Wheel of Samsara

Ignoranti quem portum petat, nullus suus ventus est

“If one does not know to which port one is sailing, no wind is favorable.”

What is it that wakes us up in the morning and motivates us to get out of bed? For the majority of people it is their job. The work they have chosen to do is the reason they have a morning routine. It may be to stay in bed until the last minute, quickly wash and get dressed, hastily drink a cup of coffee and just manage to catch the bus or train to their place of work. For others the morning might start several hours before they have to appear at their job. Their morning routine might incorporate a morning jog, a leisurely breakfast, a cycle ride to work and all planned to arrive in plenty of time. Whatever way we get there most of us have to go work, in order to get paid, in order to use the money to pay bills and rent and food and clothes and all the other things we require to live our modern lifestyles.

I met a woman once who had worked at a biscuit factory for forty years. She told me with great pride that in that time she had only ever taken one day off and that was to attend her daughter’s wedding. She had never had a sick day, had never decided to spend the day at home, and had never asked for any time off in forty years. She and her husband were of the same ilk. He had also worked at his job for over thirty years with very little time off as well.  I asked her if she ever thought of doing something different and she replied that she and her husband were very happy with their lot in life. They worked every day and went home to their dinner followed by watching TV before going to bed early in order to rise early so they could always get to their jobs on time. Yes, that’s right, neither she nor her husband were ever late for work.

While most people would not be as zealous as this couple when it comes to work there is still the strong incentive to be a consistent worker in order to get paid and hopefully get a raise in order to survive in a way we are used to. We become so caught up in the humdrum of our existence that we don’t actually question not just our everyday actions but the long term goals. Are we really just saving to enter retirement, to become old and then to leave our bodies. At the moment on Face Book there is a cartoon circulating that says something like, “Man was not meant to work and then die!’

In the vast storehouse of Vedic knowledge we learn about the wheel of ‘Samsara.’ Each and every living being from the lowest form of animation to the highest are bound by the perpetual cycle of birth, death, and rebirth. As we leave the physical body behind at death, so we take on another form according to two things; what we have reaped in terms of karmic reaction, meaning, ‘what we are due’ and what we have accumulated in our minds, in terms of desires and aspirations, that have not been fulfilled in this lifetime.  These two factors influence the type of body we will take on, the particular family we will be born into, the amount of money we will have, whether we will be healthy or educated. This cycle of ‘Samsara’ is not just a few lifetimes, no, it is millennia after millennia, millions and millions of lifetimes that we have been traveling, continuously changing from human to animal to aquatic or to any one of the 8,400,000 types of bodies that are available.  In the same way that the mouse endlessly spins on the tread wheel in its cage, so we, the living entity endlessly spin on the tread wheel of ‘Samsara.’ We feel sorry for the mouse; we wonder at its stupidity, we can’t believe the mouse doesn’t know it is not going anywhere. We are incredulous that the mouse is expending so much energy and gaining absolutely nothing in return.

But do we put these same questions to ourselves? Do we ask why am I doing this, where am I going, what is the purpose of my life?  Why do we not question where we are going, what we are doing and what the outcome will be? When will we wake up and see the relentless cycle we have found ourselves in?

To answer these questions we need to spend a small amount of time clarifying what the nature of the self is, and to make a distinction between the material and spiritual worlds. Firstly, the body I have on, the one that goes to work every day, that looks after children, that has all the functioning parts to manage my life, is different from me the self. I am the eternal aspect of my existence, I dwell within the body and it is only by my presence that the body is able to do anything at all. I the self entered into this body at birth and I will leave it at death. I have experienced all the bodily changes from being a small child through to being a teenager, a married person, a middle aged person and up to my present older age. Once I leave the body, it will become a dead lump of inertia and eventually decay. I will not be present when those changes are taking place. I will have taken on another body somewhere else, in another place, with another family or alternatively I may be in the spiritual world. The body is part of the material world. It is created by desires and karmic reaction and each and every person’s body is an indication of these two things. Some people are in beautiful healthy bodies and others are in poor and destitute positions. But every single type of body one can see or understand is in existence is only alive and in motion due to the presence of the self, the spiritual spark, sometimes called the ‘atma.’

Accordingly there are two distinct worlds, the material and the spiritual. They are characterized by different energies and different outcomes. In the material world everything is limited, there is no endlessness, and there is no increasing happiness. The pleasure available here is flickering and temporary. We can analyze any type of experience that is possible, from eating some favorite food to traveling on a cruise ship, from having a good night’s sleep to being given a free ticket to Disneyland. All of these things do not last, they have a built in ‘happiness’ factor and no matter how much we try to squeeze some more pleasure out of an experience there is only so much to be had. Take eating an ice cream or going to a movie. One is a few minutes long and the other a couple of hours. The enjoyment we experience is only as long as the time limit of each object. We cannot make an ice cream last for two hours or a day. It is impossible! Every single activity available here in the material sphere is short-lived, transitory and ephemeral. Once it is over, we are left with the memory of the action, nothing more. We try and involve ourselves in the pleasures of the body only to end up empty handed and empty-hearted.

Spiritual happiness as described in the vedic texts however is the complete opposite. There is no limit to spiritual awareness, the more one perceives and experiences spiritual and profound realities the more one comes to know the difference between the temporary and the eternal. This spiritual awareness begins with the knowledge that, ‘I am not his material body, the body is temporary but I am not.’ Once this becomes a mental understanding then there is the opportunity to act upon it. Like a muscle that we strengthen by exercise so when we put into practice these spiritual insights, we too become stronger in our understanding and we get the satisfaction of living in a deeper spiritual way. This spiritual knowledge never leaves the self, it is always there. If a person accumulates a billion dollars in their lifetime, they will have to leave it behind when they leave the body and they may take on a pauper’s body in their next life. With spiritual knowledge, even when one has gained even the slightest understanding, this never leaves the person and wherever they go it will be with them even when they take on another body.

So, back to our question of, why am I content to continue the same routine day after day, year after year until I die? We have unfortunately found ourselves in the material world and it is due to desires that we are here. In the spiritual world we are the servants of the Supreme person and it is from this activity that we derive our greatest spiritual pleasure. This notion is completely at odds with our modern day way of living where we are advised to, ‘love ourselves,’ to, ‘look after number one,’ to ‘seek out those things that will give us the greatest happiness,’ and as a consequence we get the invitation to, ‘buy this product or come to this event etc,’. See this amazing video below explaining the the above insights by a student of Jagad Guru .

The role of serving the Supreme is out of the highest spiritual love. When you are drowning in a wild ocean, far from shore, with no one around to save you and death is certain but suddenly there appears a helicopter and a rope is dropped down and you are winched to safety, there is overwhelming gratitude and love for the person who has rescued you. This is not such a good analogy as the rescuer might just be doing their job and they are also bound by the material codes.  With the Supreme Person, there is unconditional love for every living being, no matter what they do no matter if they reject the existence of God or only accept on limited terms. There are no conditions to spiritual love. The Supreme Lord waits for us to turn to him and it is when this relationship is mature that the serving attitude becomes the foremost thing in the spiritual aspirants mind and being.

We have covered ourselves, through our desires, and now we are trapped in the bed of our own making. We want all these different things and the way we try and attain them is to work at fruitless jobs, acquiring limited funds to purchase products that will only temporarily satisfy us. We do this over and over again. We approach everything with the idea of my own happiness in mind. We don’t usually go out of our way to see if another person is happy. We don’t offer the biggest slice of cake to our fellow office worker at the work party. As small children we are taught to share but as we grow up we try and get the best for ourselves. We are looking out for me, me, and me! And it is due to this mindset, that we get stuck for lifetimes in the same tread wheel. I am stuck in the concept of thinking I am the body and I end up trying to satisfy the endless desires that the mind will concoct.  No matter what I get, it will never be enough. Once I have one thing I want another. A bigger one, a better on, a different one. Once the thing I have obtained has lost its lustre I have to go and try something else, something new. Around and around on the tread wheel of ‘Samsara.’  The wise sages call these activities of ours, ‘Chewing the already chewed.’ The example is given of an old piece of chewing gum that someone has stuck under a bus seat. We sit down and we feel it there, we take it out and start chewing it. There is no sugar left, there is no freshness, and it is an exercise in futility. This is how we are viewed by them. They look upon us with compassion and love and they hope that we will start to ask the right questions, important questions such as, ‘What is it all about?’ ‘Is this all there is to life?’ ‘Who am I?’

Like the quote from Seneca at the beginning of this essay, if we do not know where we are going, no wind is favorable. No matter how much we accumulate, how much knowledge we acquire, how many children we have to carry on the family name, how much real estate we own, how much of anything we get, if we do not know what the goal in life is, then we will leave it all behind at the time of leaving the body and be none the wiser.

I am a spiritual being, I am everlasting and my role in this lifetime and future lifetimes is to reawaken my relationship with the loving Supreme Person.  I do not belong here in this world of temporary matter. I belong in the spiritual world where there is no anxiety or unhappiness. I am not meant to continually walk around and around like the donkey grinding grain, day after day turning around the same grinding stone.

This does not mean that we abandon our responsibilities in the world and become hermits who go and live in caves. No, this is false renunciation. We still work and live in the world but our focus changes. We now live for different reasons. Once we start our spiritual journey we learn what our actual position is and what we need to do to live. We center our activities on spiritual concepts and truths. We see not only ourselves as spiritual beings but we recognize and offer respects to all living creatures. We spend more time on the inner self rather than our external desires which will always pull us backwards and forwards endlessly. We become strong in our spiritual lives and we do what we need to do for our families or our dependents. The burden we felt previously becomes a pleasure and we willingly sacrifice our time and energy knowing that we have taken steps to tread a different path.

The satisfaction that comes from living a spiritual life is unlike any other experience. It is our connection to, not only the Supreme Person but to all the saintly persons, who through compassion for our tread wheel existences, have chosen to reach out and help us out of the ocean of birth and death, to give us the chance to step off the wheel of ‘Samsara.’  We should not be dumb animals who spend lifetime after lifetime doing the same thing over and over again. We can wake up and start a different path. There is a favorable wind and we can catch it as we sail toward our spiritual port.