by James Merryman
Imagine arising from a deep sleep on a life raft in the middle of a shoreless ocean and with no memory of the past. Three basic questions would come to mind: Where did I come from? Where am I going? Who am I? Of the three questions, Who am I? is the most important, since it eventually will reveal the answers for the other two questions.
Swami Vivekananda said, “Everything in this universe is struggling to complete a circle, to return to its source, to return to its only real source, the Atman.” In this one sentence he delineates the course of the human soul in its struggle to find true freedom. As it is, we are helplessly bound in the net of maya, having entered this world on the raft of ignorance believing that we are free souls. We may have come from a state of perfect freedom, but in fact we now seem to be struggling to regain a freedom that appears to be lost.
Swamiji’s choice of a circle as an analogy for our life span is brilliant. A circle is the universal symbol for ‘completeness’. It is analogous to the journey of the soul and its final return to its true home—the Atman. The circumference of the circle is called the ‘field of action’ where one acquires knowledge. Upon Embarking on its journey, the soul appears to be moving away from its home position. Given time, however, each soul swings out and around in a full circle, eventually returning to its original point of departure.
Why or how we came to be engulfed in this dream world is unanswerable. Sri Ramakrishna suggested that it is God’s play—His sport. The Bible tells of the Garden of Eden where Adam tasted the forbidden fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, thereby losing his original pure state of unified consciousness. From Adam’s entrance into the world of duality, of the pairs of opposites, came his loss of freedom.
Incidentally, the use of a curved line for the path as represented by the circle has a significance of its own: the circle indicates that the city of God was our starting place, The very proof of our beginnings had to be our ancient memories, driving us back to our origins; otherwise, why the attraction for the joy of infinite freedom if we had never experienced it before?
The drama of the play of good and evil takes place on the rocky road we call the circumference. It is here that we try to reproduce heaven by accumulating material comforts, the pleasures of sensuous living, the desire for wielding power and so on. by ‘getting’ – only to discover that even owning a universe will not satisfy our hunger for freedom. All experience is learning – pleasant, painful and otherwise – and when experiences occur, we must know just that. As we go on with our practice, remembering this will help to take out the sting and to hasten the process of purification. Mindfulness, or mind-watching, and discrimination are the main tools that help us to objectify and free the mind of attachments—to see things as they really are!
JAMES MERRYMAN has been a devotee of the Vedanta Society of Southern California for more than 55 years.