In life, we face difficulties, challenges, hardships, even traumas and disasters; but, essentially everything comes down to one thing: how we see it; how we deal with it; what attitude we take. If we harbour the right attitude towards everything, it would truly change our whole experience of life altogether. Somehow I feel that if we come upon only this much wisdom in life—that we can take the right approach to life—the problem of human suffering would be greatly resolved.
No human being is born with a set attitude. It’s something that we slowly learn to inculcate in ourselves. The world and the society we live in shape our attitude. Politics, religion, education, culture and tradition all play a role in creating and strengthening our attitudes. And ultimately, it’s our attitudes and beliefs that make us social beings. But, I am not talking about the social attitude here. Different societies have different attitudinal preferences. I am talking about the individual human being—how he or she should face life. Well, I am not dictating any view; but, as there is a right way to do everything, similarly there’s a thing called right attitude. Gautama the Buddha preached something similar in his expounding of the Noble Eightfold Path—the ashtangika marg. One of the limbs is sat drishti, and when I say right attitude, I refer to that. Instead of calling it right attitude, we can also call it right perception— that would be spiritually more correct. But, they are not radically different.
What we perceive in the world and how we perceive it dictate our attitudes towards life, no? Attitude is a matter of perception actually. Our attitudes are based on our perception of the world, and so, can never surpass our perception. So, if we just learn to perceive the world in the right light, our attitudes will be naturally aligned with reality. Only wrong and inadequate perception leads to wrong attitudes. So, the question that arises is: how to develop or enhance our perception so that we deal with everything in the right manner?
There’s no straightforward answer to it. While wisdom is absolutely necessary to go through life wisely, wisdom too is the result of right perception. How can you be wise if you don’t have the right perception? Note that I am not talking about knowledge here. Knowledge helps to broaden our minds, but knowledge doesn’t enhance perception. What is required to perceive then? Intelligence? No, not even that.
There are many types of intelligence that we exhibit. But, what is intelligence‽ Well, perception is intelligence!
Confused? See, to perceive the realities of this life—what we need is a sharp awareness. Unbiased. Unprejudiced. Unentangled awareness. Please don’t be scattered by these heavy adjectives, try to see the implications of these words. Do we even understand what awareness is? Or, is it just another fancy word for us? Pardon my simplification here, but awareness is, to say simply, the state of being aware or alert; that is, you know what is happening in and around yourself.
Awareness goes through three fluctuating and recurring states: namely, the state of wakefulness (jagrata), the dream state (swapna) and the deep sleep non-dreaming state (shushupti). To eradicate a myth here, these are not states of consciousness, but of awareness. Consciousness has no fluctuation. It’s the only true constant in existence. Awareness is the knowing function of consciousness.
Now, is it true that our awareness is heavily diluted due to various influences of conditioning? Aren’t we all deeply conditioned through and through? Our body, mind, energy and awareness—all are conditioned. And a conditioned awareness cannot perceive the reality. Awareness has to be pure, unblemished and free. Then perception reaches its height. We clearly see what is sat and what is asat; what reality is and what the illusions are. And you know what, in that state of perception, you don’t even need an attitude. You go beyond all attitudes. For a beginner though, adopting the right attitude is absolutely necessary. Without the right attitude, one cannot tread the path of realization. But, the aim is to perceive the truth—regarding this life, death and beyond.
So, the real work is with our awareness—how internally aware we become about our nature. In awareness, everything is revealed. How to tweak our awareness? I know, by now you’re tempted to ask this question. Well, you have to work in both ways: living as much consciously as possible and not letting our awareness be entangled in anything—either with the stuff of this world or the mind. Living consciously means not living out of compulsions, habits or patterns; always being conscious about what we are doing and why. And keeping our awareness unentangled means not letting it get lost in memory processes, imagination, desire or fear. Internally, we have to be a passive observer of everything. This is a daily practice. We are largely compulsive beings. This is evident in our speech, actions, thoughts and habits. Be conscious of your ways—how you think, speak, act, and behave. And keep your awareness free like the empty space. And you’ll be a master of perception.