Respond - Don’t React
In one of his satsangs, the Master explained that our life has become one big reaction. When we react, we lose our freedom; we lose our power to discern. The limited freedom or free will that we have is the choice we can make about how to respond to what happens to us. Our present destiny comprises of a long chain of reactions. We are always reacting to everything – people, circumstances, desires and thoughts. Sometimes our reactions leave us in an emotional mess which takes days, years, or even lifetimes to clean up
In The Book of Mirdad, the master of a monastery, Mirdad, gives some potent advice to his disciples in the art of responding to people rather than reacting. He says:
The world, not knowing you, cannot contain you. Therefore shall it receive you with a snarl. But you, knowing the world, can contain it. Therefore must you allay its wrath with kindliness, and drown its calumny in loving understanding. And understanding shall carry the day.
Mirdad is explaining to his disciples that in this world you are going to face bitterness, but you must not react in the same manner. Walking a spiritual path requires us to get into the habit of reflecting on our actions in the light of spiritual understanding. We have often heard in satsang that there is a difference between knowledge and understanding. Knowledge is just information, but the application of that knowledge can lead us to real understanding.
We should not let the ignorance of others ruffle our understanding. Maharaj Charan Singh often used to say: “If there is one fool under a roof, why have two? One is enough.” When we react with the intention to get back at someone, we are ignoring the fact that an eye for an eye would make the whole world blind. It is our ego that makes us react. If someone criticizes us, we often take it to heart and retaliate with unkind and harsh words, which we regret later. Speech can be our biggest downfall.
Maharaj Charan Singh tells us how we can best handle criticism and anger:
At times, silence is golden. Most of our problems in this creation come from our tongue. If we can control it, I think we have solved 80 percent or 90 percent of our problems – if we know how to control our tongue or how to use it. Controlling our speech is very good, and then to use it rightly is even better. If we can’t use it rightly, at least we should try to control it.
Critics are the best guides in our lives, for our improvement. Without our critics, we would never be conscious of our shortcomings, our weaknesses.
Spiritual Perspectives, Vol. III
We should try not to develop ill-feelings towards those who offend us. The habit of nurturing grievances is highly injurious to one’s own self. We grow in humility when we learn to put up with insult and injury.
We see events only in the present, isolated from the past and the future. That is why we see discord where God sees harmony. Expecting circumstances to go our way is unrealistic.
Hazur Maharaj Ji clearly explains to us why we need to accept life as it comes rather than expect it to go how we think it should:
It is only our attitude which keeps us tense and our attitude which makes us relax. We must accept the events of life. You cannot change the course of the events of life, but you can always adjust to them. Adjusting to the events of life will always make you happy and relaxed. If you swim against the waves, you will drown. If you swim along with the waves, you will get to the shore easily.
Destiny is interconnected with that of others. It’s not that one man’s destiny is an individual item; he is connected to so many people in this creation. Changing one man’s destiny means changing the destiny of the whole chain, which is. impossible.
Spiritual Perspectives, Vol. III
Spiritual masters and saints always advise us to accept our preordained fate – which is a combination of good and bad karmas. To remain in the will of the Lord means to face both our good and bad karmas with equanimity; neither being too elated during happy times nor drowning in self-pity during sad times. And while facing both polarities of our destiny, we should always keep our real objective in mind.
Being a witness
It has been said: “Sow a thought, reap an action; sow an action, reap a habit; sow a habit, reap a character; sow a character, reap a destiny.” It is amazing how a simple thought can turn into our destiny. We attract what we think. A T-shirt seen at a junk sale read, “Don’t believe everything you think.” We should not give too much weight to our thoughts, especially the ones that are negative. Sometimes seemingly innocent thoughts turn into forest fires. A simple craving turns into a ravenous hunger and we become restless till we satisfy that hunger. We impulsively act on our thoughts. When we act on our thoughts, we create karma. What is the cause of the karma? Just a passing thought. All judgments, analyses, expectations, worrying and obsessions are also reactions to our own thoughts.
Sakhsi is a Hindi word that means witness. Witnessing our thoughts is a technique in Buddhist meditation that involves being a neutral observer of the mind. As the mind runs after our relentless thoughts – from mundane activity to deep-seated unconscious attachments – the witness just observes this habitual pattern of the mind without participating or even identifying with it. Like a pedestrian who pauses at a railroad crossing to watch a train roll by, the witness watches the mind from a distance, as a detached observer.
Let’s bring this practice into our daily meditation, where the object of our focus is simran. As we start the simran, we can just step back, disengage our self from our mind and become a silent observer. In reality, this is actually who we are; our soul is the inner witness. As our awareness of who we are grows, our willpower grows stronger too, enabling us to remain steady even while outer events keep changing in our lives.
Finally the only answer
Ultimately meditation teaches us to respond rather than react to our lives; to adopt a more positive approach; to replace anger with compassion, greed with contentment, expectation with acceptance, restlessness with stillness, impulsiveness with mindfulness.
We are in the realm of mind and maya. This realm is based on the cycle of cause and effect, action and reaction and cannot be escaped. However, we can certainly rise above it. That is the whole purpose of our meditation. It will bring us to that level of purity and understanding where we can perform better on this stage called life.
In this light of spiritual understanding, we should consider the following lines by Hazur Maharaj Charan Singh as our benchmark before we think or act on anything that comes our way:
So do your best, thinking of every action as sowing a seed. Because at this stage you do not know – you cannot say whether you are sowing a seed or whether you have sown the seed in the past and are reaping the harvest now. So do your best.
Spiritual Perspectives, Vol. III