A pilgrim, dusty from travel, passed an aged countryman resting by the roadside. He asked: ‘How long will it take me to walk to the next village?’ The countryman remained silent, and the pilgrim felt: ‘Oh, well, not everyone is friendly’, and trundled on his way. No sooner had he taken about ten brisk paces, than the countryman called out: ‘Half an hour!’ The pilgrim turned back and said: ‘Thanks—but why didn’t you tell me before?’ ‘I first needed to know how quickly you walk.’
We may also ask: ‘How long will it take me to achieve peace of mind?’ It is impossible to answer this question, because peace of mind, though a reality, is intangible and immeasurable, and so are the subtle interior changes which lead to it. We can only walk on, doing our best, and trusting that help is at hand, as long as our own hand is ready to clasp it.
In spiritual matters, our rate of progress depends partly on the tendencies of mind that we bring to the path of practice. Very few are blessed with the disposition of Japanese Zen master, Dogen, who conceived an ‘aspiration for enlightenment’ while still a boy, and took the necessary steps to see it through. Our own mind-set is likely to be influenced, if not conditioned, by the secular values that smother us from childhood, and persuade us that physical beauty, riches, fame and status are assuredly good things. Not only does our intellect get saturated in these values; our moral sense also adjusts to their pursuit. In this mental atmosphere, which forms in our mind unconsciously as we are compelled to make our way in life, all talk of inner tranquillity and higher quest is likely to cause embarrassment.
Yet worldly values cannot hoodwink the human heart indefinitely, and sooner or later faults in the great tapestry come to be noticed, and the mind seeks for something better. But that mind is still an archive of worldly impressions and tendencies, which interfere with our practice and keep us to some extent identified with our unenlightened self. Then what to do?
Conscious, clearly-conceived, purposeful spiritual thought and practice is immensely more powerful than the unselective mental activity of the undirected mind. We have to remember that our secularised mind-set developed unconsciously, and though it seems formidable, can be undermined completely by the vigorous pursuit of a higher goal. No one consciously resolved, ‘I will devote myself to pleasure and power desires; I will intentionally cultivate a restless mind.’ These states of mind came upon us unawares, through thoughtless habit. But through the conscious power of spiritual resolution, and the thoughtful, deliberate habit of meditation, the old value system can be replaced by our own personal ‘aspiration to enlightenment’.
In the Bhagavad Gita there is the verse: ‘Here there is one thought of a resolute nature; many-branched and endless are the thoughts of the irresolute.’ This one great thought, based on the principle that our real Self is immortal and infinite—based on the indestructible reality of our being—is so mighty that it can subvert the totality of false values, and draw us into that highest Good.