(Lecture delivered at the Vancouver Meditation Society, April 20, 1990)
When the mind is in equilibrium it is at peace. Our mind is absolutely still. Our body is fully relaxed, our thought is controlled, but we are fully conscious. Does one experience stress in such a state? What is stress and how do we manage it?
Stress is of two kinds. We have positive stress and negative stress. We need positive stress in life in order to do anything. What stress means is a disturbance of the equilibrium. If a car is going straight and you do not do anything to it, it will just go straight. But if you want the car to turn or stop, you have to do something to it. It is similar with stress. It has to be positive in order for us to do anything useful, because positive stress does not give us distress. That means that we are using our abilities, our mind, and our bodies to achieve something that is good for us. That kind of stress is good. You have to get up in the morning to go and work, therefore it is something useful. You get an income. But negative stress is what we want to avoid.
How do we avoid a negative stress? First of all we must realize that stress is due to the fact that things are not going exactly the way we would like. If we owe the bank money, and do not have enough income to repay the loan, then we suffer distress. We worry, lose sleep, lose appetite and become depressed. You can add a hundred stresses like that – your children are misbehaving, you or family members are sick, a friend dies, or someone takes you to court. Thing happen, so stress is always there. How do you avoid stress?
To avoid stress it is best not to develop stress in the first place. But how do you do that? You accept the fact that whatever is happening in your life is “proper” for you at that time. All the saints have taught that. According to the Law of Karma, whatever is happening to you is just. There is a saying, “Man proposes but God disposes.” You can make plans, but if they do not fit in with the Divine Law, then they may not work out for you, and you develop stress. It is because you have not developed the understanding, that whatever is happening in the course of natural law is normal and proper for you. It is said that, jaise karni, waise bharni (as you sow, so also you will reap). Why are these teachings given to us? It is for reducing stress because we must, first and foremost, realize that we are Atma. We are soul. Soul has no distress. Soul is absolutely pure. The quality of the soul is spoken of as sat-chit-anand (existence, consciousness and bliss). When bliss is within, how can you have distress?
We have distress because we do not accept that we are the soul, and think we are the body and its adjuncts. But we are Divine beings, the source of bliss. Then whatever else happens is due to the interplay of our actions, mind, emotions and feelings. But you can say that because we are human beings, we have to use the body, mind, emotions, and feelings. We have likes and dislikes. That is true. But how do you avoid stress if you say, “I am only human.” You have to think of it in this way, “I will develop positive emotions such as ‘I will love. I will be charitable. I will be kind. I will be humble. I will avoid the negative emotions of lust, anger, attachment, greed and egoism (kam, krodh, lobh, moha and ahankar.)” These are the five big obstacles to peace. These are the things we do not want because they create problems for us. We get attached to some person and, if that person dies, we go into mourning. You know that some people cannot get over that loss. They get depressed. All these things happen because of attachment called asakti. Deha asakti is attachment to the physical body. It dies. The one that you loved dearly will not come and embrace your dead body. People do not want family members to die at home. They die in the hospital or nursing home. Death comes to everyone, yet it is a source distress.
Because we have ego, we feel hurt when someone insults us. We need to get rid of the ego. Do you know why that ego is the biggest stumbling block in spiritual life? God is the source of everything, including us. What we are seeing is delusion, or Maya. It is God’s “projection” to make manifest this universe. But when we have ego, we are unconsciously separating ourselves from God. We are assuming a separate identity from God, and that is wrong. It’s called avidya (ignorance). We must accept that God dwells within, and is the source of bliss, happiness, health, strength, and wisdom. When you have all of these qualities within, then you do not accept distress in your life. Whatever comes, you are prepared to accept, and you “thank” God for the suffering. One of the great Sikh Gurus, when he was being tortured on a hot iron by Emperor Jahangir, said, “tere kiye, mitha lage” (O God, what is your will is pleasant to me.) We may not have the same fortitude, but we need to think along that line. We must always have that attitude that God is the source of bliss and happiness, and that God dwells within us as the soul.
You have to go above the mind to reach the soul, and that is what we do in meditation. You rise above the mind, intellect, ego and feelings and be neutral. In that neutral state you are attached only to God. God is “Neutrality.” God does not have favourites, gender, or religious partiality. That is why people of all religions, cultures and creeds can pray to the same God, and they all think that God is listening to them in their language. But if you look at it from an overall point of view, that same God is God everywhere. We must try to understand this, also that God’s peace is within, and we must not give way to anxieties, depressions, and worries. The very fact that the soul is within means that we have the strength to accept and endure adversities. We do not have to reduce distress from one hundred percent to fifty or twenty-five percent. We can reduce it to nearly zero by not developing stress in the first place.
We allow stress to stress us. For example, if someone insults us, we have a choice. Do we react to it? Do we feel vengeful and fight back? Or do we withdraw and feel depressed? Or do we ignore it? Whatever somebody calls us does not change us. It only reveals that person’s attitude and feelings. “Judge not that ye be not judged.” What does Jesus mean by that? When you judge somebody you are judging yourself. If I stay quiet and you call me a hundred names, who is being judged? I am still the same person, the same name, same weight, same height, same soul, same everything, but you are revealing your mind.
These are only a few examples I have given to help us understand why we must not develop stress, because stress is not the nature of our inner being. We allow stress to build up because of avidya (ignorance) of our true nature, our power and ability. That power is given to us by God residing in us. When we practice meditation, we attune ourselves to the Divine Being. When we are attuned to the Divine Being, there is no more stress in life. We obtain bliss.
Dr. Jagessar Das