Last week, as Giulia and I prepared to leave Auroville, we had a lively conversation with a few friends we made there. We remarked just how fantastic some events in our lives seem to be; I shared that I still feel like this world is one where magical things can and do happen. As I recounted the story of how Giulia and I had made our way to Auroville, I made the comment that “I” couldn’t have designed a better path, a more lively and fruitful way to unlock Truth. After all, if I would have gotten my way about what I thought should happen, I wouldn’t be there to make that comment. The only thing I really “did”, I said, was to say yes to the cues the universe provided.

But to what extent did I actually choose to say yes?, Giulia asked me over breakfast a few days later. Seen one way, there was really no other choice but to go to Auroville, given my background and values. It might seem more appropriate to call all this luck, for if I retain the idea that I have chosen to walk the path, I’m actually encumbered by the false notion that conscious living is something out there to be chosen, as one lifestyle among many, when in fact, it is the nature of life simply seeking to become manifest. If I persist in thinking that this is of my choosing, then the path of de-conditioning becomes a different, perhaps more subtle, form of conditioning. The goal (if you can say there is one) is to be beyond such distinctions, beyond all dualistic notions, including that of separating “the path” from what is “not the path.”

I could see the results of this error quite clearly when we were in Hampi this past week.

Although we greatly enjoyed the natural environment there, the human environment was difficult to stomach. In many ways, it was the opposite of Auroville, since Hampit is a tiny Indian village overrun by Westerners coming in search of leisurely pleasure. Our first day, it was almost intolerable to listen to a group of young hipsters loudly imitating Monty Python while playing chess, smoking, and complaining about how women shouldn’t be forced to cover themselves properly while swimming since, after all, it’s not their fault if they want to get a tan and the Indian men can’t handle seeing them in bikinis. A big part of me felt superior, looking at them with pity, thinking about how empty and meaningless this aimless way of life must be.  I felt ashamed to be in India because of them, since they frolicked in pleasure while the locals (who weren’t much older than they were) waited on them. The irony was that I could recognize quite a bit of myself from when I was last here in India in them.

At that point, Giulia happened to pick up a copy of Eckhart Tolle’s A New Earth and found a quote describing how feeling agitation and complaining about something is simply the result of unconsciousness reacting to unconsciousness. This reminded me that an Enlightened being would likely feel compassion for those unaware of their true nature- something that, by definition, couldn’t happen if there remained a feeling of separateness and superiority. Even those I recognized that the kids next to us, like myself, might find their way to something more meaningful after they’ve exhausted themselves seeking substitute gratifications, it was still hard to look at them with respect, let alone compassion.

At bottom, the distinctions I was making were grounded in the assumption that we’ve all somehow chosen to be the way we are. Perhaps on some level, we have created the conditions we need to grow, and that all beings, no matter how lost or unaware they might seem, are doing exactly what  they need to be doing in this moment in the slow but inexorable march toward Self-knowledge.

Sri Aurobindo writes,” As we gain in clarity and the turmoil of egoistic effort gives place to a calmer self-knowledge, we recognise the source of the growing light within us. We recognise it retrospectively as we realise how all our obscure and conflicting movements have been determined towards an end that we only now begin to perceive, how even before our entrance into the path of the Yoga the evolution of our life has been designedly led towards its turning point. For now we begin to understand the sense of our struggles and efforts, successes and failures. At last we are able to seize the meaning of our ordeals and sufferings and can appreciate the help that was given us by all that hurt and resisted and the utility of our very falls and stumbling.”

I completely relate to this idea, and see that I needed to go through many years of unawakened, unaware consciousness to reach the point where I had enough and wanted to live differently. Were those years of smoking and promiscuity any less part of the path than meditation retreats and daily practice? Where does the path “begin”? Some might answer that with the Zen koan that asks, what was your face before your parents were born?

Giulia and I are now in a community called Anandwan (http://www.anandwan.in/), where will stay till the end of the year. We will be in a silent retreat as of Friday, so there will be some silence on the blog until we get out in the second week of December.