by Ananda Giri: We are human beings. It is widely agreed that the human race is the most evolved of all species, although some still believe that
dolphins could be more developed than humans. We have a supremely efficient body design and a brain with a complex nervous system capable of a wide variety of experiences. We are bestowed with a mind curious to learn and a consciousness capable of rich perception. The human being is an astonishing accomplishment of Nature. Gifted with such an extraordinary body, mind and consciousness, it doesn’t make too much sense if someone spent the entirety of one’s life in a state of suffering or managing suffering. Investing all of one’s time and energy in a constant search for psychological safety and certainty doesn’t make much sense either. We, the Homo sapiens are creatures of great intelligence and we won’t need such an extraordinary brain if all we cared about was mere survival.
A wise philosopher once remarked, “the greatest art in life is perhaps the art of living itself, greater than anything created by mind or hand”. I certainly think there is significant truth in this remark; for what sense would life really make if we didn’t even know how to live. Living obviously is a wholly different experience from existing. If one has to move from a place of mere existence to living, it is essential that one learns the art of living and for this, Life-education becomes a necessary experience.
Most schools in the world today regard education to be a process of imparting necessary knowledge and skills to the child in preparation for his/her secure future. While skills for livelihood are necessary, they aren’t the only requirement of the child. It is important for the child to learn the art of finding inner happiness along with other skills. Our schools need to bring greater attention to the child’s inner state of being. The focus has to be on a more holistic development of the child; not just the child’s achievements or grades but also the child’s inner state. How many schools actually care about the child’s state of being and how many actually focus on developing their inner state of being? This vast human Life cannot be limited to a mere act of amassing achievements. Life cannot be all about certainty or security, there’s got to be more to life than that. Our achievements do give us the significance that our mind so much craves for but one has to understand that it is equally important for one to enjoy a beautiful state of being within.
Education remains incomplete if it were merely academic in nature. It is necessary that a child is given life education along with academic education. To educate a child in the art of living is essential for nurturing healthy individuals and a healthy society. Absence of holistic education can cause the child to become excessively obsessed with security, certainty & significance. There is then the danger that the child becomes addicted to certainty. The child then fearing uncertainty pushes himself/herself hard to avoid any kind of uncertainty in life. This obsession can cause the child to ignore the other aspects of his/her life and be lost in a mad pursuit of certainty. This makes the experience of living a less meaningful one. If our society with all it’s infinite systems of conditioning doesn’t value the happiness of a child or it’s inner state of being, how is the child even going to know that it is important to stay happy and work towards it. I am not suggesting that one should not be pursuing certainty or significance but only questioning if one has to make certainty the sole purpose of human existence.
IT IS TIME OUR EDUCATION PROCESS IS REINVENTED.
If one’s life is not entirely driven by the need for certainty, but also enjoying a beautiful state of being within were equally important, such a life will surely be an extraordinary one. If our schools haven’t made us aware of the possibility of living an extraordinary life, we will have to make the choice ourselves about the kind of life we aspire for- a less ordinary life or an extraordinary one. This has to be a conscious and deliberate choice. By default we are most likely to remain content with the ordinary life because our society may have conditioned us to live the ordinary way.
It would not be untrue to say that two of the biggest influences on the child’s way of thinking are the parent and the school. Either of the two, if not both, must take the responsibility of providing life education to children. We cannot let our children stay in an unhappy state. They need to learn the art of freeing themselves from their inner suffering. The parent, the school and the society in general must bring greater sensitivity to the child’s inner state. We have a responsibility for our young ones; we cannot ignore their suffering.
In this context I would like to share with us an extraordinary realization of a dying man, his path to freedom and it’s lasting impact on his children.
In the late fall of 2007, I had visited Moscow, Russia to conduct a spiritual seminar. This was the third time I was visiting Moscow and I very much enjoyed teaching in this part of the world. Russians are an expressive lot, which made the seminar an emotionally charged one for all the attendees. We always had familiar faces in the room; people who never missed attending any seminar. You saw them every time you visited Russia or sometimes even in other parts of Europe. For whatever reasons one of the families that served as volunteers for all the events that happened here previously was not present during this particular visit. One doesn’t have to attach too many meanings to their absence but this particular family was an extra dynamic unit and we missed their energy and humor in the room. Their absence was easily felt by all those who had worked with them before and so, I had to enquire to find the reasons for their absence at the event. Learning the family’s situation brought sadness to our hearts. It is a family of four; mother, father, a daughter and a son. The father was diagnosed with terminal cancer with little or no chances of survival. The family lived in a very unsettled state; it was hard to ignore the truth that he would not be around for much longer. The man sent a word for me through his son if I would be willing to come and visit him at the hospital where he had stayed for more than three weeks now. Of course I wanted to meet this beautiful man and personally thank him for all the support he had given us over many years.
It was past midnight before they snuck me into the hospital. It was the hospital’s strict policy not to bring any visitors to meet with him at this late hour but as you may already be aware, there is always a back door way in Russia. In this case we had to literally use the back door entrance, which was meant for the hospital staff. Anyways, we managed to get to the floor he stayed on and eventually, to his room. And there was this man watching the very popular television series ‘the survivor’, with his body wired to all sorts of machinery. His frail looking body was so different from the man I remembered in my memories. The man looked unusually quiet and peaceful which had a soothing effect on the visitor. He switched off the television as he saw me enter the room. I was pretty amazed at the swiftness of his reaction, given his body condition. I sat next to him holding his hands in quite reflection and he was quick to remark, “I didn’t call you here to pray for me”.
I asked him if there was any specific reason for inviting me here to which he replied, “I have heard some of the many amazing stories you share at your events and I have another interesting one for you. It is the story of my life; my sorrow and my triumph. I know there are many like me in this world, living with the same assumptions as I did. I want to be able to share my story with all the ones like myself, as I believe it could be of some help to them. Since you love sharing stories, I thought you could share mine as well as you travel the world. That’s why I called you here young man and not for your prayers”. This man had a fine sense of humor. It was refreshing to see the spirit of this dying man as he narrated the story of his life.
“The past three days have been the most remarkable days ever, truly extraordinary and the few weeks before that have been the most miserable days of my life. As to what had caused such a dramatic shift in my state; a simple question and an honest answer. I now see the incredible potential of the right question; it has the power to set you free. In brief that’s the essence of my story.
I have been in a state of fear and anxiety since I was first diagnosed with this terminal disease. My doctors thought it was better for me to know the truth that I didn’t have too many days left. While I appreciated their honesty, the restlessness I felt as my D-DAY approached was unbearable. The days felt longer than usual. I was so pre occupied with the thought of my impending death that I could no longer enjoy the time I spent with my family. I felt disconnected from everyone and everything. I was obsessed with the idea, if there might be some probable way of prolonging my time here on this planet and I was desperately hoping that there is one. I spent my days and nights in fear. I felt lonely and i found it hard to fall asleep. I didn’t know what i should be doing to manage this terrible sadness that had gripped me. I could not even distract myself with any activity as I was stuck to my bed and was not allowed to leave the room. I kept myself busy by watching television non-stop. The idea of death seemed more painful than death itself. Though terrified of death, at this point I was keener on dying than living. It was around this time that a seemingly innocuous thought popped up in my mind, ‘hi Mr., you are now nearly sixty years old and what would you say is your proud accomplishment in life?’
Amidst all my fears and anxieties, this thought didn’t seem worth reflecting on. I ignored the thought and continued with my television. But the thought kept recurring and each time with even greater force. Eventually I came to the point where I could no longer ignore it. I had become so obsessed with this seemingly innocuous thought that I found it hard to detach myself from it even if I wanted to. And so I decided to pay attention to it. I realized that I was ignoring this thought not because it appeared unimportant but since I was afraid of the possible answers I may stumble upon which may be discomforting to me. These were my last days on this planet and I didn’t want any more discomfort than what I already experienced. It was this fear that forced me to stay away from that thought. Any way I finally dared to embrace that thought and I must say that it was the best damn decision I had made in all my life. I felt a freedom that even the gods cannot grant. This is it!!!
At first I felt disappointed with the answer I found; that my only achievement in all my sixty years on this planet was that I made no mistakes. Utterly shocked with what I saw, I couldn’t stop speaking with myself; ‘there’s got to be more, something more than just not making any mistakes. This cannot be all. Have I wasted my life? I couldn’t have been so terribly blind’. I kept searching for an answer that is somewhat more satisfying but sadly found none. I couldn’t even make up one, as I now was too conscious of the truth of my life.
I was so obsessed with certainty that I never once ventured outside of my comfort zone. I stayed within those four walls that ensured my safety and certainty. All I cared for was to preserve my relationships, preserve my work, preserve my significance, preserve, preserve and preserve. My thoughts, words and actions were entirely focused on preservation of what I had and never focused on growth. Certainty was the only absolute truth of my life. I worshipped certainty and devoted my entire life to it. And now even as I die, my thoughts are only centered on finding a secure place in the after-life. Here I am dying and my family is right next to me, I am neither sensitive to their pain nor am I enjoying their affection. All I am concerned is my safe passage in to the after life and the life after that. I am totally busy planning my after-life. Where is any love here; this is such a big joke!
Even as I see this pitiable state of mine, I break into laughter. Good lord, what’s happening to me! I was experiencing a new beginning. I felt a freedom like never before. At last I seem to have broken free. I was no longer preoccupied with certainty. My family, my friends, the moments I now had with them acquired a lot of significance not because I was going to lose them but because those are the moments I have right now. The now has acquired more importance than the hereafter.
What did I do so profound to find this freedom all so suddenly? All I did was to see the truth of what I am, my obsessions and my insensitivity. May be, it was seeing and embracing the truth of who I was that set me free. This excessive obsession with safety and certainty had made my life so much less ordinary. I realize it now and I find a new joy these last days before I die and I am much grateful for this. I would not like to pass on to my children this heritage of living a less ordinary life. I wish for them a truly extraordinary life and for this to happen, they need to understand that certainty is not the only thing in life. It is at the most, a miniscule part of this vast life. I now die a free man, not even caring to know if there existed an after-life. Good bye Anandagiri, take care.”
I was lost for words as I sat there listening to the epicurean inner journey of this dying man. I thanked him for his wisdom, gave him a gentle hug and left the room. I was deeply moved. In sharing his story, he had already saved so many lives. The man died two weeks later.
When one has become obsessed with certainty, one spends the entirety of their life looking for ways that can ensure them that certainty. Everything else becomes unimportant. In this whole process, we may have invented ideas such as god, purpose, destiny, karma etc. we then take refuge in these ideas and become increasingly dependent on them to feel that certainty. We look for certainty in the now, in the immediate future, in the distant future, in the very distant future. We plan all the way until death, after death and even into our future lives. We script our plan, become devoted to it and then become dependent on a person, thing or entity to manifest it for us. When addicted to certainty, finding joy in the future becomes more important than finding joy now. Religion and ritual may even support us in this endeavor of taking refuge in a beautiful tomorrow. If this moment has to become important, one has to understand that there is no absolute certainty and that one needs to find freedom from this obsession.
Is there anything wrong with living life this way? Of course not! Who is to say whether it is right or wrong? We don’t have to make our choices based on some higher principle but one definitely needs to ask oneself if it is worth living life this way.
Looking for certainty in a universe that promises none makes no sense. May be ideas such as god, destiny, after-life and all the ritual associated with it have been invented to fulfill our need for certainty. And we find ourselves becoming increasingly dependent on such concepts without ever questioning the factuality of such notions. When we have become reasonably comfortable with uncertainty, life certainly is a lot more relaxing and far more enjoyable. The things of now become more important then. The only thing that one could be relatively more certain in life is; one’s own response to life’s challenges and not the absence of challenges themselves.
We require a new way of thinking if we will have to free ourselves from unnecessary suffering. In fact all suffering is unnecessary. Fortunately for me and my fellow teachers at OWA, our mentors are two young visionaries who strive to free themselves from the rigidities of old habitual ways of thinking and acting and they urge us to do the same. They push the horizons of our thinking by constantly challenging our habitual ways of thinking and perceiving. One World Academy is a wisdom school, founded with the vision of creating a new world citizen with a whole new way of thinking and being.