Part 3 of 3. Finally in his talk on Lord Murugan and the spiritual path, Bodhinatha took the topic of desire leading to action leading to wisdom into learning from our mistakes, including the four common reactions to making a mistake. Learning to not repeat mistakes is the key to spiritual progress.
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Questions? Bodhinatha is the successor of "Gurudeva," Satguru Sivaya Subramuniyaswami. If you have questions on subjects about spiritual life you will find answers in Gurudeva's books and teachings. Learn about ways to study these teachings by visiting The Master Course site or writing to [email protected]
Let us look now more closely at the process of learning from our mistakes.
For all mankind, no matter where one is on the path, spiritual advancement comes from improving one' s behavior. Said another way, it comes from learning from one's mistakes. Unfortunately, this process is often inhibited by the idea that somehow you are not supposed to make mistakes. We grow up being scolded for mistakes by our parents. Some teachers ridicule students when they make mistakes. Supervisors at work yell at others when they make a mistake. No wonder many adults feel terrible when they make a mistake. Therefore to spiritually benefit from our mistakes, we need a new attitude toward them.
Gurudeva describes mistakes as wonderful opportunities to learn. He also compared learning from the experiences of life to progressing through the classes at University. To quote Gurudeva, "Life is a series of experiences, one after another. Each experience can be looked at as a classroom in a big university of life, if we only approach it in that way. Who is going to these classrooms? Who is a member of this university of life? It is not your instinctive mind, it is not your intellectual mind. It is the body of your soul, your superconscious self, that wonderful body of light. It is maturing under the stress and strain."
Those who are parents can teach their children that making mistakes is not bad. Everyone make mistakes. It is natural and simply shows that we do not understand something. Mistakes are wonderful opportunities to learn.
A story I give to try and impress the point, is of a young family. The wife is at home taking care of the five-year old and the five-year old makes some horrendous mistake and almost burns the house down. So the wife calls up the husband and says, "Dear, you will be so happy to hear this news. Our son made this huge mistake today. He almost burned the house down. Isn't this wonderful? He has such a wonderful opportunity to learn such an important lesson and I wanted you to think about it on your way home. What lesson do we need to teach him so that he does not make this mistake again?"
Of course, you all get the point! Which is, unfortunately most parents don't think that way.
Usually, it is just a question of punishment. But punishment misses the point if it does not go along with the teaching, so that you are helping the child learn how not to repeat the mistake, helping to awaken jnana shakti.
Quite often punishment is all that happens. But, the important point is that the child does not know something. Otherwise, he would not have made the mistake in the first place. There is some knowledge that child is missing and the parents need to figure out what that knowledge is.
It is fine to punish the child with positive discipline methods, such as time out, and appropriate natural and logical consequences and using reason without blame and shame. However, it is good to avoid the use of physical violence, anger, irrational punishments, blame and shame as they all cause the child's consciousness to drop into intense fear and therefore make it very difficult for the child to remember what he or she is told. This, of course, is counter productive to the child learning from the experience and therefore not making the *mistake* again.
Moving on, we have four reactions to making a mistake.
A common first reaction to having made a mistake is to become upset that you made the mistake, get emotional about it. Or, if it is a serious mistake, become quite burdened and even become depressed. That is a natural first reaction. But if it is our only reaction, it is not enough. We need to deal with the emotional reaction to the action and move on to the learning stage.
Thus a good second reaction to a mistake is to think clearly about what happened and why the mistake occurred and find a way to not repeat the mistake in the future. Perhaps we were not being careful enough and resolving to be more careful next time will prevent the problem from occurring. Perhaps we did not know something and now we have that knowledge and can simply resolve to use that knowledge next time. Perhaps we created unintended consequences that caused significant problems to us or others that we did not foresee. Now that we are aware of the consequences we certainty won't repeat the action.
Those of us striving to live a spiritual life are self-reflective and learn quickly from their mistakes. In fact, one way to tell a young soul from an old soul is to observe how quickly he learns not to repeat the same mistake.
The worship of Lord Murugan can be quite helpful in giving us the wisdom that helps us learn from a mistake quickly. The fewer times we make the same mistake, the faster we are moving forward spiritually. We can go to the temple and pray to Lord Murugan to help us understand the pattern of desire and action we are experiencing and ask for His Vel of Wisdom to help us see clearly how to learn from the cycle of experiences and move forward on the spiritual path.
Quite often, I get an e-mail in from someone who made a mistake and they are saying, "Oh, I should have not done this." Of course, that is just getting stuck at the first level of reaction. " I shouldn't have done it. I am sorry."
I encourage them to move on to the second level and instead of saying, "I shouldn't have done it," to say, " I should not do it again."
That is the point we are striving for, not to simply feel sorry that we made a mistake but to commit to not making it again or at least try not to make it again. Taking that step is being self reflective and it is how we progress on the spiritual path, because the spiritual path is a series of experiences and sometimes we make mistakes. If we can learn from those mistakes and learn to not make them again, then we progress. If we are constantly making the same mistake over and over and over again, we are not progressing.
A third reaction may be needed if the mistake involved other people. Perhaps we have hurt their feelings or created a strain between us. A direct apology can fix this if we know them well. However, in many situations we are not close enough to the individual to be able to apologize. In that case, a generous act towards them can adjust the flow of feelings back into a harmonious condition. For example, hold a small dinner party and include them among the guests.
A fourth reaction may be needed if the mistake is a major misdeed. For example, if we did something that was dishonest. In this case, even though we have resolved not to repeat the misdeed, apologized to those involved, we may still feel bad about having done it. In this case, we need to perform some form of penance, prayaschitta to rid ourselves the sense of feeling bad about our self. Typical forms of penance are to fast, perform 108 prostrations before the Deity or walking prostrations up a sacred path or around a temple.
The worship of Lord Murugan during the Tai Pusam festival is the traditional time for performing penance to atone for misdeeds. Carrying kavadi and other forms of penance should never be done for the purpose of impressing others. Rather it should be done having in mind specific misdeeds you are atoning for as well as promising Lord Murugan not to repeat them again.
One of the themes of this talk is that Lord Murugan is traditionally worshipped to invoke the forces of divinity to overcome the forces of darkness. The process of atoning for misdeeds is an excellent example of this.
Gurudeva describes this process from a mystical point of view. "When we perform penance and beseech Murugan's blessing, this merciful God hurls His Vel into the astral plane piercing discordant sounds, colors and shapes, removing the mind's darkness."
Let me conclude with another quote from Gurudeva which provides an excellent summary of the power of Lord Murugan' s Vel of Wisdom. "The shakti power of the Vel, the immanent intricate power of righteous over wrongdoing, conquers confusion within the realms below. The Holy Vel that when thrown always hits it mark and of Itself returns to Kartikeya's mighty hand, rewards us when righteousness prevails and becomes the kundalini serpent's unleashed power thwarting our every effort and punishing remorse when we transgress dharma's law. Thus the Holy Vel is our release from ignorance into knowledge, our release from vanity into modesty, our release from sinfulness into purity through tapas."
Aum Namah Sivaya.