Echoes of Macbeth
The plays of Shakespeare are known across the world for some profound insights into human life. In the passage from Macbeth quoted below, Macbeth has just received news of his wife’s suicide, the last straw in a string of disasters which have followed the couple’s traitorous murder of King Duncan. In a bid for the crown, they had murdered him as he slept as a guest in their castle and, from that night on, they experienced agonies of conscience. Now, at Lady Macbeth’s death, Macbeth cannot wait to end the hollow despair that has overtaken his life.
Out, out, brief candle!
Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player,
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage,
And then is heard no more; it is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Macbeth, Act 5, Scene 5
In the following extract, Maharaj Sawan Singh takes up Shakespeare’s words:
Our attachment to this earth, which is not our true abode, is extraordinary. When the infant arrives in this world, his attention is turned inward. But soon he opens his eyes, beholds the material world and forthwith falls a prey to its lure, gradually forgetting all about his divine home. The child harkens with his ears and starts listening to the conversation of those around him. His contact with the earth becomes closer. When he learns to talk, he is firmly bound to father and mother, sister and brother and the like. And in the end, after passing through all the seven stages of life, after fretting and strutting its hour upon the stage, the soul of man finds itself burdened with its earthly freight that has been collected during its lifetime.
Discourses on Sant Mat
The Great Master wonders at our “extraordinary” attachment to the physical world. He tells us how, as newborn infants, we are soon lured outward into the “strut and fret” of life and quickly forget our divine home. Yet, however much we distract ourselves with worldly pleasures-our family, our friends, our possessions – we eventually come to realize that the routines of life are empty and futile.
Some modern philosophers have come to the same conclusion as Macbeth, seeing life as an empty, pointless charade. If our viewpoint remains one-dimensional and focused entirely on this physical world, then this conclusion is almost inevitable.
True mystics tell us, however, that this creation was never meant to be a paradise. It is a stage on which we act out our karmas, lifetime after lifetime. Once we have awoken to our real condition, our purpose in life should be to loosen the bonds of attachment as quickly as we can. If we do this, we will be able to experience a higher level of consciousness and realize our true self as the soul, a spark of the Lord himself. However, as the Great Master explains in Spiritual Discourses, such realization can only take place if we come into contact with a perfect saint who awakens us from the daydream we mistakenly perceive to be reality:
After being asleep for countless lifetimes, it is when we come into the presence of a saint that we wake up and understand. We understand the true nature of the relationship between the individual and the supreme being, the nature of the obstacle between them and how to get rid of that obstacle.
By showing us how we can overcome the obstacle that stands between us and the Lord, the saints help us achieve our true purpose in life. If we acted upon their instructions, we would see for ourselves the difference between life in the material world (which is an illusion) and ultimate truth and reality:
Compared with life in the worlds above the eye focus, the life below the eye focus (our present condition) is no better than a dream. If people would go inside the focus, and enter the upper worlds, they would become eternally happy. Empty talk would cease. They would contemplate the Grand Reality.
Maharaj Sawan Singh, Spiritual Gems
When we understand the true purpose of life and stop chasing the illusion, we begin to see the inner light radiating from everywhere and even the physical world becomes beautiful. In Philosophy of the Masters, Vol. II, the Great Master described this change when he says, “A palace will appear as dreadful as a graveyard to a person bereft of love. But even the ill-furnished and dilapidated huts are beautiful if they are brightened with the spark of love.”
The transformation from disillusion and even horror, in which life is viewed as no more than “a tale told by an idiot”, to faith and wonder comes about according to the focus of our attention. Maharaj Charan Singh used to tell the story of a child who goes to the fair with his father. As long as he holds his father’s hand (i.e. when the soul remains in touch with God) the boy finds the fair full of interest and joy, but as soon as he loses his father in the crowd, the fair becomes a nightmare to him. What should he do in such a situation? The immediate solution is for the boy to call out to his father with all his might.
Macbeth may move inexorably towards its tragic climax, but for us, when faced with our personal demons, there is the happier option of invoking the power of love to come to our aid. It is this, our own effort and God’s grace, which will close the door on tragedy and ensure that we move forward into a world of light.
We must remember that this superficial ‘I’ is not our real self. It is our ‘individuality’ and our ‘empirical self’ but it is not truly the hidden and mysterious person in whom we subsist before the eyes of God. The ‘I’ that works in the world, thinks about itself, observes its own reactions and talks about itself is not the true ‘I’ that has been united to God in Christ. It is at best the vesture, the mask, the disguise of that mysterious and unknown ‘self’ whom most of us never discover until we are dead. Our external, superficial self is not eternal, not spiritual. Far from it.… Contemplation is precisely the awareness that this ‘I’ is really ‘not I’ and the awakening of the unknown ‘I’ that is beyond observation and reflection and is incapable of commenting upon itself. It cannot even say “I” with the assurance and impertinence of the other one, for its very nature is to be hidden, unnamed, unidentified … the true ‘I’ remains both inarticulate and invisible because it has altogether too much to say – not one word of which is about itself.
Thomas Merton, New Seeds of Contemplation