MeditationsT. SHER SINGH
Friday, September 14, 2012
The story goes that young Prince Siddharth had been sheltered from the troubles and sorrows of the world by his father, the king, who had ensured that his son would never step out of the palace premises and be exposed to the pain and sorrows of the real world.
Accordingly, the prince was provided a string of palaces to amuse him, one for each season.
As a result, even when he grew up, got married and had a child of his own, he remained in the cocoon of a sheltered life and had experienced nothing of the normal trials and tribulations that life brings.
And then one day, curious about all the goings-on outside the palace walls, Siddharth cajoled one of his charioteers to take him for a tour of the city outside the palace walls. Despite the express orders of the king, the servant was unable to turn the prince’s instructions down … and off they went for a ride through the city’s thoroughfares.
It didn’t take long before they passed a shrunken old man, bent over with age, barely able to move forward, despite his reliance on a walking stick.
Siddharth had never seen a person that old before.
“Why is he having difficulty in walking?” asked the young man of his servant, who replied that it was because of his old age, that he was weak and frail and had little strength left in his body.
“What is old age?” asked Siddharth, even more puzzled than before.
He fell quiet and contemplative as the servant explained to him the ravages of age.
“Who becomes old, then?” asked the young man.
“Everyone,” replied the servant. “Anyone who lives long enough, and doesn’t die earlier.”
“But I don’t have to worry about old age, do I?” asked Siddharth.
“Yes, you too will be live to be old, the good gods willing!”
They fell silent as they continued along their journey.
Before long, they passed a woman lying by the side of the road. Siddharth asked the charioteer to stop and gazed at the woman long and hard.
“Why is she lying there and why does she appear to be in pain?” he asked.
The servant studied the woman from a distance and reported: “She is sick, afflicted by a disease. It consumes her body and she is in agony.”
“What do you mean that she is ‘sick’?” asked Siddharth. “What is sickness?”
The servant explained to him that, from time to time, people fell ill due to one reason or the other - fever, injury, plague, etc. - and suffered pain and discomfort as a result. Sometimes they got better, sometimes they didn’t.
“Will I ever get sick, then?” asked Siddharth.
“My lord, I pray, never, but unfortunately, we are all exposed to illnesses of one kind or the other. It is the human condition. No one is guaranteed freedom from it.”
Siddharth was deep in thought as they moved on.
A few streets later, they heard wailing from the side of the road. Siddharth asked the charioteer to stop and asked what was happening.
“Looks like these people have lost a member of their family who has died. They are crying in grief from the loss,” he explained.
“Died? What is that?” asked Siddharth.
The servant explained what death was, and how difficult it was for those left behind to mourn.
“But I won’t die, will I?” asked the young man, “after all, I’m the prince!”
“I’m sorry, your majesty,” replied the servant, “but we’ll all die one day, rich or poor, learned or ignorant, pious or wicked; it is the way of life. No one escapes death.”
“Even my father, the King of Kapilvastu? The Queen?”
The servant nodded solemnly.
Legend states that, in the ensuing weeks and months, young Siddharth drifted into deep thought and meditation on all that he had learnt about the human condition.
The rest is history.
He came to the conclusion that it was better to renounce all comforts and pleasures, duties and obligations, and dedicate one’s life to contemplation and meditation on the human predicament so as to grapple with the suffering that was the inevitable lot of man.
One night, under cover of darkness, he left the palace and his family, renounced the kingdom he was heir to, and retreated into the wilderness, alone and without any possessions.
Years later, after he attained enlightenment, he came to be known as the Buddha, the founder of Buddhism.
* * * * *
Sikhi too takes on headlong the reality of human suffering, but takes a path markedly divergent from Buddhism and the other faiths which subscribe to similar ideologies.
Sikhi promotes the celebration of life, not the renunciation of it.
Live in the thick of it, we’re taught - like the lotus amidst stagnant and putrid waters - and rise above it, pristine and glorious - like the lotus!
Shed the distractions and contaminations of daily life with the same aplomb as the duck shakes off its wetness and walks away from the water, instantly dry.
Sikhi doesn’t deny the existence of suffering, but advocates a full and frontal embracing of it because it has, within it, the very antidote required not only to deal with it, but also to conquer life itself - dukh daaru sukh roag bhayaa …
Run away from life and suffering, and all you’ve done is wasted a life and put it to no good use, either for yourself or for others.
On the other hand, stay in the thick of things, help alleviate the suffering of others, and you’ll find you’ve conquered your own.
Sikhi involves surrender to God, but not to life and its challenges.
Human life is seen as a reward and a celebration, not an affliction or punishment.
Hence, we are taught, hassandyaan khelandaiyaan pehnandyaan khaavandyaan vicchey hovey mukt … it is within laughter itself and play, in feast and adornment, that you can find salvation.
That is, it is possible to live life to its fullest, to enjoy all its delights, and still soar with our spirit. One needn't flee from life's challenges in terror; with proper discipline and commitment, one can turn any negative into a positive.
Contemplation and meditation are of supreme importance in Sikhi and play a central role in our spiritual lives, but as tools to live our lives better, not to help us run away, live in denial and simply await a state of numbness and nothingness.
Inspired by the three visions Siddharth encountered, I turn to Sikhi to seek enlightenment.
Conversation about this article
1: Yuktanand Singh (USA), September 14, 2012, 12:50 PM.
Gurbani compares us to a musical instrument. We could thus say that our heart and mind are the strings, body the bridge, pain the pegs, pleasure the percussion, and the world the soundboard. The music hidden inside the instrument is our soul. It sounds best when God strums our strings. All parts of the instrument are necessary. It is a pity that most of us die before we get to play the music.
2: Baldev Singh (Bradford, United Kingdom), September 14, 2012, 7:41 PM.
Instead of renunciation, Sikhism chooses the 'community' ... All Humanity-Community ... feeding, clothing and loving each other as we do the Creator for showing us the beauty all around us ... if we choose to see it that way!
3: Yuktanand Singh (USA), September 17, 2012, 9:10 AM.
" ... with proper discipline and commitment, one can turn any negative into a positive." Not only that, the negativity provides the energy needed to make us look for the positive. As long as it resides inside us, the negativity follows us even when we are in solitude. For this reason, some teachers (e.g. Thich Nhat Hanh) teach that we thank it for its presence, just as we do in accepting hukam. Swami Vivekananda used to say that instead of expecting thanks from the poor when we help them, we must thank them. Their presence provides an opportunity to practice compassion.
4: Manjeet Shergill (Singapore), September 18, 2012, 6:20 AM.
I am at a Buddhist center tonight - let's see what happens or does not happen. The mind has a mind of its own. If we don't get to vicchar about old age, sickness or death or compassion, the English monk might just talk about what he still enjoys - music by the Beatles.
5: Sangat Singh (Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia), September 18, 2012, 8:25 AM.
Buddha is said to have lived for a time an extreme ascetic life, starving and torturing his body as was the custom of ascetics. One day the realization came to him when a group of temple dancers passed singing a song - rendered in English by Sir Edwin Arnold as "Light of Asia". The gist was "don't tune the sitar, neither low or high. The outstretched string breaks and music flies; the over-slack string is dumb." In Sikhi, there is emphasis on Sehaj, the Balanced Life.
6: Mitan Sidhu (Houston, Texas, U.S.A.), September 18, 2012, 1:36 PM.
Well stated! Renunciation is escapism. Embracing life, the pleasures as well as the responsibilities it brings; celebrating it, yet remaining detached, with an awareness of being more than our bodies and its physical limitations, is the path pointed out by Sikhism. As a youngster, I had once heard someone state that some people pursued the path of bhagti (meditation - worship of the Divine) by rubbing ashes on their bodies, but the Gurus had, very generously, bestowed upon us the path of seeking enlightenment while eating karrah (a sweet treat). In other words, we were to enjoy the blessings and good things of life, while keeping our mortality in sight, and nurturing the part of us that lives on in our soul. It sounded very practical to me.
7: Manjeet Shergill (Singapore), September 20, 2012, 10:02 PM.
Our Gurus have blessed us with so much. But, forget renunciation and the balanced life, we these days just don't do a fraction of what we should. Mind management (meditation) is like drawing - a learnable skill - but how many people draw or meditate? Drawing is the first and basic skill for communicating and living. The clothes we wear begins with a drawing. Alphabets begin with lines, not meaning. What our gurdwara committees do today is far from Sikhi - obsessed with power and neglecting their unique role in society - boring after a while.