Saturday, April 20, 2019

Spiritual Wisdom is Anything But

Came across the following quote:
If you are willing to look at another person's behavior toward you as a reflection of the state of their relationship with themselves rather than a statement about your value as a person, then you will, over a period of time cease to react at all (Yogi Bhajan)
You can of course look up Yogi Bhajan and the controversies about him, but let us just focus on the quote.

There is so much wrong in this quote that it is hard to know where to begin, but I'll try.  What is wrong with the quote is all quite basic, but it is bewildering that such truthy quotes still float around.

1. Others' behavior toward you might indeed be about you.  If you are an ill-mannered person, then of course others will avoid you.  If you are lazy at your job, of course your colleagues will criticize you.  If you are an abusive spouse, of course your partner will be resentful of you.  To respond to others' acts and words about you in the manner of "it's not me, it's them" is to believe that you are beyond judgment and there is nothing about you which might be unwholesome.  It is therapeutic and comforting to think this way, but I recommend narcissism to no one.

2. The quote is suggesting that if you are pained by others' opinion or behavior toward you, then they have "issues" and once you understand that, you will not react but will "understand" them and be beatifically compassionate toward their inner suffering.

In other words, it is saying: others need to fix themselves, not you.  That of course might be true in certain cases.  If you are learning to drive and another driver, frustrated at your rookie mistakes on the road, gives you the middle finger or honks at you, of course they are frustrated and it will do you no good to get into a mutual road-raging fight.  You just mutter to yourself "oh well, i'm still learning" and move on.

But in many cases, as partly in the case of the rookie driver, you are to blame as well.  Another's reaction might be an overreaction, but it is oftentimes indeed a reaction to something that you did.  No, not all reactions of others are due to their "issues".  You might have done something to trigger that reaction as well.

This is not to say that you need to make everyone happy.  There will be people who are offended at your telling the truth about, say, their favorite leader.  That does not mean you need to shut yourself up.

3. The phrase "relationship with themselves" is a curious one.  It probably means the soul's relationship to the mind, or it may mean a mind's inner conflict.

Somebody gossiping about you may indeed have "insecurity" or a complex, somebody envious of your happy marriage may have an unhappy one of their own, somebody calling you anorexic because you believe in fitness may have an unhealthy relationship to food, and so on.  Indeed all this can be true.  But it is the height of egotism to believe that everybody else is crazy but you.  What if you too have a bad relationship with yourself?  What if you have unhealthy eating habits and your spouse tells you that you are overweight and need to watch it?  What if your marriage is an unhappy one and a happily married individual tells you that oftentimes you speak with contempt toward your spouse and that is not a good thing?  What if you indeed are trying to date someone with criminal tendencies and your friend tries to warn you about it?

4. If somebody's behavior toward you is because of their inner issues, then logically, so should one consider their behavior toward others.  If we go by Yogi Bhaja's advice, there need not be any reaction.

So, there is no need to stop a cruel dictator, a murderer, a pickpocket, an embezzler, a drunk lout, an ill-behaved adolescent, in fact, anyone whose behavior is not appropriate.  But if you would intervene when somebody is being inappropriate to others, why not also respond if they are being inappropriate toward you?

Now of course, the spiritualist will, ahem, respond, and say that you should not react but respond.  As in, not immediately, impulsively respond but respond "mindfully" or after due reflection, or after ensuring that you are free from any impulse of anger or irritation.

In my opinion, if I am stopping a violent thug from beating somebody up on the street, my primary consideration would be to stop him, and a much, much more feeble consideration would be to navel-gaze and determine if my own state of mind is completely wholesome.  Unwholesome emotions are rough and ready responses to unwholesome situations, and they serve us well in cases of danger.  Often, unwholesome emotions lead us to react less than optimally to a situation, but sometimes there is no time.  Most of the time, we react appropriately, with a mix of emotions and cogitation.

If you are short-tempered, easily annoyed, paranoid, or otherwise suffer from an exaggerated impulse or emotionally fragile nature, by all means moderate those impulses.  But to not react at all is to be an inhuman robot which only evaluates a situation and after a proper computation, decides the best course of action and executes it.

5. To react (or to respond) to change circumstances, which circumstances can obviously include other individuals, is the very stuff of life.  Only a stone is unperturbed.  To be perturbed is to be alive.  To see injustice and be moved by it, to have moist eyes after having witnessed a heroic gesture, to feel a sense of outrage at a mob heckling a philosopher during his speech, are all entirely wholesome "reactions".  To seek to rid oneself of reactions is likely a spiritual quest to reach a state of "stillness".

As I have often asked, what will then be your motivation to act?  What will be the desire that will make you get up and do anything, anything at all?  Absolute stillness is a death.  There is a total lack of perturbation in that state.  Spiritualists will tell you that you can experience that state while alive, but then again, something happens to them in that state that makes them not just remain sitting in silence.  They eventually get up and talk, or go out of the room.  Why?  Why don't they just stay there?

The answer is, of course, that a sense of peace and contentment that one feels during spiritual practices is a temporary respite from the stresses of life.  That state is sought by those in whom the stresses of life have become overwhelming.  They will be helped by a calming practice, but the aim of life is not to be calm, it is to live and achieve whatever is important to you.  To seek to only be calm as one's goal is to misunderstand life massively.

And even the nirvana-dwelling gurus do things which are of course driven by circumstances and their desires.  They build ashrams, build followings, teach others, advertise about their workshops on social media, etc.  For a normal enough individual, meditation or a calming practice offers a way to recuperate from those stresses.  At least for that hour of meditation, those stresses seem non-existent.  But those stresses still exist, and have to be handled with intelligence.  If you are responsible for a surgical operation on your next patient, by all means do so in a calm and collected manner, but that calm is a means, not an end.  The end is the success of the surgical operation.

For spiritualists, the calm is the end, and all experiencing of life is the means.

But it is actually quite simple to be eternally calm. If you ever wish for that, the national suicide hotline number, at least in USA, is 1-800-273-8255.


zrini (srini, ஸ்ரீநி, வாசு, சீனு, சீனி etc.) said...

In defense of the statement and spiritualism in general. Your criticisms are very nice, but I believe that (I maybe wrong) - it is not sympathetic towards the subtle, though you do already comprehend what is about to follow, I think you are just not giving enough weightage (which is available in the words - if, then). Can go in detail to the enumerated points - but here is a first cut.

The statement says "if you are willing to do X" you will reach "Y".
X ->
normally a statement such as "You are bad" or the equivalents, is viewed
as a reflection of the recipient's attributes. And this results in endless defense.
and fights.

The alternative is to understand that internal-belief-system that has resulted in the statement; "You are bad" not because of an objective assessment by the speaker, though your own actions have triggered the statement (sometimes it can be so removed too!) - but because of the value systems. We are not talking about - "Your shirt is blue" kind here.

Now, Y --> you will cease reacting. It is a great thing not to react. Doesn't mean that the other person has to fix themselves. Rather the contrary. They can't and you don't break your head over it.
The entire picture of you, your attribute, their belief, their evaluation, their unchangeable nature/stance, everything becomes visible. Whatever value their criticism has, it is absorbed subliminally, and if you have energy/time/resources/urgency, you can change yourself.

Anonymous said...

There is nothing much written about spiritual wisdom. No doubt your crticisms are good but the essence of what is spiritual wisdom is actually missing.