What a person is feeling, thinking and experiencing, even if conveyed, is not entirely visible to us; how a person appears to be, may not reflect the actual state within the person. Furthermore, our opinion of people also relies often on inferences and assumptions. For that reason, it is difficult to say that our judgement of another person will always be true, and even if it is so, we are bound to be oblivious to everything else that isn’t available for our perception.
Our perception of people is just mental images framed on what we are focusing on. Someone may appear to you as passionate and dedicated in one’s career but otherwise is irresponsible in other areas. Someone may be suffering from depression, and because it is masked by a quiet smiling demeanour, you believe all is well for him or her. What we are drawn to focus on is dictated by the state of our mind. To the mind that has not cultivated discriminative reasoning and Self-attention, for a long time, it is easy to lose watchfulness and the freedom to perceive without the colouring of judgements and influences from internal impressions and conditionings, not to mention circumstantial persuasions.
Unknowingly we project our own internal conditionings as images of other people; these include deep-rooted desires, tendencies, old habits, expectations, emotions and beliefs. We have been accustomed to frame our perception according to the boundaries set by our conditionings without enquiry. The most powerful drivers of our inner conditionings are our beliefs and concepts that define what will make us happy and whole. Anything in this world that fits those beliefs and concepts, we will willingly embrace as being real, good and worthy of pursuit.
Suppose, if you believe that by travelling around the world will make you someone whom you can see as being worthy and happy, then when you meet someone who has well-travelled, you may view that person as having achieved everything needed in life to be happy. Off course, this is not true. As the Vedic sage Sanatkumara says, yo vai bhūmā tatsukhaṃ nālpe sukhamasti bhūmaiva sukhaṃ, ‘That which is infinite is the source of lasting happiness. There is no lasting happiness in the finite. Lasting happiness is only in the infinite.’ Therefore, no person can achieved an enduring sense of completeness and happiness based on external dependencies that are finite and ephemeral (including all experiences, objects, relationships and circumstances). Everything that has a beginning has an end.
The things that we work for are useful to provide us both the necessities and comforts that we may require, and yet they come and go in our life. Nothing persists. There will always be in this world, for everyone, something inadequate, something lost, something to solve, something to desire, and something to do. Hence, in short, nobody can secure a perfect life of completeness and lasting happiness that is free from afflictions and problems, while living in a world of finites, regardless of what someone may have achieved. If we value people and define their happiness and wholeness on the images of the finites, we’ll be assured to put ourselves in a life of continuous strive that never reaches.
What you are actually doing is, setting up an illusionary mental abyss between you and the images you have of other people. The abyss traps you in the tug of war between ‘where you are and where you should be’. This is the abyss of self-lack or self-inadequacy. Do not be trapped by it. There is no need to compare your value, worth and happiness to what other people have and do. Neither run yourself down nor wastes your time running after others; indeed, it will only turn out to be, as they say, a wild-goose chase. The endless struggling, will eventually takes its toll on you, and you will find yourself becoming increasingly afflicted by frustration, hopelessness and self-criticism.
The abyss of self-lack buries your sense of purpose. You lose your confidence, motivation and aliveness. You simply forget how to be your own self. Feeling sorry for yourself, you hanker after possessions of others. The Ishavasya Upanishad says, mā gṛdhaḥ kasyasviddhanam, ‘covet not after anyone’s fortune’, kurvanneveha karmāṇi jijīviṣet sataṃ samāḥ, ‘by performing actions alone should one desire to live life to the fullest.’ You do not need to have everything now that other people have. If you desire a fulfilling life, be dedicated to an active life to serve what is genuine and relevant to you – which is easy to lose sight of while trying to fit your life into the images of other people. Only what is true to you can make you happy in life.
I came across this wonderful quote: ‘A flower does not think of competing with the flower next to it. It just blooms.’ A flower does not need to compare and worry about what the other flowers are doing. It doesn’t make any difference for the flower because all that it needs to do to fulfil its purpose and express its value, is to bloom as itself. This is what makes it beautiful. Whatever growth and progress you seek in life, do so in a way that is true and authentic to who you are and not worrying if you are keeping up with other people.
Rakesh Nair (Yogi Rakesh) is a life mentor and teacher of Vedic philosophy and yoga. A lifelong practitioner since childhood, he studied and trained for many years in the authentic Vedic tradition, primarily in the lineage of Advaita teachers. He holds a Masters degree in Sanskrit studies. He also has a degree in Computer Science majoring in Software Engineering. He founded yogirakesh.com to help bridge the knowledge in ancient scriptures to modern life.