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Realm of Shame and Grace II


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Life away from God is bound to be meaningless -- if not full of misery. It becomes like a nightmare, and you want to awaken but you cannot. You feel somebody sitting on your chest, and your arms are powerless to push him away; or someone is trying to shove you down a mountain and you have no way to save yourself. You try to move your hands but you cannot. You want to open your eyes, but you cannot. You want to shout, but you cannot. This is a nightmare.

Everyone removed from God is in a dream state. Those who are opposed to the flow of existence are in a nightmare. Examine your own life and you will find that such is the condition. The eyes do not open, the hands do not move, the load on the chest does not lessen -- and yet you live! Then your life can be nothing but one long tale of woe.

Kierkegaard, Sartre, Marcel, Heidegger, and other great thinkers of the West describe life as anguish and anxiety with no way to be freed from it. They are right to a very great extent. Life as it is generally led is a torment.

But we also know of another kind of life -- that of Nanak, Kabir, Buddha, Krishna, Christ. Their lives are just the opposite of ours: where we are weighed down with harassment, their lives are a veritable dance. Where nothing echoes within us except strains of pain and sorrow, their inner self reverberates with music. Whereas we walk as if we have heavy chains around our feet, their step is light; they walk with a spring. While a look at us conveys the fruits of great sin, their appearance glows with the blessings of the divine.

There is another way of living, and the key is to live not away from, but near to God, to live not against His order but in conformity with it. He whose life flows with the law undergoes a change. You may not necessarily struggle against God, but your ego pushes you -- it says the more you fight and struggle, the greater you become.

But the joke of the whole thing is, just the opposite happens: the more you win, the less you become. You may find a big heart in a poor man, but not in a rich man; his heart gets smaller with every gain. A poor man may give in charity, the rich man loses his courage to give. A poor man is capable of love, but there is no music of love and cheer within a rich man; and of course, prayer and God are unheard of where he is concerned. He is barely capable of ordinary animal love. The more wealth you amass the narrower your heart gets. It is a contradiction. The internal space gets more and more constricted and you find yourself always anxious and worried about your possessions.

Nanak says, in the realm of grace power is the expression, yet His compassion is attained only when you genuinely feel absolutely helpless. Not a hint of cunning can remain; the helplessness must be total. By merely saying, "I am helpless," nothing happens. The feeling must enter deep inside, penetrating the core of your heart, pervading every atom of your being. Not mere lip service but a feeling from your heart, it should be evident in your tears. It must permeate your every word, and echo even when there are no words. In your every action should ring the message to Him: I am helpless, O Lord! I am helpless!

What can you do? You can neither do anything nor undo anything. Your actions have brought to pass only what should not have happened; you cannot accomplish anything.

There is a saying in English that is similar in many other languages: Man proposes, God disposes! Nothing can be more erroneous. It is just the other way around -- God proposes and man disposes! God gives opportunities and proposals, and man refuses them, denies them. God wants to give everything to man.

Existence is waiting to be looted at your hands, but your doors are shut. This existence wants to shower its bounty on you, but alas, your pots are turned upside down. This existence wants to enter you, but out of sheer fright you have not allowed so much as a crack to open to receive it. And you have so filled yourself with junk that even if it enters there is no space for it. You have left no place befitting Him within you.

His grace is attained only when you are utterly helpless, rudderless. The total experience of this helplessness is shame. Then you are ashamed even to say I. Then you wonder on what grounds you can claim I am? On what basis can I say that I am capable of doing something?

But our lives tell the opposite story. You have failed in all your ventures. All your efforts ended in vain, turned to nothing. All the fortresses you built fell into ruins and yet still you have not come to your senses, but hold on to doing. As long as this persists shame cannot enter into you, and Nanak says, "Shame is prayer." As long as you say, "I know," you will not bow down.

Does a scholar ever bow down? His head never bends. He may bend his body but his head stands stiff in arrogance.

There is a well known event that the Sufis use for teaching. Two friends studied together throughout their school career. When they finished school and went their separate ways, one became a powerful king and the other a fakir. So it was destined! The king lived in the royal palace; the fakir roamed naked from town to town. The king was famous, the fakir no less so.

Once it happened that the fakir came to the king's capital. Since he was a childhood friend the king made suitable arrangements for his welcome; he had the whole town lit with lamps and the streets strewn with flowers.

As the fakir was proceeding towards the town he met some travelers who said, "What an egoist the king is! He has made all these arrangements just to show you his magnificence. He has lamps lit not only in every house but all along the streets. The whole town looks like the Festival of Lights. He has covered the steps you are to climb with sheets of gold inlaid with precious stones. He wants to show you that you are but a naked fakir while he revels in his glory." The fakir said, "We shall see his arrogance." The day arrived for the fakir to visit his old friend. All the people went to receive him at the gates to the town. The king was also there. He looked at his friend and was dumbstruck. It was not the rainy season but the fakir's legs were smeared with muck right up to his knees! But it would have been embarrassing to ask him about it in front of so many people. When he crossed the glittering steps and entered the palace, the fakir sat on the priceless carpet spread especially in his honor -- and dirtied it! Then the king finally asked him. "Friend, there was no rain anywhere, and it is not the rainy season, then how come your legs are covered with mire?"

The fakir replied, "If you wanted to show off your wealth, I wanted to show off my poverty to you."

The king laughed and said, "Then come, brother, let us embrace, for neither of us has gotten anywhere. We are just where we were when we left school."

Wealth can fill you with arrogance, and so can renunciation. So arrogance is the only obstruction. Once arrogance is obliterated, shame is what remains. Nanak says the He who is filled with shame gets showered with God's grace. Shame and modesty is worthiness. As long as you are arrogant you do not need Him, and how can you achieve what you do not need? You have never really called Him, wanted Him, needed Him. If ever you called Him it was for other things: when the child was ill, or you had a case in court -- but never just for Himself! Until you call Him just for Himself, all your prayers are false for your prayer has nothing to do with divinity. You want something of the world -- perhaps you might get it from God.

A wealthy man was dying. He called his priest and asked him, "If I were to donate one hundred million rupees to your temple, would I get a place in heaven?" This was a natural question from a man who always thought in terms of wealth. The priest answered, "There is no harm in trying, though I cannot promise anything. I have never heard of anyone booking his seat in heaven this way. Since your wealth is going to be left anyway, why not try?"

If you have acquired anything through wealth, the feeling always remains in your mind somewhere that worship or meditation can also be attained this way. Wealth is gained by ego, by ambition; whereas worship, prayer, meditation are attained through shame. God is attained only when all ambitions fall, when you find yourself utterly useless, when nothing you do turns out correct. At the moment that you are absolutely helpless and incapable of doing anything, His grace showers.

Not only the ego of doing, but the ego of knowing, must also fall. That you know the four Vedas by heart, or the Koran, or that no one is more adept at the Bible -- all this knowledge will keep you from His grace. 'I know', which is the statement of your knowledge, is a subtle form of doing. Your doing and your knowing are two sides of your ego. Both must fall.

Have you ever asked yourself in full awareness what you know? You do not even know the stone that lies outside your house and yet you claim to know God? You haven't been able to know a flower fully yet.

The English poet, Tennyson, said: If I were to know the smallest flower fully, I would know what God and man is. You will have known everything if you have known the mystery of a flower opening, since it contains all existence. If you have understood and recognized the beauty of one single flower, you have discovered and understood the beauty of all existence. If you penetrate the truth within the flower, what is left? He who has known the drop knows the ocean, for qualitatively they are one. Whatever is in the ocean is contained in the drop. It is a small edition of the ocean. He who knows a single atom knows all.

But what do we know? Whatever information we have is stale, borrowed, belonging to others. It is alien, handed down to you from thousands of hands. If thousands of people have worn the same pair of shoes, you will not be ready to step into them. But this is how your knowledge is. You have not put your feet but your head into such shoes. All your knowledge is borrowed and alien. You read the books, but cannot even be sure if the person is talking from his personal experience or hearsay.

I am told: A certain film actress was very clever. When she removed her jewels each night she left a note next to them, saying: "These are fake jewels. The real ones are in the bank vault." One morning she got up and found them gone. On the table was a note, "I took the fake jewels, for I am a sham thief. The real one is in jail."

Are you sure that the one whose words you are taking in, whose knowledge you are imbibing, is authentic? You have no way to find out. You have no criterion to judge the true from the false. The only real test is when you have your own experience, but then you have no further need to listen to anyone else. This is the trouble. When gold is at hand we do not have the touchstone; when we have the touchstone there is no need to test the gold. But as long as you are able to test, you need the touchstone very badly. You cover your knowledge with borrowed knowledge, and this strengthens the spine of your ego. 'I know' creates the arrogance and pride that is the hindrance. When there is neither knowledge nor action, you are no more; both your props have fallen, and the castle is razed to the ground. This state where the castle has fallen into ruins is what Nanak calls shame. When shame becomes intense, crystallized, His grace begins to pour. Your shame, His grace: these two are correlated. Shame is like a hollow in the ground and His grace is like the lifegiving rains. It also rains on the mountains, but the water slips off into the valleys below that are low, hollow and empty. His grace pours on all and you can either be a valley and receive it or a mountain and allow it to flow off.

Nanak says, for Him no one is high, no one is low; no one is worthy, no one is unworthy.

He showers His grace on all. There are some like valleys who are filled and blessed, whereas others are like towering mountains, so filled with themselves that there is no place to hold His grace. Be like the valley, the hollows in the ground, and you shall attain Nanak's shame. Once shame forms and the hollow takes shape, since His grace is always pouring, you will become a lake of knowledge and awareness. Your very way of being will change. You shall no more be as you are now. The hollow contains only God. Then you are no longer helpless; in fact no one is stronger than you.

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No sooner does a person attain to shame than grace begins to rain on him, and the wretched pauper becomes a king. Saints have said, "Through His grace the lame cross mountains, the blind begin to see, and the deaf begin to hear." The saints are not talking of the ordinary lame and blind; they are talking about you. As long as you are filled with arrogance your ears remain deaf, your eyes remain blind and your heart will be stone; it will be insensitive and register nothing. Till you are almost as good as dead, the flame of your light will be flickering unsteadily, as if the oil is running out. Your flame will lack the luster. There will be no urgency or intensity or depth of sensitivity in your life to awaken your heart, so that it does not beat with a dull thud as if half dead.

Your life should be like a river in spate; not only are you full yourself but you wish to give to others since you have so much. Within you should be a magnificence, a fragrance. The more of it you spread, the more it grows, and you possess life's infinite source.

This happens with grace. It is paradoxical, which is why the words of the saints appear mysterious. They are simple, artless, but nonetheless mystifying, for they seem to be saying the reverse of things: Die so that you can live; lose yourself in order to be worthy of attaining; or, be no more and the elixir of existence is yours. You keep saving yourself, therefore you are nothing. The more you hold onto yourself, the more miserable and wretched and meaningless you will be. The more you save yourself, the more shall you wonder. These are paradoxical statements that are not immediately understood, for they are contrary to our logic. It says, "If you want to be, save yourself." The saints say, "If you want to be, lose yourself. Did the saviour save even Himself?" Our logic says, "What if we die?" So we cling all the harder to life. But the saint says, "He who clutches harder to life, his death stands at the door long before his time!" Those who accepted death, welcomed it and went to encounter it found the nectar.

They found that death was only a mask behind which the nectar was hidden. You run because of fear and deny yourself the nectar. When you embrace death you find the nectar. The characteristic of that aspect of life which is compassion and grace is power.

The fourth book of Carlos Castaneda is called Tales of Power. It deals precisely with Nanak's fourth realm. As soon as the rays of His compassion descend on you, you attain infinite power. You become capable of untold power; you touch mud and it becomes gold. Before, it was different: you touched gold and it turned into mud, because then you were. Now wherever you look you see heaven. Before this wherever you turned was hell; wherever your feet fell, the place became inauspicious; whatever you did turned poisonous, even your love turned to hate, your friends turned foes. All this happened because you yourself were wrong. You were going against God so the results were contrary. Because of your own self, the results were unfavorable.

Now you are no more and everything is possible. Now your very shadow holds magic. Wherever your eyes look the gates of heaven will open. Wherever you go, whatever you do, the very air in that place will change. The people who gather around you will be affected by your glory; it will permeate them. Therefore, Nanak insists on the company of the saints. He says to seek out saints and holy men, for they are the same ones who have attained the source of power. Their company is elevating, glorious. Sitting next to them.... Energy or power is active and infectious. Remember, well-being and health are equally infectious. Not only does evil enter you through others, but also goodness enters you and flows to others. You feel a freshness in the company of a fresh person. Sit a little with stale, sad, half-dead people, and their drawn faces will so affect you that you depart a different person -- sad, ready to cry like them. Sit with laughing, gay people and even if you have been sad, their joy will begin to infect you. Man is not different from or separated from man. From within we are all connected and flow into each other.

Nanak stresses a great deal the company of holy men and saints. He says, "How will your efforts help? Instead, stay next to those who have attained His support, and through them His hands will touch you too! Through them the fragrant air will reach your heart. "When a person passes through a garden the fragrance of flowers catches onto his clothes. When a person passes a Buddha, knowingly or unwittingly, the fragrance of his buddhahood permeates his clothes. He no longer can remain where he was; somehow he is a changed person.

The company of saints is invaluable. To establish contact with God is difficult for the simple reason that you have no idea whatsoever of Him. The saint is His symbol; you can discover his name and address and find him easily, but where will you seek God? Saint means someone in whom God has crystallized -- where his rays are so intense, and the heat so terrible! A saint intensifies God within him in much the same way as we concentrate the rays of the sun through a lens.

God is in you too but he is more sparse, less concentrated; His rays do not set fire to you. There is only a lukewarmness that somehow gives you life. The saint is full of fire. He is fire! You are bound to feel the heat when you sit next to him. Something within you will also begin to burn and be destroyed.

The day you attain His grace you begin to gain strength. But remember, that strength is not yours. If you become arrogant with it you will lose it, and in all likelihood tumble right to the bottom. For the subtle ego follows you till the end. It is the last thing to fall. It follows you like a shadow; you hear neither its footsteps nor its voice, and because it walks behind you, you cannot see it. Just as the body has its shadow, the mind's shadow is the ego. That is why there are stories that the person who attains God loses his shadow. By this don't assume that the physical shadow is lost, for this shadow is bound to last as long as the body endures. It is the internal shadow of the mind, the ego, that is lost. Then, he performs all actions required of him in life, but no shadow forms within; his mind has become transparent. It no longer exists.

Remember, don't be under the impression that you will become strong and powerful. His grace and compassion will rain on you -- when you are not. That is all the power you will be capable of. You will become a medium, which is an important word.

The flute produces notes which do not belong to it, but to the player. The flute is merely a medium. What is special about the flute, its excellence, lies in the fact that it is hollow. The hollowness allows for the notes to flow. The day that God's grace begins to pour on you, you become like the flute.

Kabir said: I am only a bamboo tube. The songs are all His. It is He who sings. I am only the medium, an instrument. And the instrument is such that I am absolutely hollow, like a bamboo. There is nothing within me.

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