“I want to do meditation,” someone said to me the other day, “but, it doesn’t seem to be my cup of tea. Is meditation the only path to self-realization?”
“Of course not,” I replied. “You may arrive at your truth walking an entirely different path.”
“But what do you mean when you say discover your own truth and how to go about it?” he asked referring to the tagline at the end of my video discourses.

I thought it was a valid question, and I’ve met many who posed similar queries in the past. After all, in our world full of noise with countless paths and infinite choices, how do you know which one will lead you to your goal? Well, it’s not as difficult as it may seem in the beginning. The key is to realize is that simple truths of life can’t be realized in complex designs. This person’s question reminded me of a little Zen story.

A newbie joined two senior monks who sat in intense meditation near a lake. The new monk had practiced meditation for several years under a different teacher but hearing good things about this monastery, he decided to shift.

Half way through the meditation, one of the senior monks got up and said, “The sun’s shining, I’d better get my umbrella.” Stepping on the water before him, he simply walked across the lake onto a plateau where their hut was.

As soon as he returned, the second monk said, “I am thirsty. Let me get my water pot.” He too walked on water as a routine matter and came back the same way.

The new monk, awestruck, but not to be outdone, said, “I’ve also meditated for years. This is easy. Watch me!” He walked towards water but soon fell in the lake. He waded out and tried again but once again found himself treading waist-high water.

“Do you think,” said the senior monk to the other, “we should tell him where the stepping stones are?”

So is the case with profound truths of life. Most seekers tend to think that insight lives in mystery or in some supernatural construct where in reality, it’s there in our everyday lives, in little things we do (or don’t). It doesn’t require walking on water but simply knowing where the stepping stones are. In fact, our fascination for the extraordinary makes us lose out on the wealth of beauty in the ordinary around us.

Benjamin Hoff, in his beautiful book The Tao of Pooh, calls it the Uncarved Block. He writes, “The essence of the Uncarved Block is that things in their original simplicity contain their own natural power, power that is easily spoiled and lost when that simplicity is changed.”

In the same book, expounding on the Tao philosophy in the words of Pooh, he goes on to say, “The thing that makes someone truly different, unique in fact, is something cleverness cannot understand.” To return to our original simplicity requires that we discover our inherent nature. He calls it the Cottleston Pie (taking the poem from Winnie-the-Pooh by A.A. Milne) where Pooh explains the principle of uniqueness.

Cottleston, Cottleston, Cottleston Pie,
A fly can’t bird, but a bird can fly.
Ask me a riddle and I reply:
“Cottleston, Cottleston, Cottleston Pie.”

Cottleston, Cottleston, Cottleston Pie,
A fish can’t whistle and neither can I.
Ask me a riddle and I reply:
“Cottleston, Cottleston, Cottleston Pie.”

Cottleston, Cottleston, Cottleston Pie,
Why does a chicken, I don’t know why.
Ask me a riddle and I reply:
“Cottleston, Cottleston, Cottleston Pie.”

“A fly can’t bird but a bird can fly.” Very simple. It’s obvious, isn’t it? And yet, you’d be surprised how many people violate this simple principle every day of their lives and try to fit square pegs into round holes, ignoring the clear reality that Things Are As They Are.

It is useless to try to make things into ways they’re not. Everything has its own place and function, including people, even if they don’t realize it, and that’s why they keep the wrong job or stay in the wrong marriage or relationships. You need to learn to know and respect your Inner Nature. When you do so, you know where you belong and where you don’t belong…

“A fish can’t whistle and neither can I”. Coming from a wise mind, such a statement would mean, “I have certain limitations, and I know what they are”. Such a mind would act accordingly. There’s nothing wrong with not being able to whistle, especially if you’re a fish. But there can be lots of things wrong with blindly trying to do what you aren’t designed for. Fish don’t live in trees and birds don’t spend a lot of time under water if they can help it… That doesn’t mean that we need to stop changing and improving. It just means that we need to recognize what’s there… The wise know their limitations, the foolish ignore it…

“Why does a chicken, I don’t know why”. Why does a chicken do what it does? You don’t know? Neither do we. Neither does anyone else… Genes, DNA? Instinct? It means we don’t know. The important thing is that we don’t really need to know… We don’t need to play Abstract Philosopher, asking unnecessary questions and coming up with meaningless answers. What we need is to recognize Inner Nature and work with things as they are.

Cottleston Pie refers to our inner nature which is the answer to most riddles we face on a daily basis. Why he likes football while you enjoy Volleyball, for example. Why do you prefer a savory breakfast while your friend likes to eat something sweet in the morning?

Anyone who tells you that meditation or a certain practice is the only way or even a definitive way to arrive at your truth may be making an ignorant statement at your expense. The truth is that upon deep contemplation, you will realize that you know yourself better than anybody else out there. And that, it is from that self-understanding and wisdom alone that you will know what to do in or with your life. Once you know it, you can then seek a mentor or guru accordingly. If you go out completely unprepared, you may end up under the tutelage of someone whose promises may not hold any water for you.

Each one of us is born with certain innate tendencies, we are shaped a certain way by our upbringing, culture and conditioning, we vie for different things based on our ambitions and desires. Therefore, it will take lot less effort, if we choose for ourselves a path that takes into account our limitations and utilizes our strengths. For, the idea is not to constantly battle with yourself but to work with yourself.

And that is what I mean when I say discover your own truth. If I or someone else simply told you (without first helping you understand yourself better) that do meditation and all will be well or chant mantras and everything will work out, one day you will find out that it was never meant to be true. A guru’s job is not to preach or dictate but to help you see yourself so you may walk the path that will lead you to a better you.

“Is it true, Dad,” a son said to his father, “that in some parts of the world a man doesn’t know his wife until he marries her?”
“Son,” the father said and sighed, “that’s true everywhere.”

You won’t know what all you can do until you get in touch with yourself. To know who you are is infinitely more potent than who you can be. That is the whole journey of self-realization: to arrive at a point where you see and understand yourself clearly. You will then know whether your nirvana is in feeding the poor in busy streets under the scorching sun or meditating under the shade of a Himalayan tree.

Cottleston, Cottleston, Cottleston Pie,
The bliss an enlightened soul revels in,
How does one feel that high?
Ask me once and I reply:
Cottleston, Cottleston, Cottleston Pie.

Cottleston, Cottleston, Cottleston Pie,
Should I meditate or do chanting?
Whether your path is devotion or service,
Ask me again and I reply:
Cottleston, Cottleston, Cottleston Pie.

Know thyself and then give everything you’ve got to be that. Discover your own truth.

  1. Singapore Weekend Meditation Camp. Apr 28-29. 100 6 spots left.
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