Awakening

By Anurag Shantam
(With R. J. Doucette)
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Beginnings

Like many seeking enlightenment, I felt like a spiritual outsider from an early age. While outwardly accepting the teachings of the church into which I was born, including the concepts of original sin, damnation and redemption, inwardly I was empty and dissatisfied, and in considerable pain. In my adolescence, psychotherapy emerged as the new religion in America. It held the promise of healing - that is, it held the promise of being able to do what the old religion could not. I turned my back on organized religion and studied to become a therapist. For years I also underwent various types of therapy, but nothing seemed to fulfill me spiritually. I could always talk about my fear and pain, but my suffering did not change. I became more adept at masking my emptiness and fitting into the world, but this was never enough. And so I began to explore alternative practices and philosophies.

During my journey I was introduced to the concept of transcendence - that is, not simply talking about fear and pain, but actually transcending to a state that was beyond both. The world of Eastern Mysticism was opening to me, but I was not yet ready to enter it. I continued to explore alternative spiritual practices, but was still deeply attached to my fear and pain. Slowly, I began to realize that my choices were being driven as much by this attachment, as they were by the part of me that was searching. In other words, I wanted to have a spiritual journey to enlightenment, but I wanted a safe journey. I believed I could gain enlightenment by carrying this precious cargo of fear and pain through the gates of Paradise. This cargo was an integral part of my ego.

What I did not know then was that in order to become spiritually enlightened, the ego must die. The ego is an illusion, but a powerful one that does not want to die. Therefore, even as I searched for transcendence and enlightenment, I was drawn to teachings that did not threaten the ego. I was drawn to teachings that were safe. Safe in what way? I won?t have to deal with my fear. I can safely talk about my fear in my head, for as long as I do this I don?t have to deal with the problem itself. I can talk endlessly about my pain, but I want nothing to interfere with it. For what would happen to me if the pain were dissolved? If my fear and pain are part of me and I kill them, I am killing me.

The years moved unhappily by. Then in 1980 I met two disciples of a Master whose photograph each of them carried in a locket at the end of a mala. I was powerfully drawn to the teachings of this Master, and as the weeks passed I came to understand that it was time for me to begin my spiritual journey in earnest.

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