are performed by nature alone,
and thus that the self is not the doer,
that man sees truly.
(Lord Krishna, Bhagavad Gita)
There was once a holy man who sat at a river bank. A passer-by observed how he lifted a drowning scorpion out of the water, but before he could place it safely on land, the scorpion stung him. In pain, the holy man instinctively dropped the scorpion back into the water only to rescue it again. The passer-by watched that strange occurrence in amazement and then asked the holy man why he always rescued that scorpion if he knew that he would only get stung again. The holy man shrugged his shoulders and replied, "It is the nature of the scorpion to sting and it is my nature to save creatures in distress."
‘We do what we do, because we do what we do’, that’s essentially the argument of the folks who argue that we are more or less bio-robots. We only think that we are in charge with our rationality, but the brain merely explains to us afterwards why we did what we did. I heard this thesis for the first time when I was a graduate student in a coffee shop discussion with a physics major and argued against this pessimistic view of our human affairs at the time, but then, doesn’t the Bhagavad Gita argue the same way when it says that we are catapulted by our nature? The Tao Te Ching also says in one of its verses that we are mere ‘straw puppets’.
The journey of the Way is a pathway into freedom. It is not exactly the freedom that our psychological pioneers had in mind, but it is break with the Matrix. We share the same mission like the psychologists though, and sometimes use similar tools. We become aware of our biases and conditioning; our irritations and temptations; our drives, fears and underlying belief sets. A spiritual path is about waking up to what is, especially the secret agendas that drive us and those of others. The psychologists hope that the enlightened individual gets her autonomy back and is in charge of her destiny. We spiritual travelers, in contract, say that once we let go of the conditioning of the past, we open up to a higher Force that permeates everything.
The 19th Century Indian Mystic Sri Ramakrishna advised the simple ‘not this, not that’ strategy. By saying ‘no’ to everything that is not of GOD in our daily interactions, we invite GOD into our life. The 13th Century German Mystic, Meister Eckhart told us that we can become empty like a vessel and can let GOD in. Many paths lead us Home, it is a matter of choosing whatever works best. We
can reach freedom of the past by choosing love every step of the Way. We learn to say ‘no’ to our ego and ‘yes’ to love in whatever we do. This is effectively the Way Jesus traveled. We can follow the Way of Karma, the pathway advised by the Bhagavad Gita. We embrace our life’s mission of passion and purpose, unwinding the karmic bonds of the past one step at the time. We can combine both approaches and become light-workers. By serving others, we become free.
‘The Story of the Scorpion and the Holy Man’ leaves us dissatisfied though. Perhaps it was written by a philosopher and not a spiritual sage. To get stuck in a meaningless loop is hardly the working of the Way. Who knows what went wrong, maybe the passer-by didn’t realize that he could have been of help. Maybe the ‘holy’ man wrongly identified with his spiritual super-ego. He wanted to be so holy that he failed to read the signs that it is ok to let that darn scorpion drown after his second or third rescue attempt. Sri Ramakrishna once told one of his disciples to kill a cock-roach in order to teach him the lesson that death is also of GOD.
In my book, ‘The Magnificent Experiment’, I introduced the idea of a car wash. When we get tired of life’s endless ups and downs, we start looking for spirituality. Our search for the Way can be pictured as the decision to drive to a nearby facility to get a car wash. We drive, we may take a wrong turn here or there if we don’t know where exactly the facility is located, but eventually we get there. At the car wash, we drive up to the ramp. There is a little steering involved; a little adjustment; a little back and forth. This stage can be compared to the time of Awakening when we already see the Way, but are misled by our mistaken notion of spirituality. Then comes the ‘click’! We are locked in, and from here on the Way takes over. We consciously hand the reigns to a higher Force in charge to clean us from our karmic bonds and misunderstood drives. At the end of the process—the prior slave to his passion who struggled to become free—is safely in GOD’s arms again.