There was once an old hermit who, after decades of hardship and practice, discovered the secrets to immortality. Protected by the elixir of life, the hermit was able to avoid the ravages of time and continued to enjoy the endowments of a healthy body as if time had stopped for him. Rumours of his immortality spread far and wide and soon after, many would come from distant lands to seek his wisdom and secrets to living a life free from aging and sickness. When asked of his attainment, the old hermit would often proclaim proudly that his realisation was a result of many years of hard work, sacrifice, and practice. Many would beg the hermit to reveal his secrets so that they might also enjoy similar endowments but often to no avail. As always, he would insist that his secrets were not meant to be shared with anyone else!
Behind his pretentious facade of confidence and assertiveness, and perhaps beyond the comprehension of many, the old hermit had for many years been feeling despondent and frustrated over his state of spiritual attainment and his continued existence in this mortal world. He had been especially baffled by the Divine’s silence towards him even after he had uncovered the secrets to immortality. As a result, his doubts grew as he felt abandoned. For many years, in deep meditation and prayers, he pondered his existence. But still, enlightenment eluded him. Each night, the hermit would fall asleep with a heavy heart only to wake up the next morning in a dreadful realisation that he was still alive! No one could understand his desperation. Each day he would continue his pretense as the enlightened one, oblivious to others.
One night, the old hermit was woken from his sleep by some laughter. Still, in slumber, he opened his eyes and saw a young man before him. He immediately thought that the young man looked very familiar. Impatiently the old hermit queried: “Who are you?” The young man replied with a smile: “It is you!” The hermit thought for a moment and realised: “How can this be? You look like me, but younger!” The young man replied: “Yes! Yes!”
Surprised, the old hermit asked: “Am I dead? If not, how can I see you again?” The young man smiled and said: “No, not now, it is not your time.” Offended by the young man’s reply, the hermit lost his patience and shot back at the young man: “If so, go away or be silent! Don’t disturb me!” Irritated by the old hermit’s impunity, the young man replied in a stern voice: “I will do that, but you must first listen to what I have to say before you can go back to your sleep!” Before he had finished his sentence, the young man tugged at the hermit’s beard and forced him to sit upright on his bed. He then stared intensely into his eyes and said: “You listen carefully because I won’t repeat myself.” The hermit nodded. “From now on, you should stop calling yourself the enlightened one because although you have been practising for many years, you have remained a prisoner of worldly desires. You seek solace in hopes, you burden yourself with attachments and you constantly fuel your life with worries! What makes it most unforgivable is that you are totally unaware of your indulgences! If you were given another few hundred years to live, do you think you will be able to forgo all these indulgences when your time is due? If not, how do you think you can continue to proclaim that you’re the enlightened one? From what I can see, you are a practitioner of your own narrow beliefs and totally engrossed in them!”
Ashamed, the old hermit could only stare blankly at the young man: "Do you know why the Divine has not intervened in your life especially after you have uncovered the secrets to immortality?" The old hermit could only bow and sigh. "In the beginning, the Divine was touched by your sincerity and devotion, and when you began your penance and prayers for blessings, the Divine bestowed immortality on you so that you may attain enlightenment in this lifetime. But instead, you became so attached to your blessings that you constantly worry about them, and you live in hopes that you will never lose them. You have made a livelihood out of your worldly desires and now you have no alternatives but to hold on to them with your dear life! Each day you continue to practise without realising that these things you hold so dearly are actually impeding your enlightenment! You have lost your sight because you are oblivious to your worldly desires. You have lost clarity since the day you attained immortality to the point where you won’t even recognise enlightenment even if it was standing in front of you! Enlightenment doesn’t happen by chance and surely not when you’re indulging in your hopes, attachments, and worries!"
The old hermits whispered: "How can this be humanly possible? This is easier said than done!" The young man laughed and taunted the hermit: "Please tell me that you’re ready to quit!"
The young man went on to explain: "Disappointments arise from the ashes of unfulfilled hopes and desires. Put simply, indulging in hopes will only create disappointments for yourself. And contrary to what most people choose to believe, our hopes affect our loved ones as well. Eventually, dashed hopes lead to despair and loss, and this is why you should not indulge in hopes!” The young man’s remarks seemed to have hit a note with the hermit who immediately asked: “How do I live without hope? This is a very difficult task!"
"Always be mindful of your thoughts! You must learn to appreciate and cherish what you have and not what you don’t have! As far as the Divine is concerned, there is always a good reason for you not having as you would have wanted it. To the Divine, these blessings are one and the same. The sooner you recognise and accept this fundamental truth, the sooner you will be able to align your perspective to that of the Divine and to affirm your belief in their guidance. As you do so, you allow Divine Intervention to take place at the appropriate time of your life, through trials that ascertain your understanding, and during which your piety is observed and measured. Throughout the ordeal the Divine expects you to work hard in facing your challenges and to do the right things! This is a stark reminder for those who are not taking their trials correctly but waiting for Divine’s help or intervention! As you may already know, the Divine doesn’t intervene until you have inculcated the right understanding of life!"
The old hermit nodded and went on to ask: "How can I let go of my attachments?"
The young man laughed and said: “You’re already a few hundred years old now, many more if you were to add the years you spent in your previous lifetimes! But why haven’t you learned to let go of your attachments to this physical existence? You can’t expect to be bestowed divinity when you have so many attachments, can you? Why do you choose to carry this burden with you all the time? To start with, you must learn to put it down, let go of it, so that you can get used to the feeling of living your life without any burden. If you can do this, it can mean the difference between owning your life or becoming a slave to it! The subtlety lies in your ability to align your perspectives to that of the Divine, and not of others or society at large. The Divine wants you to live a carefree, balanced, and fulfilled life. But it is a choice that you must make because it is a freedom given to you. If you haven’t realised, attachments are parasitic and will do a lot of harm in the long run.”
Ashamed, the old practitioner acknowledged: “I’ve always believed that I own my life, but now I realise that I’m a slave because I’m totally attached to it!”
“Don’t worry, fret not!” The young man went on to appease the old hermit. “You know very well that fire will extinguish itself as long as you do not continue to fuel it. The same principle applies to your constant worrying. Bear in mind that fear is a fiction of your imagination, and that worries are products of fears! So fret not on things you have no control over, but focus your efforts on the things you should truly be working on!”
The young man continued: "The Divine bestowed immortality not for you to become a prisoner to it - or to relish on hopes, attachments, and worries. The Divine wants you to realise the foolishness of these indulgences, to see through them so that you can attain enlightenment in your lifetime!”
Before the hermit could utter another word, the young man vanished.
The old hermit was deeply moved by the wisdom of the young man and was determined to reassess his understanding and practices based on the perspectives of the Divine. In deciding to do so, he had to unlearn what he had learned all these years so as to live up to the exact expectations of the Divine.
By looking at the true meaning of his existence through the eyes of the Divine, and living with the right understanding, the old hermit finally attained enlightenment in his lifetime!