Yama and I sat on the banks of the Russian River. A short way upriver teens and adults whooped and hollered as they frolicked on their various floating devices. The river brought them closer to disturb our solitude.
YAMA: Can they really disturb our solitude?
DISCIPLE: What do you mean? Here we are imbibing the silence of Nature and here they come popping their beers and completely disregarding the sanctity of the place.
YAMA: And what does that have to do with you?
DISCIPLE: It has everything to do with me!
I watched in horror as another flotilla of noise turned the bend.
DISCIPLE: I teach all week and have people at home who fight for my attention—All I want is a little piece and quiet.
YAMA: Like the old days when you were free and single, able to go anywhere as you pleased?
DISCIPLE: Well now that you mention it, I do at times miss those wandering days. It comes up at times, I must admit, when my brother, who has all this new freedom after becoming recently divorced, talks about his travels to exotic places.
YAMA: Are you to say then that you are envious of your brother?
I hesitated; then nodded my head.
YAMA: What was the reason you asked me here today?
DISCIPLE: For you to speak about the final Commandment.
YAMA: And what is the final Commandment that Moses brought down from the mountain?
DISCIPLE: “You shall not envy your neighbor, nor desire to have his house, his wife, his servants, his animals, nor anything that is his.”
YAMA: Who is your neighbor but the one who lives next to you. Who is the one who lives next to you?—your brother (and I do not just mean your blood brother) who walks beside you.
Why do you think God asks us not to envy?
DISCIPLE: Because when I look at my envy for the wealth and freedom my brother has—or for that matter, envy of times when I sat by this river where no noisy revelers came to disturb me—I feel resentment.
YAMA: Good. Now you are speaking with some wisdom.
DISCIPLE: Maybe; but it is hard not to be envious at times. Just the other day I begged my friend to buy a painting because we are financially in need. Being a successful attorney he had no problem helping me out. Sometimes I am full of doubt about whether I chose the right road in careers when we have to move into a little place, while he lives in an expensive home and drives a car that doesn’t break down like mine just did on the freeway the other day. Yes, I am envious!
I stood up, my face red with anger, and threw a stone into the river.
YAMA: Is your friend happy with his work? Are you aware of what he goes through every day to make his cash?
DISCIPLE: No to both questions. I know that at an early age he had a mild heart attack due to stress from his work.
YAMA: Do you envy that stress?
DISCIPLE: No, can’t say that I do.
YAMA: So you just want the good stuff, but not the pain that walks as its shadow. People tend to look with envious eyes to their neighbors all around, whether the bigger house, the younger wife (or no wife, as the case may be), the nicer car, having/not having children, a different job, better education, nicer clothes, etc. Yet never do they even bother to consider what is going on with those they envy; such as, at what cost did it take to acquire that object of desire, or the cost of maintaining it? Or, getting right down to it, is the person even satisfied with what they have?
Your society, and the capitalism that guides most of you, is based on envy. It fosters envy with its ads that says that whatever you have is not good enough—there is something that is better. And this includes even body parts, for which you can get breast implants (though in your case I wouldn’t recommend it) or get a penis enlargement (hmm … now maybe you could use …).
DISCIPLE: Ha, ha. Very funny!
YAMA: Would you trade your life for your brother or your friend’s?
DISCIPLE: No, of course not.
YAMA: Each person is given whatever they need at any point in their lives. Some require more, some less. Their needs come as persons, things, actions, events. Some are pleasant while others the opposite.
People look at others riding high and sigh with longing, ignoring the pain that preceded the high and not willing to see the pain that will inevitably come as the Wheel of Life turns.
The instant you envy your brother you trade your life away for a wish. Your life and everyone’s is as unique as a fingerprint. By being content in this moment, grateful that you even exist to be by this river, celebrating the fortunes of your friend and brother, you are free to achieve a happiness that no person, thing, or event could ever bestow upon you.
|Flowing Among the Talus, Janaka Stagnaro|
I threw another rock into the slow-moving waters. I watched as another group drifted our way. I sat down next to Yama and watched an orange and black beetle crawl up a blade of grass.
DISCIPLE: Does the beetle envy my life as a human? Do I envy the beetle and its freedom from responsibility? Would either of us trade places? No, I rather doubt it.
I let the beetle crawl onto my hand. Just then the group of rafters ran ashore just across from us, speaking loudly to each other in Portuguese.
YAMA: Would you trade places with someone else in a quieter place? Would you trade your life in for another condition, continuing the habit of trading one condition for another, and yet for another, until finally you obtain the perfect condition?
I shook my head.
YAMA: Do you love your life as it is?
I took a deep breath.
DISCIPLE: Yes. I love my life as it is.
YAMA: Good. Now sit back and enjoy your life exactly how it’s meant to be.
I watched in horror as the Brazilians pulled out a massive radio. They hit the switch and meringue music blasted forth.
I could have cried. I could have cussed. Instead, a blissful feeling came over me and I just laughed. It was perfect! I looked over to Yama who was tapping his foot.
DISCIPLE: Hell, shall we dance?
--The Teachings of Yama: A Conversation with Death, Addendum I