Action and Non-Action

Once upon a time, there lived a young man who desired to achieve quick progress in life. He went to a wise sage and expressed his wish. The sage smiled, and gave him two coins and advised him to drop them one after another to achieve his goal.

The youth was overjoyed at the prospect of achieving success so easily, and ran away before the sage could give him any more advise. He dropped the first coin at a particular place, and Lo! A beautiful chariot appeared. The word “Action” was etched onto the chariot. The young man jumped onto the chariot and immediately, it began to shoot into space at a terrific pace. It was then that he realized that it did not have a steering wheel!

For a while the youth like the speed and the travel, but gradually, he became a bit nervous. Where was he going? When would he reach the destination? The young man could not find the answers to these questions, and began to panic.

While he was frantically searching for a escape from this predicament, he found a small button with the word “Stop” on it. He pressed it, hoping to stop the chariot. Immediately the vehicle stopped, and dropped to the ground. The young man jumped out of it and heaved a sigh of relief.

The young man was exhausted by the trip and rested for a while. After he had regained his hope and energy, he dropped the second coin to the ground, to see what it would do. Like before, a chariot appeared in front of him. This chariot had the word “Inaction” etched onto it. Less apprehensive now, the young man jumped onto the chariot.

The youth was totally surprised by what happened next. The chariot stood still, but everything around him was revolving at a great speed and nothing was clear to him. The moving panorama around him was making him dazed and quite restless.

When he could stand it no longer, he again began looking for a way to escape. To his relief, he found the “Stop” button, and he pressed it with great hope. The revolving panorama stopped suddenly and he immediately jumped out of the chariot. He ran to the sage who had given him the coins and began complaining that he could not achieve any progress in his life with those coins.

“My dear fellow,” said the sage, “most young people suffer like you. Everyone wants progress and thinks that by unceasing activity, they can achieve it. Some others think the opposite. But action alone does not result in progress, nor does inaction.”

“All actions or non-actions,” said the sage, “should be inspired by a purpose, follow a procedure, and strive with perseverance. The should find support in reason and sustenance in reasonableness. When these guidelines coupled with discretion, promote action or non-action, they lead to worldly success as well as spiritual progress.”

This story helps one understand that either action or non-action without purpose and perseverance, is just like a rudderless ship.

In the coming year, let our actions and non-actions be inspired by a sense of service and let us persevere with our commitment to create a better world for all!

Adapted from Tales for the Young and Old by Acharya Ratnananda

The Master’s Favorite

The Master’s Favorite -By Acharya Ratnananda

Once upon a time, there lived a great sage named Angirasa. He had many disciples and all of them were considerably benefitted by his wisdom. There were, however, some pious souls, who learned everything faster than the others, and followed his words more closely. They also received respect from other disciples for their pious nature.

Some disciples, however, were dull-witted, and developed jealousy towards those pious ones. They forgot the fact that they alone were at fault for their slow rate of absorption of the Master’s teachings. Instead, they began doubting the Master’s impartiality. They felt that the Master was imparting special knowledge to the pious ones secretly.

So, one day, when the master was alone, they went to him and said, “Oh Master! We feel that you are being unfair to us. We think that you are giving the full benefit of your wisdom to a few chosen ones. Why can’t you extend similar special privileges to us also?”

The Master was slightly taken aback by these words, but calmly replied, “I have treated all of you alike and have never shown any special favors to anyone. If some of you progress fast, it is only due to your own feelings of closeness to my words. Who prevented you from taking more initiative?”

But the disciples were not convinced. Hence after some thought, the master said: “ All right! I will give those of you who complain the special attention you want. But I do have one condition! I will give you a small and simple test – and you must pass it. The test is that you should go to the nearby village, which you often visit, and bring me one good fellow. That’s all!”

The grumbling ones were overjoyed at the fact that the test was so simple, while its reward would be so immense. They selected one among them, who immediately started their search with much enthusiasm, feeling very sure of catching a good fellow. But to his misfortune, wherever he went, and whomever he met, everyone seemed to have some sin or crime to their credit.

After a long and fruitless search, and being completely disappointed, they returned to the Master. Out of frustration, he returned to the group and said, “Oh Master, We are sorry to inform you that there is not a single good person in the whole village. Everyone has committed a bad deed, crime, or sin. The village is full of bad people.”

“Oh, is it so?” said the Master, with mock sorrow. “Now let me see. We will send one of those people that you hold a grouse against.” He then called for one of the pious ones, and said, “Can you go to the village nearby, and find me a bad fellow? Be sure to go to the same village that the others have already visited.”

“I will try with your blessings, Oh Master!” said the pious one, and away he went.

The grumbling disciples were again taken by surprise and said, “Oh Master! This time also you have been unfair to us. The other fellow will surely bring dozens of bad people as the village overflows with them!”

The Master counseled patience. In due course, the pious one returned empty-handed, much to the delight of the grumbling ones. He made obeisance to the Master and said, “Oh Master! I am sorry to disappoint you but I was unable to find a single bad fellow in the entire village.”

The grumbling ones roared in laughter at this statement. The pious one continued, “Everyone seemed to have done one good deed or another. I could not get even a single person who had not done any good deed. Pardon me for my failure.” Saying so, he left the place with permission of the Master.

The Master turned to the shocked and surprised grumbling disciples and said, “My dear disciples! This is where discretion moves between good and evil, right and wrong, positive and negative. Your wisdom blossoms when you find a spark of virtue in everything. The world is a mixture of joy and grief, and your wisdom depends on what you choose to take out of it. People who adopt a positive attitude in life progress fast. But those who adopt a negative attitude can only proceed slowly, if at all.”

“For the Master, everyone is dear and near. It is only the disciple’s fault if he feels distant from him. The closer you feel to an enlightened Master, the greater is your evolution. Let all your actions conform to this basic understanding.”

This story reveals how one should face life and its problems. It also shows, how total surrender to an enlightened spiritual Master helps an individual overcome life’s problems more easily.

— Adapted from More Light on Less Known by Acharya Ratnananda, Volume II, 2000. 

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 Prayer to the Divine

Give Me Strength

— Rabindranath Tagore

This is my prayer to thee, my Lord
Strike, strike at the root of penury in my heart.
Give me the strength lightly to bear my joys and sorrows.
Give me the strength to make my love fruitful in service.
Give me the strength never to disown the poor or bend my knees before insolent might.
Give me the strength to raise my mind high above daily trifles.
And give me the strength to surrender my strength to thy will with love.

An Invitation to Reflect…

If

Rudyard Kipling

If you can keep your head when all about you 
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you; 
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you, 
But make allowance for their doubting too; 
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting, 
Or, being lied about, don’t deal in lies, 
Or, being hated, don’t give way to hating, 
And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise;

If you can dream – and not make dreams your master; 
If you can think – and not make thoughts your aim; 
If you can meet with triumph and disaster 
And treat those two imposters just the same; 
If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken 
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools, 
Or watch the things you gave your life to broken, 
And stoop and build ’em up with wornout tools;

If you can make one heap of all your winnings 
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss, 
And lose, and start again at your beginnings 
And never breath a word about your loss; 
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew 
To serve your turn long after they are gone, 
And so hold on when there is nothing in you 
Except the Will which says to them: “Hold on”;

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue, 
Or walk with kings – nor lose the common touch; 
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you; 
If all men count with you, but none too much; 
If you can fill the unforgiving minute 
With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run – 
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it, 
And – which is more – you’ll be a Man my son!

Reflection: I understand Kipling’s poem as about being yourself and believing in yourself. He emphasizes that we are all unique individuals and calls for us to use our discretion and intellect, and reflect upon our thoughts and actions to make ourselves better. In my opinion, poems like these will have even greater and longer-lasting impact on our thoughts and actions, when we are able to understand these ideas through the lens of spirituality. Spirituality helps us go beyond the intellectual concepts – and helps us understand and experience what it means to be natural – and to stand ready to serve.

Inspiration for Practical Idealists :)

“Everyday, in every way, please make us better and better,” this was a prayer that we were taught as young students at Sri Aurobindo Memorial School. At home, my grandfather would keep reminding me that it was our responsibility to leave things a little better than how we found them. As far as I can remember, this has been his advice to me – and it continues to be.

I have found this sense of aspiring to be better – to mould yourself into a better human being – to be of service to those around me – to be growing stronger as I get older 🙂 My inspiration, Sri Sri Ravi Shankar’s guidance is to be like a swan – to be able to discern between that which is good and not good – and to seek out the goodness in everything around you. You definitely run the risk of being made fun of as an idealist – but what is the purpose of life then, if you are not able to live it with some ideals to inspire you to move onward?

Idealism coupled with Practicality perhaps is what most of us look for in life. Most of us start out as idealists as children and as we grow through our teenage years something changes. Often one finds those who are idealistic have lost touch with reality and those who are practical tend to overlook the ethical and moral dimensions in life. People also tend to become cynical and lose sight of their childhood goals and dreams. This is where I believe a healthy dose of spirituality can help bring a balance between one’s need for ideal inspiration and the need to remain grounded in practical reality.

More on this soon 🙂