As our Air India Flight 002 descended on Heathrow airport, the pilot welcomed us to London, announced the local time, and finally revealed the weather was ‘overcast’. Surprise surprise! A verse from Bhagavad-gita came to mind, comparing feelings of happiness and distress to the constant changes of season. Just as winter comes and goes, reappearing the following year, the fluctuations of happiness and distress are just as temporary, meaning one should tolerate them and remain equipoised. I paused to think... the spiritualist has to tolerate happiness. That sounds strange. OK, you tolerate insult and criticism, reversals in the world, misfortunes of life – but why would you have to tolerate happiness? Is that feeling of happiness not the very essence of our existence?
On my recent trip to India I went to purchase some cloth for the monks back home. I came across one wholesaler and asked the cost for 60 metres of cloth, at which the shopkeeper assertively replied “5000 rupees.” My internal calculator immediately began crunching the numbers and I realized he was asking for something in the region of £70. That’s dirt cheap I thought! It would probably cost triple that price in London! I was about to dive into my pocket and enthusiastically seal the deal when I remembered the golden rule of shopping in India – the actual price is usually around half the price they quote initially. As I haggled and debated, threatening to take my custom elsewhere, the shopkeeper relented and came down to 3000 rupees. Good deal! Although the first price seemed amazing, there was room for much better.
Similarly, as one takes to the path of spirituality, various forms of material happiness and pleasure entice one on the way. Such temptations, in the form of fame, adoration, material opulence and feelings of superiority, can attract our attention and indulge our minds. However, one must tolerate such allurements, sincerely striving on for the real fruits of spirituality, knowing such temporal delights to be miniscule in comparison to the spiritual happiness derived from the development of pure consciousness. Whilst our intrinsic nature is to be fully happy, that happiness is spiritual happiness. Forms of material happiness which present themselves in front of us must be tolerated, lest we grab the shadow and miss the substance.