The Relativity of Troubles
The following post is based on a story I had heard from Swami Adiswarananda, the Spiritual Leader of the Ramakrishna Vivekananda Center in New York from 1973 to 2007.
Martha was working in a company for many years. She found that in the last seven years, many senior employees were laid-off and the management was hiring young people who did not complain and worked more for less money. She had lost few of her friends.
Recently, a young lady named Jane was hired in the company. Martha thought that she might make a good friend. Martha talked to her about the company’s policy and people and the ways to survive in the company. Jane also started feeling comfortable in Martha’s company. Soon, they developed trust in each other and started exchanging their personal life.
Martha found one strange thing in Jane’s behavior. She found that Jane often takes out her cell phone from her purse, looks at a photo of someone for a while, mumbles something, and then puts the cell phone back into her purse.
Initially, Martha ignored that behavior. But, as their friendship became closer, one day Martha took the courage to ask Jane during their lunch: “Hi Jane! If you don’t mind, can I ask you one question?”
Jane said, “What is it?” Martha asked, “Often you take out your cell phone from your purse, and look a photo for a while and then you put your cell phone back into your purse. I wonder whose photo it is that you look at so often.” Jane smiled and said, “Oh! It is my husband’s photo.” Martha said, “I have never seen a wife loving her husband so much that she often needs to look at her husband’s photo. Wow! I must tell your husband about it.”
Jane was silent for a few seconds. Then, she smiled and said, “It is none of this. See, in this company, it is very difficult to work with people who are mean. There are many such people, especially the boss, who is the most difficult to work with. When I get too depressed and frustrated, I take out my husband’s photo and tell myself ‘What more trouble could I have than marrying this guy.’ After that every trouble looks very small and bearable to me and thus my life goes on.”
Lessons I learned:
Swami Rama Tirtha’s Story:
I have heard this story of Swami Rama Tirtha. This is a story from the time when Swami Rama Tirtha was a student. One day his mathematics teacher came to the class and drew a line on a blackboard. Then, he asked all the students to make that line smaller without touching the line. All the students were puzzled and could not find a solution. At that time, young Rama Tirtha got up from his chair, took a chalk in hand, and drew a longer line under the line drawn by the teacher. The teacher was extremely pleased and the students were thrilled.
Problems of Life:
Problems of life are relative. A person is not happy with his/her salary and complains about not having enough money to buy a better car, live in a bigger house or go to an expensive resort for a vacation. But, when he/she thinks about the people in the world who do not have a job, or enough food to eat, not to even mention having a car or a house, then he/she realizes that his/her problems are smaller.
This works on the other way around too. A person is happy with what he/she has such as their house, car, job, salary etc. But, sometimes seeing other people’s big houses, or expensive cars, or high salaries, makes the same person sad and not happy with what he/she has.
A Practical Suggestion:
If we are not happy with our material possessions, or physical comforts, or family problems, then we should think of those who have less possessions and comforts than us and who have more major problems in life to face than we do. Then, we should pray for them and wish the best for them. This way, our problems will become lesser in size and more bearable.
On the other hand, when we are happy with our knowledge or spiritual progress, we should think of the people who have acquired more knowledge than us and who have further advanced their spiritual life than us. This way, our efforts for acquiring knowledge will increase and our urge for spiritual progress will be more intense.
A Story of Shiva Mahimna: There is a story described in shloka 10 of the famous hymn Shiva Mahimna. This story actually describes the glory of Lord Shiva, but we can also learn an important lesson from it. This is my version of the story:
Once there was a dispute between Brahma, the creator of the universe and Vishnu, the preserver of the universe. Each one claimed that he is superior to the other. Brahma said that if he does not create anything, then Vishnu does not have a job of preserving. Vishnu claimed that if he does not preserve the universe, then the universe would have died as soon as it was created, thus rendering the creation is useless. While they were arguing with each other, an infinite fire-pole appeared out of nowhere and filled everything with blinding light. Vishnu asked Brahma whether he had created this pole and Brahma said, “No.” Brahma asked Vishnu whether he had preserved this pole from outside his universe and Vishnu said, “No”. Both were baffled. They decided to check out the ends of the pole to find something about its origin. Brahma went towards the sky to find its end and Vishnu went down for the same. After a long time, they both were exhausted and returned without finding its end. Then, they prayed to the pole to reveal its identity to them. At that time, from the fire-pole Lord Shiva came smiling and said that the Ultimate Reality Brahman is infinite. Infinitely many universes arise from Brahman and merge into Brahman. Each universe has its creator and its preserver. There is no need to boast about their finite work.
I learned a lesson that when we think of the infinite time span, the infinite universe that we live in, then our existence looks like a one little tiny spot and our span, of say, 100 years, is like a Nano- second or Mili-second. Now, what is the significance of our problems, how big they may be, in this short life whose existence is a very small dot in the infinite universe? This is not a pessimist outlook, but rather, a realistic one. In the background of the vision of the infinity of space and time, many of our problems in life become less threatening and we can gather our inner strength and face these problems as vigorously as we can. Even if we die fighting these problems, we do not worry, because in that infinite background even death is totally insignificant.
Progression of Wisdom:
Swami Adiswarananda mentioned three stages of wisdom as we make progress in acquiring wisdom.
First Stage of Realization: (1) There is a problem.
When people are ignorant, they think that life is all good. They think that the goal of life is to get as much joy as possible from the body, mind, people, and the objects of the universe. Then, the reality of life starts revealing itself and the first sign of wisdom comes when we realize that “Life is not all good. There are unavoidable problems in life. We have to pay a high price for each pleasure of our life.”
Second Stage of Realization: (2) The cause of the problem is in me.
We find the problems in life, but then we blame the whole world for these problems. When we introspect more, we find that we have a significant role in creating these problems. The causes of many problems lie in me. If I remove the cause of a problem by transforming my life for good, then the problem either disappears or becomes less painful.
Third Stage of Realization: (3) I am the problem:
When we advance further in our reflections of life and the teachings of the scriptures and saints, we find that our ego “I” causes all the problems. As I separate myself with my name and form (body and mind) from my true identity “Atman”, I make myself limited and more cut off from the reality of life. This is the cause of all my problems. With this wisdom we try to search within our true identity. When we realize our true identity as Atman, whose nature is “Sat-Chit-Ananda” (Existence, Knowledge, Bliss Absolute), then we acquire infinite strength to face these little problems of life. We face these problems with a peaceful mind, and remain content in the opposite situations like joys and sorrows, honor and insult, praise and blame.
(Thanks to Abhishek Senjalia for editing this post and Sneha Shah for the illustration.)