RIGHTNESS OF LIVING

Radha Burnier

As one watches nature, certain secrets of life reveal themselves, depending on whether one is receptive or not. Wordsworth, a great lover of nature, was able to contact something of the Divine Reality underlying creation, because of the sensitive, receptive power which he had, at least at certain times. He himself bemoaned the fact that his heart was not always open to what nature revealed.

One of the facts that strikes one is the timelessness of the process, the vast plan which nature unfolds. If one watches a drop of water and only that drop, it affects the mind in a certain manner. The drop may shatter itself against a rock and cease to exist. It may be turned into spray which cannot be identified any more as the drop. On a different occasion, the drop may be the instrument through which all the radiant colours of the rainbow are revealed. It may be pushed here and there by the currents of the ocean, sometimes far down in the depths, sometimes rising to the surface, climbing up in a wave, disappearing in a puddle or in the absorbent sand. But it is always the same element, whether it is converted into the invisible vapour of the skies, or condenses in the form of clouds of airy beauty. It is the same element which showers itself as rain to refresh the parched earth, or causes the water to swell the rivers. But in whatever form it exists, it remains the one element undergoing numerous changes; sometimes visible, sometimes invisible, changed to liquid, solid, or gas. The element remains forever, existing always in movement, displaying itself in many forms.

Were thought to cling to a drop of water, it would appear to have but a momentary existence, subject to pleasure as well as pain for soon it will be shattered and lost; what is visible may become invisible; what is full of light ceases to reflect that light. Life itself is like that. Though nothing is really identifiable except temporarily, when thought becomes attached to one sphere of the total life, perception becomes distorted and there is pain.

The mortal, the variable, contains within itself the immortal, just as water subsists in the myriad variable drops. The many drops may become a shower of rain or part of a river; they may stagnate in a puddle or move in a current; many things can happen to them. But whatever happens to a drop, it is still part of the timeless element of water wherein beauty lies. The element symbolizes the immortal, the unchangeable, the pure essence which clothes itself in many forms. The inner perception that sees among the many mortal things the immortal being, that, when faced with the perishability of all objects, feels an intimation of the imperishable and immutable, when confronted by gross substance, is aware of the subtle spirit within, gives rise to an entirely different inward condition which is the soundest basis for rightness in living.

Rightness in living is not so much a question of goals, of rules, of discipline, as of becoming aware, to some extent at least, of the very nature of existence. This may be why one of the Elder Brethren said that Theosophy is the study of the relationship between the mortal and the immortal, the finite and the infinite, the transitory and the eternal.

We are told that there is a peace that passeth all understanding and that it abides in the hearts of those who live in the Eternal. This does not mean that the physical vehicles of such personages remain eternal. In Indian literature there is reference to those who live for ever (chiramjivins), but it is not in the material plane that they survive. In the material world, nothing can remain for ever. Life may continue in a vehicle for a relatively long period, but that is all; for ‘everything that is compounded,’ to use the Buddha’s phrase, ‘has to become uncompounded.’ Only that which is free of compounding, only that which is not made up of parts but is forever one integrated whole, can live eternally. To revert to our metaphor, the element of water exists, but not the drop, nor even the river. The form cannot continue for ever. Rivers may dry up and change their courses, or they may swell out and become lakes. They are mutable by their very nature. But the elements is not destroyed by the conditions which are created. Likewise the different combinations on the material planes must sooner or later lose their cohesion and disintegrate.

Those who live in the Eternal do not because they are awake, without interruption, of the underlying reality and live in that awareness. To the extent that each of us becomes similarly aware, to the extent that we have ‘intimations of immortality’, there is peace within the heart. But if the eyes are fixed on fluctuating fragments, disturbance is created and everything else is agitated. When a stone is thrown into water, the disturbance cannot be confined to the spot where the stone falls. Ripples spread out over a large area. Similarly, a human being whose consciousness is in a state of disturbance, contradiction and conflict, is bound to create disturbance and that disturbance is the absence of rightness and morality. A sense of peace, of tranquillity, which is the result of a different kind of perception, is the basis of rightness and virtue. That perception has been called the perception of ‘otherness’. It is difficult to define what it is. We know what is mortal. We know what change is and the inevitability of it. The wheel of life goes round constantly. He who dies a prince can be born again as a pauper. But the immortal and unchangeable ‘other’ is unlike all this and cannot be described in known terms.

Theosophical knowledge should make us realize the truth of life deeply in our hearts and not merely as a theory. The assimilation of any truth leads to a different kind of relationship. Most of us cling to our little positions in life, but what is that position worth in the perspective of the ever-changing manifestation moving through vast eons of time? It has been said that the only way of living upon this earth is to be like a traveller in a temporary lodging. If one could but realize that, all the values that are held about one’s position, possessions and relationships would change. If we could but hold lightly the things with which we come into contact; if, without becoming irresponsible or unfeeling, we remain unattached, a totally different relationship is established - a relationship which is not demanding, but open-handed, ready to let go of things. Can we live, for example, in our home as if it did not belong to us? One of the names given to a sannyasi is aniketa, which means the homeless one. It is not necessary to leave the shelter of one’s house and wander abroad on the earth in order to be homeless. One can stay where one is and yet not feel that any particular place is a home. Life moves everyone willy-nilly. Today the home is here; tomorrow it may be somewhere else. Now it may be a poor man’s hut; at another time it may be a mansion. From a mansion one has to learn to pass on to that which is less comfortable. If one becomes aware of the fact that there is nothing that one can hold on to except that which is intangible and uncompounded, one’s attitude and relationship becomes different. There is a stability which cannot be affected by anything which happens outside.

Out of this depth blossoms every virtue which is possible. The peace that passeth understanding which comes to ‘those who live in the Eternal’ is the mother of all virtues. Hence, one of the ways of learning to live rightly is to allow oneself to come into contact with that otherness of things.

How is this to come about? It is possible, perhaps, only when we cease from continual occupation with particularities and begin to allow ourselves silence in our lives. If there is a clinging to the drop, and the drop disappears, there will be a restless chasing after it, trying to recapture it, which is never possible. However, if one is not concerned or attached to the particularity, but aware of the larger movement, of the essential nature, then there is the awakening of perception towards that otherness of things, the immortal, eternal, infinite, ineffable. It is very important, if one is to find a way of life in which there is virtue, to give oneself moments of quietness. If meditation is an effort to advance oneself it is pointless, for then it becomes part of the habitual struggle of the mind against life and not a state of pure receptivity to the truth of things. However, if awareness arises, even for a short time, that there is a latent meaning in all of life which our eyes do not see, that itself would be the beginning of awakened sensitivity. Sensitivity comes with quietness, and quietness implies that there should be no desire to act upon things. A feeling of pride makes one think that one must act upon the world, that one must influence friends and make an impact on subordinates, upon the very earth itself.

The Bhagavad Gita declares that one cannot live in a state of inaction. Whatever one thinks, feels, senses, is action. There must be action. But can there be action without the desire to act upon others - upon what is outside - without the desire to shape and mould men according to our notion of what the world should be like? The Voice of the Silence admonishes us: ‘ Be humble if thou wouldst attain to wisdom. Be humbler still, when wisdom thou has mastered.’ The wise need not be told that they must be humble, because wisdom is the complete absence of the self, of pride. The advice therefore is essentially that without humility wisdom cannot be attained. Pride is not always apparent, but it is the stimulant which makes one think that one must achieve and accomplish. The man who believes that what he sees - the visible world, the world of gross things - is the only form of existence, is impelled by a strong desire to act upon that world and to shape it according to his own small ideas. There are others who regard this world as an illusion and who seek transcendental reality. The truth may be in that sentence from the Veda which teaches that this world, which we come to know through our senses and our mind, is not other than That, but it is not the whole of That, three quarters being in the immortal divine sphere. (Pado’ sya visva bhutani, tripad asyamritam divi.) Therefore, we must act according to our understanding and leave the result of our acts to the wisdom of That which is manifesting itself in every moment of time and in every sphere of existence. If we are constantly trying to push and make an impact on what lies outside, life will not be able to reveal its meaning to our hearts and minds. So, to learn virtue is to learn how to act without wanting to accomplish or, to attain anything. ‘Kill out ambition, but work as those work who are ambitious.’

The Theosophist 1981

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