Recently a young adult was justifying some action of his, which I had questioned, by saying that he needed to be honest, to be true to himself. I sympathized with him. I remember when I was in high school and college and it had seemed critically important to me to be “real.” Maybe this is a function of age. Perhaps it’s because it’s as adolescents that we first become aware that adults, who until then we had looked up to, so often say one thing but do another. Or hide questionable acts behind high sounding motives.
So I felt I understood my friend’s quest for integrity, for authenticity. My own youthful feelings had even been reinforced, to some extent, when I found out about Baba, as Baba emphasizes that one’s outer life should be a perfect reflection of the inner. Baba stresses that hypocrisy is the one thing that God cannot forgive. Even His statement that it is better to hate Him than to be wishy-washy about Him, seems to suggest that there is some innate merit in being wholehearted.
Eruch often talked about the need for us to play our roles, even if our roles cast us as villains. But does this mean that if we are selfish and greedy (and who among us is not to some degree?) we should make no pretense of being otherwise and should simply go ahead and be selfish and greedy, accepting the consequences with equanimity as those befitting our role?
If so, then what does one make of Baba’s innumerable messages that is is imperative to not give in to one’s lower self, to practice restraint and self control? How does one practice being “natural” when one’s nature seems to be full of things Baba says we should overcome? Over the years I’ve found this confusing enough that I wasn’t sure what to say to my young friend when he preached the virtues of being true to himself, even though I felt that his actions had unnecessarily caused hurt to another.
And then it came to me that even better than being true to one’s self, is to be true to one’s Self. After all our “self” is essentially a bunch of selfish sanskaras tied together into an ego bundle of ignorance and illusion. It may be who we think we are, but it is not who we actually are.
To be true to our Self would mean acting the way we would act if we were egoless embodiments of love. The problem here is that although this is true, it is not something we experience and thus the whole question of posing as something we are not (in short, of being hypocrites) raises its ugly head.
This reminds me of a story Eruch would often tell in the Hall about a woman who once said to him, “Eruch, when we bow down to Baba’s chair in the hall, as if Baba were sitting there, aren’t we just kidding ourselves? Baba’s not there, it’s just an empty chair.”
And Eruch, in his typical way, agreed with her. “Yes, you’re right,” he said, “we are kidding ourselves, but this is significant kidding. Because it is kidding that will eventually lead us to the truth. And the truth is that it is not an empty chair; Baba is there and one day we will realize that we are only kidding ourselves when we believe that He is not, and that we are separate individuals, apart from Him.”
I suspect that my brainstorm of “Be true to your Self, not your self,” did not strike my friend with the force of revelation. It might not have even seemed mildly relevant to him. It probably sounded like the typical high faluting spiritual advice grown-ups give that has no practical real world applicability. As so often happens with Baba, what seemed like a good idea to share with another, was perhaps mainly a lesson meant for me. Maybe it would have been better if I had said, “Don’t pretend to be what you are not, but do pretend to be what you really are.” Although I suspect that too would have sounded too ethereal. I guess what I should have said if I had wanted to be understood was, “Fake it, until you make it.”