Friday, February 09, 2007

Tethering the Monkey and Reining in the Horse

One of the books I’m reading now is Life After Death: The Burden of Proof by Deepak Chopra, which I finally managed to lay my hand on via a local public library loan after a substantial period of being on the waiting list. That by itself certainly attests to the popularity of the book.

This is the very first book by Deepak Chopra that I actually pore through its pages, a few pages a day. To him, life and death, which to some of us signifies the end of the road, is one continuous creative project. “At the end of our lives, we “cross over” into a new phase of the same soul journey we are on right this minute,” so says on the inside flap of the book cover. But there are caveats, which are reflected in his urgent message below, so continues the inside flap:

Who you meet in the afterlife and what you experience there reflect your present beliefs, expectations, and level of awareness. In the here and now you can shape what happens after you die.

So turns the giant karmic wheel of life, and afterlife. This is accountability at the most basic and individualistic level. Good karma comes from being good as in being virtuous, and vice versa. And bad deeds are only offset by good merits, but not written off, and accrue over a single lifetime.

Yesterday I reached the preamble to Chapter 5: The Path to Hell, which tells the story of a monkey who was kept captive in a small room in a castle tower, and who grew restless by the minutes.

At first, he was distracted by the view outside. Then his thoughts started to dwell on his predicament, raising questions why he was so confined. Failing to come out with any answer, his mood grew sombre. Claustrophobia set in. Perspiring profusely, the monkey felt like in a cauldron buried deep in a dungeon, the infernal fire striking up a hellish heat and demons imparting unbearable pain.

After what seemed like an eternity, the monkey grew accustomed to the ordeal and his mind started to drift to the fact that no one was bothering him and the realization that the view out there could be enjoyable too.

Encouraged by the seeming well-being, he started to harbor more positive thoughts as the demons spirited away. In time, he was so buoyed that he found himself ascending to, where else, paradise, pampered by doting angels.

Now the monkey thinks he is in eternal bliss, the diametrical opposite of abyssal hell, until he gets bored again, and you know where the story is headed, intones Deepak Chopra.

And yes, the parable has its human parallels: “The monkey is the mind, sitting alone in the tower of the head,” the book declares. Here I think is best not to paraphrase like what I’ve done above, but rather defer to the story teller that is Deepak Chopra:

As the mind expands with pleasure and contracts with pain, it creates every possible world, constantly falling for its own creations. The monkey will believe in heaven for a while, but then boredom will set in, and being the seed of discontent, boredom will pull him out of heaven and back down to hell.

So are we then caught in a perpetual flip-flop or roller coaster ride? The ever eloquent Deepak Chopra, by way of the character of Ramana, the ascetic monk, answers with an emphatic NO:

Only if you agree to be trapped. I didn’t say the tower was locked. There is an infinite domain outside the castle walls. You can take your mind beyond walls. There is freedom outside, and having achieved it, you will never have to go to heaven or hell again.”

That reminds me of a Chinese proverb that likens the heart to a monkey, and the mind, to a horse. The former is restless, swinging from tree to tree while the latter is galloping out of control. We need to tether the monkey and put a rein on the horse. And we will be able to see everything in a whole new light.

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