(Image taken from Wikipedia)
The evening was lonely for me, and I was reading a book till my heart became dry, and it seemed to me that beauty was a thing fashioned by the traders in words. Tired I shut the book and snuffed the candle. In a moment the room was flooded with moonlight. Spirit of Beauty, how could you, whose radiance over brims the sky, stand hidden behind a candle’s tiny flame?
(Tagore, Rabindranath. The Complete Works of Rabindranath Tagore . GENERAL PRESS. Kindle Edition)
Tagore is telling us about an evening when he was sitting in the light of a candle, reading a book, and feeling a bit sad because of some doubts he had about beauty. And he was questioning himself whether beauty really existed or whether it was something made up by story-tellers, writers and poets. When he got tired, he closed the book and snuffed out the candle. As soon as he snuffed out the candle, moonlight from outside came rushing in and flooded the room. And the room became so beautiful that it not only restored Tagore’s sense of the existence of beauty but also (and more importantly for me) made him realize that just the small light from the candle flame had hid the bright and beautiful light of the moon.
This piece from Tagore is one of the most fascinating and beautiful parables for man’s spiritual life. If I were to make a list of my favourite parables, many of those coming from Jesus would be in that list for sure. But this one from Tagore would rank very high in the list. Jesus (if he existed), as good a story teller as he was, could very easily have come up with this one too. It opens a huge window into the meaning of inner transformation and change. And how very small things in our life keep us away from the biggest, most important and most beautiful things.
The way our minds are made up and the way we are brought up, we develop a set of images and information which makes each one of us believe that ‘I’ exist as a separate individual, in opposition to the rest of the world. My interests and those of the world are, to a large part, mutually exclusive and for me to do well, I need to compete with, and defeat, the whole world. Almost the whole world, except a few people that I think I ‘love’, has to be guarded against. Fear is the name of the game. I fear the world and I fear death. I do not want to die. I want to live forever. So, fear is the first major issue in human life.
Secondly, this fear brings in the other major issue, i.e., attachments. I get attached to people, relationships, things, including money, property, wealth in any form, notions of respect, morality, law, customs, traditions, other ideas and concepts and all the rest that comes in a ‘normal’ human life. I become slave to tangible and intangible attachments, things that I begin to think I cannot live without. I am chained to these attachments and cannot take a single step away from them. Wherever I go, these come with me, like in Charles Dickens’ novella, A Christmas Carol, the character of Jacob Marley who was captive, bound and chained with double irons like a tail behind him made up of cash-boxes, keys, padlocks, ledgers, deeds, etc. Thats how we actually are in real life. We are also bound by bank accounts, net worth, cars, houses, family attachments, so-called ‘love’ relationships, expensive watches, clothes, shoes, restaurants, vacations, exquisite foods, wines and alcohol and all the rest.
All this is our life. This is called the ego. This ego rules our life. It is like that candle which kept Tagore from being aware of the moon. The ego keeps us from being aware of our eternal, universal, death-less self. We think we are just this ego / the ‘I’.
Like Tagore snuffing out the candle, I hope that one day every one of us can snuff out the ego. And the moment we snuff out the ego, all fear and attachments will disappear and the bright light of the eternal self will burst forth and flood into our inner being. That is apparently what happened to Lao Tzu, Lord Krishna, Buddha, Jesus, Mohammad, Kabir, Ramana and a few others. They snuffed out the ‘I’ and rest was history. Some of these people lived thousands of years ago, but we still remember them. They are the peaks of human experience and wisdom. The rest of us ordinary mortals can only dream of walking in their big footsteps and learning something from them.
I have named this blog, ‘the robe meditations’, borrowing the concept from these great wisdom teachers. The ego is like a robe that we put onto our real self and then we think that that robe is the real self. We forget that it is just a robe and that the real ‘I’ is something else altogether.
I hope to do another Post very soon in which we can take a look at other fascinating parables coming from other great teachers, which can illuminate the path for the seeker and encourage him / her to keep going.