The Tree of Knowledge
— Swami Nikhilananda
Swami Nikhilananda (a direct disciple of Holy Mother Sri Sarada Devi) guided us, last week, through some of the lessons we need to learn so that we can live life to its fullest. The body we had seven years ago is no longer the one we have at present, he said.
Every seven years there is a complete overhaul and the body is as though reborn. A similar thing happens to our minds. If we observe our lives carefully, we will find that a transformation takes place roughly every seven years, give and take a few years. We notice a definite paradigm shift taking place in the personality. These are lessons that Life teaches us. We can either go with the flow and learn them effortlessly and naturally or learn them in a more proactive, conscious sort of way. More of the ‘Lessons that Life teaches us’:
Lesson five – Exploration and travel – ‘They and theirs’: Lesson five is recognising/realising that families other than “mine” also exist in this world. From 28 to 35, people explore the world. This is the stage of an explorer and an adventurer out on an exploration trip! At a physical level, this is actually going out and visiting places and meeting new people. At a mental level, it is reading books and expanding one’s horizons of knowledge. Such people are no longer bound to their families. They do not remain mere householders in the sense of holding on to their households. They move out into society and the world at large. At this stage we realize the existence of ‘they’ and ‘theirs’. We understand that there are others in this world and some things belong to them.
Lesson six – Universal identification and love ‘We’ and ‘ours’: This lesson spans the years 35 to 42. Here we come to realize the vastness of the world. Not only do we acknowledge the presence of others in this world but we also come to identify with the vast variety of life forms that exist on the planet. A feeling that we all belong to Mother Earth arises. The lesson being of ‘we’ and ‘ours’, there is the feeling of togetherness that we all belong to earth and the earth belongs to us. This is the stage of identification with the entire creation, of universal love and compassion. ‘We’ denotes all beings, human, bird and animal and ‘ours’ denotes the universe. At this level a person becomes a lover of the world. It is a state of unconditional love for and towards all. One learns the lesson of ‘Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam’ – seeing the whole world as One large family.
Lesson seven – Contemplation and mysticism ‘All is That’: As we proceed from 42 onwards, questions arise in our minds about ‘we’ and ‘ours’. “Is there more to life than just us and what we have?” People become introspective and wonder whether there is more to existence than meets the eye. Until now, we had the feeling of being in control of our lives, but as we progress in years we encounter old age, death and an inability to control events. We begin to question the possibility of something else being in control of our lives. “Who are we? Are we alone in this world?” We are not what we seem to be and the world is not what it appears to be.
Such persons between the ages of 42 to 49, perhaps for the first time in their lives, come to accept the presence of God. They become conscious of the presence of a spiritual power, a Reality or Divinity that lies beyond the domain of scientific analysis. This is the commencement of our spiritual journey. Prior to this, such people could have been religious and ritualistic performing rituals for their own or their family’s well being.
A higher level of spiritual growth implies a deep and subtle understanding that the world really belongs to ‘That’. There is a supreme power, call it God or Truth or ‘That’ and everything belongs to that power. We learn the lesson of ‘That’ factor or Tat. During these years we become more aware of this factor. We realize that we are not what we imagined ourselves to be and the world is not what we thought it was. We have reached lesson seven which is a mystical number. There is a strange mystery to everything.Number one pertains to something new. Number two is the awareness of someone else, three is awareness of the other gender, four is building the four walls of your house, five is the exploration of newer worlds, six is the number of unconditional love and seven is the number of mysticism.
Lesson eight – Dispassion and vairagya: Number eight is the lesson of vairagya i.e. dispassion or Saturn. When we come to appreciate that everything belongs to that power called God, we become more detached from external stimuli. The notion of things belonging to us seems childish/immature and ridiculous. (If it were so, then we should be able to carry all that we possess with us after we die!) These false notions of ‘I’ and ‘my’ are dropped. We realize that everything belongs to that Supreme Reality and that It alone expresses as this world. All that is seen changes and that Reality alone is the changeless substratum. We become detached from all that changes. We gain total vairagya or dispassion from all that is asat or unreal. From 49 to 56 is the age of sanyas.
Lesson nine – Self Realization and Enlightenment: Between the ages of 56 to 63, when we are firmly established in vairagya we come to realize and recognize that the one I considered God is not different from my real Self. He is I, ‘Soham’. This is the time of Self Realization or Enlightenment. We understand that the God whom we were seeking everywhere is in fact ‘my own Self’. In these seven years, through vairagya and intense contemplation we become aware of the fact that we are neither the body, nor the mind nor intellect, but we are the one Indivisible Supreme Reality – chidanandarupaha Sivoham Sivoham.
Lesson ten – Teaching and sharing the lessons learned: We must now share what we have learned with others. After the age of 63 we become Enlightened teachers. We now tell others, “You are That” (Tat Tvam Asi). A Guru is one who tells others, “You are that Divinity”. From 63 onwards we learn to share with others the lessons that we have learned. This lesson of sharing with all continues till the very end. All these lessons must be learnt within our lifetime.
Nature continues teaching us without being concerned about our age. People often get stuck on lesson one itself. They may be grownup individuals but behave like children! They learn the lesson of selfishness and live in a world of their own. They are not aware of the presence of other beings. Even while living with the family they remain oblivious to others and derive their identity from self-importance. When we learn the lesson of accepting others, we begin respecting and valuing things from a universal perspective. We do not litter roads and public places because we understand that these belong to all. The motto, ‘Live and let live’ becomes important.
This is the syllabus of human existence. If we learn these lessons in one lifetime, we attain liberation. If we fail to learn them, we take birth again to begin from where we left off. This is the natural process of evolution.
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