The Goat’s Goatee
(The following post is based on a story I heard from Swami Adiswarananda, the Spiritual Minister of the Ramakrishna Vivekananda Center in New York from 1973 to 2007.)
Long before the radio and television were invented, the main principles of the Hindu culture were communicated throughout India by the holy people. They would wander around telling the stories of the great epics, Ramayana and Mahabharata, and expound on scriptures like Bhagavatam and other puranas. Shrimad Bhagavatam is a great book filled with stories of holy people and the life of Shri Krishna, which help develop love for God.
In one village of India, one holy man was expounding on Shrimad Bhagavatam. Usually, this is a seven-day program. Every day the holy man reads and explains a few pages of Shrimad Bhagavatam. Village people come and listen to these stories and, at the end, give money or food to the holy man.
One day, the holy man found that one woman was continuously crying while listening to the discourse. The holy man thought that his explanation was really touching the heart of a devotee. His heart was very much impressed by the devotion of the woman. The holy man was greatly encouraged and he went much deeper into the explanation of the book.
After the discourse, he went to the woman and asked her which part of the book touched her heart. The woman wiping her tears said, “It was not about the book that I was crying. I had a goat. It was such an adorable goat and I loved it dearly. That goat passed away today. I am sorry to say that when you were talking, your goatee constantly reminded me of my goat!”
Lesson for the expounders: Never be over-impressed by the listeners’ reactions or responses. It is hard to find out what is going on in the minds of the listeners.
Sri Ramakrishna’s teachings to expounders are very clear and appropriate.
He said, “There is no harm in teaching others if the preacher has a commission from the Lord…When the lamp is lighted, the moths come in swarms. They don’t have to be invited. In the same way, the preacher who has a commission from God need not invite people to hear him. He doesn’t have to announce the time of his lectures. He possesses such irresistible attraction that people come to him of their own accord.” (from the Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna).
Lesson for the Listeners: When we are listening to discourses, we have to put aside all our unrelated thoughts and focus on the essence of the discourse; then only can we learn something from it.
(Thanks to Radha Dhar for editing and Sneha Shah for providing an illustration.)