There’s a story that I read years ago. I believe I read it in a collection of Papaji transcripts. It is about the lion who was raised as a sheep. (Or it may be that he told the story as a lion raised as a donkey. Either way works.)
To be honest, I didn’t really understand it at the time. But recently I was reminded of this story during a group call, and as I shared the story I saw how potentially useful it is for anyone who is interested in knowing their innate freedom.
A farmer finds an orphaned lion cub. He hatches the idea to raise the lion cub with his flock of sheep to guard them. As the lion grew, he believed himself to be a sheep.
One day, an older, wild lion came upon the flock. He intended to catch one of the sheep to eat, but when he saw the young lion with the sheep, he forgot all about his interest in the sheep.
The wild lion chased down the young lion. The young lion trembled and cowered and said, “Please, please Mr. Lion, don’t eat me!”
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The wild lion roared with laughter. “Eat you?! Why on earth would I eat you?”
“Because I am a sheep,” said the young lion.
The wild lion shook his head in disbelief. “You are a lion! Not a sheep.”
The young lion would not be convinced. Finally, the wild lion led the young lion to water and showed him his reflection.
Here’s why this story is so useful.
When we believe that “I am such and such,” we are like a lion who believes he is a sheep. The lion is always a lion regardless of what he believes himself to be.
Beliefs cannot limit our innate freedom. But our beliefs can feed into a vicious cycle of contraction. We contract, which reinforces the limited sense of ourselves, which leads to more contraction in an effort to protect ourselves.
Like the lion who believes himself to be a sheep, we believe ourselves to be limited to some idea of ourselves. At the core, we believe that we are unworthy or that something must be fundamentally wrong with us.
Life is constantly offering us the invitation to wake up from the trance and to rediscover our innate freedom. In effect, everything is that invitation. And this is like the wild lion chasing down the young lion.
But because we have mistaken ourselves to be this contracted, separate thing, we perceive life as a threat, just as the young lion wrongly perceives the wild lion as a threat.
Imagine for a moment that you have believed yourself to be a sheep all your life. And now it dawns on you for an instant that you are not a sheep. You are a lion. Imagine how audacious it would feel to throw off the false identity as a sheep and to accept your lion nature.
If you really imagine yourself in that scenario, you might notice that it’s uncomfortable to throw off the sheep identity and accept the lion nature. The sheep has to be safe. The sheep has to stay with the herd. The sheep survives by being anxious and running from perceived danger.
The lion, on the other hand, is not constantly preoccupied by these things. The lion is free to be audacious. He doesn’t have the same concerns as the sheep.
But if you have believed yourself to be a sheep, when you throw off the sheep identity, you are likely left with this residual insecurity. There is something wonderful about your lion nature, but you can’t yet shake the sense that being a lion is too free…that you need the herd, safety, anxiety.
So you keep flip-flopping between sheep identification and flirting with lion nature.
This is what happens with us, I feel. We catch a glimpse of our inherent freedom. We recognize that we are already free to be ourselves without making any effort. It is wonderful…and it also feels terribly insecure. So we contract once again, re-affirming our contracted, separate sense of identity.
But that contracted state is a state that comes and goes. It is something we have to maintain and protect. Like a lion who has to pretend that he is a sheep.
Meanwhile, if we let go of that tension, it becomes perfectly clear – like a lion seeing his reflection – that we are inherently free.
Test it out. Don’t just take my word for it. Release the tension in your head right now. Don’t grasp at thought.
As long as you don’t re-contract and grasp at a thought, your inherent freedom is perfectly obvious.
This may feel vulnerable. It may feel exposed. It may feel uncomfortable. But this is freedom. It is always already here. You only need to recognize it.