What True Hope Actually Means and How to Have It

Because material hope is a dead end.

“What oxygen is to the lungs, such is hope to the meaning of life.“ — Emil Brunner

Hope — the recognition within the human heart that something better is attainable — can mean the difference between life and death.

Consider Viktor Frankl’s account of soldiers in the concentration camp. He said that hope for a better future alone determined if they’ll live or not.

In the camp, after Hanukkah, a holy festival, death rates increased even though there was no change in other circumstances in the camp. Why?

Because prisoners were told that they will be released till the festival to meet their families. When there were not released, however, they lost hope, lost the will to survive, their immense systems weakened, and finally succumbed to some fatal disease.

Hope is what was keeping them alive. Hope for a better future. Frankl writes,

“Woe to him who saw no more sense in his life, no aim, no purpose, and therefore no point in carrying on. He was soon lost.”

It’s a small word — hope — but it has its own ramifications.

What should we hope for? And is there a state of being where we always have something to look forward to?

All Hope Is Lost in Duality

The very beginning of creation gave rise to the law of duality — light, and darkness, good and evil. It’s the law of relativity necessary to divide the One into the many.

Imagine a still ocean. And now imagine a high-speed wind on its surface giving rise to waves. That’s how the Universe came into existence. These waves gave rise to the ups and downs of life. Before the waves, the ocean was just there — unmoving, and ever-present.

The ancient Vedic scriptures declare that the physical world operates under one fundamental law of Maya, the principle of relativity and duality. Every great scientific discovery of modern times has served as a confirmation of this simple pronouncement of the rishis.

In fact, Newton’s Law of Motion is a law of Maya: “To every action, there is always an equal and contrary reaction; the mutual actions of any two bodies are always equal and oppositely directed.”

Action and reaction are thus exactly equal. To have a single force is impossible. There must be, and always is, a pair of forces equal and opposite.

We all say that life is full of ‘ups and downs’. One day we’re happy, the next day we’re sad. One day we get a promotion, the next day we lose a loved one.

Why isn’t eternal happiness possible? Because we live in Maya.

Every action has a contrary reaction. And so everything you experience in this world, you can be sure, sooner or later, of getting its opposite too.

It’s then a zero-sum game. Everything cancels itself out.

“A man left home in the morning with 1 Rupee. He gambled with it and made millions. Then lost them all. He returned home in the evening empty-handed. His wife is clueless why the loss of just 1 Rupee has drowned his husband in so much depression that he is not speaking a word. This is the illusion or Maya.” — Shunya

So there’s really nothing we can hope for in this world of duality. Hope for any sort of material gain, whether fame, fortune, power, success, or relationships, is like a noose that fetters the soul.

We are meant for spiritual hope, but, bewildered by material life, our hopes are now material, and so we are subject to waves of dissatisfaction.

One who hopes materially, Krishna says in the Bhagavad Gita, will be anxious, troubled, and miserable. Why? Again, because the waves of life that go up, will fall down. And this cycle will continue until we achieve enlightenment.

And so let’s ask the question again — “Is there a state of being where we always have something to look forward to?”

Well, if you’re talking about the material pleasures of this world, I’m afraid the answer is ‘No’. Any pleasure of this world (owing to the law of duality) has to have equal pain.

And after all, this material world is going to end — you will die one day. So what are we really looking forward to?

Believing in a Higher Power

“Mediocrity knows nothing higher than itself.” — Arthur Conan Doyle

One of the most difficult steps in the ‘recovery’ process for addicts is to accept a higher power.

Step 2 says that the addicts “have come to believe a Power greater than themselves that restores them to sanity.”

It’s difficult because addicts (and in general people) are obsessed with themselves. Their urges, their desires, likes, and dislikes.

People say “I don’t believe in God,” “There’s no proof,” “Science can’t prove it” and so on. And no matter how much that pains me, I can’t do anything about it.

Because I understand it’s normal to feel that way. But the point here is not to believe in God.

The point is to surrender and have faith. You can’t solve the problems with the same level of consciousness that you created them with.

And to have a higher state of consciousness (or ‘mindset’ if consciousness is heavy for you), you need to accept there’s something bigger in this world than your little ego and desires.

If you look closely at Step 2, it isn’t telling you to believe in Jesus, Shiva, Allah, Guru Nanak, or anything else. You can believe in Nature, Mother Earth, the Universe, Destiny, Fate, or anything else.

Because whatever you believe in, the point will always be to surrender your self-will.

We can’t hope for ever-lasting happiness without first having peace. And we cannot have peace if we live and think about our little reality. Ryan Holiday writes in [Stillness is The Key](https://www.amazon.com/Stillness-Key-Ryan-Holiday/dp/0525538585):

“There’s no stillness to the mind that thinks of nothing but itself, nor will there ever be peace for the body and spirit that follow their every urge and value nothing but themselves.”

In the 1978 commencement address to the students of Harvard, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn said that all countries in the modern world are plagued with a “despiritualized and irreligious humanistic consciousness.”

“We have placed too much hope in the political and social reforms, only to find out that we were being deprived of our most precious possession: our spiritual life.”

If you don’t believe in anything you go to the empty houses of nihilism. And there’s no hope there. Nihilists often go crazy because they can’t make sense of the immense complexity and emptiness of life and death.

Accepting a higher power is about letting God [or Him or Her or It] into your heart. It’s about, as Ryan says, “rejecting the tyranny of our intellect, of our immediate observational experience, and accepting something bigger, something beyond ourselves.”

Once you accept this higher power, you realize that your life is guided by something bigger that’s out of your control. And in fact, it’s the only truth.

You’re here on this planet for maybe a hundred years. But this planet and this universe are going on for billions of years without you exercising your will.

And so to think that your will is the ultimate reality would be foolish.

Material Hope Is Hopeless

We learned two things. First, there’s more going on in the world than we realize. Second, hoping for anything material will lead to misery because by design, it will be taken away soon (and if not soon, definitely on death).

So what can we do? Let’s see

Accept The Divine Will

“It is my unmistakable belief that not a blade of grass moves but by the divine will.” — Mahatma Gandhi

99% of our lives are not in our control. And of the 1% we think is in our control, you’ll be astonished to find out how little your will matters in the grand scheme of things.

The only way to avoid disappointment caused by duality is to accept first, that you are not the body or the mind. You’re the eternal, imperishable soul that is not affected by the cycle of life and death.

With this understanding, you can stop hoping for material things and therefore prevent yourself from the misery caused.

Being Detached

“Detachment does not mean non-involvement. You can be deeply involved but not entangled.” — Sadhguru

With knowledge of our true identity, material desires appeal less and less, and so material hopes, which spring from material desires, lessen.

We can feel our intelligence become pacified and our priorities rearranged.

Detachment releases us from slavery to mere things and from preoccupation with the past or the future.

Having Faith

“Faith is to believe what you do not see; the reward of this faith is to see what you believe.” — Saint Augustine

Once we accept joyfully whatever the Universe has in store for us and are detached from the desire for material success, the next step in transforming our hope is to have faith.

Faith helps us develop the quality of surrender in our lives. Only when we have faith we can hope for a better future.

If however, we doubt the higher power and ourselves, we can’t help but paint a bleak picture of the future.

There’s a saying in India — “Whatever happens, happens for good.”

It’s also similar to the idea of Amor Fati. It is used to describe an attitude in which one sees everything that happens in one’s life, including suffering and loss, as good or, at the very least, necessary

Whatever entity you want to put your faith in — Fate, God, Jesus, etc — you will have the same benefits.

And besides what option do we have? Put faith in material things. We all know how that turns out.

The Takeaway

“Hope is like the sun, which, as we journey toward it, casts the shadow of our burden behind us.” — Samuel Smiles

Spiritual hope gives us focus and purpose; material hope confuses us.

True hope lifts our spirits. We walk on this planet with confidence, daily experiences become meaningful, and getting up in the morning becomes a joy.

It gives life lightness and fullness. It fosters spiritual growth, makes us bold, lively, compassionate, and indifferent to mundane fighting and the accumulation of objects and money.

It allows our life to grow in love, grace, and endless satisfaction, for it brings us to the truth and beauty of the higher power.

So more than anything else, I ask of you this — realize that this material reality is only an illusion. Your true Self is imperishable. And in that higher Self, you can find your true hope of ever-lasting happiness and salvation.

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Written on January 18, 2021