Lemon or Milk?
Think of your cup of tea. You would either have put in some milk, or perhaps a slice of lemon in black tea. Never both. We know this so well, but there was once a man for whom tea meant Lipton’s, a pitcher and some ice cubes. So when he was invited to the Minister’s house for tea, he was pretty clueless. The hostess asked him, “Lemon or milk?” He did not quite know what to say, but he did not want to be rude, and he did not want to miss out either. So he said, “Both.” “You don’t mix lemon and milk in the same cup,” said the hostess softly, “unless you want a cup of curdle.”
Does that resonate with us at all? The sheer amount of immense grace showered upon us mixed with our ingratitude? They make a sour concoction. In the Lord’s cup, we need to pour in our sense of gratitude. With every breath, with every heartbeat, we should thank him, because everything in our lives is a reflection of his grace. And not only should we be grateful when it pleases us, but under all circumstances. Meister Eckhart inspires us: “If the only prayer you say in your life is ‘thank you,’ that would be sufficient.”
Gratitude means thankfulness, counting our blessings and acknowledging everything that we receive. It means learning to live our lives as if everything were a miracle, and being aware on a continuous basis of how much we have been given. Gratitude shifts our focus from what is lacking to the abundance that is already present. When we open up to being grateful, we clearly see how much good there is in our lives. Gratitude affirms.
Of course there will be things we are still lacking, but most of us tend to focus so heavily on the deficiencies in our lives that we barely perceive the good that counterbalances them. There is no limit to what we do not have, and if that is where we focus, then our lives are inevitably filled with endless dissatisfaction. This is the ethos that lies behind the great Talmudic proverb which asks, “Who is rich?” and then answers, “Those who rejoice in their own lot.”
Lala Munshi Ram also had a very beautiful prayer. He said: “O Lord, don’t give me delicious food, but give me hunger. Don’t give me cars, but give me strength in my legs. Don’t give me a comfortable bed, but give me sleep.”
We all have this capability within us. We are like an ocean wave that believes it is fragile and ugly and that the other waves are more beautiful or powerful. But when this wave gets in touch with its true nature – water – it sees that water goes beyond all concepts of beautiful, ugly, high, low, here and there. Whether the wave is large or small, whether it is half a wave or a third of a wave, it is still made out of water. Water is beyond all these qualifications. A wave is really only water, and as far as water is concerned, all waves are equal.
The seemingly most unacceptable and painful situation hides a deeper good, and within every disaster is contained the seed of grace. Throughout history, there have been people who, in the face of great loss, illness or imprisonment, accepted the seemingly unacceptable and thus found “the peace that passeth all understanding”. Acceptance of the unacceptable is the greatest form of grace.
Gratitude comes when we no longer ask, “Why is this happening to me?” Instead, we practise the beauty of ‘sweet is thy will’ – tera bhana meetha lage.
Gratitude becomes so much easier when we realize the fleeting nature of all our experiences, and how the world cannot give us anything of value. We then no longer demand that a situation, person, place, or event should satisfy us or make us happy. And the beauty is that when we are no longer placing an impossible demand on them, every situation, person, place or event becomes much more peaceful and satisfying. When we cultivate the quality of gratitude within ourselves, we no longer seek it through other people. Rather, we bring our own sense of calm to everyone we encounter. We no longer view circumstances in terms of whether they warrant our gratitude. Instead, we bring our equanimity to the chaos we encounter and our presence soothes the outer turmoil.
What is the ultimate form of gratitude? Meditation. Our meditation is nothing but our small way of saying “thank you” for all that the Lord gives us. The problem is we often do everything but the one thing he wants. We go to satsang, we do our physical seva, we are strict vegetarians, we follow a moral way of living, but we slack off when it comes to our meditation.
Our Master has given us everything. In return, he asks us for just one thing. If we do not do that, are we not being ungrateful? The one gift we can give him is the gift of our meditation. In a question-and-answer session with Hazur, someone once said to him, “I just want to thank you for your love.” To this, he responded:
To love is nothing but giving thanks. It is all his grace that he gives us his love, he gives us his devotion, and our words are too inadequate to express that feeling, that depth, that gratefulness to the Father. It is impossible.
Spiritual Perspectives, Vol. III
Elsewhere, he answered another questioner: “We owe our existence just to the Father. This very human birth is nothing but his grace. So at every step we must thank him. We must find every excuse to thank him. We need that understanding to thank him for what he has given, but we are always protesting what he has not given. We must believe that what he has not given is not meant for us, is not good for us, is not to our advantage. So we need a thankful heart, a heart full of gratitude, rather than praying for worldly things or to fulfil our worldly desires.”
In fact, when we start meditating, we will realize that we come to it with a decreasing number of demands and without looking for any rewards. We meditate simply because this is what our Master has asked us to do – it is the most direct route to oneness with him. In meditation, we will realize that the acceptance of this gift is what life is meant for: to be whole, to be one with him. And just as our Master tells us, we meditate because it is our life-support system. And that alone is enough.
The spark of longing and receptivity to his love can be ignited by gratitude – gratitude to the Master for giving us initiation, for teaching us to meditate, for teaching us what to do with our mind and how to live our life; gratitude for putting us on the right path, for giving purpose and direction to our life, for teaching us, by his example, to love beyond our self without thought of reward.