Life is full of difficulties and obstacles, from birth to death. At times, Life seems like a hurdle race. We are sure of encountering hurdles, but almost always we are taken by surprise. It is necessary to accept that life in general is full of difficulties and adversities. This recogtnition is the first step.
When faced with problems, we often feel, "I am the only one having such problems." Or, we tend to exaggerate our problems and regard them as most complex, most painful, and as an extreme case. But if we look around us, we find people in much worse conditions. As St. Augustine said, "I cried for boots, till I saw a man who had no legs."
When faced with adversities, we either grumble or seek to dodge them. We behave like an ostrich in the desert. It is said that when there is a storm in the desert, the ostrich buries his head in the sand—hoping that the storm will go away if he ignores it—and finally gets buried under a heap of sand and dies. Some of us choose to pretend that the problems do not exist. We fail to realize that confronting and solving the problem—no matter how painful the process—makes us grow.
"Accept the woes of birth," says The Voice of the Silence. It has many implications. First, it means "accepting," i.e., being able to say that it is "my" problem and it is up to me to solve it. Many times we find ourselves putting the blame on others—parents, society or the circumstances of life. Nothing happens by chance, but all is the result of our past Karma. There is also the belief that having made all efforts to get out of adversity, we must resign. As a prayer puts it: "God, grant me the serenity to take the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference." There are times when what is needed is patient resignation. As The Dhammapada teaches: "Enduring patience is the highest Tapas." We seek to come out of an umpleasant situation quickly. We must understand that if the cause had been operating for a long time, the effect also would last long—as even when the gas has been turned off, the burner remains hot for a long time. Similarly, we expect quick results; having put in the effort, we must be willing to wait.
One of the duties of a Theosophist is "to drink without a murmur to the last drop, whatever contents the cup of life may have in store for us..." All the affairs of life must be regarded as a kind of passing phase. "This too shall pass away," is a good maxim to remember—both when we are elated as well as disappointed. Mr. Crosbie writes in The Friendly Philosopher:
Patient acceptance of what is due to us makes us take a step further in our development. It is opportunity at two levels: (1) On the lower level, it is an opportunity to pay off the Karmic debt. (2) On the higher level, it is an opportunity for the ego to learn to deal with such a situation. For instance, one person interested in classical music will rebel against being transferred to a place where he cannot go to the concerts. Another with similar interest may accept it as good discipline and look upon it as an opportunity to cultivate some other interests. When we complain instead of accepting, we do not exhaust the Karma but sow seeds for further unpleasant Karma. There must be such firm faith in the working of the law of Karma that one will not resort to ceremonies to deviate the law from its course.
Once we have learnt to deal with a difficulty, the next time we encounter it, it ceases to be a difficulty. When the lesson is learnt the necessity ceases. The force of the situation weakens. But, more often than not, the cause of the problem is internal, i.e., within us, and often, it calls for a change. Often the difficulty is solved when we are willing to change—our way of thinking, our feelings, our likes and dislikes—and ready to adapt or adjust ourselves to a problematic situation or a person in life.
We must realize that change is inevitable, and always be mentally prepared for it. We cling on to people, things, places, and we are stuck—not being able to move on in life. In fact, as we proceed in living the spiritual life we are required to give up or change a lot of undesirable things in our nature. This brings about a feeling of utter emptiness and sadness. Mr. Crosbie describes this stage in the aspirant's life, thus:
Change involves destruction and regeneration. There is an aspect in us, which drives us to achieve hundred per cent perfection. If we are trying to conquer anger or greed or attachment, this inner taskmaster places us again and again in such situations till we have mastered these completely. As a person advances on the spiritual path, he encounters more and more complex and trying life situations. Karma precipitates not as pebbles, but as boulders, and in that the help comes from within. For our own difficulties, we have to learn to be self-dependent. But when we see others in difficulty we have to lend a helping hand.
Our Karma is inextricably interwoven with the Karma of humanity. As Light on the Path says, "the soiled garment you shrink from touching may have been yours yesterday, may be yours tomorrow." It is said that each one has to pass through what are called the basic types of experiences, like the experience of poverty, loneliness, parenthood, etc. Hence, when we find someone in difficulty, or deeply embedded in vice, we cannot walk away saying, "It is his Karma." Consider him as a brother-pilgrim whose boots have become heavy with mud, and give him a helping hand to come out of it. Of course it is not easy to help others. Sometimes in the process of helping we make others dependent on us, instead of making them self-dependent. It is not always easy to know "where the shoe pinches." For instance, we are all anxious to help the crying child. We pat him, feed him, and give medicine if he has a stomachache. And yet, it may be that all he wanted was his shirt to be taken off because it had a red ant which was troubling him. We are better able to help when we have kindly concern and genuine desire to help.
In fact, the difficulties of humanity, in general, must be viewed in the light of Karma and Universal Brotherhood. In The Key to Theosophy H.P.B. points out that the disparity between the poor and the rich, is not by chance. The rich have been leading the life of careless indifference, material luxury and selfish indulgence. In other words they have ignored the fact that we are all united. "If the action of one reacts on the lives of all, and this is the true scientific idea, then it is only by all men becoming brothers and all women sisters....that real human solidarity, which lies at the root of the elevation of the race, can ever be attained."
Not all life's problems are such that they need to be dealt with all at once. Sometimes it is possible to take a step and wait for a long time. For instance, if the tap is leaking then we need to call a plumber as soon as we can. But having called him and having found that he can come only the following morning, we should wait patiently for the next 24 hours. In this period, people can get very anxious and go on talking about it to others. There are many such problems in life. In case our workplace atmosphere is not congenial, then we may openly discuss the problem with concerned people, or, we may get ourselves transferred to another department, but having done that, accept the situation.
We have to create an atmosphere for eternal thought. When we get completely involved with the problem and treat it as if it were the whole of life, we could get into a terrible psychic condition. It is true that when we identify ourselves with the problem, we are unable to solve it. We must take the position of an observer. We are able to acquire detachment with discipline. A time then comes when we are able to look upon the experience with detachment, reflect upon it, even while we are passing through it. We must take time off to cultivate impersonal interests such as gardening, stamp collection, music, painting, etc. A disciple, says Light on the Path, feels both pain and pleasure more keenly, yet he has taken upon himself the duty of not allowing these to shake him from his fixed purpose. Let us always remember the sage advice given by Mr. Crosbie: