When a budding sculptor approached his master for guidance, he received some cryptic advice. After quizzing him on his purpose, the young craftsman replied: “More than anything else, I would like to sculpt a beautiful elephant.” Without the blink of an eyelid, the master set a block of stone and some tools in front of the young boy. “Here is some marble, a mallet, and a chisel” the master said, “all you have to do now is carve away everything that does not look like a beautiful elephant!” Simple as that.
While crafting our ideal life, we can contemplate these words and discover some valuable insight. We often equate progress with gaining, growing, increasing and adding. We dream of evolving into something different. There is a whole realm of spiritual development, however, which is about shedding, cutting, letting go and downsizing. It was the French writer, Antoine de Saint-Exupery, who said,
“Perfection is achieved, not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.”
On a practical level, we must chip away at those aspects of our life which don’t contribute to the final goal. Over time, such an incremental approach will mould a focused and distilled lifestyle. Bad habits, time wasting and procrastination impede the momentum, and many other things we do just don’t have any relevance in the bigger picture. As we let the nonsense crumble away, the load of our life becomes lighter and lighter, opening the doors to real liberation and freedom.
On a deeper spiritual level, we must find our real self. We often think spirituality means to become something. Maybe, however, the journey is not so much about becoming something, but rather unbecoming everything that isn’t really you, so you can be who you were meant to be in the first place! The Sanskrit texts explain how we are littered with anarthas (“unhelpful qualities”) and upadhis (“artificial identities”). They block us from seeing the real self. Enlightenment is the crumbling away of such untruth. It’s seeing through the facade of pretence. It’s the complete annihilation of everything we imagined to be true. To remember who we really are, we have to forget everything that world told us to be. This is destructive enlightenment.