As 2016 comes to a close, we're pleased to share this excerpt by Easwaran from his book Climbing the Blue Mountain. In this piece, Easwaran reflects on his own springtime celebration of the New Year when he was growing up in South India.
In the spring, people all over my former state of Kerala celebrate one of our great festivals: Vishu, our New Year. My mother, who lived with me in California for ten years, was very particular about observing these immemorial customs, and my niece Meera now carries them on. So this year again, just as I used to do when I was growing up, I allowed myself to be led before dawn to Meera’s little altar with my eyes closed, repeating my mantram.
“Little Lamp,” my grandmother used to ask, “would you like to see the Lord?”
“Yes, Granny,” I would reply. “Then open your eyes.”
There in front would be a mirror wreathed in flowers, reflecting my own face.
In that atmosphere of intense devotion, when each member of the family sees himself or herself reflected in the mirror, one of the greatest messages in the Hindu tradition is conveyed much more vividly than words can: Behind the face you are looking at is the Lord of Love, who dwells forever in the depths of your consciousness – as Nicholas of Cusa says, “the Face behind all faces.”
The impression this makes lingers long after New Year’s Day is past. Afterwards, if you get angry or do something foolish, another member of the family – usually one of the women – may ask, “Do you remember whose face you saw on Vishu?” Even the toughest of my cousins used to feel sheepish and admit, “I forgot.”
In the fever of our modern civilization, we too have forgotten this eternal truth: that by whatever name we call him, the Lord of Love is always present in the depths of our consciousness. Nothing we do can displease him. And human life has one single purpose: to discover this divine Self through the practice of spiritual disciplines, of which the foremost is meditation.
I describe meditation in many different ways. Because it is an interior process, taking place within the mind, the words we use for outward events do not apply. Just as a nuclear physicist often has to fall back on figures of speech to talk about his field, those who have realized the Lord in their own consciousness fall back on similes and parables and homely illustrations to convey what cannot really be conveyed in words. Here I would like to present meditation as a kind of inner exploration – a search through consciousness for the answer to the deep, driving question, Who am I?
The other day I passed a part of San Francisco graced with old Victorian houses. Some were elegant but sadly neglected. Others were being carefully restored, one or two so thoroughly that I almost expected the gentleman of the house to come out wearing a stiff white collar and spats. But for many owners, I am told, the elaborate attention stops with the outside.
That, I thought to myself, is very much what we are like – those Victorian houses. The outside is generally presentable, and that is all we usually see. We stand in the street, so to speak, and observe, “What a nice house! Look at that gingerbread, those beveled glass doors, the wisteria draping from the porch, the hedge trained to look like a squirrel. Wouldn’t it be nice to live there!” When we talk about people on the basis of appearances, we speak the same way. We see them for two minutes at the post office and come home saying, “I met the nicest fellow today – not like some I could mention.” It is no real reflection on our eyesight to say that is how the vast majority of us see. This is the human condition: to look only at the exterior, the surface of life.
But as my grandmother used to say, “If you want the real taste of a mango, you have to get close to the pit.” The surface may taste sweet, but near the pit a mango can taste so sour that you feel like going back to the fruit stall and saying, “Here’s your pit; give me back my money.” This is common in personal relationships too. A man and a woman go together to an out-of-the-way restaurant, linger over a candlelight dinner gazing into each other’s eyes, and sweep home on a cloud saying, “This is it!” They go to the movie theater, which is a valuable aid to transitory romances, and watch When Harry Met Sally. She cries, he passes his handkerchief, and for a while they are united, two hearts beating together as one – Ms. Perfection, Mr. Right.
Then they move in together. After that, every day is a surprise. Both, of course, are too gracious to put in words the way they are beginning to feel. But if we could hear their thoughts, they would be saying, “This isn’t like dinner at Giorgio’s!” “It wasn’t this way watching When Harry Met Sally.” Little by little, they are getting closer to the pit. And finally they are writing to their friends, “I’ve met Mr. Wrong!” “I’ve been living with Ms. Imperfection.”
Most of us, in fact, know only the veranda, not only of others but also of ourselves. Actually, none of us is Mr. Right or Mr. Wrong, Ms. Perfection or Ms. Imperfection. We do have angles and corners to our personality, but deep within there is a core of perfection and purity in every one of us. To find that divine core, however, we cannot stay outside. We need to open the door of the Victorian house of the mind and go in.