Handling Life's Experiences: A Talk by Satguru Bodhinatha Veylanswami
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Transcript: When I was looking at TAKA recently it threw up a quote from Gurudeva on experience which I'll read in just a minute. But first the verse in, a verse in Patanjali's Yoga Sutras which also references experience.
"What is experienced has the character of brightness, activity, and inertia. It is embodied in the elements and the sense organs. Its purpose is to provide both experience and liberation."
Well brightness, brightness, activity and inertia are the three gunas. The three states of matter: sattvic, rajasic, tamasic. And the dual nature of the world: experience and liberation. The idea being: Each soul needs a certain amount of experience in the world before it is ready to transcend the world through achieving liberation.
I'm sure you experience that all the time; if you try and talk to someone about spirituality and they're not interested. They're interested in more experience, right? You just can't ripen the fruit before it's ripe. You know it has to ripen itself through experience.
So, experience is needed in the world before we become interested in achieving liberation. We're not immediately interested in it.
Well the quote from Gurudeva was: "What do we mean when we say there is no good and no bad, only experience? We mean that in the highest sense, there is no good and bad karma; there is self-created experience that presents opportunities for spiritual advancement. If we can't draw lessons from the karma, then we resist it or resent it, lashing out with mental, emotional or physical force. The original substance of that karma is spent and no longer exists, but our current reaction creates a new condition of harsh karma to face in the future. (Then that beautiful line that I use in my Karma Management.) As long as we react to karma, we must repeat it. That is the law."
How many times do we want to repeat the same karma particularly if it is unpleasant. Even the pleasant ones we get bored of eventually, right? But the unpleasant ones, why would we want to repeat it? But it is human nature to react and to try and blame someone else, as you know. When things go right we're willing to take the credit but when things go wrong it's someone else's fault. Never our self-created karma. That's human nature. We don't want to admit that we created this somehow. That's what we did in the past.
That reminded me of "Life the Great Experience" chapter. So I took a quote from that:
"If you check back through the pages recording various periods of your life, you will observe that knowing grew from certain experiences which you held memory of in your subconscious mind. You can also look within yourself and observe all that you do not know that you knew. For example, start with all those things you are not sure about. You must resolve all of these things through understanding before you can clear your subconscious mind. When you have cleared your subconscious mind through understanding the lessons from the experiences you are still reacting to, you will unfold the inner sight of your clear white light and begin to live in your true being."
That's pointing out a second aspect. The first point was we don't want to react when something happens. When the negative karma comes back to us we don't want react and reach out, retaliation in some way. Or just even hold resentment against someone. That's not fully letting the karma go. This is pointing out when experiences occur we need to understand them. Different point. So, for example, say a husband and wife, they find that she's getting into this situation where they have trouble agreeing. So one thing leads to another which leads to another which leads to another, which ends them up in this situation on a regular basis. They're stuck; they're repeating it. Why? Cause there's a lack of understanding. They're not seeing the overview. But if they were able to step back enough, see the overview, there's probably something you could do at point number two to avert getting to point number three and point number four and point number five. If you could just admit, well this leads to that which leads to that which leads to that. Therefore, when we get to point two I need to do this instead of that; I need to turn left instead of turning right. You know, if we can see that and we can understand it, then what happens? We stop repeating the experience. So, we need to have insights into why these events keep re-occurring in out life.
"The yoga student must establish basic principles in his life. He must try very hard to do this. The knowledge of inter-related action and reaction is within the consciousness of man. To understand the deeper experiences of life, we must analyze them. We must ask ourselves, 'What does this experience mean? What lesson have I derived from it? Why did it happen?' We can only find answers to these questions when we have established a foundation of dharmic principles, which are the mental laws governing action and reaction."
In other words: If we're not following dharma carefully, fudging on some of the yamas, fudging on our duties to others, what happens? It causes agitation in the mind. Instead of the mind being calm, instead of our being able to have a mountain-top perspective, we're at the bottom of the mountain and we're agitated because we haven't fully followed dharma. We've been fudging in one or more ways and that agitates the mind and therefore, we can't understand our experiences.
So, that's why Gurudeva is saying here, he's saying part of this process, you know, the requirement for this process to work is we need to be fully following dharmic principles. Then we're not agitating the mind which causes us not to be able to have insights into our experiences and causes experiences to keep repeating themselves. So, there's no reason for an experience to repeat itself endlessly. And there's no reason for a mistake to be made twice if someone's observant.
That's the four steps to responding to a mistake. Remember the first one is: Getting over feeling bad. The natural reaction depending on the size of the mistake is we feel bad about ourselves. We've discouraged, start criticizing our self. And if it's a really bad mistake then we criticize ourselves a lot. Or we go into a slump. But we have to pull ourselves out of that because that's not helping us avoid the mistake again, right? The point is we shouldn't need to do it twice. Therefore, the goal is to pull ourselves out of that. And the second step is to figure out how to avoid that happening again in the future. Perhaps we've learned something now. And that new knowledge will help us. Perhaps we were just being careless and we realize we that we can't be careless in that situation cause this mistake could happen. Perhaps we have a new insight.
One way or another the goal is to be observant enough. The example I used in Karma Management was the back road here, pretty good shape now, but at that point it had lots of pukas. It's the Hawaiian term for dips in the road. And there were some pretty major ones. And you could drive along and hit all the dips and keep going that way the rest of your life, right? Everybody in the car would notice. Or, the first time it happens you could say: "Well let's see now. All those potholes are on the right side so if I drive on the left side I won't hit them." You know we can be observant. And by not being agitated we make a decision so that same mistake doesn't occur again.
Then the third point, just to remind you of the four steps in responding to a mistake is: Other people were involved, you may need to smooth over the relationship with them. You need to apologize, give them a gift, do something to smooth out the energies between you. And then, if you still feel bad about it, it probably needs a prayaschitta of some kind to get the subconscious mind feeling okay about what you did. Cause we're not supposed to feel guilty, you know. Saivism's not about feeling guilty.You feel guilty it means there's some prayaschitta. It also may mean we don't understand the instinctive, the intellectual and the superconscious nature. We're expecting ourselves just to be this superconscious being. But we also have an instinctive nature and an intellectual nature that sometimes gets out of control.
Well one last thought:
"Each experience is a classroom. When the subconscious mind has been fully reconciled to everything that has happened, when you have fully realized that everything you have gone through is nothing more and nothing less than an experience, and that each experience is really a classroom, you will receive from yourself your innerversity personal evaluation report, and it will be covered with the highest grades, denoting excellent cognition."