Imagine the following:
Scenario 1: You are starting out on a road. It is a straight road and there are no obstacles ahead of you. You go straight ahead and reach your goal, or destination. There are no twists or turns in the road, in fact, you can’t see anything except mountains on either side. This road is a straight path between you and your destination. You travel this road at top speed.
Scenario 2: Now, imagine you are in a desert. You are a nomad walking the sands. You need to reach your destination and you plot a path through the desert. Sometimes, you find large sand dunes blocking your path, and you walk around them. Sometimes, you find hills and oases blocking your way- you walk around them. You are following a new road, that you yourself have made in the desert. The desert has no path by itself, and yet you carved a path for yourself to make your journey convenient. Your path is not a straight one, but takes you to your destination.
Scenario 3: You are walking in a long corridor that twists and turns (like in a videogame). The only rule is that you need to walk through all the open doors in front of you. Only one door is open at the end of each turn of the corridor and you walk through those open doors. You pass by many closed doors, and as instructed you ignore them, choosing only the open ones ahead of you. You reach your destination.
Scenario 4: You walk the same corridor through the building and this time, you have been given a list of doors that you need to open. The doors are not automatically open this time, but need to be opened. You are okay, because there is only one door at the end of each corridor and it is easy for you to just walk a few feet and open doors one after the other. You reach your destination.
Scenario 5: You walk the same corridor through the building, from your starting point. This time too, you have been given a list of doors you need to open, but with a difference. Your map has door numbers on it and clearly outlines which door numbers you need to open. You are fine with this – you walk down corridor 1, and there is only one door marked Door 22 (door numbers are random for some reason); then you walk down corridor 2 and there is only one door marked Door 56, and you open that; and so on and so forth. You follow all the doors blindly (there is only one route available), not bothering to check if the map door numbers match your doors (they do), and you reach your destination.
Scenario 6: You walk the same corridor through the building, from your starting point. This time too, you have been given a list of doors you need to open, with a map comprising door numbers on it. There is one small difference – as you walk down each corridor, you find new doors that have been added. You know as per your map (as in Scenario 5) you need to open Door 22 (which was the only door last time), but this time you find your path down corridor 1 having 21 extra doors from Door 1 to Door 21. You open Door 22 as per the map and exit to corridor 2, where you find Door numbers 51-59. But your map says open Door 56 (just like last time) and you do that, and you reach your destination.
Scenario 7: You walk the same corridor through the building, from your starting point. The map is exactly the same, the corridor is exactly the same as in Scenario 6 and all you need to do is open Door 22 and Door 56. But this time, you wonder what is behind all the other doors. Do they lead to an easier path? A better life? What if your map is wrong?
Scenario 8: You walk the same corridor through the building, from your starting point. You are filled with worries from Scenario 7 about all the other doors you are missing to open. You try opening a door and you find another corridor and more doors, making you even more confused – maybe this IS a great path that you are missing out on? You stop looking at your map and you try to ‘decide’ which door to follow – your previous Door 22 + 56 or New Door 15.
Scenario 9: You walk the same corridor through the building, from your starting point. You are filled with worries from Scenario 8 about ‘making a decision’ about which doors to open. The map has been long forgotten, but is safe deep in your pocket. You walk straight ahead and open Door 15 this time, then you walk straight ahead and find a dead end, you walk back and try Door 17, and this leads you to Door 25 which leads you to another Door 43 which leads you to another Door 62 which leads you to your destination. You started out by taking a straight path, but ended up on an unnecessarily long journey.
You begin wondering, “Why does the map keep advising Door 22 + 56 as the shortest route? How does the map know? More importantly, why do I even need a map? Why are there so many doors if they are not supposed to be used? Why are there so many corridors if they are not supposed to be used? Why does the map exist? Who drew this map?” This is consciousness.
And then you wonder further…” Why can’t I just follow any door and follow any path as long as I reach my destination anyway? Why should I be subservient to a silly map, even if it gives me the answer? When I am clearly able to think about what doors to choose, why should I not choose which door to follow?” This is the beginning of our need for ‘freedom’.
And then you wonder, “I hate this silly map, which tells me there is only one way to do things. I will decide for myself which doors to follow. In fact, the door that I follow is bound to be the right one. I have seen other people walking past me, following the map. Many others have walked past me, and opened doors different from mine (not following the map). It is clear that my way of opening doors works and all others are just wasting their time, irrespective of whether they are following the map or not”. This is the birth of our Ego.
And then you wonder, after going through many, many doors and finally reaching your destination tired and hungry – “Why do I have to make all these decisions? Why am I forced to choose doors? Why am I forced to face dead ends and walls that block my every path? Surely there has to be an easier way?” This is called the loss of consciousness and the beginning of suffering.
And then you wonder, “I need to find an easier way to manage these corridors (somehow I find myself at the starting point after reaching my destination each time). I need to stop for a bit and just…stop randomly opening doors. Perhaps there is a way for me to decide what is the best door to open.” And suddenly, something comes back to you – a distant memory asking you to go through Door 22. You ignore this, and go through a complicated path again to reach your destination. To help you mute this ‘voice’ asking you to open Door 22, you turn to drugs and alcohol. You get lost part of the way, but stumble with difficulty to your destination.
You are back at the starting point. This time, your mental and spiritual agony is too much to bear. You are fed up of exploring doors and you just want to get it over with. You kill yourself at the starting point, but you end up reborn exactly where you were, at the starting point. Death doesn’t seem to be a solution.
You find yourself back at the starting point. This time, you choose to listen to your inner ‘voice’ that guides you through ancient memories to Door 22. As you pass through each of the other doors…Doors 1, 2, 3, 4, 5…, you feel regret, sadness, and fear. You fear following a strange voice that keeps guiding you away from all these doors when so many others are going through them. You feel isolated and alone, for no one else seems to understand why you are ignoring all these other doors, without any ‘reason’. You are unable to explain, except by saying you are following your own path. This voice is called the voice of the soul, or sometimes ‘the call of God’. You follow this voice and you question it all the way, “Why are you asking me to open Door 22? Why do you want me to open Door 56? Why are these doors working? This doesn’t make sense at all.” This is called questioning and getting angry with God.
You find yourself back at the starting line. Your frustration has reached new peaks. You just want to get the journey done with. You blindly follow the voice, even when others laugh at you, and sometimes attack you. This is called “spiritual surrender”.
That ends the story. To summarize it all in another way:
- All of us start out by following a map (pure and innocent)
- At some point, we decide to ignore the map (known as losing our innocence, spiritual teenage, falling into Sin, eating the apple, birth of the ego etc.)
- We keep go through a period of questioning everything – the map, our path, our purpose (birth of consciousness, need for freedom)
- We reach a state of extreme tiredness and frustration, and want our repeating journey to be simple (we call this reincarnation and associated suffering. The learning from one journey transfers to the beginning of the next journey – we call this Karma)
- We exhaust all our physical energy and decide to follow our soul’s guidance, our deepest instincts (we call this surrendering to God)
- Our path ceases to restart after our ‘surrendered’ journey (we call this freedom from the cycle of birth and death)
- We finally find peace (we call this Enlightenment, Mukti, Nirvana or Heaven)