Since moving to the United States in 1998, I have been asked more times than I can remember, about India’s caste system or the plight of widows or about child labor or other human injustices in that part of the world. Every time I was asked, I cringed, feeling personally our national shame. I was angry beyond words at filmmakers who made movies and documentaries around these themes which seemed to draw great support from the American audiences, who are shocked at the injustices prevalent in “third world” countries. I often defended India and tried to lighten the situation by informing people that the messages shown in movies were not the entire truth; or that this was not true for the more developed Indian cities; that laws were being enacted to change all that; that many, many people were working hard to bring about reform and so on.
I naively believed then that the West, given its affluence, and greater education, was cured of these social evils. I know many others who similarly thought so.
But recent events have changed that perspective. What we are seeing now, as the story has been unfolding here and in other places, is basically a very different version of what is known to exist in India, but in essence, the same: cruelty and violence of man against man. While this is not pleasant, it is real and authentic. It had been swept under the rug for many years and now it is out in the open for us to examine.
So I guess we are all in this together, wealthy or not, educated or not. Beneath the various shades of skin color or tones of religious faiths, we do share the same dark fears and primal instincts, handed down from generation to generation, hidden away in good times only to emerge again in certain circumstances. Like recurring patterns in one’s personal life, history repeats itself through various times, uncovering what lies beneath. These cyclical patterns are nature’s way of uncovering the unconscious.
Recurring patterns are also invitations for us to review and upgrade our responses. Like the upcoming solar eclipse, for example. It has happened ever since the sun and moon have existed but in the olden days, people feared it believing that there was a dragon in the heavens that was going to swallow up the sun. Ancient tribes prayed and chanted and made up scary sounds and dances to chase away the “dragon.” Then after the eclipse was over, there followed great celebration.
Today we know better, we respond better. The sun is 400 times bigger than the moon, we are told. How can the moon ever swallow the sun up? There is no dragon eating up the light although it appears to be. Our ignorance having ended, we are not taken in by the illusion anymore. It is just a cyclical celestial event.
We respect the reality of the phenomenon, and take precautions to protect ourselves from its dangers. Then we sit back and know that the sun will emerge again.
I wonder if the eclipse happening right at this time is a sign for us to look at the current events that are revealing old fears and a call for us to respond differently; to examine our fears and release the myths that feed them.
Spiritual teachers tell us that one myth that we must release is that we are limited creatures, defined by our mortal body, our external appearances, and our fragile ego. That our true identity is not confined to our separate, limited selves but is a much larger one that, in fact, co-creates the world around us.
Our present understanding of reality sees us as separated from each other and from the world that we are experiencing. A perspective that sees the world as the cause and us as the effect. Spiritual wisdom tell us otherwise: we are the cause and the world is the effect.
I am reminded of an old and very powerful story shared by one of my teachers in India. Once a rich merchant was traveling with a very precious diamond. On his travels, he was befriended by a thief who wanted to lay his hands on the diamond. Despite furtively rummaging through his fellow traveler’s belongings several times, the thief could not find the diamond. At the end of the travels, as they bid goodbye, the thief finally asks the merchant where he had hidden the gem. The merchant, now reaching for the thief’s pocket, said he had hidden it where he knew the thief would not look - in his own pocket!
This story, often shared by wisdom teachers, underlines the problem at the root of all our repetitive patterns: right intention, wrong approach.
In the words of the renowned and greatly respected Buddhist teacher, Thich Nhat Hanh, “the way out is in,” meaning that the remedy for our problems starts where the cause of our problem lies: within.
Events that trigger us are waking us up to our hidden fears of being swallowed up. It lies at the bottom of every discord, every confrontation or even just someone cutting us off on the road as we drive. Unless we address that fear through deep reflection on who we truly are, reading between the lines of our limitations, getting back to our deeper, more fundamental identity as spirit and acting from that, we will reinforce the darkness instead of our light.
This is true at all times, even and particularly when the issue seems to be entirely external. This is not to say we do not act on the outside at all. Inaction is not spiritual by any means. What is recommended is that we first work on ourselves before taking the issue outside.
If, like the sun, we continue to shine the light of faith and trust in our innate ability to co-create a better reality, and act from out of that, our light will prevail. If we respond from hate and anger it is saying, “if they go low, we go lower.”
No matter how great is the darkness, our light can be greater. Fear of annihilation or faith in our essence, which of these will drive our responses?
The power to make that choice is the diamond in our pocket.