In the ocean that holds all our lives, each of us churns around in search of something. That churning, like the proverbial amritmanthan, raises creatures and qualities that are sometimes wonderful, sometimes terrible and often two-edged. I churn these days in search of many things and the things that I have been returning are completely unpleasant.
Desire unbridled surfaces from my efforts. I want a job. I want a home. I want success. I want friends and family and love. I want tangible material things. I want intangible but real emotional gifts. The list of things I want is endless. It drives me and it drives me wild. It makes me reject what is in my hand for what lies just beyond my reach. Desire drives me to cast aside and to hurt that which lies in my path-whether benevolent or not. Desire ultimately destroys my ability to gain that which I desire. And it undermines the legitimacy of my claim to it.
Anger that I feel when I do not get what I desire sets me further on the path to self-destruction. I lash out first at myself, turning frustration to illness. The jury and judge within work full-time at condemning me, and I never move beyond the first and worst stage of my umpteen sentences-to be permanently on trial. Anger and self-loathing colour everything I do with apology and guilt-I desire, but I do not deserve even that which I have, leave alone that which I desire.
Anger moves me to hurt others. After a point, the pain I inflict on myself is not enough punishment so I hurt others. I fight their kindness, abuse their consideration and dismiss their efforts to help me live with this monster I think I am. Anger drives me to hack at the branch that holds me to the tree and to dig a hole beneath my feet. Anger severs me from my roots and burns to nothing the qualities that I think I have until I no longer do.
Greed will not let me stop. I want more-a better this, a better that. Looking not at what life is offering, but at what it is not. Greed turns me into a rakshasi with an insatiable appetite. Spurred by desire, fueled by anger, I grasp at things unconcerned. Greed makes me devalue the good things in my life as I grab at more, more, more. My greed turns my life into a wasteland.
Which I persist in deluding myself is a paradise. I am wonderful, smart, kind, etc., etc. and my life is a picture-postcard of virtue, success and all those things that it is good to have. This illusion, propped up by greed and desire, allows me to think I have a right to the things I claim. My unique qualities and virtues establish my right to ask for and take what I want, do as I please, say what I choose and walk away unscathed, unrepentant and unpunished. My delusions are thrown up in the churning as poison I cannot recognize and am compelled to consume.
And then there is arrogance. That intoxicating combination of greed, desire and delusion makes me sit in judgment of things I am not worthy to judge. It makes me over-confident, inconsiderate, obnoxious and reduces the efforts of my parents and teachers to make a good person to nothing. Drowning in all this, I cannot even see that I am slipping further and further away from the shore, further and further from the things that I desired that set me churning and further and further into an abyss from which I cannot escape. Arrogance is believing that even your drowning is in fact a good, smooth cruise.
Even in those moments, desire and greed retain possession of my soul. I am sinking further, but my deluded ego chooses to believe otherwise, explaining my submerged state in terms of other people's good fortune and successes. I cannot stay afloat because of them. I cannot succeed because they will not fail. I cannot find the gates because they have walked in already. I tell myself these things, and the wait of my rising spleen simply pulls me down further.
My ego, far from being battered, is now bloated with all these negativities. Its innate resilience prevents me from being fully destroyed and its saturation with negative emotions prevents me from rising again. I churn in vain, for nothing I seek can be mine as long as I carry this load. So now I churn - my heart, my stomach, my mind, this ocean - for lessons on how to cleanse my spirit of these things. How can I turn my ego into a facilitator of my inner growth rather than an overstuffed suitcase full of addictive emotions?
I churn, sometimes in hope, sometimes in despair. At the bottom of this hole into which I have sunk, lies redemption-cleansing, forgiving love for myself, and the liberating love of that larger divinity that will secure my release from these things. Until that moment, the churning must continue.
(Adapted from Swami Sukhabodhananda's Brahma Yagna mediation.)