That vivid memory of my 15-year-old self in lemon-yellow cotton overalls, messy hair yet wide expectant eyes sitting amongst veiled Indian marwadi women in a Satsangh (religious discourse) that my father encouraged me to attend at his friend’s house, saying it would interest me, which it did.
“We know the ferocity of a lion,” said the woman moderating the discussions, “so we never go anywhere near him. We leave him alone in his cage.” Of course! I thought – that’s a no-brainer! “And, so it is with our fellow human beings,” she explained. “Each has his own unique nature – which either resonates with our own or creates a total discord. We must know to discern and embrace or avoid accordingly.” Yes. I affirmed triumphantly. That is what I do. Everyone I don’t like, I avoid. I’m good with this philosophy.
But then, as I grew in age and my interest in the shastras deepened, along what would be a long and arduous spiritual journey, I inadvertently stumbled upon Shri Krishna’s very first pre-requisite for a true bhakta (devotee) in verse 13 of chapter 12 in the Bhagavad Gita.
adveshta sarvabhutanam meaning one who has no hate for any being? Read that again. A true devotee is not someone who merely loves everybody but does not dislike anybody! Any body! Not a single body! Haan? I wondered! How is that even possible?
But with a gradual expansion of my understanding, I recognized that a chain’s strength lies in its weakest link. The entire chain could be made of solid gold – unbreakable – but if it is connected at any place with a link of cardboard – tug at that point, and it breaks! And so it is with us. We could be large-hearted people who generally love one and all. Still, a deliberate indifference, a strong dislike, or worse, hate for even one would be enough to consume us whole and pollute our otherwise beautiful personalities.
Those being the early days of my seeking, my bubbling enthusiasm pushed me to instantaneously put into practice everything I was learning without understanding it fully. I began “loving” it all – good, bad, or indifferent. “Can hate no being” was the shruti (background music) echoing away through my conscience no matter how crude a person or absurd a circumstance stood before me. And though my Intellect gloated at this newfound benevolence that I was running around bestowing upon my world – my heart was shrinking within, stifling, suffocating me – weeping. Why? Because I “loved” that which I knew in every ounce of my being to be unlovable. Repeatedly hushing my better judgment, I began throwing myself as a doormat to be trampled upon by all I instinctually knew to be wrong.
“To thine own self be true, And it must follow, as the night the day, Thou canst not then be false to any man,” said William Shakespeare. I was anything but true to myself in this fraudulent act of loving that I was so triumphantly on about. Consciously I was acknowledging, embracing, and yes, condoning evil every step of the way – because Shri Krishna declared, adveshta sarvabhutanam in the book I revere most in my life. And imagine what a waste all of that forced love was because I was not being true to anyone. I was a mithyachara – a hypocrite – harboring some feelings within and expressing something entirely different without.
Years later, when the turmoil within reached its peak and my restlessness, I could bear no more, that whole scene of my very first satsangh flashed before me. And the moderator’s analogy of the lion played out once again in my thought processes. Unconsciously, I began boring deep into it … until aha! Eureka! The rest of the teaching on its own unraveled right there and then!
The lion is ferocious, and yes, we leave it alone in the cage. No doubt, we do not go and hug it, but neither do we hate it nor begin pelting stones at it. We admire its ferocity from afar and go our own way, filled with great awe and reverence for its uniqueness.
And that is what was meant by Shri Krishna’s adveshta sarvabhutanam! Alas! It all came together for me. Everyone we encounter will have their own nature, some completely opposed to ours, perhaps detestable – in fact, even detrimental to our existence. But here is where the teaching comes into play. Do not engage. But do not hate. Stand up for yourself, vehemently oppose, yes, but what? The action – not the actor! “Punish the sin, not the sinner,” as is popularly said.
Throughout the Bhagavad Gita, Shri Krishna emphasizes love, oneness, forgiveness, and the like, and yet! He insists that Arjuna picks up his bow and arrow to fight! Both those teachings addressed two different aspects of Arjuna’s personality. While the body was meant to do what it was meant to do – in his case, fight the war to re-establish righteousness under the guidance of a very unbiased and objective Intellect – his mind was to be surrendered in love to Brahman, the eternal Atman that was the same in him and all the other bodies he was to annihilate on that battlefield.
“I have dedicated 60 years of my life to teaching Advaita Vedanta to countless people and authored numerous books on the subject to expound its import. But today, you can keep all that philosophy aside if you haven’t been able to make sense of any of it and hold onto this one understanding. A will be A, B will be B, and C will be C. Not understanding who is what and how to manage who is what gets you into all sorts of trouble. Get this right, and you will cruise through life. I promise,” said my Teacher and Guide the last time I saw Him in person.
And really, THAT is the bottom line. Understand yourself, assess the world, and engage accordingly. Hating no body!