Sunday, July 14, 2013

The flame of discontent

In my own life, I can club together all the different 'guilts' I have experienced into two categories. One has its roots in conditioning such as 'a good daughter listens to her mother’ or ‘a good son fulfils his parent’s expectations of him’ or ‘a good wife puts her own needs behind her husband’s’ or 'a good student follows what the teacher says’. A daughter could be easily made to feel guilty for disagreeing with her mother. This type of guilt makes me shrink with fear.

The other kind of guilt is born when we realize that something that we have done / taken part in has harmed another; has obstructed the natural flow of life. It pricks our conscience. The nature of this guilt is very different. The fact that one feels this kind of guilt shows that his conscience is awake. A thing to celebrate. This is what the Mother calls ‘moral disturbance’. She says it must be cultivated in a child from when she is very young. J. Krishnamurthy calls it ‘the flame of discontent’ that must be ‘kept stoked’.

Resignation and complacence
Consider this rather common scenario. A young IT professional who is fatigued by his job feels guilty about not having found his true calling / purpose, and instead, contributing to mass consumerism.

This man feels a certain moral disturbance because he feels connected to 'the misalignment within'. But more often than not, young men like him run away from it in the name of 'acceptance'. Some turn to misplaced religion, pop-yoga and charity for ‘stress relief’ and ‘finding peace’. They do that through selective and reduced techniques using the body and the mind. Yoga has now become reduced to a lucrative industry! (Read my friend and yoga teacher Partha’s essay ‘Yoga for the Stressed’.) They make up a convenient story about their situations and shut out their discontent. This is a form of resignation out of a lack of courage.

Like JK says "Instead of allowing discontent to become a consuming flame, most of us almost destroy it. We are so easily satisfied, so gullible, so ready to accept, that gradually our discontent withers away and we become the normal mediocre human being, without any vitality, without any energy, without any urge to do anything." Read more…

Tapas: True acceptance and action
Please do not confuse ‘stoking the flame of discontent’ with ‘living in conflict’. True  spirituality, especially in our present times, means cultivating our moral disturbance / stoking the flame of discontent and making peace with our understanding / action / inaction every moment. When we do this, we become neither judgmental nor self-righteous of our past actions or inactions. Instead, we deepen our knowledge and compassion.

I think it is fine, and even desirable, for us to say, 'I see how I am contributing to pain and suffering. I take complete responsibility. But in this moment, this is the best I can be and do!' and be content with it. Resolution helps us calm down and act out of a space of wholeness: full of love and compassion for oneself (and hence, for everyone).

But it is important to make that resolution and contentment about this moment alone. In the next moment, we need to make ourselves accountable all over again, and make peace with our action / inaction / disturbance in that moment. This requires living in the moment all the time, with a chest full of 'stuff' in front of us that needs to be examined and re-examined over and over again.

It requires us to be able to draw a line around us about what we can do, and yet leave it hanging for it to be able to shift from one moment to the next. For when we peg that line we draw in the name of 'being ok with who we are and what is', when we peg it strongly to the ground, we've lost it there. We’ve made up a convenient story in our heads. We have become too comfortable and complacent for right action. Making this story up is a form of escapism, of resignation, which will slowly but surely wear our spirits out.

Through authentic spiritual practice of staying with our pain and discontent and observing it without either condemning it or justifying it, we deepen our peace and allow ourselves to be consumed by the flame at the same time. It is intense, but it is possible. This is what yogic philosophy calls 'tapas' (which means 'heat' in sanskrit). I doubt if there can be any spiritual progress without tapasTapas could be seen as a dance between resolution and disturbance; between contentment and discontent. It is living with the tension and staying right in its vortex, where it is deeply peaceful. 

True peace can be found by delving deeply and relentlessly into the enquiry about our discontent; into the nature of suffering in this world. This enquiry involves the study of the structure of human thought, and of oppressive systems that the collective unconscious has created; systems that are perpetrating violence of various forms. Finding peace as we stoke the flame requires of us radical acceptance; disengagement from our identities that we cling to; surrender to the divine; alignment with the now; tremendous faith and courage. 

Everyday I wake up to my life in this upper-middle class neighbourhood steeped in violence that is deep, but invisible to the common man's eyes. At most times, I am either 'defending myself feeling victimised’ or 'rejecting myself feeling guilty'. But those rare times when I am able to be consumed by the flame of discontent and find pure joy and perfection in my being at the very same time, I feel truly spiritual.

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