On Stories

Stories. This one word can mean so many things. Stories are the way we assign meaning to the experience of our life. They can be helpful or destructive. All stories are absorbed and retold by the ego, therefore, in Vedantic terms, they belong to the realm of Maya/delusion. We can sort stories into the categories of Vidyamaya, stories that help us in our spiritual life , and Avidyamaya, stories that hinder us and create suffering. Ultimately, everything we think is a story. We need to have a way of distancing ourselves from those stories and analyzing them. We believe so many stories, in fact, almost everything that pops into our mind, but are all these thoughts true? That is why , in Vedanta, viveka-awareness of thoughts, and vichara-the ability to analyze them, are the main practices. We have to find a method of questioning everything we think and feel. We must learn to question every thought:is this true, is this helpful, is this causing me misery? I know that I am always writing about this; it’s so important! You might say, “I’m a bhakta, a devotee, and I don’t care about this jnani stuff!” I would remind you of the assertion made by Sri Ramakrishna. Paraphrased, it says bhaktas have no use for anything that comes between themselves and God. That implies that there is enough detachment and awareness to actually know what comes between yourself and God! If we don’t practice the questioning of our thoughts, we will surely be in the grip of old destructive patterns at some point, or swept away by someone else’s stories.

Stories can also aid us in our spiritual life. Stories about the lives of the wise can serve as inspiration. I’ve been inspired by the teachings in the Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna for almost my entire life. Stories told in the scriptures can become the basis for deep reflection. I often return to several of the stories told in the Upanishads.I love Satyakama who learns about Brahman from the natural world, Nachiketa who learns from Death himself and, of course, Yajnavalkya who dares to take away the prize offered by King Janaka to the wisest. Stories are not all destructive. But, friends, please choose carefully!

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