Letter # 12 - Grace

In the midst of one’s efforts to harness the mind so that we may be happy, there is a force which quietly colours our perceptions. We call it Grace. It is a mysterious force over which we have absolutely no influence. It seems to come and go of its own volition. It does not exhibit any characteristic that we can say, ‘Ah yes, I know this’.

Why did I, for example, keep going when the rewards of the discipline of meditation in the Old Hall at Sri Ramanasramam seemed laughable in the face of an avalanche of chaotic impressions that hurt? It is as much an act of will and apparent summit. All of us who start on the spiritual path experience the same inexplicable propulsion despite the meagre returns. One could call it the grit-the-teeth attitude and carry on whatever the cost. Those who contemplate stepping onto this path are usually caught between two divergent ways: either continue bumbling along half-awake or make a pivotal decision that this cannot continue and consequently, one steps into the unknown, prepared at least in intention, to face the demons which manipulate one’s bewilderment and make one suffer.

Whether we admit it or not, whether our family, friends, community or culture admit it or not, there is a higher power functioning in our private and public worlds. Things happen to us. Each new day brings unexpected events. Like flotsam swirling on oceanic currents or a dust mote in the air, the powers of nature pull us one way and another. We may think we are masters of our fate but really, we are not.

Bhagavan Ramana said that everything we do or think or say in this lifetime is preordained. The only choice we have is to identify with it or not. All our efforts in meditation and devotion and study are not to control the forces which surround us but to understand them and ride the crest of what is happening.

Wisdom is the ability to be aware of, let us say, the signs, and know what is the choice that faces us right now. There is invariably a right way and a wrong way.

Both are sides of the same coin. The right way frees us of the conflict and the wrong way throws us back into the maelstrom of observations and actions until we learn how not to react but see the consequences of a whole chain of events which led to this crisis point, minor or major. That well-known adage about history that we are doomed to repeat ourselves until we learn, could not be more apposite on an individual level.

Looking back on my life it is a wonder that somehow, I ‘managed’ to arrive at Arunachala. My trajectory was scattered with so many blunders, delusions and unnecessary mistakes. The degree of selfishness and inappropriate behaviour inexcusable. And yet, and yet, was there any other way to arrive at a safe harbour?

Our foolishness seems to be a prerequisite for any advancement on the spiritual path. The Tarot cards illustrate the Fool’s journey. The guileless Galahad is the only one who sees and recognises the Holy Grail. The sensitive soul who is not content with what traditional society offers reaches the feet of a true guru and holds on for dear life. Our mistakes are the fodder that nourishes that inner yearning for Truth.

For without these errors, we would fall asleep like the majority who are so satisfied with the crumbs of pleasure that come their way. They do not contemplate an alternative, let alone step out of their comfort zone.

Pain in this respect is our saviour. Be it gross, be it subtle, we all endure the consequences of our destiny. If one believes in reincarnation, we are reaping the rewards of our former lives. If we do not believe in reincarnation, one can say that we are processing the consequences of our absurd good luck or bad luck with the mental, emotional and psychological tools at our disposal, due to either genes or upbringing, education and culture. And often, the dynamism of history tosses us about like dolls. This is a blind view of destiny which we all succumb to when we cannot make sense of what is happening to us.

There was a candidate for the presidency of the United States in the 1950s named Adlai Stevenson, who said that if he accepted the nomination, it could well be the last free choice he would make, knowing that the exigencies of office would generally preclude all but one ineluctable course of action. Entering the spiritual path is something similar as once the candidate decides on entering the living tradition, he or she is guided by certain fixed principles which in future inspires them.

As children, we tend to look up to our parents as gods and it is only later as we grow up we see that they too are subject to the whims of nature. As we mentioned in a pervious Letter, we try various ideas much like clothes until we discard them because they fall short of our expectations. With each disillusionment, there is a hard earned revelation and a new chapter opens up and a new sense of responsibility for our actions. This is important as the acceptance of a sense of responsibility opens our eyes. And whether we are prepared to cross the threshold and embrace our destiny depends on our willingness to pay the price.

Blindness is a habitual state brought about by so many factors we need not investigate now. But we are blind and once we realise this, we want to open our eyes which are covered with dust. To extend this analogy, meditation and other spiritual practices are a method to cleanse the eyes so that they may see the light that surrounds us.

We all walk about, and lead our lives, in a state of blindness. We wear blinkers so that we will be like everyone else, to fit in with society, but they blind us to the light. Taking off the blinkers is a painful act; we cannot imagine life without them but once they are gone, we realise that we are bathed in light…it is all around us! We just have to learn to see.

Slowly but surely, I began to feel that Grace, not by any special talent but by sheer persistence and refusal to give up. I was helped as much by the example of others who resolutely sat in that room affectionately called the Old Hall where Bhagavan received visitors for so many years. It was a strange feeling to discover that one was on a new set of railway tracks so to speak and that the train had left the station. A metaphor that Bhagavan used often to describe the workings of the guru’s grace. He said:

“A passenger in a train keeps his load on the head by his own folly. Let him put it down: he will find the load reaches the destination all the same. Similarly, let us not pose as the doers, but resign ourselves to the guiding Power.”

There were moments in the Old Hall of sheer boredom when the old pendulum wall clock would become audible and start to tap at monotonous,

maddening intervals. Ostensibly nothing was happening and it all seemed a waste of time. What was the point? Why am I here? At moments of such despair when nothing seemed to go right, I carried a huge burden of invisible expectation impossible to shake. This frozen state dissolved when I admitted defeat and surrendered to the moment. It was later when I read a statement recorded in Talks with Ramana Maharshi that there was a glimmer of understanding.

Someone asked Bhagavan to show his grace. Sri Ramana replied saying:

“You are neck-deep in water and yet cry for water. It is as good as saying that one neck-deep in water feels thirsty, or a fish in water feels thirsty, or that water feels thirsty.”

Whether we are aware of it or not Grace abounds particularly in a holy site, and our awareness of grace depends so much on our state of mind. When we dive deeper into our consciousness the density of pressure increases. We may not at first be alert to what is happening but time and space are elastic and begin to contract.

All we are left with to externally measure the moments in the Old Hall was the exasperating sound of tick-tock. Little did I realise this so-called empty moment was the key which announced the possibility of escape from the current cycle of useless thoughts and emotions.

Grace is that potency which inexplicably begins the process of purification and renewal.

How then do we activate Grace?

It is very simple really, prayer. This heart-driven mechanism is tremendous and virtually unlimited. It is the recognition that we do not know and that we are helpless. It is asking the universe for help. The prayer of Alcoholics Anonymous could not be more apt:

“God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change. The courage to change the things I can. And the wisdom to know the difference.”

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