Our daily life seems typically to be a routine of waking up, freshening up, going about our daily work and then retiring at the end of the day. But if we analyse deeper, we will see that we are essentially dealing with people, material things or situations and events. Hence, life can be defined as perceptions from these three sources and our responses to them. Our responses tend to be different at different points of time. Moreover, different people respond differently to the same situation.
Most of the time, we realise that there is a gap between our knowledge and our response. We know what we should or should not do, but are not able to act on this knowledge. This is because we have not assimilated it. Let us take an example: imagine that you are given a glass of milk and just as you are about to drink it, someone tells you that it is poisoned. Naturally, you will immediately refrain from drinking the milk. In this case, your knowledge has been assimilated and there is an immediate application of it.
However, this is not the case in all other aspects. For instance, when we understand from the Scriptures or the Guru that happiness is not in objects, we appreciate it, but are not completely convinced. Therefore, there is no application of it in our daily life.
Swami Ram Tirtha used to narrate the story of a mad man who announced to all the children in the neighbourhood that a landlord was distributing sweets as part of celebrations in his house. The children rushed to the landlord’s house, only to discover that nothing was happening there. Surprised to find the mad man also waiting in front of the house, they asked him whether he knew that there was no celebration. When the man replied in the affirmative, the perplexed children couldn’t help asking him, “Then, why are you waiting here?”
“Oh! I do not want to miss the celebration – just in case there happens to be one!” replied the mad man.
Unfortunately, we behave exactly like the mad man. We possess a lot of information and knowledge, but it is not assimilated.
One very important watchword in the Bhagavad Gita is “samata” or equanimity. Equanimity has different connotations with respect to objects, people and experiences.
With respect to objects
Material objects such as a house, car, jewellery, and soon have a place and value in the scheme of things in our life. They should not be given undue value. There is the story of an extremely rich man who had a poor sister. He was rude and unkind to her and would never invite her to any functions or celebrations at his house. After some time the sister becomes very wealthy. Now, the brother invited her to a party. She arrived at his house, decked up in a lot of jewels. When the food was served, she took off her jewellery and started feeding it. The annoyed and irritated brother asked for an explanation; she pointed out that since she had been invited to the party because of her jewels, she was feeding them!
With respect to experiences
All experiences are referred to as the pairs of opposites – heat and cold at the body level; joy and sorrow at the mental level; and honour and dishonour at intellectual level. These experiences affect everyone. Equanimity in and through all these experiences would mean freedom from our personal likes and dislikes. If we accept one experience, we should learn to accept the opposite also. Or we should reject both. We can look at this in different ways: a devotee says it is God’s will; another says it is the result of his karma; yet another says that these are only appearances and not the Truth. We can choose the option we prefer; otherwise, we will keep on swinging from one extreme to another.
With respect to people
People fall under many categories – well-wisher, friend, enemy, neutral, mediator, someone we dislike for no reason, relation, and so on. Adi Shankaracharya has advised us to accept people as they are. Just as we accept fruits and flowers as they are; we accept animals as they are; we accept fire as hot, we should accept people and adjust ourselves accordingly. There is no point in constantly complaining.
Socrates had a very nagging wife. One day, she continuously badgered and berated him in front of some people. Since he refused to get provoked, she became so angry that she poured a bucket of water over him. Surprised to see no reaction, his friends asked him, “How can you accept this type of behaviour?”
“There is usually a shower after a thunderstorm,” he responded calmly.
Therefore, it is important to develop “samata” with respect to all the three – objects, experiences and people. Once, we reflect deeply on this, we will be able to apply it in our lives and be free from suffering.
Article Published on Speaking Tree on April, 26 2014