What is Life?

I was going through my old files to look for some papers, and found a letter from my grandfather among them. He used to write to me regularly, and often shared some witty stories and anecdotes from his life.

The following is an excerpt of a letter he sent a couple of years ago.

When I was in Hamburg, Germany, a professor asked me in jest, “What is Life?” He expected me to give a long lecture on the subject. But, I said, also in jest, “Life is simple, only in four letters.”

The professor was taken aback, and said, “I don’t understand you!”

I laughingly said, “I knew you would not understand me!! But Life stands for:

L for LOVE

I for INTELLIGENCE

F for FELLOWSHIP

E for ENDURANCE (Tolerance)

He laughed and said, “What a way to explain Life!”

A wonderful way to reflect upon our lives, isn’t it? Here’s wishing you a wondrous and joy-filled year ahead!

The Revelation

Long, long ago, far, far away, there lived a great Sage and many people went to him for enlightenment. A man known for his cruelty and anger, went to the Sage and said, “Master, my mind is always full of unclean and unhealthy thoughts. And this leads me to unhealthy actions. Could you please rid me of these thoughts and help me to achieve enlightenment?”

The Master thought for a while and said, “Before I give you peace and poise, I have to warn you that you will die in a week’s time. Hence, you may go now.”

The man was deeply shocked at this revelation. The thought of death fully occupied his mind. He ran to his wife and said, “I have harassed you countless times, and I want to make amends now. Please excuse me for all my mistakes. I am going to die in a week. I will remedy my behavior towards you at least now and will treat you with love.” He also showered his love on his children, his parents, relatives, friends and neighbors.

The complete change in his demeanor, manners and behavior produced a pleasant surprise and an affectionate response in all his near and dear ones. There was all round love and affection coupled with the regret that he was going to tie shortly.

On the last day of the week , the master came to him and asked how he felt. The reformed man replied, “Sir, my mind was so full of thoughts of my death that it produced a great change in me and a happy response from all those around me. Now, I find that my mind is calm except for the thought that I will die soon.”

The Master smiled and replied, “Just the thought of death in eight days reformed you and produced pleasantness all round. When we are aware of the impermanency of life all the time, then we consciously ensure that our actions are able to produce and promote happiness.

You are not going to die now, but do not allow these benefits to die. Continue to be good to people and live in the present. That is enlightenment.”

This story reveals that all problems arise because we feel that our life is quite long and tend to forget its impermanence, though we see death all around us everyday.

This story was written by Acharya Ratnananda and can be found in Tales for the Young and the Old.

Diwali — Sri Sri Ravi Shankar

DIWALI
Weekly Knowledge Sheet #125
October 30, 1997
Rishikesh, India

Time and space are infinite. Grains of sand are countless. Atoms in the universe are innumerable. So also the stars, the galaxies. The same is with the life on this planet. Neither is there a beginning nor is there an end, because it is all spherical. A sphere has neither a beginning nor an end, nor a goal, nor a direction. Truth has no direction, no goal. Truth itself is the goal and truth is infinite.

Feeling or experiencing the infinity within this finite body, living the timelessness within the time span of life, uncovering the bliss within the misery. This is what you are here for.

Today is Diwali – the Festival of Lights. The streets and buildings are lit up with colorful lights. The four aspects of Diwali:

1. The lights: Symbolic of spreading the Knowledge.

2. Fire crackers: When the explosion happens outside, the explosion inside is diffused.

3. Gift exchange and distribution of sweets: Sweets dispel the bitterness and renew the friendship.

4. Feeling abundance: Brings awareness and gratefulness for what one has.

When true wisdom dawns, it gives rise to celebration, and in celebration you may lose focus or awareness. The ancient rishis (sages) knew this so to maintain awareness in the midst of gaiety of celebration, they brought sacredness and puja to every celebration.

Celebrate the Knowledge and feel the abundance, for “those who have will be given more”!

Institutional vs Popular Democracy?

When Institutional Democracy becomes so entrenched in Systemic Corruption, Popular Democracy – protests and demonstrations – can help rejuvenate civic activism, and make the Government more responsive to the People and their demands. After all, Democracy institutionalizes civil and political liberties, providing legal guarantees to make free choices in their private and public activities. I believe that the India Against Corruption Movement and Anna Hazare’s efforts are such examples of civic activism and an expression of the values of democracy.

The Jan Lokpal bill was first introduced by Shanti Bhushan in 1968[5] and passed in the 4th Lok Sabha in 1969. However, it did not get through in the Rajya Sabha, the upper house of the Parliament of India. Subsequent versions were re-introduced in 1971, 1977, 1985, 1989, 1996, 1998, 2001, 2005 and in 2008.[6] But these never passed.

For those of us who are not fully aware of what the Jan Lokpal Bill is about – please read a summary at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jan_Lokpal_Bill

When Indian political leaders will not allow a bill that seeks to hold them responsible for their actions, what choice do the people of India have but to resort to the methods of Popular Democracy?

What is God’s Worry?

— by Acharya Ratnananda

Long Long Ago, and Far Far Away, a group of saints and sages met to find out ways to establish a violence-free society. “God has provided us with all the facilities to live in peace…then why should people indulge in violence and violate His intentions? Why not appeal to Him to banish violence in human affairs.”

However, before such an approach could be adopted, they wanted to unravel the mystery behind conflicts. One wise lady then said that the basic cause of all the conflicts was a feeling of worry. It was worry that created fear, and it was fear that promoted wrong actions, and wrong actions generated conflicts. The best way then, to prevent conflicts, was to prevent worries!

All our problems could be solved, if God gave us the power to overcome our worries (which often overtake our wisdom!). This solution found instant acceptance with all the wise ones, and an intense prayer followed. The Divine appeared in response to their prayers, but laughed at their request!

“My dear children,” said God, “you are asking for something which is impossible even for me to grant.” To the shock of the entire assembly, God continued, “You are all worried about solving your own worries, but have you ever considered, that I have more worries to face than all of you? Your worries have only one-track, which is much simpler! However, I have to face two-track worries – much more complex!” The entire gathering was shocked and confused at this revelation that even God suffered from complex worries unknown to themselves, and appealed to the Divine for enlightenment.

God smilingly continued, “Worry is an illness that affects both good and bad people, with the difference that good people worry about the welfare of others, and bad people worry only about their own welfare. For example, while a righteous person prays to prevent robberies, the thief prays to me to prevent being caught. I have to answer both their prayers! My problem is how to reward the former and reform the latter, and make both of them happy! It is really a two-track worry!”

The saints had to humbly accept when the Divine said, “I advice you all to go back and solve your worries yourselves, and leave me to solve mine. However, since you have all come to me, I cannot send you back empty handed. Hence, I grant you the strength to face your worries. Solve them yourself if you can, or approach a realized Master to help you in your endeavor.”

This story from the Upanishads reveals that we are mostly responsible for our worries, which affect us directly or indirectly, and it is our own responsibility, with the guidance of a realized Master to either solve them or at least shelve them. Do the work on hand, but keep the worry in abeyance. This is one way to deliver us from the all pervasive disease of worry!

What is God’s Work?

by Acharya Ratnananda (from The Speaking Tree, June 16, The Times of India)

Once a proud but benevolent king sent for his prime minister and said, “All of us have some definite work or assignment to perform. A king rules, a soldier fights, a trader trades, a teacher teaches and a preacher preaches, though as individuals they do other things also. Then what is the primary function of the Creator? Can you answer my question?”

The minister was puzzled. No one knew, and no book ever explained what God’s work was. After some thought, he said, “I, too, have often wondered about this like you. But my duty here is to advise and assist you on worldly affairs. This involves spiritual matters and the right person to answer you is our bishop.”

When the king repeated his question to the bishop, the bishop asked for a week’s time to reply. At the end of the week, the bishop was sitting under a tree on the outskirts of the town, thinking whether to face the king’s wrath the next morning, or to run away from the kingdom.

A shepherd boy who was passing by enquired about the cause for his worry. The bishop brushed him aside, saying he was deeply worried about a spiritual matter. The boy was quite insistent, and so the bishop related his trouble, without any hope of solution or solace from the boy.

“My dear master,” said the boy, “is that all that worries you so much? Please go in peace to the king. Tell him that the shepherd boy knows the answer.”

The surprised bishop begged the boy to give him the answer, but the boy preferred to meet the king in person. So the bishop went home, and the next morning he was at the court when the king eagerly asked for a reply.

“My dear king!” said the bishop, “i need not have taken so much time or trouble to give you a reply. However, i would request you to call for my shepherd boy who will give you a satisfactory answer.”

The surprised king immediately sent for the boy, who promptly presented himself before the king. His appearance was repulsive to everyone, but the court awaited his words with interest.

“You, shepherd boy,” said the king, “do you know the answer to my question which even learned scholars are not aware of?”

The boy paused for a while and said, “My dear sir, before i answer your query, may i request that proper protocol is observed. You are a student, as far as this question is concerned, since you want to learn. I am a master as i am to give you the knowledge. Normally the master occupies a higher seat than the student.” After some hesitation the king slowly came down from his throne and let the boy sit on it. So eager was he to know the answer!

But the boy, after ascending the throne, was calmly enjoying the new-found dignity and did not speak for a while. Impatient, the king shouted at the boy, “You fellow! Where is my answer? What is God’s work?” The boy calmly replied, “Here’s the answer, to push down the haughty and to push up the humble – that is God’s work!”

This is one of the 1,50,000 stories found in the ancient puranas, which have relevance even in modern times. This story, and more can be found in Acharya Ratnananda’s book “Tales for the Young and Old”

Acharya Ratnananda (Sri Sri Ravi Shankar’s father) left for his heavenly abode on June 8. Vaikunth Aradhana on June 19 at the Art of Living International CentreBangalore. Priti Bhoj at 10 a.m. All are invited.

A few Recollections about my Grandfather

Truly Grand in every sense of the word, my grandfather means the world to me. Growing up with grandparents is such a blessing. I was three years old when Arvind, my younger brother was born in Bangalore. After spending three years in Pondicherry (about 200 miles from Bangalore) on the East Coast, I got to move to Bangalore, where my mother’s parents lived. My father’s parents passed away before I was born, and I never got to see them, but I was extremely lucky to be able to grow up with my mother’s parents.

Grandparents, somehow, always know the right thing to do and say. They have more experience than our parents no doubt, and that teaches them a few tricks ☺ Their patience and love, and their gentle way of teaching us as children has left an indelible impression on both of us, and we will always appreciate them for this.

I remember asking my grandfather (Tatha) to narrate a new story every night – and he would tell me the most wondrous stories of King Vikramadiya, of Wise Sages, of Tenali Rama, and many many more from the Upanishads and the Puranas. Each night, Arvind and I would look forward to story time with Tatha. And Tatha would relate them with such interest and attention to detail, that he would make the story come alive in our mind’s eye. Each story had a moral to it – and through these wondrous and light hearted stories, Tatha was able to instill a sense of morality and uprightness in both of us. When we were with Tatha, there was always time for fun – and he would spoil us with toys and chocolates – at one point I had very few teeth left – mostly chocolate stained ones 🙂

Tatha was also the one who evoked the traveler in us – every summer, he would take my grandma, Arvind and me on a journey to temples, national parks and monuments. He was learned in such a wide range of knowledge on so many different topics, and he had such a unique way of interpreting stories and the myriad symbols in the temples. He would explain why different towns or cities were named that way, and would get us thinking rationally and encouraged us to cultivate a scientific temper.

For Tatha, the world was a beautiful play of Divine consciousness – in the plants, in the animals and birds, and in people, Tatha saw that Divine spark. A deeply spiritual man, he was not one for following rituals and superstitions. He always told us about the Oneness of Divinity – and that it was one Divinity that manifested in so many thousand forms. He encouraged us to question prevalent customs and rituals, and never believed in the rigid separation that the caste system had caused in society. Explaining that the ancients used the “Varna” system to help continue trades and professions, because it was easier in those days to learn from your father, he believed that all individuals were created equal and that everyone had a right to education. His belief was mirrored in the way he approached Vedic education coupled with modern science at the schools that he helped start.

Tatha’s role was crucial in starting two big organizations dedicated to spirituality, science, and service.Ved Vignan Mahavidyapeeth, an educational non-profit institution and VISTA-India, an institution dedicated to women empowerment. Right from a young age, he inspired us to share, and share alike. When he would bring us a chocolate, he would encourage us to share it with the other children in the neighborhood. Whenever someone would come home, he would ask us to come and meet with and spend time with them. He helped us cultivate our social skills and got us to feel comfortable and friendly with people of all ages. He would take us to meet with the children of Ved Vignan Mahavidyapeeth and the young women learning tailoring and computer skills at VISTA-India and encouraged us to continue on the path of service to society.

Today, both Arvind and I feel extremely grateful to Tatha for all his love, guidance, and support, in becoming who we are. He once told me, that when most men pass, they go horizontally, after spending many years of relative quiet. He said that he did not want to go that way, he preferred to serve and pass away vertical, in action. This statement of his remains true. He returned from the VISTA-India Project site two weeks ago, and was ready to return on May 16th. However, his health condition did not allow him to do so, and he passed away on June 7, 2011.

He always taught us to pray – not just for ourselves, but for the welfare of all life in creation. On this day, I pray for the welfare of all life, and seek blessings for this noble soul. Even after his passing, he will always live on in my heart and in the way I look at the world. He is truly my GRAND Father, and he has made my life so Grand.