As parents we have already agreed that it’s our duty to guide our children. But when it comes to adults, whether parents, in laws, spouses, siblings, friends, is it our duty to guide and correct? This week we wondered how much responsibility we have toward our travel companions, the other adults in our lives.
We talked about the two paths each person can take. There is the disciplined path of sreyas, or righteousness. The other is the deceptively easier but pitfall-laden path of pleasure and enjoyment, or preyas.
What if we are struggling to aim for sreyas, said one of our group members, while someone we care about is choosing preyas? Isn’t it our job to let them know and to try and bring them onto the right path?
I would have to disagree. It is not our job to be our brother/father/husband’s keeper. They, like us, are traveling toward the same ultimate destination. But their pace and the path they choose to get there is their own. We can neither force it, nor hasten it, nor change it.
Despite what we are taught our whole lives about looking out for each other and working as a team, when it comes to the soul’s journey, we are born and we die entirely alone. Our journey is a solo one, not predicated on constant companionship or kinship. This doesn’t mean we can’t enjoy company along the way, but neither can we complain that we are often far ahead or far behind our fellow travelers, or that they are taking a different route.
In our own lives, we see that we have been joined by those who teach us lessons, and in turn, learn their own. Some stay with us steadily for many years, others burst onto the scene and then disappear quickly, some appear and reappear, but we continue on.
When I was a young girl, my parents, grandparents, siblings and cousins were my entire world. They surrounded me with so much love and comfort and support that I never imagined I could be alone. Once I was married, I left them behind, setting off on an entirely new exciting path of matrimony and motherhood. For twelve years, I walked with my husband, and our son joined us, and I clung to him with maternal devotion, while I learned new and bitter truths about pain and suffering and heartbreak.
After my divorce, my path split off again and I walked on alone with my son, emerging from the stormy woods I had entered into soft sunlight as my parents came back as my support system, my brother re-entered as loving protective uncle, and I made new friends.
Several years later, my new husband joined me and we left my parents and old friends behind, the three of us moving forward on a tree lined path filled with the burgeoning buds of renewed hope and love. When my son graduated and went off to college to forge his own independence, we were left to walk on alone, on an autumnal path scattered with the foliage of contentment and familiarity, along with a few steadfast friends.
Just looking back at all the different traveling companions I’ve had over the years, and how quickly those we think are everything to us, can choose a different path, or be left behind when we do, I realize that it is foolishness to think we can compel anyone to join us in the spiritual journey as well. Whether they choose a life of temptations and pleasure, or one of duty and service, is entirely up to them.
While it is tempting to point out the dangers ahead, we have to realize that the only power we have is to choose and follow our own path. We can welcome and appreciate and yes, even support our fellow travelers at each step of the journey. But we can neither entreat them to stay on our path, nor can we willfully step away from our own. The attachment that compels us to do so will only end in sorrow for both.
We had a wise guest this week during our meeting, who suggested that the best way to help our travel companions is not to show them the path, but to set an example through following it ourselves. The peace that follows from doing what is right radiates outward, he said, and that is the most priceless gift you can give to those you love.
Image: Raja Ravi Varma [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons