A small girl was observing her grandfather who happened to be a tailor in a small village in India. Every time, the old man used his pair of scissors, he would put it under his foot, keeping it pressed with his big toe. And each time he used his needle, he would stick it in his cap. A needle and a pair of scissors were his only sartorial tools so to speak. The little girl was somewhat intrigued with this measured and meticulous behavior.
“Why is it Grandpa,” she asked throwing her tender arms around his neck, stalling his work, “that every time the poor scissors is pressed down with your feet but the needle goes in your cap?”
The old man laughed, and said, “My innocent little princess, the needle deserves that respect whereas my scissors need some chastising at every use.”
“But, why?” she said disapprovingly, even a bit scornfully. “It makes no sense!”
“You see, my child,” he said stroking her head, “the scissors cuts but, the needle joins. The one who joins is always stronger than the one who divides.”
This story immediately reminded me of the legend of Angulimala, the dacoit who would ambush and loot wayfarers and then chop their fingers making a garland out of them (talk about sadism). When he confronted Buddha, he was taken aback because Buddha showed no sign of any fright. Angulimala tried to intimidate the enlightened one by saying that he was the most feared and the strongest person in the region. Buddha challenged him to prove his mettle with a simple test and asked him to pluck some leaves from a nearby tree which he did effortlessly.
“Now, go and put these leaves back on the boughs!” Buddha instructed.
“Is this some kind of joke?” Angulimala roared. “I can’t put picked off leaves back on the tree. No one can!”
“Well, if you can’t join what you broke, you are clearly not the strongest.”
“I don’t break anything to begin with, Angulimala,” Buddha replied in his usual calm manner. “The one who makes is always stronger than the one who breaks.”
Those who are weak and insecure try to evoke fear but those who are strong and awakened evoke love. It is easy to break, to quit, to throw in the towel for it requires no strength. It is but much harder, a real test of one’s determination and persistence to do the opposite.
When you are down, depressed and low, when life seems like a dark dungeon with even darker demons lurking in its scary corners, have hope, keep moving gently. For, the rational is quite simple: this shall also pass. And, it’ll pass not by sulking and brooding over your challenges and prejudices but by thinking and doing things differently, by being new. Old mind shrouded in old tendencies is not going to open up new vistas.
Have you noticed how in the event of a power cut or when you go into a dark room from a well-lit one, at first you don’t see anything? And then when you stay there with your eyes open, your iris widens, pupils dilate, capturing more light and gradually, you begin to see the objects in the room. It’s not too different in life, when you are engulfed in darkness, you have two choices at that time. A, to close your eyes out of fear and be angry with the darkness. B, to remain awake and keep your eyes open.
Awakening gives you the ability to see and move about in darkness. Though John Milton took a more austere view in Paradise Lost (or Dante in The Divine Comedy):
At once as far as angel’s ken he views
The dismal situation waste and wild,
A dungeon horrible, on all sides round
As one great furnace flamed, yet from those flames
No light, but rather darkness visible
Served only to discover sights of woe,
Regions of sorrow, doleful shades, where peace
And rest can never dwell, hope never comes
That comes to all; but torture without end…
Buddha as well saw the futility of going around in circles and called life suffering. Krishna too called this world an ocean of eternal suffering (dukhalayam shashvatam), but is it really? Would our lives be more beautiful if there was only happiness in it or if everything moved exactly as we wished? What is happiness anyway? What would be colors without contrast? Would our planet be as enchanting if the sun never set? Would we have known the joy of star gazing, the bliss of soft moonlight, of a restful sleep then? The mysteries of the Universe that make us marvel in awe, the twinkling of billions of stars in the sky, all of that, my friend, depend on darkness. The darker the night, the more haunting the beauty. Spend a night in the Himalayas or in utter wilderness anywhere else on a new moon night, and you will know exactly what I mean.
It is darkness alone that gives us respite from our flaws, for it blankets all our sins and follies like a mother covers her child with her shawl so the baby can sleep in peace. And as you wake up to the daylight, fresh and energized, you are ready to see your shortcomings and limitations and work on them.
Without going through darkness we can’t really perceive or appreciate light. You must have also experienced at some point that when you squeeze your eyes shut in the dark and then open them again, you see more clearly. So, a period of withdrawal is not bad per se, as long as you open your eyes eventually.
Most of us sleep through our entire lives, but a rare few realize the value of opening up to new ways of thinking and living, for that is what awakening is. Indeed, that is all what awakening is. When what you are afraid of, you examine; when you face your fears and embrace your enemies (internal and external), when you understand beyond any doubt that you must not kill the enemy but animosity.
“Hurt me,” the masochist pleaded, with desire.
“I won’t,” his sadist partner replied, with pleasure.
The one who hurts you and the one who derives joy in sulking (the sadist and masochist), they both live in you. They are simply two aspects of your own personality.
Build don’t break. The more you build, the more nature will bless you with. Build your bridges, bridge your differences. Building is strength, it is dharma, it is right. Anyone can fell a tree, it is planting that requires compassion, care and love.
If old ways of living and thinking are hurting you, it’s quite natural that you have to live and think in new ways to climb out of the darkness. When keeping your eyes closed is giving you a nightmare, it is only sensible that you open them to end that bad dream. This is awakening. And, if I may add, awakening is the only liberation there is.