Seeing God in everyone - A Practical approach
My efforts to get out of a 'spiritual' stagnation...
From childhood, Bhagawan Sri Sathya Sai Baba has been my Lord and Master. All my spiritual growth has been nurtured and cared for by Him. Today, when I look back at my student days, I remember one incident very vividly. That was the incident that gave me an insight on how my future sadhana should be to see God in all - see my master, Bhagawan Sri Sathya Sai Baba in all. Before I launch into how I have understood it, I must narrate that special experience.
During my post-graduate days, I felt a sort of ‘spiritual stagnation’ envelop me. Of course I was privileged to be a student in Swami’s Institute and I had darshan from close quarters on a daily basis. I also participated in the prayers and bhajans on a regular basis. And yet, I felt that I must do more Sadhana. I often wondered as to what would be the best Sadhana to do. It was at that time when I happened to read about the experience of the great Ramana Maharshi. The Master has spoken about this experience of his and I present it in his own words:
The shock and fear of death drove my mind inward and I said to myself mentally
“Now death has come. What does it mean? Who is it that dies'? The body dies.”
And at once I dramatized the occurrence of death. I lay with my limbs stretched out and imitated a corpse to give more reality to the enquiry.
"Well then,” I said to myself, 'this body is dead. It will be carried to the burning ground and then burnt and reduced to ashes. But with the death of the body, am I dead? Am I this body? It is silent and inert but I feel the full force of my personality and even the voice of 'I’ within me apart from it. So I am the spirit transcending the body. The body dies but the spirit transcending it cannot be touched by death. That means I am the deathless spirit.”
All this was not dull thought; it flashed through me as a vivid living Truth which I perceived directly, almost without thought process. ... From that moment onwards the 'I’ or Self focussed attention on itself by a powerful fascination.
After that experience, Ramana was a totally changed person. I too thought of going through the same ‘exercise’ or ‘drama’ so that my then ‘stagnant’ spiritual life would spring alive with vitality and vibrancy. And so, every night, as I slept in the massive prayer hall of the hostel, I would tell myself that I was not the body. With intense thought, I would picture myself as ‘residing’ in my body and tell myself that I was a soul with a body and not a body with a soul. This was definitely the Jnana Marga, or the path of wisdom and I felt that I must take to it.
Then, I began a new venture. I figured that since only the body needs air and I was not the body, I did not need air to breathe! So, I would simply hold my breath thinking that nothing should happen to me as I was the ‘indweller’ and not the body.
The reader needn’t get carried away because I did not advance much if i advanced at all! Each day, I would be successful in increasing the time I held my breath. I would add a few more seconds to the previous figure. Thus, apart from developing a better lung capacity, I did not progress much spiritually.
The Divine clarification ... and a new Sadhana
And then came the Dasara of 2005. As per the tradition, on a daily basis during the dasara yajnam, Swami’s divine discourse was scheduled. I can never forget the discourse that day - the 9th of October, 2005. Swami began his introductory verse. It was about how people misunderstand sadhana. Swami said,
“Without sleeping at night and talking a lot during day considering it as sadhana! This is foolishness!”
I was stunned. I felt Swami was mocking me in full public view. But as I looked around, I realized that it was only me feeling so. Everyone else was simply absorbed in the discourse that had begun. I too began to listen carefully. And Swami revealed a ‘secret’ in public. He explained the way to salvation for everyone. He said,
“I often reiterate that I am God. But, I also remind you that you are verily God. You should not give scope for any confusion and difference of opinion in this regard. Everyone of you are embodiments of divinity in reality. When you develop such a firm conviction, you can visualise God in every human being. It is only in keeping with this concept that the expression Yad bhavam tad bhavati (as is the feeling, so is the result) asserted in the scriptures. Since people are not aware of the real nature of divinity, they refer to certain individuals as father, mother, uncle, etc., keeping in view their physical forms and the relationships with them. If people are so deluded on the basis of physical relationships, they are bound to get confused about the real nature of divinity. Lord Krishna declared once while revealing His omnipresent divinity that there was none other than Him in the entire universe. The same truth is contained in the declaration Ekam Sath viprah bahudha vadanti (truth is one, but the wise refer to it by various names).”
It was here that I seriously considered what Swami said was the best Sadhana - to see God in everyone; to love God in everyone.
Here is another amazing thing which I realized many years later!
On that day, in that discourse, Swami actually never said, "Without sleeping at night...". He actually said, "Pani Leka" meaning, "without working" which I somehow distinctly heard as "Panko Leka". If you hear the audio of that discourse, Swami's voice is quite shaky. And you will agree that one can make a mistake of hearing 'Pani' as 'Panko'. But I do not think it was a 'mistake'. As explained in the secret of Sathya Sai speaking, each one hears what one is supposed to! Even my 'misunderstanding' of what Swami lead to the proper understanding of Sadhana!
The practical problem with that Sadhana...the beginnings
Proceeding with that story, I decided that my Sadhana should be to see God in all. Here is a practical difficulty - How do I actually see God in the people whom I interact with on a daily basis? It may seem easy to see God in my mother, father and siblings but what about doing the same with my boss, my maid, the driver or the beggar on the street? I can imagine worshiping my mother, pressing the feet of my father but doing the same for my maid or having showing that kind of love to my boss - never!
If there is someone that I don't like or positively detest, how can I see my dear Lord in him/her? What did it mean to see God in someone?
As I sat pondering about this, one of Swami’s most famous aphorisms transformed itself and appeared to my mind’s eye. Swami says,
“Life is a Game; Play it.”
This aphorism transformed itself to,
“Life is a Play; Be game for it.”
And suddenly, there was a solution.
The whole world is one big stage and all of us are merely actors. This has been indicated numerous times in our history and literature. In fact, William Shakespeare said,
“All the world's a stage,
And all the men and women merely players”
Though he said the same in a slightly different context, he seems to have hit the nail on the head.
The 'Sholay' example
Just imagine the sets of a movie. That is what this world is. Each one of us have been given our roles – some are ‘big’ while some are ‘small’; some are ‘positive’ while some are ‘negative’; some are ‘happy’ while some are ‘tragic’. However, these roles remain only as roles - nothing more, nothing less.
For instance, consider the all-time Bollywood classic, Sholay. When the heroes of the movie, Amitabh Bachchan and Dharmendra pounce upon and bash up the villain, Amjad Khan, it feels so great. We are so absorbed in the movie and we hate Amjad Khan (the notorious Gabbar Singh) for all the ‘evil’ he has done. We even celebrate his death as the victory of the good over the bad.
For a moment now, step out of the shoes of a viewer and step into the actors’ shoes. Though both Amitabh and Dharmendra show anger and hate towards Amjad Khan in the movie, once the shooting is done, they sit together on the sets for a cup of coffee. They talk nicely to each other and have nothing against the other! All their ‘animosity’ ends on the scene. In fact, if one actually sees into their hearts during the scene as well, there is no animosity. Of course, there is anger on the face and venom in the words – but there is no such thing in their hearts. They are fully aware that they are only playing a role – nothing more, nothing less.
Ah! That is the secret to seeing God in everyone!
Juxtaposing the Sholay example in our lives...
It is not as if I should worship my maid or press the feet of my boss (though there are a few who consider that very lucrative and career-advancing) because I see God in them. Seeing God in a person means - carrying no ‘feelings’ in the heart towards him/her because of the ‘role’ that he/she has been put into.
Of course, we have to abide by the rules and guidelines for each role - I have to respect my boss and be a boss to my maid. But this is done only because the roles demand it. In our hearts, we know that all are equal – actors doing their roles as ordained by the Director. In that sense there is nothing special about the President of a country for that is the role which the Director ordained for him/her. In the same vein, there is nothing low or debasing about a beggar on the street for that is the role which the Director ordained for him/her! Simple isn’t it?
If we can lead our lives with this equanimity and equality, we will learn to respect and love everyone for all are but roles. At the same time, we continue to play our roles. If our role demands us to scold/rebuke someone, we do it only for that reason. We carry no actual animosity for the person. If our role demands us to express affection towards someone, we do it only for that reason. We feel no actual attachment or longing for the person!
And now if we examine the lives of saints and men of God, they have lived it this way. That is why we say,
“When Swami gets angry, it is only to correct us. He is never angry!”
He simply is playing His role to perfection and hoping that we too do it without getting lost in our roles! We are so involved in the ‘character’ we are playing that we forget the ‘actor’ that we actually are - and for that matter, the ‘actor’ that everyone else is. This is in fact the Inconvenient Truth that we must realize.
And that, in my opinion, is the way to see God in all - involvement without attachment!