd of people who are pushing and shoving them around. It seems that life demands we become professional jugglers. We want to do our jobs well; to bring up our children well; to romance our loved ones; to spend time with friends, time with our family and time with ourselves. In this complicated way of life that we have created, we also want to take care of our homes, our cars, our bodies, our heads, our hearts, our souls. We also want to play sports, enjoy hobbies, and nurture outside interests. We want all of this, and as if this weren’t enough, to complicate matters further, on top of it all we want more money, more power, more recognition, more possessions, more everything. The trouble is we can’t have it. And we can’t have it all for the simple reason that we don’t have the time. Even if we did, once we fulfil one desire, another one creeps up, and our limited amount of time and energy doesn’t match with the demands of our desires. No matter how hard we try, we simply are not able, in the time at our disposal, to satisfy all the demands our desires make on our minds.Balancing our act
To make our lives meaningful, we have to be clear about what is valuable to us. We have to take a good look at our priorities. We are striving for balance; but balance, like other admirable traits, is hard to achieve. Balance means recognizing, out of our many interests, what our real needs are, and then rearranging our priorities to reflect those needs. This usually involves letting go of some of our tightly held pursuits and attachments, and for this we have to be prepared to ask ourselves some tough questions. But it is worth asking them because balance is essential to achieving self-realization, and without knowing who we are, we cannot go very far in life.
Our contemporary society tells us that having balance is about having a spouse, a couple of children, a house, one or two cars, a good job and some hobbies, and being involved with our places of worship and civic activities, and, at the same time, keeping physically fit. The list goes on. True balance has little to do with all these things because they are all outside us, and true balance is a state within. Balancing the externals of life is fine for someone who is content with life at the surface. But for those who are given to a little reflection, this is not enough. They want to be free from their limitations, free from being owned by their possessions, free from the craziness, disappointments and frustrations of life at this level. They are interested in waking up to what life really is, not in creating more illusions.
Only if we wake up will we know what it means to be alive. For the most part, we don’t live; we just exist. Consider that in the meagre lifetime we have been allotted, according to recent statistics we will spend six months at traffic lights waiting for them to change, one year looking through desk clutter for things we have misplaced, two years calling people who aren’t in or whose lines are busy, five years waiting in lines and three more sitting in meetings. That’s a lot of time being drained away from us. It is not just time we are running out of – it is also the opportunity to make the best of our lives, to experience who we are and know what we really want.
How we spend our time and what we do with it is very important. We complicate our own lives because we mistakenly believe that to be happy and to lead a balanced life we need all these outside things. But it need not be that way. There are other options. To find these options we need to look inwards instead. We need to look within ourselves.
It is the constant pursuit of worldly things and our preoccupation with objects, people and activities that keep us in a circle of suffering and unhappiness. Developing an inner spiritual life is a powerful tool that can help us establish, within ourselves, the balance and the happiness we keep trying to achieve outside. But how does one do this, one may well ask oneself. And the logical answer is, first and foremost, to take the help of those who have successfully addressed the question. We need to be in touch with people who have themselves developed their spiritual potential and can teach us how to do the same.The mystics
The mystics and saints of the world can teach us how to find precisely what we are looking for because they themselves have attained it. They are living examples of that state of balance we seek.
The term ‘mystic’ has been very much misunderstood in Western culture. Mystics are often thought of as being aloof, impractical, devoid of common sense, and withdrawn from family life and worldly affairs. However, if we have the good fortune to meet a real mystic, we will see a very different picture. We will see that true mystics do not shun worldly responsibilities. They have, on the contrary, an extraordinarily high level of productivity and efficiency in whatever they do. They are in control of their emotions, thoughts and actions, and they radiate immense peace and joy from within themselves.
The terms ‘mystic’, ‘saint’ and ‘spiritual teacher’, as used throughout this book, refer to someone who has experienced for himself the totality of the universe, has merged with it and has known its every aspect. A true mystic or saint is someone who has authority to speak, from personal experience, about such issues as life and death. Mystics, therefore, can explain to us how to make our lives more meaningful. They can guide us as to which course of action is beneficial for us and which is not.
Because the mystics have first-hand knowledge of the mysteries of the universe, they can answer such questions as these: What happens to us when we die? Where do we come from? How can we rise above our limitations? What is the purpose of life? Does God exist? Is there a soul? How can we find the inner peace and happiness that will put to an end, once and for all, the pain, boredom, restlessness, loneliness and all the other negative emotions we may face?
The answers to all these questions constitute the ageless teachings of the saints and form the central theme of this book. The teachings of the saints are based on their inner experiences, not on what they have read or heard. Saints are people who have made spirituality the focus of their lives. Living with this focus, they embody the finest human qualities and have transcended normal human limitations. Through a specific technique, they are able to leave their body and return to it at will. They have conquered death and unveiled the mysteries of the universe. Such true mystics or saints have always been present on earth.
Saints and mystics come to this world as spiritual teachers to remind us of who we really are. They come to help us rise above our limitations and see life in its positive totality. They instruct us not to take their words at face value but to prove the truth of their teachings – each one of us, for ourselves – by putting them into practice.
Mystics explain that although we are in a body, we are not a mere body. We are an intricate blending of body, mind and soul, with soul being our essence, the mind its covering, and the body a temporary abode. When the body dies, the soul continues to exist. In other words, death is not the end of our life. Our life continues after our body dies. They tell us that, in fact, there are many dimensions through which the soul can pass, and that this universe, with all its planets, stars and galaxies, is only a tiny portion of the vast ocean of creation. They also tell us that where there is a creation, there is a Creator.
In discussions of the creation of the universe, science has predominantly supported the ‘big bang’ theory. It is a popular belief that scientists do not admit the existence of God. Therefore some may find it surprising that Albert Einstein – with all his scientific genius and expertise regarding the physics of the universe – concluded that God must exist. He said: “It is enough for me to contemplate the mystery of conscious life perpetuating itself through all eternity; to reflect upon the marvellous structure of the universe, which we can dimly perceive and to try humbly to comprehend even an infinitesimal part of the intelligence manifested in nature.” In response to this, Robert Millikan, dean of American Scientists, declared to the American Physical Society: “That is as good a definition of God as I need.”
Coming from Einstein, the most eminent scientist of the twentieth century, this very striking and important statement would convince most of us about the omnipresence of the Creator if we only pondered the profound meaning of his words: “It is enough for me to contemplate the mystery of conscious life perpetuating itself through all eternity; … to reflect upon the marvelous structure of the universe, which we can dimly perceive and to try humbly to comprehend … the intelligence manifested in nature.”
Historically, people have often insisted that science and spirituality are mutually exclusive, but that is not the case. The writings of scientists like Einstein show that they ‘knew’ there was something beyond the realm of time and space. However, they were unable to elaborate on it further. Mystics, on the other hand, are scientists of the spirit. They have developed themselves to their full potential and, having mastered the science of the soul, have personally experienced the realms that exist beyond mind and matter. They are, therefore, the best qualified to instruct others as to how they too can develop their full potential.