While away on a campaign, Zhuge Liang, the great Chinese strategist, became fatally ill. He wrote letters of advice to his nephew and son before he died.
To his nephew, Zhuge Liang wrote:
“Aspirations should remain lofty and far-sighted. Look to the precedents of the wise. Detach from emotions and desires; get rid of any fixations. Elevate subtle feelings to the presence of mind and sympathetic sense. Be patient in tight situations as well as easy ones; eliminate all pettiness.
“Seek knowledge by questioning widely; set aside aversion and reluctance. What loss is there in dignity, what worry is there of failure?
“If your will is not strong, if your thought does not oppose injustice, you will fritter away your life stuck in the commonplace, silently submitting to the bonds of emotion, forever cowering before mediocrities, never escaping the downward flow.”
To his son, Zhuge Liang wrote:
“The practice of a cultivated man is to refine himself by quietude and develop virtue by frugality. Without detachment, there is no way to clarify the will; without serenity, there is no way to get far.
“Study requires calm, talent requires study. Without study there is no way to expand talent; without calm there is no way to accomplish study.
“If you are lazy, you cannot do thorough research; if you are impulsive, you cannot govern your nature.
“The years run off with the hours, aspirations flee with the years. Eventually one ages and collapses. What good will it do to lament over poverty?”
Though written around 234 CE, Zhuge’s words speak to us with great relevance. He is writing to us, guiding us to live our lives fully and with integrity. It is not the action we take that is mediocre; it is what we bring to the table, our intention, that makes our action mediocre. When we live in the vitality of the moment while resting in the Heart, our simplest action is filled with import.
Living in Swami Muktananda’s ashram proved this to me every day. Baba’s actions were always filled with Love and life. No matter what he did, whether sitting in the courtyard, feeding the elephant, walking in the upper garden, cooking or just yelling at us, all was full, rich and so alive. His very presence buoyed us up to a life we had not lived before. He always was encouraging us to live; to live fully.
Muktananda was extolling us not to live mediocre lives, but to choose lives filled with the love of God, the Self, who is present in every moment of our day. No matter how mundane our obligatory actions are, we are to live fully with God.
Unfortunately, we use our emotion to exaggerate the events in our lives so as to make them appear exceptional rather than mediocre. An example would be a person who thrives on conflict and crisis management. Crisis, along with heightened emotionality, becomes a peak experience imbued with significance. The crisis may just be “I don’t know what to wear,” but it is made into a pinnacle experience. We then believe we are rising to an occasion when we are only overcoming the simplest of tasks.
In his study The Mystical Theology of St Bernard, Étienne Gilson describes the Cistercian practice of self-awareness, humility, and self-discipline:
“Misery of man: to have lost the divine likeness; greatness of man: to have kept the divine image; to strip away the alien likeness with which sin has covered it over–that is what the novice first learns at Cîteaux. But, to strip it away, he needs must recognize it; that is to say, learn to know himself for what he has become.”
Baba always said to see God in each other, and that means we have to see God in ourselves. Our true greatness lies in our being images of God; any other pretense of greatness is just the posturing of the small self. By doing as Zhuge Liang instructs—detaching from emotions and desires, and getting rid of any fixations—we can ensure that we will not spend our lives cowering before mediocrities and thinking of ourselves as exceptional.
Is your mediocrity exceptional?
Share this Post