What a remarkable text to come before one's eyes. There are so many revelations here that together uproot the edifice upon which the life of man and mankind has been (falsely) erected: an edifice of sand which, thankfully, falls under the weight of its own falsity. This falsity, starting from the most harmless, it seems, assumptions about man and the wonderful achievements of his mind and intellect, to the universally-held convictions about birth and parenthood, is undone meticulously in this chapter ‘Birth’. Where does this leave the authority of the Bible, with its allegory about the rib of Adam making woman, or the allegory of the Holy Grail, or the theories of evolution and the origin of the species, once held as Colossi in the Western world and beyond? This chapter does not just undo the false, it makes a gift to man of the most significant and sought-after point in his life - life itself, that is alive every moment. What a wonder!
The author’s understanding of mind and life is pure gold. Never has the place of mind in this creation been so perceptively and convincingly illuminated. To gain some understanding of the overwhelmingly attractive and forceful nature of mind and its deep imprint on man is a gift beyond price. To value mind is to drink a poison far deadlier than anything modern medicine can concoct. Mind, however, for all that, has no inkling of life, for it flirts with death: it knows only that which is dead and pretends it is life. Man is powerless to escape for he has no inkling of this deception. The wisdom that life gifts, on the other hand, will resurrect the daring man who accepts the gift - such is the birth of life that this chapter on ‘Birth’ brings forth.
It seems to be a natural instinct in life to attempt to overcome difficulties or tolerate them as well as possible; to find ways round them or pretend that they are not there. On the other hand, it also seems to be a natural instinct to regard whatever pleases us as a good achievement or a just desert. In this way, we find divisions in life and we swing between them, as a boat tossed on the swell of the ocean. These are the ups and downs in life that Dr Shankar illustrates so clearly in this chapter ‘Ups and Downs’. This, he says, is the world of mind and the ego - it has nothing to do with life. It is borne of expectation, hope and demand. The understanding that emerges throughout this chapter is that life reveals itself as it will - not to the mind or the ego - but to those who have the patience to understand. Fortunate are they who live with life and not in spite of life.
The last bastion of man as man is revealed with simple clarity in the chapter ‘Control’. To wrest control from man is as impossible as it is, to quote from Vergil, 'to seize the club from Hercules'. He will not, indeed he cannot give up control in spite of a lifetime's experience of failure to control. Not until the penny drops that 'control' is just an idea and is in no way realisable, will its illusory nature be understood. Dogged and damned by the determination to control events at all costs, man may happen to meet the wisdom of a sage, who understands. 'Wait for life to reveal itself' - this advice, given not only at the end of this chapter but also throughout it, is as profound as it is practical. The author of this book is at his best when, like Alexander the Great of Macedon, he cuts the Gordian knot of complex religious and spiritual imperatives for achieving 'enlightenment', with utter simplicity. Simplicity is not the business of the ego: it is complex because it operates by cause and effect! Such is the understanding revealed in this chapter.
Duality is illusory. It brings with it the idea of 'better' and 'worse' and all the opposites that can be imagined. It brings with it 'pleasure' and 'pain' and all the feelings that drive man hither and thither in anxiety. It is only when the habitual and almost continuous pattern of thoughts and emotions is stopped suddenly and completely by some unexpected force, that you begin to understand, even in the most momentary way, how life, as examined and penetrated so deeply and thoroughly by Dr Shankar, may really be. We may not yet understand, but we have the only gift that life can give us, here in the wisdom that expresses this chapter ‘Anxiety’. That gift is life itself - it is already ours, so that we may all come to live it and understand. Why settle for anything else? Why settle for anxiety and miss the gift? This chapter shows that life gifts duality to man and to you, the listener, so that, through understanding its illusory nature, you may be led to enlightenment.
The chapter entitled ‘Uncertainty’ examines 'mind' with such clarity and precision that it undermines the conviction that life cannot be lived without consulting and using 'your mind' in every waking moment. From mother's knee every child is introduced to 'mind' and taught to use it as a guide and reference-point. In this way the assumption that there is a valid 'mind' gets implanted and this mighty tree is revered for life-times. This mighty deception is uncovered by Dr Shankar here, and the courage to follow life is bestowed.
When man is uncertain he turns towards religion for answers; answers which lead him more into the illusion than out of it. He relies vehemently on religion with the conviction that it cradles every answer to life that man desires. He is yet to understand that there can be no answers to life, for life is not a cause and effect phenomenon - it is merely a process. The chapter on ‘Religion’ is an exposition of fundamental importance to all generations of men and women. The clear understanding of religion here is not the inspiration of one individual who has a point to make or a book to sell - it is the revelation by life itself of the wisdom that is now being made available, and it will gradually dawn on man that what it shows is so. As the author reveals, freedom of life has been traded in for the dictates of religion. Wake up, man, to your own freedom.
When King Odysseus of Ithaca was away from home for ten years, fighting in Troy, his wife Penelope was besieged by Greek suitors trying to win her hand in marriage. On her loom she wove a web of illusion, in the form of a tapestry, and kept her hundred suitors at bay throughout all this time. Such was the power of the illusory cloth that it warded off the dangers to her and her kingdom. It is a rare being that has the wisdom and understanding to penetrate the deep illusions of life and to share his understanding. In this chapter on ‘Suffering’, Dr Shankar analyses with exceptional clarity the process of suffering that afflicts each one of us. Whilst we live in our minds and believe what is experienced, we must suffer. Whilst we take the suffering to be real, we look for separate solutions to relieve it. This leads to further suffering. Remarkably, Dr Shankar takes the reader through the suffering itself and then out of it. Whilst we honour the mind, whilst we value knowledge, we must embrace suffering. The understanding given in this chapter is of one who has joined life itself - this is your life too. Join it; live it.
The chapter ‘Destiny’ is a powerful, intense and vibrating exposition and exhibition of destiny itself. It is the gentle, oh so very, very gentle hand of destiny, at first guiding and, then, just being. No demand, no push, no direction, no goal - utterly itself, self-satisfied. Such is the nature and content of this chapter as it emerges from the artistic hand of Dr Shankar. Notwithstanding this, it conveys an urgent message to man that he turns away from at his own peril. This gift, like all gifts, may be accepted or rejected. Response is destiny; rejection is reaction and destiny too. Such is the texture of destiny. It leaves no stains.
The chapter on ‘Trust’ removes the reference-points we all cling to: what life should deliver for us, what it should not; what we should expect, what we should not; what pleases us, what does not. The list goes on...Cling to just one criterion of how life should express itself for us, and you have the whole host of criteria, BUT, as Dr Vijai reveals in this chapter, let go of just one criterion and accept just one moment as it expresses itself', and the whole host of criteria evaporates. A wonderful moment of 'magic'!
At last, someone has dared to confront death with real understanding! So long have we waited to discover what death really is, knowing deeply, but not having the light to realise what was deeply known, that it could not possibly be that awful tunnel of darkness and nothingness that grips all of us in abject fear. It suddenly becomes clear while, for example, the car is being driven from here to there: no real car, no real driver, no real where. Thus, there has appeared for our enlightenment, in this chapter entitled ‘Death’, the dissolution of man's eternal enemy and object of terror: death.
‘Death’ is a profound inquiry for every man on the gravest event that is believed to take place in his or her life. It is for everyone the inevitable conclusion to a life, however it has been spent, and it is believed to reduce the highest and the lowest to an awful kind of extinction or oblivion. The shock and grief throughout any family and beyond is immediate and intense. The realisation of the process of sophistication through death, as shown poignantly here, begins to dawn. This is a life-changing realisation; it dissolves the dark tunnel that is waiting at the end, for there is no end - the end and the beginning are one and the same. And so too is this volume, endless and beginningless. Celebrate!
Such a weight is lifted on reading this book- a weight that is not even known to exist. The examination of this book gives rise to a most unexpected levity. It's as though a cloud gets dissolved and all effort is released - quite extraordinary. If there is a physical analogy, it is like the body entering the Dead Sea and then just floating - so unexpected and exhilarating! And then, whilst reflecting on this book, the mind is realised to be a make-believe thing - and action is realised to be a make-believe thing. All this is being witnessed - extraordinary - beginningless and endless. Such is the gift to man if only he were to receive it.
Peter Julian Capper
MA (Cantab) UK