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Being in the World, but Not of It

by Radha Burnier
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  • (Extraced from The Theosophist, February 2002.)
Being in the World, but Not of It

the view from Adyar



Let us consider briefly what it is to be out of the world. Not in a physical sense of course, but free and in command of one’s life and its course, not dragged into adopting attitudes, values, and beliefs by outer or inner compulsion. In the Yoga-vasishtha and the Bible, we find advice given by Vasishtha and Jesus respectively to become like little children. A child is by nature happy. Even an ill-treated child manages to be happy whenever given the opportunity. Children do not struggle with the world or engage in acquisitive activities or self-aggrandizement. They are just themselves.




By contrast, the essence of worldliness expresses itself in the adult in conscious or unconscious attitudes of struggle and confrontation. We do not expect the starving millions not to struggle to keep body and soul together. But with others who experience no such dire circumstances, at a subtler level and all the time, there is something which struggles. So there is a contest with surroundings, family, professional, and other obligations and with what one is. Even those who join philanthropic, well-intentioned bodies are unable to refrain from strife. Then, becoming weary of struggle, they strive to be free of struggle! We dare not be still, at peace, but want always to accomplish something, get somewhere.




Have we asked what we are struggling about? Why stress arises from deep within us? Is the physical struggle of our animal past still active in the brain? Why do people who have enough to eat and who enjoy all the necessities of life feel “poor”? Is the mind addicted to attaining a different condition? In modern society, children are trained to exert themselves and prepare for better and better positions, more skill, more achievement. Furthermore, there is a struggle to be loved. The more people crave love, admiration, or recognition, the more stressful their lives are. They crave and demand instead of being themselves loving, kind, and helpful; thus they spend their lives tussling.




Without trying to make a complete list, we can see that struggling is a destructive, psychological habit to prove one’s merit, appear smart, obtain advantages, make quick progress, and do a thousand other things. At the Feet of the Master says we should not try to appear clever, but why should we appear to be anything at all? Why all this striving? Is it possible to act and live, do what is worthwhile, helpful, and good, without needing psychologically to struggle for it?




Struggling is an ego-habit, so even when people wish not to be part of the world and aspire to lead the spiritual life, their minds continue to be anxious to have the guru’s attention, to quickly become enlightened, or to find the best method to overcome their defects. So it is not peaceful. “Do not let yourself be easily deceived by your own heart,” says Light on the Path. It is easy to be worldly, while imagining one is spiritual. On the other hand, by learning to be aware that the egoistic self feeds itself on struggle and confrontation with people, ideas, circumstances, and its own defects, the tension is shed and there is calm.




Wholesome living, being natural and happy like children, means not demanding, not struggling, but being still and calm with whatever is. Taoism teaches nonresistance, implying deep inner contentment of the mind, in harmony with earth and heaven. The Bhagavadgita also advises one to act while “being established in Yoga.” Yoga is realizing fully the harmony of earth and heaven of which we are part. When there is no feeling of struggle in whatever we do or think (a state the ancients called sama or “tranquility”), there is a remarkable change in all our relationships and in our very being.




So we must stop to realize how we are functioning—not what we are doing and how to find solutions for problems—but how we are functioning. Perhaps even a small deed done in the right state of mind does far more good than many things done by egocentric struggling. In the ocean, when a strong wind blows, at first there are little undulations; but as the wind keeps on blowing, the undulations become stronger and larger; then they turn into huge waves and breakers. Even sturdy sailing ships of old could not withstand such waves. We all struggle in small ways because of petty ambitions and imaginary needs. In the psychological realm, as in the ocean, there is a cumulative process, as we see when something happens in a crowd. A few people get frightened, then everybody panics resulting in a stampede. The whole world is like that. Our little struggles mount up and are magnified into large struggles and wars. People like Krishnamurti and the Dalai Lama say, “You are responsible for the whole world!” When we do not live in serenity and peace, we create wars.




Being bodily in the world is not of importance, provided there is harmony and tranquility within. The Buddhas take birth in the world when there is degeneration, but they do not cease to be Buddhas. They are never of the world, they are free and karma-less, since they are embodiments of peace. Karma is not just physical action; it comprehends the kind of energy we put into outer action. The energy of the Buddhas is love and peace, while the energy ordinary people generate is selfish to a lesser or greater degree, and it is therefore the cause of violence. For peace to come to the suffering world, inside us there must be neither struggle nor the illusions of insecurity and ambition. When our illusions end, we shall be harbingers of peace.


  • (Extraced from The Theosophist, February 2002.)


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