Finding the Heart of the Light: Asking the Right Questions: By Harsh K. Luthar, Ph.D.
Human life is a precious gift that is best utilized for the search of the sublime, the good, the beautiful, and the eternal reality which is joy itself. Such words may appear trite to some, true to some, and irrelevant to still others. Certainly, in the middle of the ups and downs of daily living it is easy to become cynical and bitter about the world around us. We have all endured loss in one form or another and there is no one who has not experienced some shock or tragedy at some point in his or her life. If you listen to the T.V. news even a few times a week, it seems like the whole world is caught in a whirlpool of suffering. There are endless disputes and wars going on. Human beings are fighting, torturing, or killing each other in the name of religion, God, race, territory, politics, or just because of their inflated egos which have driven them crazy.
There is no peace in peoples’ hearts and, therefore, there is no peace outside in the world. Upon seeing so much needless pain around us, one cannot help but empathize. It becomes difficult sometimes to maintain a composure of equanimity in the face of such sorrow on this earth. But we have to understand that when rage, anger, and greed dominate the human personality, they manifest in the outer world in the form of destructive actions. Such actions lead in turn to reaction and the cycle of violence continues creating havoc in lives of people and nations. None of us can stand aloof and not be touched by what is going on in our environment. We may at times even find ourselves getting caught up in the heat of the moment. However, introspective people avoid the herd mentality and try to understand the nature of the emotional roller coaster of anger and hate that the world often invites us to ride.
Many people want to help those who are suffering in this world and that is a good thing. But first we must help ourselves and free ourselves from greed and anger. Too much greed can keep us busy chasing after things we do not need. Such pursuits can take precious time away that should be spent with one’s own self or our loved ones. Anger and rage result when we do not get what we chased after. These emotions confuse the mind and lead to actions that destroy friendships, marriages, and relationships. If we cultivate compassion and non-violence in our everyday life, then in a small way we make a difference and contribute to peace in this world. Practice of non-violence and goodwill towards others also enables us to relax and be free of pettiness. There are no magical solutions to our everyday problems. However, changing the focus in our lives, from aggression and cleverness to understanding and simplicity, helps us put things in their proper perspective. It frees up our energy to develop our inner but often hidden talents.
Many ancient philosophies hold that man’s (woman’s) real nature is divine, completely pure and full of joy. However, this joy gets covered up with the mental conditioning one is subjected to from birth. This joy can be uncovered and experienced by everyone. There are moments in life when one is silent and serene and experiences a deep harmony. It may happen when you are sitting on a chair looking out of the window at the vastness of the blue sky. Or perhaps you felt it in the companionship of some special person in your life. Small children often feel this deep and abiding satisfaction when they are held close by their mothers. Others have this experience in deep prayer or meditation.
In order to understand our basic and original nature, we must always continue to ask the most obvious questions that philosophers have been asking for ages about the meaning of life. What is it all about? Is this whole life just a mating dance? What is the purpose and meaning of our existence? The fact that these questions have already been asked before by others does not make such questions irrelevant for us now. But we must give this inquiry a new life by infusing it with our own dynamic energy and thoughts.
We must not be discouraged when others tell us that there are no real answers, and reflecting on the meaning and nature of life is a waste of time. Indeed, going through life without addressing such fundamental issues is likely to eventually lead to a psychological and a spiritual crisis. On the other hand, asking these questions and contemplating on them ensures our spiritual vitality. Meditations on these feelings allow us to recognize the impermanence of material things, and we become unwilling to cause needless anguish to others in order to temporarily gain something.
Wise people always keep in mind that whatever can be gained at some point in time can and, in fact, will be lost at another point in time. This is true regardless of whether that thing is money, power, status, prestige, honor, glory, love, etc. Even the physical body itself decays and is lost in the end. When we act in such a way as to minimize pain to other beings, then our life will be less tense and stressful. When one is calm with the feeling of reverence for all life, the natural and original state of being which is devoid of all suffering, being joy itself, reveals itself spontaneously.
For thousands of years the wise and enlightened ones have said that the highest knowledge is self-knowledge. Probably, the most fundamental question that can be asked by an individual is, “Who am I and what are the determining factors of my nature?”. If we want to answer the question at a physical level, we can say that our body is a product of genetic and environmental components. However, what defines our body may not define us! After all, the body sooner or later, gets old and finally becomes lifeless. Does the “I” or our inner essence or mind or soul or spirit (or whatever you want to label it) also then evaporate and dissolve into some empty space? We have the capacity to ask “Who am I?” Now think for a minute. Who is this “I”, and what must be its nature, that gives it the capacity to look at “Itself” and ask “Who am I”? Meditating on the abstract nature of the “I” and being aware of it continuously allows us to gradually untie the mental knots that obscure our vision of the purity and joy that reside within. This is the simple and the greatest secret on the path of enlightenment. Indeed it is an open secret made crystal clear upon reflection and contemplation. The advice of the ancient sages still holds today. Look within and realize the great miracle that you really and truly are.
The image is taken by Sumida in Bankok, Thailand, 2002.