“A man is but the product of his thoughts. What he thinks he becomes.”
– Mahatma Gandhi
Each person has a philosophy of life based on which he/she makes major decisions and invest his/her resources including time of life. A person may have a philosophy like ‘money makes me happy,’ or ‘sense-pleasures are the goal of life,’ or ‘academic achievements are glories of life,’ or ‘power makes a person happy,’ or ‘doing nothing is the best thing to do,’ or ‘going to heaven is the goal of life,’ or ‘gaining respect at job or in society is the highest thing to achieve in life,’ or something else.
Many times people are not aware of their philosophy of life. If they introspect about the reasons why they make decisions in certain ways or react to the situations in certain ways, then they find this basic philosophy of their life. People develop such philosophy from their family , friends, society, religion, environment, or their inherited nature based on their physical and mental chemistry. As a person gains experience in life, one may modify or change one’s philosophy. Some stubborn people do not change their philosophy of life even though it harms them and others and brings so much suffering.
I think the life-philosophy should be able to do the following:
1. It withstands all challenges and situations of life
2. As we go through various situations in life, the philosophy should make us stronger and wiser. It also gives us happiness and fulfillment.
3. It gives a meaning to our life and the universe. This meaning is uplifting and not degrading.
4. It unites everything and not divides. It should unite our various facets of life and should unite us with all people irrespective of their color, culture, country, religion, social and economic status or any other differences.
5. It helps us performing our day-to-day life’s responsibilities and gives us fulfillment.
6. It makes us fearless; makes us free from all kinds of fear including the fear of death.
7. It does not contradict with reason and science; it may surpass reason and science.
8. It is applicable to all human beings and not just selected few.
9. It enhances varieties of people’s mental chemistry like tastes, talents, interests, abilities, etc. it does not make people like clones – only of one kind.
10. It helps us develop unselfish love for all and encourages us to serve all.
Around this time of the year high school seniors are frantically busy for their college applications. Their careers and future depend on the college they get an admission. Seeing a few such seniors who are close to me and are worrying about their college admissions I decided to share my thoughts with them.
I told them that they should try hard to go to their dream colleges, but if they cannot get into them then the world does not come to an end. Since they are hardworking sincere students, I told them that whichever colleges they go to they will build up good careers.
Many students get upset, frustrated and/or get depressed when they get rejections from all their dream colleges. I told students that many times looking back into our life we find it was for our good certain things did not happen according to our expectations. For example, suppose you were forced to go to a college which was your last choice. You reluctantly went there with a heavy heart. But, in a year or two you find your life-partner which you could not have found in any other way or find an adviser who help you to build your dream career or find good friends, enjoyable classes and have a great time. What does it say? It tells us that, ‘Whatever happens is for good.’ We can apply this to any situation in our life. We sincerely work hard to get something or to achieve something and we do not get or achieve what we wanted. We get frustrated and become furious. In such situations, a devotee thinks that ‘May be there is some underlying reason that I do not understand for which thing happened differently. May be the Almighty, who created this universe, nourishes it, and dissolves it has a better plan.’
There is a nice story to remember.
There was a king who did not believe in God. Unfortunately or fortunately he had a very wise minister who was a great devotee of God. The King used to get annoyed listening to God’s talks from his minister. But, he was greatly benefited by his minister’s advice that he tolerated and ignored the minister’s talks on God. The most annoying sentence of the minister was, ‘whatever happens is for good.’ The King did not understand its significance and rationality.
One day, as a routine, the king went on hunting with his minister and a few soldiers. While chasing deer into a deep forest, the king and the minister were separated from the soldiers. It was getting dark and the visibility was very poor. The king was upset and angry that he could not get a deer and was separated by his soldiers. The forest was thick. At some places they had to walk on foot with the horses. While walking he was hit by a branch of a tree and he got a cut on his finger. It was painful. Blood was coming out. Minister tore his cloth and wraps it around the cut and stopped the bleeding. King was really angry about the whole situation. The minister tried to console him and said, ‘Whatever happens is for good.’ This was the last straw on the camel’s back. The king was so mad that he pushed the minister into a nearby big dry well and said ‘whatever happens is for good.’ The well was deep and the minister cannot come out by himself, but the king did not care. The king thought this will teach him a lesson. He went further with his horse.
All of a sudden he heard sounds of horses and people. He thought that they were his soldiers, but they were strangers and well-armed. Before the king defends himself, these strong and powerful strangers caught the king, closed his mouth with a cloth, tied him with a rope and carried him to a nearby place in the forest. They tied the king to a tree and started preparing for some rituals. From their conversations, the king found out that they were cannibals and the king’s life was an offering to their goddess. Then they will eat him. The king was helpless. His mouth was fully covered. He could not say a word. As a final ritual, a priest came to examine the king as an offering. Then he found that the king had a cut. The priest screamed to the other cannibals and said that he cannot offer this person because he has a cut. The goddess will be upset with this offering. It is like a fruit with a cut is not good for offering to God. The cannibals were upset that their efforts were wasted. They let the king go with his horse. The king was thinking of the minister’s words, ‘whatever happens is for good.’ He thought, ‘Maybe the minister was right. If I did not have this cut, the cannibals would have sacrificed me.’ The king found the minister, helped him to come out from the well, told him what had happened and apologizes to him for his rude behavior. The minister forgave him and said, ‘whatever happens is for good.’ After a few moments, the king turned to the minister and said, ‘Well, one thing is not clear to me. It was good that I got cut on my finger and I was saved. But, I threw you into the well. What good had happened through that act?’ The minister said, “O King! If you did not throw me into the well, then the cannibals would have sacrificed me instead of you. So, it was good that you threw me into the well.’ The king shook his head and said, “Really, God’s ways are mysterious.”
(1) The attitude described in this post is much deeper and is a mature way of living. It does not encourage to tolerate or ignore slavery, or injustice or inappropriate behavior. A person with such attitude respectfully opposes any such thing without hatred.
(2) I have found that a person with such attitude works hard to fulfill one’s responsibility, enjoys one’s work and have less or no distress. Also, such a person is always sensitive about the sufferings of other people and does everything within his/her control to remove these sufferings.
Celebrations are “breaks” or “time-outs” from our mechanical routine works. They are needed to keep us remain human beings and stop us from becoming machines producing some goods. Students just study, do more study, and continue studying while adults just work, do more work, and continue working. Without breaks students become machine who can take tests and adults become machines which produce money and take care of regular tasks without having any life in it. Results are frustrations and depressions. After needed “breaks” and “time-outs” we can work better and enjoy our work.
If these celebrations fill our minds with positive and uplifting thoughts, then they give us not only rest but satisfaction and fulfillment. Higher than that is spiritual growth. If celebrations become a part of our spiritual practice, then we grow spiritually. We develop deeper understanding of our life, our relationship with others and the world. Spiritual growth brings out the best lying within us and is beneficial to us, our families and the society.
There is a popular mind-set that ‘Pray to God when we are in trouble.’ The underlying thought with this is ‘Why pray to God when we are happy, doing well, or achieving what we want with our own capacity? At that time we do not need God. (We forget that God has given us body and mind to achieve whatever we have achieved.) When we find out that we cannot achieve what we want with our own strength then we feel need for help and we pray to God.’ It looks very logical and practical. But, then our prayer will be business-like and will not produce much result. If we get what we want in the world with prayer, then we will continue to pray otherwise we call ourselves ‘atheist’ and put God and spiritual progress aside. Ultimately we will be missing the real aspect of life and live a superficial life. Saints say that we cannot get away easily from the spiritual development. The blows of life will remind us to think about the meaning of life, will open our eyes to the Reality of it, and bring us to the spiritual development.
Knowing this popular mind-set Sant Kabir made a couplet in Hindi:
“Dukhame sumiran saba kare, sukhame kare na koy
Jo sukhame sumirana kare, dukha kaheko hoy”
“Everyone prays to God, when one is miserable or suffering. No one prays to God, when one is happy. But, if one prays to God when one is happy, then one does not become miserable.”
Does this mean that miseries do not come to people who pray to God? We have seen Saints, Sages and devotees have suffered! Surely, it does not mean that. As I understand, it means that a prayerful person learns how to handle the miseries. When miseries come, a prayerful person with inner strength faces the miseries. Then two things happen: either miseries go away or this person learns how to go through the miseries without breaking down. A prayerful person when goes through miseries of life, not only he/she does not get negatively impacted by the miseries, but his/her inner strength gets multiplied. So, let us celebrate special occasions with full heart and mind, make them as parts of our spiritual practice and grow spiritually to live a peaceful and blissful life.