The value of a crisis

From the Yoga of Dejection: pp. xxiv-xxv [sub-headings added by this author]:

Misery wakes us from slumber

Although no one welcomes misery, it should not be despised, nor should we allow ourselves to become bitter because of it. Misery comes of its own accord and actually has an important role to play in human life. It shakes us from our slumber of ignorance and impels us toward the ultimate goal of life, that supreme unending bliss untainted by misery. Just as a thorn can be used to remove a thorn, misery is the affliction that compels us to seek its cessation – and the greater the misery, the greater the impetus to remove it.

Most saints underwent a crisis

Most well known philosophers and saints underwent a crisis at some point in their lives that led them to search for the truth. Even an advanced person, already on the path to reality, may continue to suffer affliction. Like fire, which purifies the gold fashioned into a beautiful ornament, these burning afflictions purify the character of a soul treading the path of truth, transforming that person into an ornament for society.

Arjuna is in a crisis, but is qualified to solve it

The Gita, depicting and analyzing the mind of a common pious person, begins with the dejection of Arjuna, who portrays an individual neither highly elevated nor steeped in animalism. He demonstrates a mixture of virtue and vice, being neither completely hardened by material attachment, nor transcendental to it. An impious person, blunted by his selfish desires, never feels remorse for others nor reflects on the consequences of his actions. In order to feel dejected in anticipation of the loss of relatives, one must have some piety. Arjuna typifies a person who does not know how to rise above material existence, but is pious enough to feel dejected by it. Such a person is qualified to grasp the message of the Gita. The Gita teaches one how to escape from that dejection and attain the supreme goal. Because of this, the first chapter of the book is referred to in the  Mahabharata as the “Yoga of dejection”, even though yoga, union with God, and dejection have nothing apparent in common.

People are numb to suffering

Most crises lack intensity, so people tolerate them and gradually become accustomed to unpleasant situations. Thus, most people only look for a deep and lasting solution to their problems when their state of misery becomes overwhelming. A biologist once demonstrated this in an experiment on a frog. Bringing a pot of water to a boil, he dropped a live frog into it, and the scalded animal immediately jumped out of the water to safety. The biologist then put the frog into another pail of water, this time a room temperature and heated it slowly. Several hours later, the frog had boiled to death, because it had not sought escape from the gradual increase in heat. Most human beings are like the frog in the second pot, having grown acclimatized to their difficulties, otherwise the world would be full of Arjunas. Only when a crisis is sudden and intense does one grow sensitive and seek relief.

Facing a crisis requires courage, and above all, a qualified guide

The relief sought in such a crisis can be of two kinds: The first is a state of forgetfulness, accomplished by numbing one’s senses or diverting one’s attention to something less painful. [..] Truly this is running away from the problem.

A better alternative is to face the crisis head-on and find a solution for it, as Arjuna did. But comprehensive solutions do not just appear at the snap of one’s fingers. Only when one perseveres patiently and enthusiastically will crises end once and for all. [..] Such readiness to confront a crisis is the symptom of a courageous person- represented in the Gita’s narration by Arjuna, a warrior. Whenever the tendency to run away from a crisis is strong, whenever one is tempted to take the path of least resistance, the Gita’s message can give one strength. Kṛṣṇa implores Arjuna to choose fight over flight.

A moment of crisis, although an impetus for advancement, is not sufficient. Along with the sincere will and determination to transcend the crisis, one must have proper guidance from a person like Kṛṣṇa: a teacher eager to help, unmotivated by any vested interest. Fortunate indeed are those who face crises like Arjuna and who are graced by a teacher like Kṛṣṇa.

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1 reply »

  1. Yes, I needed this reminder. Sometimes we forget that from suffering, detachment and spiritual development are possible.

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