What do we need to withstand the trials of life and find freedom? The 16th-century sage Tulsidasa noted four points to examine when we face obstacles: religion, friendship, patience, and courage. When an obstacle seems to overcome you, see which of these four will really come to your aid. Your religion or beliefs may fail you, your friends may not be at hand, but your patience and your own courage will come to your aid. They are your best friends.

Whatever gives you pain can also give you liberating knowledge.

Any obstacle in life can also become a means to liberation. Whatever gives you pain can also give you liberating knowledge. It is not the objects of the world but our attitude toward them which gives us pleasure and pain. The Sanskrit word dvandva means “pairs of inseparable opposites,” such as hot and cold, gain and loss, pleasure and pain. It matters little whether we derive pleasure or pain from an experience; both are equally binding and both are present in varying amounts in all our experiences. In life we must learn to transform all things which give us pleasure and pain; we must learn to use them to help us in our spiritual progress, not to become disturbed by either.

In order to transform these disturbances we first need patience. Unfortunately, patience is sorely lacking for most of us. But patience can transform any obstacle into a vehicle. The same breeze which disturbs and puts out a small flame can also turn that small flame into a forest fire. Nishkama karma in Sanskrit means “selfless, skillful, desireless love.” It is through nishkama karma that we can transform obstacles and become free from the rope of karma. It is by not fleeing from our actions that we can achieve this. We must study ourselves through self-analysis, using our own faculties of discrimination and wisdom. We must learn the reasons for our dissatisfaction with the present known circumstances and for our fear of future unknown circumstances. We must not seek to escape or avoid our actions and duties in this life. When we perform acts for others, we are in fact worshipping God in a concrete sense. It is God, not man, who comes first in karma.

Nor should we seek transcendence too quickly. We must first learn how to do our actions properly before we go beyond them. It is through non-attached actions that we prepare ourselves for knowledge and truth in the form of grace. Kripa is the Sanskrit word for grace, which is kindness or a kind act coming from above. But kripa comes for what you have done. It does not come for nothing, free of charge. After you have done your work skillfully, grace will come to you. Grace is not an exception to the law; it follows the law. If you find the heat of the sun is oppressive, you might wish for a miracle of shade; but it will not be forthcoming. If, however, you work diligently and patiently you may nurse a tree until it is large enough to provide the desired shade. The shade may seem like a miracle to others, but you know that it followed only after proper preparation. It is the way with grace. By following the law skillfully you can eventually become free from the bonds of law. All of this comes through non-attachment, which means love, not indifference. By following the path of non-attachment, life becomes a song, a poem. For this we need patience and courage.

Let us take our example from the sages. A sage is like a tree laden with fruit. If you throw a stone at it, it gives you fruit. No matter what you do to a sage, his response will give you sustenance and will help you. On the other hand, you must guard against a bad man, because he can harm you. When a sage becomes angry with you it is out of love, and his anger will be seen as a vehicle for your progress. So learn to welcome the disturbances which seem to come to you as obstacles. Learn to transform them with patience and courage. Then all of the experiences of your life will seem to you as the responses of a sage who is providing vehicles for your progress.

Have the courage to rely on yourself and to practice non-attachment.

If your desires are not met, consider that there might be a good reason for it. Be patient. Have the courage to rely on yourself and to practice non-attachment. Have the courage to doubt your own doubts before doubting others, to recognize these doubts as the negative parts of your own mind. Act skillfully with love, patience, and courage and recall that love harbors no expectations from others. Doing something selflessly for others is true love. To do your duty with love is to be like the lotus that remains unsoiled by the mud in which it grows. Learn to live in this world yet to be above it. Learn that everything in this world is meant for you to use but never to possess. This is the way to practice non-attachment.

Source: Freedom from the Bondage of Karma by Swami Rama

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Attachment and Non-Attachment