Monthly Archives: October 2011

Assumption of Knowledge!

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In a small village school, the teacher was teaching the story of Rama. Almost all the children were dozing. This occurrence was not unusual at the recitation of the Ramayana; even grownups nap at such times. The story has been told and retold so many times it has lost its significance; the novelty is gone.

The teacher recited mechanically, not even glancing at the open book before him, and even an outsider could have seen that he was dozing too. He knew it by heart and was narrating the episodes like a parrot. He was not at all aware of what he was saying. One who has memorized something never knows the meaning of what he is saying.

Suddenly there was a sensation in the class: the inspector had come in. The pupils became attentive, and the teacher became alert as well. The teacher continued the lesson.

The inspector said, ”I am happy to see you are teaching the Ramayana. I will ask the children something about Rama.” Assuming that children easily remember tales of broken things or of battles, he asked a simple question: ”Tell me, children, who broke the bow of Shankara?”

One boy raised his hand, stood up and said, ”Excuse me, sir. I didn’t break it. I was away for fifteen days. And I don’t know who broke it either. I want to clear this up right now, because whenever anything happens in this school I am the first to be blamed for it.”

This hit the inspector like a bolt from the blue. He turned to the teacher, who was about to lift his cane, and heard the teacher say, ”This rascal is surely the culprit. He is the worst one of all.” He roared at the boy, ”If you didn’t do it then why did you get up and say that you didn’t do it?” He said to the inspector, ”Do not be misled by this boy’s sweet talk!”

The inspector thought it better not to say anything, so he simply turned and left the class. But he was furious, and went straight to the headmaster’s office to narrate the incident in full. He demanded to know what the headmaster intended to do about it.

The headmaster urged the inspector not to pursue the matter any further. He explained that it was a precarious thing these days to say anything to the students. ”No matter who might have broken it,” he said, ”let the matter drop. There has only been peace in the school for the last two months. Before that, the students broke and burned much furniture. It is better to keep still. Saying anything to them these days will only invite grave trouble. There could be a strike, a dharna, a fast unto death at any time!”

The inspector was flabbergasted; he was completely stunned. He went to the chairman of the school committee and told him all about what had happened – that the Ramayana was being taught in a class, that a boy had said he hadn’t broken Shankara’s bow, that the teacher had said that the boy must be the culprit, that the headmaster had begged that the matter be dropped no matter who was responsible, saying that it was unwise to pursue this, that there was constant fear of a strike, etcetera, etcetera. The inspector asked the chairman for his view.

The chairman said he felt the headmaster had been wise in his policy. ”Furthermore,” he added, ”don’t bother about the culprit. No matter who broke the bow, the committee will get it repaired. It is better to get it repaired than to dig into the cause.”

The inspector, who had been totally disgusted by the situation, related his experience to me. I told him there was nothing basically new in his tale. It is a common human weakness to boast of things about which we know nothing at all.

Nobody remembered the part in Ramayana about the breaking of Shankara’s bow. Wouldn’t it have been better for them to have asked, ”Which Shankara?” But nobody was prepared to acknowledge his own ignorance. No man is that bold. This has been the biggest pitfall in the history of mankind. This weakness has proved suicidal. We act as if we know everything and confuse our lives as a result. All our answers to all our problems are like those given by the boy, by the teacher, by the headmaster and by the chairman. Attempting to answer without understanding the question makes a man a fool. This is sheer self-deception.

In addition to this, there is the attitude of indifference. The indifferent man would ask, ”Now, really, is all hell going to break loose if we don’t know who broke Shankara’s bow?”

In contrast to the problems of this silly tale, there are more profound enigmas in life, and on their proper solution depends whether life can be decent or not, whether life can be harmonious or not, whether our present direction is the right one for progress or not, and so on. We think we know the answers, but the consequences show how inaccurate our perception of life really is. The life of each one of us shows that we do not know anything about life at all. Otherwise, how come there is so much despair, so much misery, so much anxiety?

The Con Man!

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A king used to go every night into the city for a round to see how things are going – of course, in disguise. He was very much puzzled about one man, a young, very beautiful man, who was always standing under a tree by the side of the street, the same tree every night.

Finally, the curiosity took over, and the king stopped his horse and asked the man, “Why don’t you go to sleep?”

And the man said, “People go to sleep because they have nothing to guard, and I have such treasures that I cannot go to sleep, I have to guard them.”

The king said, “Strange, I don’t see any treasures here.”

The man said, “Those treasures are inside me, you cannot see them.”

It became a routine thing for the king to stop every day, because the man was beautiful, and whatever he said made the king think over it for hours. The king became so much attached and interested in the man that he started feeling that he was really a saint, because awareness and love and peace and silence and meditation and enlightenment, these are his treasures which he is guarding; he cannot sleep, he cannot afford sleep. Only beggars can afford….

The story had started just by curiosity, but slowly, slowly the king started respecting and honoring the man, almost as a spiritual guide. One day he said to him, “I know you will not come with me to the palace, but I think of you, day in, day out. You come to my mind so many times, I would love it if you can become a guest in my palace.”

The king was thinking that he will not agree – he had the old idea that saints renounce the world – but the young man said, “If you are missing me so much, why you did not say it before? So bring another horse, and I am coming with you.”

The king became suspicious, “What kind of saint is he? – so easily ready. But now it was too late, he had invited him. He gave him his best room in the palace which was preserved only for rare guests, other emperors. And he was thinking the man would refuse, that he would say, “I am a saint, I cannot live in this luxury.” But he did not say anything like this. He said, “Very good.”

The king could not sleep the whole night, and he thought, “It seems this fellow has deceived me; he is not a saint or anything.”  Two, three times he went to look from the window – the saint was asleep. And he had never been asleep, he was always standing under the tree. Now he was not guarding.

The king thought, “I have been conned. This is a real con man.”

The second day he ate with the king – all delicious foods, no austerity – and he enjoyed the food.

The king offered him new clothes, worthy of an emperor, and he loved those clothes. And the king thought, “Now, how to get rid of this fellow?” Just in seven days he was tired, thinking, “This is a complete charlatan, he has cheated me.”

On the seventh day he said to this strange fellow, “I want to ask a question.” And the stranger said, “I know your question. You wanted to ask it seven days before, but just out of courtesy, manners, you kept it repressed – I was watching. But I will not answer you here. You can ask the question, and then we will go for a long morning ride on the horses, and I will choose the right place to answer it.”

The king said, “Okay. My question is, now what is the difference between me and you? You are living like an emperor, but you used to be a saint. Now you are no longer a saint.”

The man said, “Get the horses ready!” They went out, and the king many times reminded him, “How far are we going? You can answer.”

Finally they reached to the river which was the boundary line of his empire. The king said, “Now we have come to my boundary. The other side is somebody else’s kingdom. This is a good place to answer.” He said, “Yes, I am going. You can take both the horses, or if you like, you can come with me.”

The king said, “Where are you going?” He said, “My treasure is with me. Wherever I go, my treasure will be with me. Are you coming with me or not?”

The king said, “How can I come with you? My kingdom, my palace, my whole life’s work is behind me.”

The stranger laughed and he said, “Now, do you see the difference? I can stand naked under a tree, or I can live in a palace like an emperor because my treasure is within me. Whether the tree is there or the palace is there makes no difference. So you can go back; I am going into the other kingdom. Now your kingdom is not worth remaining in.”

The king felt repentance. He touched the feet of the stranger and said, “Forgive me. I was thinking wrong thoughts about you. You are really a great saint. Just don’t go, and leave me like this; otherwise this wound will hurt me my whole life.”

The stranger said, “There is no difficulty for me; I can come back with you. But I want you to be alert.

The moment we reach the palace, the question will again arise in your mind. So it is better – let me go. I can give you some time to think. I can come back.

“To me it makes no difference. But to you it is better that I should leave the kingdom; it is better. In this way at least you will think of me as a saint. Back in the palace you will again start doubting, ‘This is a con man.’ But if you insist, I am ready. I can leave again after seven days when the question becomes too heavy on you.”

What is Love?

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I have heard that there was once an ancient and majestic tree, with branches spreading out towards the sky. When it was in a flowering mood, butterflies of all shapes, colors and sizes danced around it. When it grew blossoms and bore fruit, birds from far lands came and sang in it. The branches, like outstretched hands, blessed all who came and sat in their shade. A small boy used to come and play under it, and the big tree developed an affection for the small boy.

Love between big and small is possible, if the big is not aware that it is big. The tree did not know it was big; only man has that kind of knowledge. The big always has the ego as its prime concern, but for love, nobody is big or small. Love embraces whomsoever comes near.

So the tree developed a love for this small boy who used to come to play near it. Its branches were high, but it bent and bowed them down so that he might pluck its flowers and pick its fruit. Love is ever ready to bow; the ego is never ready to bend. If you approach the ego, its branches will stretch upwards even more; it will stiffen so you cannot reach it.

The playful child came, and the tree bowed its branches. The tree was very pleased when the child plucked some flowers; its entire being was filled with the joy of love. Love is always happy when it can give something; the ego is always happy when it can take. The boy grew. Sometimes he slept on the tree’s lap, sometimes he ate its fruit, and sometimes he wore a crown of the tree’s flowers and acted like a jungle king. One becomes like a king when the flowers of love are there, but one becomes poor and miserable when the thorns of the ego are present. To see the boy wearing a crown of flowers and dancing about filled the tree with joy. It nodded in love; it sang in the breeze. The boy grew even more. He began to climb the tree to swing on its branches. The tree felt very happy when the boy rested on its branches. Love is happy when it gives comfort to someone; the ego is only happy when it gives discomfort.

With the passage of time the burden of other duties came to the boy. Ambition grew; he had exams to pass; he had friends to chat with and to wander about with, so he did not come often. But the tree waited anxiously for him to come. It called from its soul, ”Come. Come. I am waiting for you.” Love waits day and night. And the tree waited. The tree felt sad when the boy did not come. Love is sad when it cannot share; love is sad when it cannot give. Love is grateful when it can share. When it can surrender, totally, love is the happiest.

As he grew, the boy came less and less to the tree. The man who becomes big, whose ambitions grow, finds less and less time for love. The boy was now engrossed in worldly affairs.

One day, while he was passing by, the tree said to him, ”I wait for you but you do not come. I expect you daily.”

The boy said, ”What do you have? Why should I come to you? Have you any money? I am looking for money.” The ego is always motivated. Only if there is some purpose to be served will the ego come. But love is motiveless. Love is its own reward.

The startled tree said, ”You will come only if I give something?” That which withholds is not love. The ego amasses, but love gives unconditionally. ”We don’t have that sickness, and we are joyful,” the tree said. ”Flowers bloom on us. Many fruits grow on us. We give soothing shade. We dance in the breeze, and sing songs. Innocent birds hop on our branches and chirp even though we don’t have any money. The day we get involved with money, we will have to go to the temples like you weak men do, to learn how to obtain peace, to learn how to find love. No, we do not have any need for money.”

The boy said, ”Then why should I come to you? I will go where there is money. I need money.” The ego asks for money because it needs power.

The tree thought for a while and said, ”Don’t go anywhere else, my dear. Pick my fruit and sell it. You will get money that way.”

The boy brightened immediately. He climbed up and picked all the tree’s fruit; even the unripe ones were shaken down. The tree felt happy, even though some twigs and branches were broken, even though some of its leaves had fallen to the ground. Getting broken also makes love happy, but even after getting, the ego is not happy. The ego always desires more. The tree didn’t notice that the boy hadn’t even once looked back to thank him. It had had its thanks when the boy accepted the offer to pick and sell its fruit.

The boy did not come back for a long time. Now he had money and he was busy making more money from that money. He had forgotten all about the tree. Years passed. The tree was sad. It yearned for the boy’s return – like a mother whose breasts are filled with milk but whose son is lost. Her whole being craves for her son; she searches madly for her son so he can come to lighten her. Such was the inner cry of that tree. Its entire being was in agony.

After many years, now an adult, the boy came to the tree.

The tree said, ”Come, my boy. Come embrace me.”

The man said, ”Stop that sentimentality. That was a childhood thing. I am not a child any more.” The ego sees love as madness, as a childish fantasy.

But the tree invited him: ”Come, swing on my branches. Come dance. Come play with me.”

The man said, ”Stop all this useless talk! I need to build a house. Can you give me a house?”

The tree exclaimed: ”A house! I am without a house.” Only men live in houses. Nobody else lives in a house but man. And do you notice his condition after his confinement among four walls? The bigger his buildings, the smaller man becomes. ”We do not stay in houses, but you can cut and take away my branches – and then you may be able to build a house.”

Without wasting any time, the man brought an axe and severed all the branches of the tree. Now the tree was just a bare trunk. But love cares not for such things – even if its limbs are severed for the loved one. Love is giving; love is ever ready to give.

The man didn’t even bother to thank the tree. He built his house. And the days flew into years. The trunk waited and waited. It wanted to call for him, but it had neither branches nor leaves to give it strength. The wind blew by, but it couldn’t even manage to give the wind a message. And still its soul resounded with one prayer only: ”Come. Come, my dear. Come.” But nothing happened.

Time passed and the man had now become old. Once he was passing by and he came and stood by the tree.

The tree asked, ”What else can I do for you? You have come after a very, very long time.”

The old man said, ”What else can you do for me? I want to go to distant lands to earn more money. I need a boat, to travel.”

Cheerfully, the tree said, ”But that’s no problem, my love. Cut my trunk, and make a boat from it. I would be so very happy if I could help you go to faraway lands to earn money. But, please remember, I will always be awaiting your return.”

The man brought a saw, cut down the trunk, made a boat and sailed away.

Now the tree is a small stump. And it waits for its loved one to return. It waits and it waits and it waits. The man will never return; the ego only goes where there is something to gain and now the tree has nothing, absolutely nothing to offer. The ego does not go where there is nothing to gain. The ego is an eternal beggar, in a continuous state of demand, and love is charity. Love is a king, an emperor! Is there any greater king than love?

I was resting near that stump one night. It whispered to me, ”That friend of mine has not come back yet. I am very worried in case he might have drowned, or in case he might be lost. He may be lost in one of those faraway countries. He might not even be alive any more. How I wish for news of him! As I near the end of my life, I would be satisfied with some news of him at least. Then I could die happily. But he would not come even if I could call him. I have nothing left to give and he only understands the language of taking.”

The ego only understands the language of taking; the language of giving is love.

I cannot say anything more than that. Moreover, there is nothing more to be said than this: if life can become like that tree, spreading its branches far and wide so that one and all can take shelter in its shade, then we will understand what love is. There are no scriptures, no charts, no dictionaries for love. There is no set of principles for love.

Moved by Love: Vinoba Bhave

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I AM A MAN who belongs to another world than this, one that may seem very strange. For I claim that I am moved by love, that I feel it all the time. I do not deal in opinions, but only in thought, in which there can be give and take. Thought is not walled in or tied down, it can be shared with people of goodwill; we can take their ideas and offer them ours, and in this way thought grows and spreads. This has always been my experience and therefore I do not accept any kind of label for myself. It is open to anyone whatever to explain his ideas to me and convince me, and anyone is free to make my ideas his own in the same way.

There is nothing so powerful as love and thought–no institution, no government, no ism, no scripture, and no weapon. I hold that these – love and thought, are the only sources of power. You should nor expect me therefore to have any fixed opinions, only ideas. I am a man who changes every moment. Anyone can make me his slave by putting his ideas vigorously before me and convincing me that they are right. But no one, however hard he tries, can get me to accept his authority without first convincing me of the soundness of his thought.

I am just one individual; I wear no label, I am not a member of any institution, I have nothing to do with political parties. I do however keep in affectionate contact with the organizations for constructive work. I was born a Brahmin, but I cut myself off from my caste when I cut off my shikha.’ Some people call me a Hindu, but I have made such a repeated study of the Koran and the Bible that my Hinduism has been washed off. People like what I say because my work is rooted in compassion, love and thought. I have ideas, but no permanently settled views. In fact I am so unreliable that I do not hesitate to express one view today and another tomorrow. I am not the same today as I was yesterday. I think differently every moment and go on changing all the time.

All are my kinsfolk and I theirs. It is not in my heart to love some more and others less. In the Life of the Prophet Muhammad it is related how once, speaking about Abu Bakr, he said: ‘I could love him more than anyone, if it were not forbidden to love one more than another.’ That is to say, God forbids us to love one more than another. The same is true for me. I cannot make any differences between individuals.

I once saw a portrait of Louis Pasteur, and below it these words: ‘I do not want to know your religion or your views, but only what your troubles are. I want to help you to get rid of them.’ Those who do that are discharging their duty as human beings, and that is what I am trying to do.

I don’t take any step without going deeply into the matter and getting at the root of it. I have spent thirty years of my life in solitary thought, while at the same time giving what service I could. I wished to make my life one of service, but it has been one of reflection-reflection about the changes which must come in society, and how the roots of those changes must be purified. I am quite clear now about my basic thought, and I am not afraid of any problem. No matter what it is, no matter how big, it seems small to me, for I am bigger than the problem. However big it may be it is after all a human problem, and it can be solved by human intelligence.

During the course of my work, both in Ashrams and outside them, I have aimed at finding out how difficulties of every kind in the life of a society, and in the life of the individual, may he overcome by non-violence. That is my chief task; that is why I went to Telangana, If I had avoided that work I should have broken my pledge to strive for non-violence and Shanti Sena.

The things that happened in this country immediately after we got independence had dimmed the hope of non-violence. Forces of violence showed themselves in India in great strength. After Gandhiji passed away I was therefore trying to discover how a non-violent social order might be built.

By nature I am inclined to use the methods of Lord Mahavira, but what I actually did was more on the lines of Lord Buddha. The two are not opposed. It was not Mahavira’s way to take up a practical problem or propagate an idea. Wherever he went he would talk to individuals, understand the outlook of whoever was before him, and show each one how to find satisfaction in Life. If someone believed in a particular scripture he would use that as the basis of his teaching; if another had no faith in any book, he would make suggestions without reference to a book. In this way he shared his thought from a middle ground. The Lord Buddha on the other hand took up social problems and actively spread the idea of non-violence.

Another question is whether one should have recourse to outward forms in order to propagate an idea. There is always a danger that the outward forms may usurp the foremost place, and that the inward spiritual thing, the idea for whose sake the forms are used, may be overshadowed and become secondary. On the other hand, without such outward embodiment thought is not focused. Goodwill spreads invisibly, but ideas need to take concrete shape, otherwise ordinary people are not attracted. So there is a risk both in using the outward framework and in not using it; there is also good to be had in both ways.

I certainly used the problem of land as my framework, but my basic aim is to teach and commend the idea ~of unity and com- passion. In choosing this framework I used my intelligence, but my thinking always went beyond the framework, and I longed many times to keep to my own real nature. Still, I did not give up the outward form, so I have been working on a synthesis of the way of Lord Mahavira and that of Lord Buddha.

In whatever has seemed to me to be worth doing in life, I have received the greatest help (apart from the scriptures) from three people–Shankara, Jnanadeva and Gandhi. As for Gandhiji, I not only studied his ideas and writings, I lived in his company, and spent my whole time, in my youth, in the various forms of service which he started. His presence, his ideas, and the opportunity to put them into practice–I had the benefit of all three. In other words I lived under the wing of a great man, and he gave me a very great gift for which I am grateful. So did the first Shankaracharya. He helped me chiefly in overcoming the philosophical doubts which naturally arise in any reasoning mind, and I shall always remain in his debt in the world of thought. As for the gift I have received from Saint Jnanadeva, I have no words to describe it. He has shaped my thought, entered my heart, guided my action; besides all this, as I believe, he has touched my body also. His influence has been great and many-sided. I am by nature wry harsh, a lump of rough shapeless rock. Shankaracharya made the rock strong, Gandhiji chiselled it and gave it a form, but the mighty task of piercing the rock and releasing the springs of water below, and so endowing my life and heart with sweetness–that was the work of Saint Jnanadeva.

When I think of myself, of who I am, and of the good fortune that has come my way, I recall a lot of favourable outward circumstances. I certainly had very special parents, as people recognize. My brothers too have a quality of their own. I have had a guide on my way who by universal acclaim is a Mahatma. I have had dear friends, and all of them without exception have won the affection of the people. I have had students of whom I myself have become enamoured. What a great heap of good fortune. In addition, because I know a number of languages, I have had and still have opportunity to taste the nectar of thought of many saints and men of religion. That too, so one may reflect, is a piece of great good fortune. Yet all this pales into insignificance beside the greatest good fortune of all, which is mine and yours and everyone’s-that we are all members, portions, limbs of God, waves in that Ocean. Our greatest good fortune is that we abide within God; once we feel that, we are free.

Vinoba Bhave (Ahimsa Ki Talaash)