Things do not happen to us; they happen for us!
Everything happens for a reason; that too, to serve our own purpose.
When we live in awareness and reflect in depth whenever we find ourselves in an extra-ordinary situation – could be a challenging situation, or a traumatic situation ,or even a simply bewildering situation that we fail to make sense of, or too happy a situation, we see there is always an underlying design behind what happens to us.
Some situations test us and reveal US to OURSELVES. Our true character surfaces – whether the values we profess, the beliefs we propound are the ones we really live by, or merely lip-service.
The issue with having strong moral/ethical values is that you get tested for them again and again; and one of the best tests of your belief in certain higher principle is whether or not you can apply that in cases with which you have the least sympathy. For example, you think you value woman’s dignity and hence, treat prostitution as something condemnable in that context. But if you truly respect the dignity of women, then you shall also sincerely condemn all rapes- even that of a prostitute!! If you, instead, start creating the thought – “Well, why should she be sympathised? In any case, she has already been selling her dignity, so what more she has lost by getting raped??”, then are you the person you thought you are ?? If, in this case, you cannot bring yourself to look at her with the same pair of eyes as you would see any woman whose person has been violated by force against her wish, it only reflects that you lack conviction in what you think you strongly believe. If you truly value women’s dignity, then you will never miss out on the crucial difference between doing something ( here, prostitution) out of own decision(or some compulsion) and getting raped(i.e. violated by force), notwithstanding the fact that that something( prostitution) is detestable! For all you know, she might have been victimised and forced into prostitution in the first place! Well, how she got into that is beside the point here. Point is: if you are true to what you profess, then, you will always uphold: every woman, even a prostitute, has a right not to be raped! Because, it is the act of rape that you will despise and condemn, not the victim, that too selectively!
It is said, and rightly so, everyone is honest till temptation knocks at their door! So if you can actually stare at temptation or adversity right in the eye and overcome them, then only you know that honesty and courage are the hallmarks of your true character. Not until then! Thus, difficult situations give us the much needed opportunity to see clearly at ourselves, our deep seated beliefs and values, and open our eyes to the splits and chinks in our own character, where we must work on ourselves.
Some situations grind us hard, so that we develop our “muscles” – hone our talents and strengths towards our best potential, so that we keep doing better and better, until we do our best and be our best in any situation. Need no elaboration. Ever tried learning how to play a stringed musical instrument? Has anybody learnt playing it without hurting their fingers at first? Have you ever learnt to ride a bi-cycle without falling down a couple of times and most likely hurting yourself ? Without falling and getting hurt, we don’t even learn how to walk! What to speak of the higher and tougher things in life – acquiring knowledge, skills, talent, competence and great human qualities!!
Some situations strike us hard and torture us literally to make us learn the lessons that we need to learn; and teach us how to rise above pain to power, and ultimately leave us better and stronger, ready to evolve to a higher level of being. Especially, the two most important qualities for a spiritual transformation – gratitude and compassion– are best learnt in the process of actual passage through pain, intense pain!!
All that happens to us happens because the Law of Karma is indeed reformative, not punitive. At each moment of the present, our past comes as a situation that gives us an opportunity to settle our past karmic debts, while on the other hand it is an opportunity to create good karma that will create our destiny in future! We go on settling past karmic debt, if we choose to gracefully accept responsibility for our current suffering ( loss, hurt, pain etc.) as consequences of our own past bad karma, without creating further bad karma in terms of resistance/retaliation. At the same time, these same situations give us an opportunity to create new good karma, by transcending the bad energy via creation of new good energy in return!! (Yes, it is possible, when we genuinely wish well for our tormentor moving out of the zone of revenge.). As we do that, we also grow stronger and evolve higher on our spiritual journey.
Yes! It serves us the greatest good to remember every moment that the ‘present’ is an opportunity to earn new good karma for fruition at a later date on maturity. That is why it is so called – ‘present’, a gift! Past karma was our fate or pre-destiny, which we must face in the present and endure with grace to settle it once for all; but what we do in the present is our present karma which creates our destiny every moment that we are going to face as fate/pre-destiny in future! So every situation that we may find ourselves in the present because of our fate/pre-destiny is also an opportunity to create our destiny for future.
But whatever it may be, a common thread runs through all situations: Things do not happen to us; they happen for us!
Especially the so-called “bad” things! Because we learn a lesson the best when we actually experience it in our life!!
An anecdote from the great Indian epic “Mahabharat” goes like this:
The very first lesson the Pandava boys received from their Guru in the Ashram was: “Satyam vada, Krodham maa kuru !” which means “ Speak the Truth and never get angry!” All the brothers, except Yudhisthir, confirmed the very next day that they had remembered the lesson. But Yudhisthir said that he had learnt only the first half, i.e.“Satyam vada” and not the other half “ Krodham Maa kuru”. The Guru patiently made him repeat the words “Krodham maa kuru”, “ Krodham maa kuru” a few times. Next day, when asked whether he remembered it, Yudhisthir gave the same reply – he had learnt “satyam vada”, but had yet to learn “ krodham maa kuru”. Though the teacher was taken by a little surprise, he nevertheless made Yudhisthir repeat the words multiple times to make him remember the teaching. And this went on for quite a few days. Finally one day the Guru lost his temper and shouted in anger at Yudhisthir: “Why is it that you can not remember three simple words Krodham Maa kuru, despite repeating multiple times for so many days, while your younger brothers learnt it the very first day? How can you be so stupid??” Only after a few moments, Yudhisthir clapped his hands in joy and declared,” I have now learnt the lesson!”. Surprised, Guru asked, “How come only a moment ago, you were unable to recall the words, and now you are so sure that you have learnt them??” Replied Yudhisthir humbly, “Guruji ! I always speak the truth; so it was easy to remember the first half of the lesson, which I have already mastered. But I was not sure of the second half that says “never yield to anger”, until and unless someone got angry at me and in return, I remained calm. Today, I actually found that about myself. So I can truthfully say now that I have remembered this part of the teaching as well.”
Yes! Life’s lessons are not to be copied from others, nor memorised; they are to be “learnt” and then only they can be remembered!!
Perhaps this is why the greatest achievers also happen to be the ones who have seen great failures; the most respected are the ones who perhaps have risen above the bitterest humiliations, and the greatest healers are the ones who have been through the most painful situations themselves!! Just remember, Jesus Christ, Gautam Buddha, Ashoka, Mahatma Gandhi, Dada Vaswani …to name only a few!
Life’s challenges, in the process of making us learn our lessons, strengthen and fortify us still further so that we can cultivate the right attitude to everything in life and be our best, notwithstanding the adversities. Ever seen even a great saint not going through physical sufferings and other hardships? Success in the affairs of life often serves to hide one’s abilities, whereas adversity frequently gives one an opportunity to discover them.
“All the adversity I’ve had in my life, has strengthened me. You may not realize it when it happens, but a kick in the teeth may be the best thing in the world for you.”
Ever looked thoughtfully at a lotus? It is born out of, and surrounded by mud and muck and water; yet no spec of mud or water can ever settle on or stick to it!! What is more, it always, always rises and looks up to the Sun – the source of Light! Similarly, our ultimate motto in life ought to be a progressive movement towards “light” – that is, end of ignorance and stepping into the realm of knowledge, wisdom and spiritual enlightenment. Adversities smite us and give us the much-needed awakenings towards this end.
A blacksmith, who loved God with all his heart and soul notwithstanding his poverty and many a hardship, once was asked by a non-believer in God: How can you trust and love a God who sends you so much of sufferings and sickness?? The blacksmith answered with a calm smile: I am a blacksmith and I know when I have to make a tool, I take a piece of iron, put it into the fire, and then strike it hard on the anvil to check if it will take temper. If it does, I know I can make something useful out of it. And if not, I just throw it away as a useless scrap!! Having been sent to this wonderful world, I wish to be of use and value; and so I always pray God: Please pass me through the fire of sufferings as much as YOU want, but pray, do not throw me on the scrap-heap.
Adversities are the best opportunities to make us learn to see the positives even in the heap of negatives and help us cultivate an attitude of gratitude.
There is this story of two people, whose ship wrecked and they found themselves on an uninhibited island. For temporary shelter, they built a cottage of branches and leaves of trees available there. Every day, both would go to the sea shore and shout or wave their hands or clothes for help in the hope that they would get sighted by some ship afar and get rescued. But no help came for quite a few days. One of the two survivors was a strong believer in God and always thanked God for everything, while the other one was a non-believer. As days passed, the second man’s complainings knew no bound. On the other hand, the first person always kept up his faith, counting their blessings: “We still have so much to be grateful for! We are alive; we could have drowned to death. We are on an island with some shelter at least. We are having our eyes, hands, legs and other body parts intact and still in our good senses, with which we are able to work toward our rescue. Thank you, God!” One evening, as they were returning, they found their cottage of branches and leaves burning and getting reduced to ash. The non-believer started cursing the God, even as the believer still maintained that there must be some good in this! The next morning, they saw a small rescue boat waiting for them at the sea shore. The captain explained that the previous evening, he had noticed some smoke rising from the island and hence thought that there might be someone here who might need help. The believer thanked God as usual, with stronger belief in Divine design. Did the non-believer see the good in the apparent negative incident of fire and change? Well, that crisis was certainly an opportunity for him to learn the lesson in positivity and gratitude.
Yes, it is a story. But look around! Don’t you see many such people in real life all the time?? In fact, many of the so called common, ordinary people are like this, living with an attitude of gratitude which is why, we find them lead a “happy” life even in circumstances like poverty, sickness and daily challenges!! We have never bothered to look at them, or we evaluate their happiness quotient by our own parameters and so fail to assess it correctly; then show the audacity to pity them thinking: how miserable a life they are leading!
Even simple episodes of worsening situations/inconveniences teach us the lessons in contentment and gratitude for what we already have. An insightful tale from Mullah Naseeruddin is in order here:
Naseeruddin’s neighbour one day lamented, “I am really having trouble fitting my family into our small house. My wife, three children, my mother-in-law and I, all share the same cottage. Mullah, you are a wise man. Do you have any advice for me?”
“Of course,” replied Mullah. “Do you have any chickens in your yard?” The man replied, “Yes. Ten.” Mullah ordered: “ Put them in your cottage.” “ But,” the man protested,” our house is already so cramped.” Naseeruddin urged: “ Just try it.”
Desperate to find a solution, the man followed Mullah’s advice, but the next day said,” Mullah, with the chickens in the house, things are even worse now.” “Don’t worry.”, replied Mullah. “Now take that donkey of yours into the house.” The man resisted, but Naseeruddin convinced him to do it. The next day, the man, more distressed than ever, grumbled, “This is terrible! Between the family, the chickens and that donkey, there is barely any room to move!” “ Hmmm.” went Naseeruddin, “ any other animals in your yard?” The man hesitated, “Well…we do have a goat.” Mullah smiled: “Perfect! Take the goat in your house, too. ”The man was aghast and raised a fuss again. But Mullah, wise and clever as he was, once again convinced the man that it was for his best only. The next day the man virtually exploded, “ My family is really upset now. Everyone is at my throat complaining about the lack of space. Your plan is making us miserable.” Mullah nodded, “It’s time to take all the animals back to the yard outside.” The man was too relieved to follow this advice and did as he was told. Next day he dropped by Naseeruddin and declared, “Mullah, you are wise indeed. Your plan has worked like a charm. Our house now feels so spacious that none of us can help but feel pleased. No one complains anymore.”
Very often we tend to grow too discontent and forget to value what we already have – good health, decent means to live a life of dignity, stable relationships for support and emotional security etc., which we commonly take for granted. At these junctures, the Universe (or call it, God) plays a Mullah Naseeruddin and sends us situations in which we lose even what we had till now, so that we are vitually shaken awake to the value of what we had; and get driven not only to restore, but further work on them with a new-found perspective of value and loss!
At the other end of the spectrum of people living in gratitude are the genuine saintly individuals, the “mahatmas”, the enlightened ones, who also lead ordinary lives of simplicity and sufferings, but actually do extra-ordinary service to the humanity through their inspiring personal examples, teachings and compassionate action! Are they “suffering” ? NO!! Their physical bodies only suffer, not their mind, heart and soul. Come what may, they hold their head high, spirit indomitable, heart full of love, peace and compassion! Soul in absolute harmony personified!! So they never “feel” misery. Rather, they are the real wealthy ones on this earth at a peak level on their spiritual journey towards self-actualisation, or call it salvation !
Actually, we tend to mix up “suffering” with outward difficulties like not-enough riches, or physical burden and sickness. One truly “suffers” when one “feels” miserable at the deepest core of heart. It is never the “load” that breaks us down, but the way we carry it! Every human being, good and bad, is given their share of “load” in this world. But a good person always carries the load rightly and hence, never “suffers” in reality.
Suffering is a good teacher to those who are quick and willing to learn from it. But it becomes a tyrant to those who resist and resent. Suffering can teach us almost everything. Its lessons urge us to develop discrimination, self-control, non-attachment, morality, and transcendent spiritual consciousness.
—Sri Paramahansa Yogananda
This is a true story of Dashrath Manjhi, a simple, poor, low-caste( so called) youth in an obscure village in Bihar who lost his beloved wife to illness and lack of timely medical treatment only due to lack of easy access to the nearby hospital. The villagers had to walk down about 70 km around a mountain to reach that only hospital in the vicinity. This tragedy, instead of crushing Dashrath’s spirit, impelled him to chisel away at the rock-hard formidable mountain, single-handedly, for long 22 years, even despite public ridicule till the result showed up, only so that his village could gain easy access to the hospital and no other fellow villager should suffer a similar loss of life. And he did it finally – unbelievable, but true! The tragedy only brought out his true mettle – a good soul with unwavering faith, grit and determination – a never-give-up spirit.
This is also exactly why we must never question, why bad things happen to good people. The correct question should be: what do good people do when bad things happen to them. They continue to live in gratitude and go on doing good ! They emerge stronger everytime they pass through a storm. Similarly, never ask: why do good people suffer? Because they actually do not “suffer”, as they have learnt to rise above the (physical) pain to (spiritual/mind ) power !!
Confucius is known to have said once: Life is really simple, but we make it complicated ( by not learning our lessons early). We may acquire wisdom by three methods – first, by reflection ( i.e learning from own inner compass) which is the noblest ( but the honesty required is often missing); second, by imitation( learning from others’ experience and examples) which is the easiest ( but almost rarely heeded); and thirdly, by experience, which is the bitterest ( but perhaps the most effective, as it gives us no option other than to reflect, evaluate, even look at others’ examples and develop insights that are necessary to learn the lessons we need to learn.). But if, even after given an opportunity of learning from our real experience, we do not learn the lesson it had come to teach us……, then we stay in the same orbit of ignorance to face similar bitter experiences again and yet again.
Adversities clarify our true beliefs and faiths. For example, there is a huge difference between telling “I believe in God” and actual faith in HIM. Ever heard this story?
The story tells about a mountain climber, who wanted to climb the highest mountain. He begun his adventure after many years of preparation, but since he wanted the glory just for himself, he decided to climb the mountain alone. He started to climb but it began to get very late, and instead of preparing his tent to camp, he kept climbing until it got very dark. The night felt heavy in the heights of the mountain, and the man could not see anything. All was black. Zero visibility, and the moon and the stars were covered by the clouds. As he was climbing, only a few feet away from the top of the mountain, he slipped and fell into the air, falling at a great speed. The climber could only see black spots as he went down, and the terrible sensation of being sucked by gravity. He kept falling… and in those moments of great fear, it came to his mind all the good and bad episodes of his life. He was thinking now about how close death was getting, when all of a sudden he felt the rope tied to his waist pull him very hard.
His body was hanging in the air.. Only the rope was holding him, and in that moment of stillness he had no other choice but to scream: HELP ME GOD!!
All of a sudden, a deep voice coming from the sky answered: “What do you want me to do?”
“ Save me God!!”
“Do you really think I can save you?”
“Of course I believe You can”
“THEN CUT THE ROPE TIED TO YOUR WAIST….”
There was a moment of silence; and the man decided to hold on to the rope with all his strength.
The rescue team tells, that the next day a climber was found dead and frozen… his body hanging from a rope. His hands holding tight to it… ONLY 10 FEET AWAY FROM THE GROUND…
Had he really had faith in God, he would have cut the rope and landed on the ground hardly 10 feet below and had survived! Listening to God is nothing but listening to our own higher Consciousness. Had he heard that, he would have realised in a moment of surrender that if he stayed attached to the rope even after its full stretch, he would have had to suffer the freezing cold in any case and die; so why not take chance with the only other option of cutting the rope and allowing himself a free fall so that there could still be some probability of survival!!
Many of life’s trying situations are like this. They come to test what you say and what you do. If you are wise, you will observe the design, learn the lesson, if any, or just stand your ground with your innermost values and beliefs remaining unwavering and walk your talk. Again and again you would be able to do so, no matter how many times you find yourself in similar trying situations. Hanging on to your rope, or, cutting the rope would depend on the specific context. But it is sure that when staring at an adversity, you will first see your true self! Whether you would mind changing yourself for better or not is the second stage, and is your choice.
Every significant situation contains a lesson that we need to learn on our journey of personal and spiritual growth. Until we learn it, it will keep coming back to us in some form or other. Immediate reaction to a challenging situation usually leaves us without learning the lesson and that is why, we will have to face similar challenges again and again. But give time to the issue and yourself, step back, think through the overall situation in its totality: you will learn the lesson hidden in it! In terms of Karmic Account, the debt gets heavier if not paid off when the universe gives you an opportunity. So better to settle it the first time itself.
As we go on learning lessons that we need to learn (i.e. do not repeat our earlier mistakes), we grow from strength to strength.
Once we realise that things really happen for us, and are in a position to see the “purpose” therein, will it not be much easier for us to maintain our inner stability and accept every situation with all its pain, pleasure and lessons with gratitude?