Who are the “great ones”?

Banmali sits cross-legged on a wooden-framed easy-chair, tucks his grey shawl under his legs and looks calm and peaceful with a gentle smile and bright, inquisitive eyes behind his thick glasses.

         Banmali Lahiri

Who are the “great ones”?

“The scriptures are different, their interpretations are different,

There is no wise person whose opinion is different from another.

The essence of spirituality is hidden in a cave,

And its path is walked by the great ones.”

– Mahābhārata, Āraņyakaparvan 32.65-68:

“Now, who is the great one? The simplest criterion is that he is one who is above all smallness. The outlook of the small one is of petty analytical differentiation. The outlook of the great one is of universal synthetic unity.

“I belong to this province, you belong to that province and he belongs to yet another province, hence we are different” – says the great one. “We are all Indians, therefore we are one” – says the great one. “I am an Indian, you are Burmese, he is Japanese, and hence we are different” – says the small one. “We are all Asiatics, and therefore we are one” – says the great one. “I am an Asiatic. You are a European. He is an American. They are Africans, and hence we are different” – comments the small one. “We belong to the same world and therefore we are one” – says the great one. “I am brown, you are white, he is black, they are yellow, hence we are different” – says the small one again. “We all belong to one great human race and hence we are one” – says the great one. Indeed, when the body is burnt on the funeral pyre, color of the skin is the first casualty. All colors become a uniform carbon-black within minutes. So why emphasize on the evanescent, the transitory, the destructible? Why not find out the Eternal and Infinite in Man? This is the refrain of all the great ones all through the ages, all over the world though the language and the mode of presentation differ from age to age and country to country.”[1]

Let me elaborate further about just who is the “great one”. A “great one” is someone who has attained Truth – to arbitrarily use a word that here signifies the ultimate attainment that makes a person a “great one.” Not so arbitrary and I will continue to use this proxy in the following excerpt – adjusted to be inclusive – which describes such a person living amongst us in society. It will give us some pointers in how we can recognize such a person:

“I have often been asked by very intelligent and learned people whether a person after attainment of Truth can yet remain a useful member of society, and continue to live “normally.” Without going into the question of what actually constitutes “normality” – the dancing round and round the four pivots of sex, wealth, power and fame driven by insatiable desire, or remaining calmly anchored in the peace of the consciousness of Truth – I would like to describe such a one from my personal observations.

“He/she is centered in “Thatness,” the central core of Truth, the center of everything manifest and unmanifest. We are centered in “I”-ness, the mask, the tool, with which we apprehend the tangible. This apparently simple and only difference has very profound consequences. He/she is transformed from within, in a strange way incomprehensible to us. Hence, though actually it is we who are both literally and figuratively ‘eccentric’, judging by our standards we do not hesitate to call him/her eccentric. With all our matter-of-fact practical worldly-wisdom, we impatiently rush about in our simulated and stimulated happiness, like sour apples plucked unripe in haste, but painted red on the outside. There is little wonder that the thin coating of paint is completely washed off in the first shower of adversity, making the inner sourness immediately evident. He/she, on the contrary patiently converts the sour “I”-ness into sweet “That”-ness, and the outer color and fragrance are spontaneous developments from within. The rains and storms of adversity bring out the brilliance of color and the sweetness of fragrance with greater freshness – in the calm serenity of his/her face, in the infinite compassion of his/her eyes, in every gentle gesture of his/her action, speech and thought. His/her happiness is real because it is rooted in Reality, and he/she is always in bliss with this inner transcendent joy under all circumstances.

“A piece of stone is earthy matter to the ordinary – a very tangible symbol of solidity; the same stone is mainly empty space with billions of nuclei and their revolving electrons moving with incredible speed, to the intellectual – a symbol of an enigma at once tangible and intangible; but to him/her – the man/woman with the true vision, it is again a very tangible symbol – a concrete symbol of the intangible Truth which pervades and permates everything.

“For us, the worldly-wise rooted in the “I” – ness, everything is “me” and “mine,” and wisdom consists in complication, diplomacy, amassing of wealth by any means, and attainment of power and fame. With what result? – relentless pursuit, mad rush, unrest, cares, worries, anxieties, frustrations, fear, neurosis, gastric ulcer and coronary thrombosis. For him/her rooted in “Thatness,” whom we consider impractical and un-worldly from our viewpoint, “me” and “mine” are absent as “I”-ness is absent, and hence wisdom consists in simplicity, child-like innocence, frankness, non-possession, spontaneous humility, self-effacement and love and compassion for all. With what result? – spontaneous inner happiness, peace, serenity, contentment and complete freedom from all fear, all anxiety, all care, all worry.

“He/she is just like a magnetic needle placed in the null-point of opposing magnetic fields. With all the bonds intact, he/she is perfectly free. There is no particular direction to choose in preference to another, and therefore, nothing to cling to. He/she is equally happy and serene under all circumstances and conditions, whether playing the part of a king/queen or a beggar. Therefore, for him/her there is absolutely neither reason nor necessity to escape from one way of life to another, say from a householder to a recluse, or vice versa.

“He/she lives in the “Eternal Now” with his/her true vision, and hence he/she has no regrets for the past and no worries for the future. (In parenthesis it may be mentioned here that we, who consider ourselves as bound by Time, also actually live in the “Eternal Now.” What binds us is the imaginary and entirely arbitrary convention of dividing time into past, present, and future. Every infinitesimal moment of the future is constantly becoming the past through the present. We can be aware of and live in only the present, the future being yet unborn and unknown and the past being a dead memory. This clearly indicates that the “State” is ever existent in both the “free” dweller in “Thatness” and the “bound” dweller in “I”-ness. The former knows that he/she is free and always is in the “State”, the latter does not. This is the only but the most crucial, difference).

“With the absence of “me” and “mine” he/she sees the whole universe as a Witness without involving him/herself as an actor. Thus he/she enjoys everything much more fully, just as a spectator does in a cinema show. He/she is passive, but not lazy and inert; on the contrary, extremely alert. He/she neither wants anything nor rejects anything. Whatever automatically comes up engages his/her whole attention and interest for the moment as a manifestation of the fundamental truth masquerading as diversity, and he/she does it scrupulously as his/her duty, without the least desire and expectation of any tangible or intangible return. What more efficient and useful a member of society can there be than one who works with such an impersonal and disinterested selflessness?

“Seeing everything pervaded and permeated by truth, he/she has the proper perspective and the proper sense of values of the paltry things that we live and die for, and he/she becomes incapable of doing anything wrong to achieve the same; therefore his/her actions are always correct. Though he/she needs nothing and none, he/she does not remain aloof. He/she works for the good and welfare of all, for seeing everything as manifestation of Truth from the lowliest speck of dust to the vast expanses of the galaxies, he/she is in complete harmony with everything manifest and unmanifest and regards everything equally with infinite love and infinite compassion. Always living in the bliss of being conscious of what is, he/she lacks nothing and nothing can happen to him/her in life and death which can disturb his/her happy equanimity. Without expecting anything from anybody, he/she is the king/queen of kings/queens, and he/she sails through life smoothly and joyfully, with infinite sympathy for all, desiring nothing for him/herself, but wishing for the well-being of all.

“With the absence of “I”-ness he/she is spontaneously filled through and through with an innocent natural humility, so that the bliss of the consciousness of truth emanates from him/her spontaneously and naturally without the least personal tinge. Thus he/she can both receive the Light of Truth which illuminates him/her and transmit the same to illuminate others without any personal shift or distortion. He/she does not preach, but silently, unostentationusly and dispassionately exemplifies in his/her own life the simple yet eternal message that only in the realization of the fundamental unity of everything and everyone as symbols of Truth by going beyond the symbols and being the Truth, can we transcend the barriers of all disunity, division and diversity with all the corollaries of hate, strife and suffering; and only thus can we establish happiness and peace in our own selves, and, consequently, in our environments.

“In our grim determination to extract the last possible drop of oy from life via wine, wealth, sex, power, or fame, we have made living itself so serious and complicated that all genuine joy has been completely ousted from life. All the external devices to impose happiness within us have only succeeded to partially fill up the emptiness of boredom from which we try to fly away like hunted beasts when we are not otherwise engaged in our desperate struggle for existence. For him/her, who is rooted in bliss, in the happiness from within, life is not an escape from the boredom of living, or a desperate struggle, but a perennial ecstasy of living in Truth. Thus it is not we, but he/she who lives a full, integrated life.

“Such individuals are at present rare, and an exception rather than the rule. Is the time not yet ripe when such individuals will be the rule rather than the exception? . . .”[2]

[1] Time, Space and Man. Prof. B. Lahiry. Preprint from “Pathway to God,” pp 207-213, adapted from the lecture delivered on 28th July, 1967, under the auspices of Kashi Tattva Sabha at the Theosophical Society Hall, Varnasi.

[2] Quest for Truth. B. Lahiry. First printed in Prajna (Banaras Hindu University Journal) – Vol VIII (2) – March 1963, pp 83-105 reprinted with an addendum in the same Journal, Vol X, March 1965, pp 69-96.

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