Body, Mind, Spirit Magazine

V for Valmiki

By Ryanshelton7 @LivingVipassana

Gateway to Sympathetic Joy

Taken from “Cultivating Inner Peace” by Acharya Paul Fleischman

A PERSON WHO HAS LEARNED the skill of sorrow paradoxically will be lightened by kinship and communion with all beings, and will spontaneously speak in phrases of empathy and saliency. Words and sorrow are a couple with a long, strong marriage. An ancient myth from India provides a metaphor for this relationship.

Once there was a ruthless dacoit who had no pity for anyone. He created such havoc that God himself was alerted to the plight of the robber’s victims, and determined to intervene, though in his own instructive style.

God came down for a little stroll in India. He gave the impression of having forgotten the multifacetedness of his own creation, however, because as he sauntered along in his peaceful tourist mien, he let himself be accosted by this mugger, who demanded money or traveler’s checks and who threatened his life. But our metaphorical murderer quickly discovered that his gruff demands were being parried by the cunning victim into a skillful repartee. By the time their wordy philosophical exchange was ended, the highwayman had been verbally disarmed by the tourist’s sagacious charm, and had become convinced that he ought to do what all ancient India myths convince all their protagonists to do, which is to seek the divine wisdom and liberation within his own heart.

The robber adopted the life of a religious hermit, pinnacle of Indian cultural values. He gave away his ill-gotten jewels, and possessionless, clad only in loincloth, in forest solitude he lived the yogi’s life. He turned his previous avaricious tenacity with equal fervor toward spiritual quests, and meditated with such unrelenting concentration that ants built their hives and hills on him while he endured motionlessly. In this way, he became known as Valmiki, which means “the guy who wears anthills for clothes.”

After years of arduous tapas, spiritual self-sacrifice, Valmiki decided he was at last liberated, a sage free from suffering. Nothing could distract him, nothing could trouble him, and there was nothing more to be gained through meditation by someone with no problems, so Valmiki arose, scattering anthills like a water buffalo shaking rain from his hairy hide, and walked down to the river to bathe. Dreaming that “freedom from suffering” meant isolationistic imperturbability, he imagined he had attained the supreme goal of yoga, which is unshakable joy. Now, he felt, it was time for him to become an avatar, a missionary of inner peace, bringing his self-absorbed tranquility to others.

While Valmiki at last indulged himself in a long-overdue bath, he watched two white herons courting on the spring-time riverbank. His self-satisfied and crusty old heart picked up speed as he vicariously delighted in these beautiful forms of the Creation dancing in the rapture of love. But someone else was also observing the white plumed birds.

As Valmiki watched, one of the birds dropped, killed by a hunter’s arrow. In spite of his years of unwavering meditation and his yogic joy, Valmiki was pierced. Hardly a few moments had passed from his reentry into the world outside of anthills, but Valmiki, the most indomitable religious hermit of all, was stricken with love, compassion, and sorrow for his beautiful birds.

The arrow of sorrow burst his theistic satisfaction. Valmiki’s anguish, called soka in Sanskrit, swept out of him in a cry of sympathetic kinship with all lovers and losers, and sloka, which means poetry, was born.

Actually, his meditation had worked perfectly. He had only assessed it one stage too soon. Rather than mighty in remove, he had made himself so vulnerable to sorrow that it could flow through him unimpeded. He had not become an unemotional narcissist, but a witness against cruelty and a spokesman of love. The name “Valmiki” today remains the only name we have for the great and unknown poets through whom poured the thousands of slokas that form the Ramayana, the epic in which animals and people share their heroism, grief, and fealty.

Every bird must leave its nest, and every person must relinquish the hope for a simply safe and pleasant life. Like fledgling birds, peace must tremble at the edge, and fall: only then it can fly.

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