One of the things I like about You Tube is that I can see old archival footage of now-dead lecturers and teachers. For instance, I happened upon an old film of Nisargadatta Maharaj, an enlightened master from India who died in the 1980’s and was part of the Advaita Vedanta tradition.
He said something which has stuck with me for several days, something which I have struggled with, turned upside down and inside out, my mind trying to rationalize another, more comfortable interpretation. At the same time, from the moment I heard it, I knew that what he said was true, and no matter how I twisted and turned could not make it a more comforting (to the ego) statement.
He said “If people would only want what they have, and not want what they don’t have, they would be at peace. It is so simple.”
There are a lot of things that we may have that we don’t want such as sickness, poverty, poor relationships, etc. And, there are a lot of things we don’t have that we may want such as recognition, companionship, wealth, peace of mind.
I considered a friend of mine who is always complaining that she does not want the home she currently has and she will not let go of wanting the home she does not have. She is one of the most anxious, unhappy people I know right now. It is easy for me to say that if she could only accept her current circumstances and stopping wanting a home she could not afford, she would be more content. But what about the beam in my own eye?
I continued to contemplate Nisargadatta’s statement. What did ‘wanting what you have’ really mean? Was it tolerance, acceptance, resignation to the present? What did ‘not wanting’ really mean? Was it indifference, neglect, repugnance to what was not?
The other day a well-meaning friend sent me an article about how someone with Rheumatoid Arthritis undertook a radical new treatment and eventually went into remission.
Before reading the article I had been thinking about RA in a non-personal way and coping with the footprints it leaves in my life. After reading it I felt doubt about my current approach and pondered whether I should try this treatment, what might be the results, etc. Before I knew it my mind was filled with unhappy thoughts- reviewing the history of my own experience with the disease and projecting possible futures.
I wrote back and thanked her but said that I was more interested in learning how to accept and cope with my situation than I was in changing it. I don’t know if that was the right response or not but I do know that I immediately felt more peaceful in not wanting something I did not have now. In addition, I had to acknowledge the many insights and benefits I have received as a result of experiencing this disease so it hasn’t been all bad.
I realized that wanting is closely associated with thinking. When you want something there is a lot of energy put into thinking about it, envisioning the desired object or condition are constantly in the mind like a carrot in front of the donkey. On the other hand, when there is no-wanting, there is no thinking and no energy spent– it is non-present.
I caught myself the other night lying and bed and thinking how I wish I had a better relationship with a family member. This went on for several hours and then I remembered Nisargadatta’s statement. I was wanting what I didn’t have. If I stopped wanting it what would happen? I was instantly more peaceful.
Illness, a death in the family, financial hardship – all the catastrophes that life can bring, all those events which cannot be changed no matter how much we pray, cry, implore, sacrifice; all those events which remind the thinking mind and ego that there is a greater power that cannot be bribed, coerced, blackmailed or brought into line; all of those hard things in life strip away the nonessential.
Hardship shows us we do not have the power to bend life into a convenient or comfortable form if it is going in a different direction. If we want what we have, and don’t want what we don’t have, there is extraordinary energy available because it is not being burned up in futile thinking and desiring. This energy exists in a great spaciousness that some call peace.