Not many people actually want ‘liberation’, my spiritual teacher said today. “Ask yourself, do you really want nirvana (liberation from the cycles of life and death)? Do you really want detachment from your hundred material pursuits and relationships? Doesn’t liberation sound boring?”
His words struck a chord and I sat up in my seat. “But what is wrong with that? What is wrong with not wanting liberation?”
“Nothing is wrong,” he said. “In fact, my guru once said that people don’t really want God; they just want God’s help in making their worldly existences easier.”
“But again, what is wrong with that? Aren’t our worldly desires and relationships natural and biological?” I pursued. “How can I help being attached to my kids, for instance?”
“True. As Sri Aurobindo said, out of a thousand people, only one person makes an attempt at achieving God. Out of a thousand people who make the attempt, only one actually reaches his or her goal. The question is, are you making an attempt at spiritual liberation?”
“I guess I am not,” I admitted after some thought. “I am happy and content in my worldly existence. But isn’t this a desirable state to be? Aren’t we told to be happy with what we have?”
“Ah ha, today Aekta is finally paying attention in class,” my teacher laughed. “There are four pre-requisites to liberation. (1) You have to have a certain spiritual discontent. So, no, you will achieve no substantial spiritual growth if you stay happy and content in your material existence. (2) You have to believe in a higher power. (3) You have to believe that you are capable of achieving liberation. (4) You have to believe the goal of liberation is worthwhile pursuing.”
I chewed my lips thoughtfully, weighing which of the points I could check off my list. A fellow student teased, “Let her enjoy her material pursuits for now. Isn’t all this ‘giving up’ and ‘detachment’ too much to ask for, Aekta?”
“Well, at least I have learnt where I stand,” I admitted, humbly. “I have learnt that I identify with St Augustine when he said, ‘Dear God, make me good, but not just yet’.”
(He actually said, “Lord, make me chaste, but not just yet.”)
“Well, there are three types of ignorance,” smiled my teacher sagely. “One is simple ignorance. The other is being ignorant about being ignorant. The third is being conscious about being ignorant. At least you’ve reached the third step.”
As the class ended and students filed out, my teacher walked with me to the parking lot. “You don’t have to eat the whole handi (serving bowl) of rice to know what it tastes like. You can taste a bite of it, satisfy yourself, and then move on. A lot of enlightened souls began their journey quite young. The next step is to aspire to aspiration.”
The symbolic meaning of his words stayed with me all evening. Ramakrishna said, “Do not seek illumination unless you seek it as a man whose hair is on fire seeks a pond.” I have come to the startling realisation that my hair is not on fire.
But I can aspire to aspiration.
Will you ignite me, Krishna?