One of the lessons I learned early in my walk down the yogic path was that I could not trust my assumptions, judgments, and many of my beliefs. They had been formed through misinterpretations, poor guidance, and unclear vision. Sri Swami Satchidananda considers this lesson so important, he includes the following story within his translation of Sutra 2, Book 1 of Sri Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras – the core Sutra that underscores all the others. This simple story opened my eyes:
“Imagine you have not seen your father since your birth and he returns when you are ten years old. He knocks at your door. Opening it, you see a strange face. You run to your mama saying, “Mama, there’s a stranger at the door.” Your mama comes and sees her long-lost husband. With all joy she receives him and introduces him as your father. You say, “Oh, my Daddy!” A few minutes before, he was a stranger; now he has become your daddy. Did he change into your daddy? No, he is the same person. You created the idea of “stranger”, then changed it to “Daddy;” that’s all.”
He continues with this next illustration in the same translation:
“Whenever I speak to prison inmates I say, “You all feel you are imprisoned and anxiously wait to get outside these walls. But look at the guards. Are they not like you? They are also within the same walls. Even though they are let out at night, every morning you see them back here. They love to come, you would love to get out. The enclosure is the same. To them it is not a prison, to you it is. Why? Is there any change in the walls? No, you feel it is a prison; they feel it is a place to work and earn. It is the mental attitude. If, instead of imprisonment, you think of this as a place for your reformation where an opportunity has been given to you to change your attitude in life, to reform and purify yourself, you will love to be here until you feel purified. Even if they say, “Your time is over, you can go,” you may say, “I am still not purified, Sir. I want to be here for some more time.” In fact, many such prisoners continue to lead a Yogic life even after they left prison, and they were even thankful for their prison life. That means they took it in the right way.”
I have been reading a lot about the Tao and Taoism, and a few more stories with the same theme have caught my attention. I always take note when the same themes appear in different places, whether that be different theologies confirming each other, or better, when science aligns with spiritual lessons.
Perhaps these stories strike a nerve with me because I see myself in them. From Taoist writer Lieh-tse:
“A man noticed that his axe was missing. Then he saw the neighbor’s son pass by. The boy looked like a thief, walked like a thief, behaved like a thief. Later that day, the man found his axe where he had left it the day before. The next time he saw the neighbor’s son, the boy looked, walked, and behaved like an honest, ordinary boy.”
The Chinese story of “The Well by the Road” really reminds me of the flame-throwing, fickle pundits who live on cable tv news shows:
“A man dug a well by the side of the road. For years afterward, grateful travelers talked of the Wonderful Well. But one night, a man fell into it and drowned. After that, people avoided the Dreadful Well. Later it was discovered that the victim was a drunken thief who had left the road to avoid being captured by the night patrol – only to fall into the Justice-Dispensing Well.”
And one last story to remind us of how we allow external pressures, desires, and events to overshadow our true Selves. From the writings of Chuang-tse:
“An archer competing for a clay vessel shoots effortlessly, his skill and concentration unimpeded. If the prize is changed to a brass ornament, his hands begin to shake. If it is changed to gold, he squints as if he were going blind. His abilities do not deteriorate, but his belief in them does, as he allows the supposed value of an external reward to cloud his vision.”
Do you see yourself in these stories? I do. Over the years, with much practice and effort, I see myself less but not completely gone. We humans have chosen complicated ways, and the path to clarity is very long.