Learning and Love

Long, long ago and far, far away, there lived a great sage. His name was Maharishi Shounaka. He had many disciples, and would send them to the surrounding villages to spread his message on life and its purpose. Over time, this increased the ego of some of the senior disciples and they began to consider themselves the storehouse of all knowledge.

One day, a few of these disciples came to Maharishi Shounaka and said, “Master, we have been obeying your commands and conveying your message on the purpose of life to the people in the manner we have found good and desirable. But we find that our work serves no purpose! Most of these people are stupid, and they are either unwilling or unable to learn or change their way of life. We feel it is a waste of our valuable time to educate these people and pass on our knowledge to them.”

The sage was amused, but saddened by the rising ego of these disciples. He said, “You all seem to have acquired considerable knowledge about people and life.”

“Certainly Master,” they echoed in unison. “Our learning is approved and appreciated everywhere. We have learnt almost all that is worth learning.”

“I am indeed very happy to learn about the level of your expertise,” said the Master. “But before we can discuss these matters further, I suggest that you form two groups and approach people again. One group will find out all about knowledge without reading books, and the other group will find out all about love without physical contacts. You may return to me later with your findings.”

The egoistic disciples were rather dismayed and surprised at the strange commands of the Master and the queer nature of their assignment. How could anyone acquire knowledge without reading books? And how could anyone learn about love without physical contacts?

However, in obedience to the Master’s wishes, they went around, far and wide, in two groups, seeking the view of the people of the surrounding villages and town on these two matters. But lo! They met with ridicule and laughter, wherever they went. People laughed at them as two groups of idiots, not aware of the facts of life. Their ego got a good beating and they came back to the Master, crestfallen.

“Oh Master! You simply sent us on a fool’s errand. Everyone who respected us before is now laughing at us. Master, it is impossible to acquire knowledge, without reading books, and it is equally impossible to understand love without physical contacts.”

“Is it so?” said the Master with a smile. “Then, what is the knowledge that you have got from me? If real knowledge could be got from libraries and real love could be got from physical contacts, then why have you come to me? After reading volumes of books, and searching for love through physical contacts, why are people still ignorant of true knowledge and true love?”

The disciples were shocked and ashamed at their lack of wisdom and appealed to the Master for guidance. “My dear children,” said the wise sage, “please understand that real knowledge cannot be obtained by just studying books, but by a study of the people, for whom and from whom the books have come. We have to first educate ourselves about the people, before we proceed to educate them. We should avoid ridiculing people, without placing ourselves in their place. A closer study of people leads us to a clearer perception of them, which in turn results in a deeper understanding. From such an understanding flows a sympathetic acceptance.”

“To study, to understand, and to accept creation, as it exists, is real knowledge. All else is just plain information, though you may have given many names to it. In the same way, real love is that which sprouts from us and generates a sense of gratefulness to the Divine, who has blessed us with a body and mind, and provided us with endless wonder in this creation.”

“This boundless gratefulness leads to a total love for the Divine, who is our resource and who is also our refuge. Real love related to giving, and can only be related to the Divine. All else is just plain desire, the desire to possess and enjoy, though you may call it by many other names. In order to receive the benefits of such knowledge and love, one must have faith in the Master, as he represents both the creation and the Creator. Through an enlightened Master, you can learn that the knowledge of creation is real knowledge, and the love of the Divine is real love. It requires humility from you as a basic qualification.”

This story reveals what to seek from an enlightened Master, and the importance of pondering on the purpose of our life.

This story from the Upanishads was compiled by Acharya Ratnananda in “More Light on Less Known: Courage, Compassion, Confidence” Volume 3. 

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All One!

Today, December 8, 2012, is my grandfather, Acharya Ratnananda’s 88th birthday. I fondly recollect my childhood and   growing up with him. His stories enriched our imagination and values. His example continues to inspire us to walk a path of love and service, in a humble yet joyous manner.

Acharya Ratnananda  All One!

–       By Acharya Ratnananda

“Give way! Get away!” shouted a disciple, while another screamed, “The Master is coming, everyone give way!” Most people  on the way complied. However, one rather unclean looking man and his company of dogs declined to budge, and stayed right in the middle of the path. The disciples accompanying the Master were quite upset with the behavior of this man and his barking dogs.

The Master also perceived the obstinacy of the obstacle and said in anguish, “Are you deaf? Did you not hear my disciples? Take yourself away from my path.” The man just laughed, increasing the discomfiture of the Master and the anger of his disciples.

He calmly looked at the Master and asked, “Whom do you want me to take away from your path? The Soul, which is in you and me, and is non-dual, or this body, which according to your teachings is a product of maya (illusion). How can you or I take either of them away from you or me?”

The disciples were shocked and stunned at these words from an unclean and uncouth specimen of humanity. However, they were prepared by now, to forcibly lift the man out of the way of the Master.

Even the Master was surprised. He realized that the concept of Advaita or one reality was thrown back at him in such a simple manner, by such a simple looking person.

He calmed his angry disciples and forbade them from harming the man. He folded his hands in obeisance and said, “My dear sir, you have educated the educator by polishing my knowledge with your experience. I bow to thee as my preceptor. Please could you tell me who you really are?”

“Reality is just one, and all our concepts could ultimately lead us to less than two, though it appears with a multitude of names and forms, qualities and qualifications, virtues and vices.”

“I am teaching this truth to others, but today I also learn this reality from you,” said the Master turned student.

The great Master was none other than Adi Shankaracharya, while the outwardly uncouth and unclean person was none other than the unmanifest Divinity in a manifest form.

This story teaches us to expect wisdom from even unexpected situations, and the true, non-dual nature of existence.

Navratri: The Nine Nights of the Divine Mother

On the auspicious occasion of Navratri, I am happy to share the knowledge Sheet that Gurudev Sri Sri Ravi Shankar had dictated in 1996. Navaratri celebrates the nine nights of the Divine Mother in Hinduism. The following knowledge sheet speaks about its significance and relevance to our modern lives.

Weekly Knowledge #70

 09 Oct 1996

Mumbai, India

NAVRATRI

Navratri means the nine nights and also the new night. Creation happens in the darkness. In the womb of the mother and underneath the soil. Nine months in the womb are like nine long nights where the spirit takes human form.

Night provides rest and rejuvenation. At night, the entire creation goes to sleep including the ashram night watchman! (Laughter) People working come home at night and they celebrate, rejoice and pray. These Nine nights are precious as they have subtle energy. The subtle is enriched.

There are 64 Divine Mother impulses which govern the subtle creation. These are responsible for restoring all earthly and spiritual benefits. They are simply part of one’s awakened consciousness. These nine nights are celebrated to rekindle those divine impulses and celebrate the innermost depth of our lives.

Jai Guru Dev

Cleanse your body and cleanse your soul. Cleanse your body with water and your soul with knowledge and your spirit with pranayam and kriya. There is no penance higher than Pranayam. It is the greatest penance.

Manifestations of the Divine

Once upon a time, there lived a King, whose daughter was both beautiful and intelligent. She often engaged the scholars of his court in debate and defeated them through her brilliance. This made the scholars frustrated and they were eagerly waiting for an opportunity to seek their revenge.

The time came, when the King consulted them to find a suitable husband for the lovely Princess. The scholars secretly welcomed the opportunity to teach her a lesson and offered to find a good husband for her.

After a long search, they found a fool of their choice. They promised good food and shelter for the poor and lazy fellow, if only he kept his mouth shut unless prompted by them. Though a little scared, the fool accepted the offer since it meant wages without work.

The scholars then dressed him up appropriately and presented him before the King and the Princess as a great and wise Pundit. The King was impressed by his appearance, but the Princess wished to test his depth of knowledge.

The scholars were prepared for this and they told her that the wise Pundit was observing silence and hence could only respond in sign language. The Princess was amused, but agreed to tackle him in silent speech.

Looking at him for a while, she slowly lifted her index finger and showed it to the fool. Soon one of the scholars sitting behind the fool gently pressed two fingers behind his back and prompted the fool to lift two fingers. She raised three fingers and the fool lifted four, after being secretly prompted.

A little surprised by this, the Princess however showed five fingers and waited for his response, which he did with six. She followed it by seven fingers and he replied with eight. When, with hesitation the Princess raised nine fingers, the fool (after secret prodding again), lifted all his ten fingers. The entire assembly was watching this silent battle of wits with surprise and curiosity.

The Princess was at a loss and slowly lifted one hand questioningly. The fool raised both his hands crossed one over the other. The lady now lost all her composure and could not stand the suspense.

She then appealed to the scholars, “If your colleague does not wish to speak, at lease one of you could tell us what he means.” “Surely Princess,” said one of the scholars, “but please do tell us what you meant by your signs.”

“All right,” said the Princess, “by lifting one finger, I indicated the all-pervading, omnipotent, ultimate nature of the Divine. But what did he mean by two fingers?”

“Princess,” said one of them, “Divinity also manifests in dualistic forms, such as right and wrong, high and low, truth and untruth, and so on…”

“Hmm… that is really good,” said the Princess. “When I raised three fingers, I was referring to the three GunasSattva, Rajas, and Tamas; the concept the three times – Past, Present, and Future; the three worlds – Heaven, Earth, and Hell; the three Divine functions – Creation, Maintenance, and Dissolution…”

“He responded with four,” said one scholar, “to indicate the four Vedas – Rig, Yajur, Sama, and Atharva; the four directions – North, South, East, and West; the four divisions – Infancy, Youth, Maturity, and Old Age; the four stages of Brahmacharya (Studentship), Grahasta (Family life), Vanaprastha (Seclusion), and Sanyasa (Renunciation), and so on…”

“I fully agree with him,” said the lady happily. “By five fingers, I pointed out to the five elements – Space, Air, Fire, Water, and Earth; the five senses – Sight, Smell, Hearing, Taste and Touch.”

“He responded,” said a pundit, “with the six hurdles to Enlightenment – Desire, Distress, Miserliness, Jealousy, Anger, and Arrogance (the Arishadvargas). He also pointed to the Six virtues of Bliss such as Patience, Perseverance, Compassion, Courtesy, Love, and Laughter.”

“My word, he is really wise!” said the princess and the assembly echoed her words. “My basis for the seven fingers was the presence of Divinity in the Seven Great Saints (the Saptarishis); the Seven Seas; and the Seven Colors of the Rainbow.”

One of the Pundits said, “He revealed through the eight fingers the eight limbs of yoga (Ashta angas); eight types of wealth (Ashtalakshmi); the eight basic Afflictions, and so on.”

“When I lifted nine of my fingers, I was referring to the nine forms of the Mother Divine; the nine planets; the nine doors of the human body; the nine types of precious gems.”

“By showing all ten fingers – opening his hands completely,” said one Pundit, “he meant that the Divine is the substratum of the entire creation. The Divine is the one and only ultimate source and resource for everything. Amidst all the different functions and forms, diversity and divisions, the Divine is Sublime, Supreme and Single.”

“Such wonderful wisdom!” remarked the princess. “I bow to his superior knowledge. I have one last question, why did he cross both his hands, when I raised only one hand in question?”

“Oh! That is simple. Since he had to attend to his spiritual practices, he indicated that it was not the time to ask or to answer any more questions.”

“That settles it! I accept him as my husband,” said the princess. The scholars reveled in their mind, thinking that they had finally had their vengeance. Soon the marriage ceremonies were conducted, and the timid fool kept his mind shut till they were alone.

Soon enough, the intelligent lady found out that the extent of idiocy of her husband, and the extent of deceit played on her by the inimical scholars.

Instead of giving way to anger, anxiety, or animosity, she calmly pacified her fear-stricken husband, and advised him to go to the nearby temple of Divine Mother and sincerely pray for knowledge.

Without another word, the fool ran to the temple and offered truthful prayers to the Divine Mother and obtained Her blessings. He later became one of the greatest poets of ancient India.

He composed immortal classics in Sanskrit literature and was known as ‘Kali Dasa.’

This poignant story reveals the essence of ancient wisdom in India and explains the adage “Sarvam Brahma Mayam” meaning the Divine is everything and everywhere.

In one broad sweep, this attitude also accepts and accommodates all people into one large human family, under one umbrella of belongingness – a One World Family. This approach has been echoed by Saints throughout the ages, and more recently by Sri Sri Ravi Shankar.

This story was adapted from Acharya Ratnananda’s More Light on Less Known: Compassion, Courage, and Confidence, Volume 3

Worry vs. Work!

–       by Acharya Ratnananda

Long long ago, and far far away, there lived a king who was very wise. However, he was always a worried man. One thing or another made him feel depressed and desolate.

As is normal with many wise people, he could never take things lightly and laugh. His ministers and subjects rarely found him in a pleasant mood and were even hesitant to smile or laugh in his presence.

One day, his well-wishers secretly met and discussed ways to reform the king, and they hit upon a plan. Next time when the court assembled, the king, as usual called upon his minister and said, “My dear Minister, I am worried about a problem.”

The minister promptly replied, “Yes Sir, I have also thought over it.” In turn, the king was puzzled. He said, “How can you be aware of my problem, even before I have expressed it?”

The latter said, “I need not know it, but I know something better. I know the solution.” The king was now really shocked. “How can you know the solution even before knowing the problem?” The minister calmly replied, “You may have not one, but many problems. But I have just one solution for all of them.”

The shock and the surprise of the king increased at these strange words of the minister. How can anyone offer a single solution to many problems even before knowing them?

The king hesitantly asked, “May I know what is your solution?”

“Don’t worry” said the minister, “that is exactly my solution.”

The king slowly understood the import of the words but was still unable to appreciate them. “How can I not worry when there is a problem?” he asked.

“Has your worry solved any problem any time, my good king?” asked the minister. “No,” said the king. The minister said, “When such is the case, why worry and expect it to solve any issue? The secret of success is not to worry, but to work for fulfillment. It is also a fact that it is worry, and not work, which kills. The joy of life is to laugh your worries away!”

“O King,” continued the minister, “you are leading us in your wisdom, why not lead us also to laugh and live by your own example?”

The king at last realized the folly of his worries and the subtle manner in which it was brought home to him. He began to laugh and was amused to find that everybody joined in the merriment.

This ancient story reveals that worrying never solved anything. Worrying has often weakened one’s resolve and also reduced the stamina to succeed. To overcome worry by laughter and wisdom, is half the battle won!

Observe and Serve

–       By Acharya Ratnananda

Sage Kautilya (also known as Chanakya) was a great scholar and exponent of the laws of human relationships. He had many disciples, one of whom later became the emperor of India.

Gurudev, as he was reverentially called, would often say, “Observe before you serve. Only then service becomes more fulfilling. Avoid serving unworthy causes, for it becomes “Apatra Dhaana” i.e. charity misplaced.”

Many of his disciples were unable to understand the depth of his wisdom for they had learnt from tradition that charity should pour like rain upon all, and should not be selective for a few.

One day, a crafty fellow from a neighboring town came to the Master and said, “Sir, I have heard that you are a great exponent of wit and wisdom. I seek your help in making me wealthy beyond compare!” When the other disciples heard this, they were startled and angry at the man’s insolence and wanted to throw him out.

The Master just smiled and said, “Young man, wealth is of two types, spiritual and material. I will teach you the variety you deserve. Before that I will give you a small test. From the sand mass in front of you, pick up two pebbles, one white and one black and put them in your bag. I will then ask one of my disciples to pick up one of the pebbles from your bag. If he picks up a white pebble, I will teach you spiritual wealth. If he picks up a black pebble, then I will teach you how to become materially wealthy.”

The crafty fellow agreed, and smiled mischievously. Without anybody’s notice, he picked up and bagged two black pebbles only, feeling sure that he outwitted the great sage. He wanted only material wealth, and now he had ensured that whichever pebble the disciple took out, it would only be black. The Master would be forced to teach him how to become materially rich.

What he did not know, however, was the fact that the Master and another observant disciple had seen his trick. After he signaled that he was ready, the Master turned to the observant disciple and said, “Please pick up one of the pebbles and we will fulfill his wish.” The other disciples smiled in faith, and the crafty chap smiled in mischief.

The disciple put his hand into the bag, took out a pebble and before anyone could see, he dropped it on the sand mass, as if by mistake. He then profusely apologized to the Master for his clumsiness.

The others watched with curiosity and the craft fellow with confusion. But the Master just smiled and said, “It does not matter if you have dropped one pebble. As the seeker had collected one black and one white pebble, per my instructions, the one that is left in the bag will reveal your initial choice. So, take out the other pebble in the bag.”

“So,” the Master said, “my disciple has taken out the while pebble, though he dropped it later. Hence, I take it that you require spiritual wealth and will give it to you.”

Upon observing that his evil action was punished without public exposure, the crafty fellow was shocked and stricken with remorse and regret. He fell at the Master’s feet, and revealed his crooked scheme and requested for forgiveness. He sought the Master’s guidance to reform himself and pleaded Sage Kautilya to accept him as a disciple.

To the amazed disciples, the Master smilingly said, “When this fellow came for help, I utilized the opportunity and gave him and also all of you a test to observe his action and expected that you would do it. But none of you except Chandragupta, the observant one, were able to see through the fellow’s trickery. We wanted to help this man, and hence we remained silent and later taught him what he really needed – honesty, integrity, and sobriety in life – more than money.”

“This incident gives you a clear observation that you have to observe before you serve anyone, so that you render to the person, the best of services that he deserves, though he may not desire it.”

This story was adapted from Acharya Ratnananda’s More Light on Less Known, Volume III

The Untold Story

The Untold Story of the Arishadvargas (the Six Passions)

~ By Acharya Ratnananda

Among the millions of devotees of Lord Krishna, there are many who are confused and pained at some of His actions during His birth and early life.

One of them is the fact as to why did He cause the destruction of His six elder brothers. No explanation is given anywhere about these painful incidents except short hints in the Devi Bhagavatam.

When the heavenly bodies came to know of Lord Krishna’s intention to be born in the World, six demigods prayed to Him to allow their birth along with Him. The other heavenly beings who desired to get rid of these egotistical demigods, also supported their prayers.

The Lord in His infinite mercy decided to help both the appeals and allowed the birth of these six demigods before Him. They were the Arishadvargas or the six passions: Kama (lust), Krodha (anger), Lobha (greed), Moha (delusory emotional attachment), Madha (pride), and Matsarya (jealousy).

Knowing the immense suffering these demigods would cause to humankind, the Lord quietly arranged for the disappearance of their physical forms. To their shock, these demigods found themselves formless after birth and their capacities greatly diminished. Even so, they were capable of causing much suffering for people.

Here, the Lord intervened again, on behalf of humanity. He modified the ill-effects of these formless entities by transforming them as follows:

Lust for Power into Love for Service

Anger against People into Anger against Poverty

Avarice for Possessions into Acceptance of Simplicity

Arrogance of Attitude into Pride of being Human

Hatred of Things into Hatred of Injustice

 The Lord also allowed a person’s past Karma to influence the positive or negative effects in their present lives. Such a fascinating modification of negative values into positive ones by Lord Krishna brought immense joy to the people.

Our great Masters, past and present, have also adopted these positive perceptions to guide men and women, and to lift them up from the material to the spiritual levels of existence.

Another aspect that confuses many devotees of Lord Krishna is his choice of being the youngest of Devaki and Vasudeva’s children. Here too, the Devi Bhagavatam gives us a clue. As Sri Rama, the Lord was the eldest and as Sri Krishna, He was the youngest, proving that the youngest in the World as equally capable and deserve the same status and stature as the eldest.

Again, in a World where most of the religions gave prominence and priority to the male, the Father as the Prime Divinity, Lord Krishna gave preference to the female, the Mother, as the foremost Divinity, a daring concept in a male dominated society.

Lord Krishna’s life is a surprisingly sweet and fascinating wonder for all people and for all times!