Category Archives: Laugh and Learn

Laugh and Learn – 11

“Is there anyone else?”

The following post is based on a story I heard from Swami Adiswarananda, Minister and the Spiritual Leader of the Ramakrishna Vivekananda Center in New York from 1973 to 2007.

This is not a funny story, but it is thought-provoking and we can learn a lot from it.

Mark was an adventurous person from childhood. Whenever he had time, he used to go hiking, skiing, mountain climbing, bungee jumping, diving in the deep ocean, surfing, and other such activities.

Mark also liked to visit newer places and oceans. He had explored many outdoor parks, mountain ranges, oceans, and places to bungee jump and hike. However, he never wanted to walk or travel on the same path, dive deep in the same ocean, or bungee jump from the same location. He always looked for more difficult, challenging, and adventurous activities to partake in. A few times, he was in difficult situations and about to die. Yet, somehow, he survived each time with some help. That did not stop him from looking for more adventurous activities, but rather encouraged him to do so.

Once, Mark found a beautiful place which had both the advantages of the ocean and the mountains. It was one of his dream places. He was excited. He rented a nice place near the foot of the mountain and decided to explore every possible trail of the mountain. After a few days of exciting hiking, it rained for a couple of days. He walked around the city and waited for the rain to stop. As soon as the rain stopped, he woke up early in the morning and began trekking on one of the most difficult and longest mountain trails. He enjoyed the complete silence that prevailed. The trees looked like great Yogis meditating in quietude. Then, the birds woke up and added their melodious chirping. The sun was coming out in the distant horizon. From a little distance, he started to see a glimpse of the ocean. It seemed that he had reached a very high altitude.

At one point, he saw a red ribbon and a red sign that said, “Danger. Do not cross the line.” Mark did not understand the purpose of the line or sign. He saw nice land leading towards the ocean. His adventurous soul urged him to go and check out the “danger” over there. He thought of himself as a good mountain climber and skillful walker, so he thought he was capable of checking out the trail as long as it was good. His plan was to return back after. He crossed the red ribbon and carefully walked further. His heart began pumping faster in anticipation of danger. He thought that the adventurous moment he was looking for was upon him! As he went ahead, he could see the beautiful blue ocean and its waves. It was one of the most scenic places he had ever come across. He came almost to the edge of the mountain and noticed a steep cliff that went down several feet. The waves of the ocean were striking against the cliff, creating a roar which was pleasant yet terror-inciting.

The whole scene was beautiful. Mark thought to himself, “Why was there a ‘Danger’ sign on the way?” He thought of returning. But, another thought came to his mind to go a couple of steps further to have a much better view of the ocean and then return back.

Mark walked one step further and the wet ground started to slip under his feet. He tried to stop himself, but to no avail. As he slipped down the edge of the mountain, the gravitational force continued to increase. He turned around and tried to hold on to anything that could stop him from sliding down into the ocean. He grabbed grass, but it was torn and could not stop him from falling.

Finally, Mark found a twig of a small plant growing on the stiff edge. He held on to this twig for dear life. Now, he found that the twig was the only source of support he had. Below, the ocean was roaring. On the side of the mountain, there was no other support. There were flat stones on the mountain without any holes to rest his feet.

He knew that if the twig broke, his life would end. He screamed loudly a few times, “Is there anyone who can help me?” He heard his own voice echoing back.

Then, Mark looked up in the sky. He thought of God and loudly cried, “Oh God! You are my only savior at this time. Please save me.” After desperately repeating this a couple of times, it seemed that he heard the voice of God. The voice said, “Don’t be afraid, for I am with you. I am your God. You let go the twig and I will hold you in my two arms.”

Mark was happy to hear God’s voice, but he questioned how he could let go of the twig. He was puzzled. Then, Mark loudly screamed, “Is there anyone else?”

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Lessons Learned from the Story:

I don’t know what I would do in this situation; whether I would have complete faith in God and let go of the twig or wait until God sends someone to pull me out of that situation. Many people have been saved miraculously in various situations, such as falling from a building, tumbling off a mountain, or escaping calamities, like earthquakes, floods, fire, and war.

Complete Surrender and Free Will:

All religions talk about having complete faith in God. Shri Krishna says, “Take refuge in Me alone” (Gita 18.66).

Ultimately, we must realize that our limited identity consists of a limited body and mind. We have some local freedom to do things, but we are limited in the large scale.

Since will comes from a limited body and mind, a human free will is wishful thinking. Only the Ultimate Reality Brahman has free will. With that will, Brahman creates, preserves, and dissolves the universe. When our will merges with Brahman’s will, we feel the power of free will.

Thinking of God as the Universal Mother, Sri Ramakrishna often used to sing the following song:

“O Mother! All is done after Thine’s own sweet will;

Thou art in truth self-willed, Redeemer of mankind!
Thou workest Thine own work; people only call it theirs.

Thou it is that holdest the elephant in the mire;
Thou that helpest the lame person scale the loftiest hill.

On some, Thou dost bestow the Bliss of Brahman.
Yet, on others, Thou dost hurl into this world of delusion.

I am a mere machine and Thou art the Operator of the machine;
I am the house, and Thou art the Indweller;
I am the chariot, and Thou art the Charioteer;
I move alone as Thou, O Mother, movest me.”

For a devotee, this is the ultimate knowledge and the state of God realization. After having this realization, we must continue to work. But, then we do not work for selfish motives and limited worldly pleasures. After attaining the realization of God, we work unselfishly for the good of all and as worship to the Divine Mother.

For a Vedantist, the highest realization is that “Brahman has become everything.” But, at that time, there is no mind left even to feel that Truth. At that time, there is only silence. When, slight body consciousness comes, then the memory of the Truth lingers in the mind and the aforementioned state of the devotee occupies the devotee’s mind.

(Thanks to Pallavi Tatapudy for editing this post and Sneha Shah for the illustration.)

 

Laugh and Learn – 10

How to live for 100 years?

The following post is based on a story I had heard from Swami Adiswarananda, the Spiritual Leader of the Ramakrishna Vivekananda Center in New York from 1973 to 2007.

In New York City, many exciting things happen. New York City provides opportunities to all kinds of people with all kinds of ideas. In order to take advantage of these opportunities, one has to read all of the newspapers and magazines published in New York City.

One day the following advertisement appeared in a New York City newspaper:


Do you want to live for 100 years?

 

 Attend this one-on-one meeting with a world-renowned doctor

For a very nominal fees

 In a few minutes, you will learn simple ways to live longer.

No medicine. No gimmicks. No nonsenses.

A very successful and a sure way!

 

**Very limited offer! Many time slots have already been taken.

Only a few slots left!

To reserve your time slot, call (111) 333 – 5555.


Frank Miller lived in New Jersey and every day he commuted to New York for work. While reading a newspaper on the bus, his eyes caught the above advertisement. He started debating whether he should try to make an appointment with this doctor.

Frank had tried all kinds of ways to lose weight, but to no avail. He had tried various kinds of diets, pills, exercises (which he did not like much), Yoga, and other things, and nothing had worked for him. After many attempts, he lost a little weight. However, just as in the ocean a wave is followed by a wave, his weight came back with vengeance and he gained more weight than before. He grew frustrated. His wife had told him that if he does not take care of his weight then he will die early. A couple of his friends at work had collapsed and died at young ages from heart attacks. Outwardly, he would joke about his weight, but he was really worried internally. He decided to set up an appointment with the doctor and thought it would not hurt him to make one more attempt.

Frank called the doctor’s office and found out that he could get a one-hour appointment on Monday next week during his lunch break. He had to pay a non-refundable fee of $100 in advance. Well, with some hesitation, he paid the fee and planned to go to see the doctor on Monday next week.

Monday came and Frank went to the doctor’s office on time. The secretary welcomed him with a big business smile and gave him a pad of paper and a pen to write with. After a few minutes, he was called in. The doctor welcomed him with a warm handshake.

After taking their seats, the doctor started telling Frank about the successful stories of people living longer after following his advice. Then, the doctor told Frank to write down the following on his pad:

From today on,

– No Pizza

– No coke or any soft drink

– Absolutely no alcohol

– No smoking

– No meat

– No dairy products

– No cheese in any form

– No sugar in coffee or tea

– No cookies or crackers

– No chocolate

– No salt in the food

– No late night movies or entertainment

– No greasy food

………

Abruptly Frank got up in the middle of this dictation and started to leave.

The doctor said, “Frank! Why are you leaving? Don’t you want to live for 100 years?”

Frank said, “What for?” 🙂 🙂

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A few thoughts on longevity:

There is a birthday wish in Sanskrit which says

It means that “you live for 100 springs” or 100 years. We all want to live longer, but it is not in our hands. There is a popular saying that “Birth, marriage, and death happen in their own time. We have no control over them.”

In this context, a thought definitely comes to our minds – “What is important, a quantity of life or a quality of life?” Shri Shankaracharya died at the age of 32, Sri Ramakrishna at 49, and Swami Vivekananda at 39. They did not live for 100 years, but they left a positive and deeper impact on humanity. Millions of people were inspired by their lives and teachings and they will continue to inspire for eternity.

One’s life is blessed if one realizes the inner divinity lying within and serves humanity unselfishly. Then, it does not matter whether life was short or long.

Many great personalities had worn out their bodies by working for the good of humanity. Swami Vivekananda said that it is better to wear out than to rust out.

There is a big industry which produces products and ways to help people live longer and healthier. Originally, Yoga was meant for the spiritual upliftment, but now it has become a way of exercise.

For a Yogi who wants spiritual upliftment, the Bhagavad Gita emphasizes the way of moderation. In chapter six of the Bhagavad Gita, Shri Krishna says, “Yoga is not for the person who eats too much or eats too little. It is not for the person who sleeps too much or too little. Yoga puts an end to the sorrows of a person who is moderate in his/her eating, entertainment, work, and sleep.” (Gita 6. 16 and 6. 17).

(Thanks to Pallavi Tatapudy for editing this post and Sneha Shah for the illustration.)

Laugh and Learn – 9

“Grandma Knows How to Cook”

The following post is based on two stories I had heard from Swami Adiswarananda who was the Spiritual Leader of the Ramakrishna Vivekananda Center in New York from 1973 to 2007.

John was a young boy of seven years old. His mother Jane was raising him with the utmost love and care. As part of this, she made sure that John learned all of the Christian family traditions. John’s father Jack was not as keen on these traditions as his mother. He was more interested in seeing John succeed in his studies and develop an interest in sports.

John’s maternal grandparents lived far away.  He could not go there often, but Jane made sure that she and John visited her parents at least twice a year. John loved his grandparents’ house. He felt lots of freedom there.

Every time they visited, Jane’s mother would remind Jane to make sure that John learns all of the Christian traditions. And whenever Jane found an opportunity, she would show her mother that she was raising John in that tradition.

This year’s summer break had finally come.  Jane had told John earlier that year that they would go to grandma’s house for a week. John was eagerly waiting for those days to come. Now that it was finally here, he was jumping with joy.

After about 10 hours of driving, both John and Jane reached grandma’s house. As soon as Jane parked the car in the driveway, John ran and rang the door-bell a number of times.  Grandma knew who it was.  Since grandpa had passed away, she was the only one in the house to open the door. Grandma remembered grandpa and a couple of tear-drops came up on the corner of her eyes.  But, thinking about John, her heart was filled with joy overcoming all of the sorrowful memories.  She was always excited to see little John and had actually spent the whole day cooking all of John’s favorite dishes and awaiting his arrival.

Grandma opened the door and John jumped to give her a big hug, almost knocking her over.  Jane quickly exclaimed, “John, be careful! Don’t knock your grandma down.”  Overcome with joy, John started telling grandma everything about the trip over, including where they took breaks, what they ate, etc. Jane was almost not in the picture.

As John’s story came to a close, Jane asked her mother how she was doing and inquired about her health and living alone. Meanwhile, John looked around and found all the gifts his grandma had brought for him. He was excited and gave a big hug to his grandma for buying all the things he liked.

John then went into kitchen. To his surprise, John found that grandma had made all the goodies that he liked.

“Oh Grandma! I am hungry,” said John.

“But John, we had meals just couple of hours ago. Are you really hungry?” Jane questioned.

“I am really hungry.”

Jane told John to wash his hands. As he did so, John found that his grandma had already placed his meal into a very special dish. John ran to the dining table, sat down, and started eating. Jane was starting to become annoyed by John’s behavior.

“John, before you eat, what do you say?” she asked.

John continued eating and finally responded, “We say grace before the meal.”

“Then, why did you forget to say your grace?”

John continued to eat and said, “But Ma, grandma knows how to cook!” 🙂 🙂

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Another Story:

 “Please bless the food”

A priest came home in the evening exhausted by the whole day’s work. He was hungry. He washed his hands and sat on the dining chair. His wife brought out some leftovers from the refrigerator, warmed them up in the microwave, and placed them on the dining table.

She sat on the other side of the table with folded hands and head bowed down. She was waiting for her husband to say “Grace.” However, after couple of minutes of silence she looked up to her husband. He was sitting staring at the food expressionless.

His wife then said, “Please bless the food.” The priest said with sad voice, “I have already blessed this food three times.” 🙂 🙂

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Thoughts about blessing food

 Harvest-related festivals and blessing food:

In India and all over the world, we can find that there are festivals at the time of harvest. We find in many countries and languages harvest-related songs and dances. The significance of this theme is the recognition of the people that Mother Nature or God almighty provides us with food, without which we cannot survive.

As with these festivals, in our everyday routine, we should realize that we are lucky to have food on the table. Many do not immediately connect having food with God or Mother Nature, but all over the world there are prayers to bless the food and thank God for providing food.

Advantages of blessing food or praying before meals:

There are many advantages to doing prayer before taking meals or blessing the food.  I can list a few advantages:

  1. Because of prayer, people wait for each other and they eat together. If there is no prayer, whoever gets food first will start eating right away and will not think about other people or the servers. Sometimes when this happens, the servers who had cooked the food may not have anything left to eat.
  1. Prayer reminds us of Mother Nature, or the God Almighty, who is providing us the food.
  1. Prayer also reminds us that God has created the body and the digestive system in order for us to digest our food and turn it into energy. With this energy, we must perform our responsibilities and do good work for the benefit of all.
  1. With prayer, we become aware that so many people have worked for our food. For example, not only the farmers but also the people who transport the food, those who sell the food, those who buy the food, those who cook the food and those who serve the food. We appreciate the efforts of all of these people and in turn show our humility.
  1. Blessing the food gives us an opportunity to think of people who do not have food, friends, and family.
  1. Psychologically, prayer or blessing the food quiets the mind before eating. If we eat our meals with peaceful minds, the food can be easily digested. Eating while rushing and running will not help us to digest the food fully. In rush, we sometimes eat more and sometimes less. Neither is good. Calming the mind down before eating helps us to develop control and restraint with our eating.

Various prayers blessing the food:

In the Hindu religion there are several prayers:

  1. In the Ramakrishna Mission and other places, people recite the following shloka from Bhagavad Gita (Chapter 4, shloka 24):

While reciting this shloka, one thinks that eating a meal is like performing a Hindu ritual called a “yajna.” In a yajna, one offers ghee and other ingredients of worship into a sacred fire.

The shloka is:

The meaning of the shloka BG 4.24 is:

“In a ‘Yajna’, one who sees that the Brahman is the fire, the oblation, the offering, the person who offers, and who sees thus Brahman in action ultimately becomes one with Brahman.”

(Brahman is the Ultimate Reality of a being or of the universe. One can think of Brahman as the formless God who has become the whole universe.)

Why we recite this shloka:

The food is considered as an offering in the fire of stomach. Thus, eating a meal becomes like a spiritual practice that reminds us how ultimately everything becomes one with Brahman. In this way, during each meal, one connects oneself with the Ultimate Reality.

  1. Many places people recite the chapter 15 of Bhagavad Gita. I think the reason is that the following two shlokas 13th and 14th of Chapter 15 are directly related to the food:

Meaning BG 15.13

Lord Sri Krishna said, “I reside in the earth and with My power I sustain all the beings. I become the moon and nourish all the vegetation.”

Meaning BG 15.14:

Lord Sri Krishna said, “I reside in the stomach of all beings as fire (Vaishwanara) and with the help of inhalation and exhalation I digest the four kinds of foods.”

Note: The four kinds of food are: (1) food that is chewed, like bread, etc. (2) food that is swallowed, like milk, etc. (3) food that is licked, like ice cream and (4) food that is sucked in the mouth, like the way many people suck on the pulp of a mango through a hole they create on the top of a mango.

The following are a few more prayers for blessing food:

Children’s Prayer:

God is great, God is good.
Let us thank him for our food.
By his hands, we are fed.
Let us thank him for our bread.

Humorous Prayers:

“Good food, good sweets, good Lord, let’s eat.”

“Lord, bless this bunch as they munch their lunch.”

A Few more Christian Prayers:

“Without Thy sunshine and Thy rain
We could not have the golden grain;
Without Thy love we’d not be fed;
We thank Thee for our daily bread. Amen.”

“Bless, O Lord, this food to our use and us to thy service, and keep us ever mindful of the needs of others. Amen.”

“Our Dear Heavenly Father, we thank Thee for this food. Feed our souls on the bread of life and help us to do our part in kind words and loving deeds. We ask in Jesus’s name.”

“Heavenly Father, bless this food and bless our friends and family who’ve come to dine with us today.”

“God, many hands made this meal possible. Farmers grew it. Truckers drove it. Grocers sold it. We prepared it. Bless all those hands, and help us always remember our dependence on you. Amen.”

(Thanks to Ronak Parikh for editing this post and Sneha Shah for two illustrations.)

 

Laugh and Learn – 8

Consultations

This is an age of consultation and counseling.  We seek consulations and couseling for college applications, job search, marriage, divorce, raising children, financial growth, stress, sickness, anxieties, problems related to pats, gracefully aging and dying, and many other things. Many times we learn valuable lessons from funny stories.

The following incident was described in one of Swami Adiswarananda’s discourses.

There was a teacher who was looking for ways to make more money because he was not making enough by just teaching. He wished he would have been a businessman or in the corporate world, but he was not trained for it.

One day, he read an advertisement in a major newspaper of New York about a consulting firm that was offering its services to advise people on how to make more money with nominal fees.  He was very happy and was waiting for the day that the consultations would begin.

On that day, he got up early, got dressed up, and reached the consulting firm on Park Avenue in New York.  He was early, so he walked up and down on Park Avenue and started imagining himself as a rich man with a condo in Midtown Manhattan.   He looked at his watch and saw that it was 9:05 a.m.

sneha-image_1of5-12102016

He rushed to the consulting firm’s service door.  To his surprise, he was the only one there.  He expected that there was going to be a big crowd waiting to get in.

With little hesitance, he went inside. Another surprise! There was no secretary to receive him. There was not a single person there.  He looked around.  Then, he heard a voice: “Please register on the computer.”  He went to the computer and filled out the registration form.  The nominal fee was $100.  He paid $100 through his credit card and, as all people do, he clicked “I Accept” without looking at the terms and conditions.

sneha-image_2of5-12102016

Then, the computer said, “Proceed to the door on your right.”  He thought this must be a big sophisticated company.

He proceeded through the door and again, to his surprise, he found no one was there.  He looked up and saw two signs.

sneha-image_4of5-12102016

The signs read: “If you are earning $500,000 or more, enter through the right door, or if you are earning less than $500,000, enter through the left door.”

He mumbled, “I wish I was making $500,000 or more! I am here to make that kind of money.”  He entered through the left door.

Again, there was no one there, except two doors and two signs.

sneha-image_3of5-12102016He read the signs: “If you are earning between $250,000 and $500,000, then enter through the right door, or if you are making $250,000 or less, then enter through the left door.”

He was annoyed by this in-humane treatment and humiliation created by the divisions of people by their salaries.  Well, he was here to make more money, so he proceeded through the left door. Now, there was a greater surprise waiting for him.

As soon as he walked through a semi-dark passage, he found himself again on the Park Avenue Street!

sneha-image_5of5-12102016

Lesson Learned:

Consultation and counseling are good as long as they help us solve our problem. However, many times we unnecessarily run to seek help from outside.  I know someone who takes a handful of aspirins from his big bottle at the slightest headache.  Many times we run to take a heavy dose of medicine to cure our minor bodily discomforts. The body has a mechanism to cure itself, but we do not have the patience to let it do so.

Shri Krishna in the Shrimad Bhagavad Gita says, “Rise yourself to a higher level of Consciousness by yourself. Do not lower yourself.  You are your greatest friend and you are your greatest enemy.” (6.5)

Shri Krishna explains further: “When one has self-control, then one is one’s own friend. When one has no self-control, then one becomes one’s own enemy.” (6.6)

What a wonderful message! Self-control and contentment are great virtues. They bring us success, joy, and satisfaction. In many situations, with patience, self-control, and satisfaction, we can avoid running around for external help. By helping ourselves, we build self-confidence and with that we will start finding solutions from within.

(Thanks to Radha Dhar for editing this post and Sneha Shah for providing illustrations.)

 

 

Laugh and Learn – 7

The Wise Man’s Skull

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.  This story is not funny, but it has an excellent message.

Let us go back in the past when in India walking was the only way of transportation.  People had to go from one village or town to another on foot, and most of the time, they had to go through forests.

At that time, the environment was not disturbed and one could breathe fresh air, but they had to go through the dangers of being killed by animals and sometimes by the highway men. When someone walked through the forests, the relatives of the person would not know for many days whether their family member was killed or reached the destination. If someone survived out of a group of people who were attacked, then only would their family receive the news about the killing.

This is how one group of people found out that in one particular forest there was a crazy giant. If anyone passed by the forest, he would stop the person and ask a question.  If the person did not give a satisfactory answer, then he would kill the person. So, people avoided that forest.

One day a wandering monk came to a town near that forest.  In the past, in India, wandering monks devoted their mind on God. They would not live at a place for more than three days.  Wherever they went, they would guide people to take the name of God and live a decent human life.  They helped people solve their personal problems and would try to remove their miseries.  In return, people would take care of their basic needs like food and shelter.  This monk helped many people of the town and he was ready to move on.  When people found out that the monk was planning to go through the forest where the crazy giant lived, they all requested him not to go through that forest as the giant had killed many people.  The monk said that he was completely dependent on God and was ready to take on the challenge of the crazy giant. The monk told people not to worry about him.  He started walking on the road going through the forest.  All people said “goodbye” to him with a heavy heart. They all prayed for him.

The fearless monk was walking through the thick forest.  The track was less travelled. So, he had a hard time finding the track, which would hopefully lead him to the next town.  Various kinds of birds were chirping.  Everything was green and beautiful.  He was enjoying the beauty of the nature.  He heard some wild animals. As the monk was completely dependent on God, he continued his journey without any fear, repeating God’s name.

After some time, the road broadened and on the sides of the road, he saw a few bodies of people who were killed savagely.  The monk remembered the story told by the people of a crazy guy living in this forest and killing people.

The monk continued and thought “Whatever is God’s wish is what will happen.” Within a few minutes he saw a huge, terrible-looking guy standing in the middle of the road laughing.

wisemans-skull

As the monk went closer to him, the crazy guy said, “Ah!  After a long time I found a victim.” And then he again laughed loudly.  Anyone else would have died by this laughter, but the monk was fearless.  The monk asked him why he was killing innocent people.  The crazy guy said, “Well! I want an answer to my question.  If a person cannot answer my question, he or she has to die. Your fate is not different from them.”

Again, he laughed for a long time.  The monk asked, “What is your question?”  The crazy guy said, “The question is very simple.  Here are three skulls of three people.  Can you tell me which skull is of a wise person?  If you cannot give me a satisfactory answer, then you will die.”

The monk was calm.  He smiled and went to the three skulls.  He took a small pebble and put into the ear-hole of one of the skulls and then he shook it.  The pebble came out from the other ear-hole.  Then, he took the second skull and did the same thing.  The pebble came out from the mouth-hole.  The crazy man sat on his knees and start watching the whole thing.  Finally, the monk put the pebble in the third skull’s ear-hole and shook it.  The pebble did not come out!  The monk smiled and handed the third skull in the hands of the crazy guy and said, “This is the wise man’s skull.”  The crazy guy said that he should explain why this was the wise man’s skull.

The monk said that the first man heard a good thing from his one ear, but it all went out from the other. The good things did not retain in the head. The second man heard good things, but these good things came out from his mouth.  After listening, he gave lectures to others and did not practice them himself.  But, the third person whatever good things he heard, he practiced them and assimilated them into his life.

The crazy guy bowed down to the monk.  He got up, laughed again and with a great speed ran away.  The monk had a sigh of relief and he continued his journey.

Lesson Learned:

I am sure you must have guessed the message after the monk examined the three skulls.

In our scriptures, the following three spiritual practices have been described for a seeker of the Highest Knowledge:

(1) Shravana:  The word means to listen to scriptures from a realized person or a person who is committed to realize the Atman (our True Divine Identity lying within) and who is sincerely making all attempts for the realization.  This person must have understood the essence of the scriptures.  Listening to scriptures from such a person is far better than reading the scriptures by ourselves because by listening we easily get the essence of the scriptures.  Shri Shankaracharya says that the scriptures are like deep forests and people easily get lost in them.  It means that there are various teachings in the scriptures, many of which look contradictory and many may not be applicable to our situations. Thus, listening to scriptures is a very important spiritual practice for a sincere seeker of Truth.

(2) Manana:  This word means reflecting upon what we had listened to and had read from the scriptures.  The real thing to hear from the scriptures is about our True Divine Identity lying within ourselves. This is also described as Atman in Vedanta philosophy.  This Atman is eternal.  That is why It is without birth and death.  It does not change.  Shrimad Bhagavad Gita says that weapons cannot cut the Atman, fire cannot burn It, wind cannot blow It away, and water cannot drown It. This Atman is the support of our existence and because of It our body and mind function.  Its nature is Sat-Chit-Ananda (Existence-Knowledge-Bliss absolute). When we go closer to It through reflections and meditation, we feel the divine bliss within, acquire the knowledge of our True identity, and become fearless by realizing Its eternal nature. By realizing Atman, we know our minds (and thereby, all other minds) in and out. We become free from all bondages which tie us with our little selves, consisting our body and mind. We have to reflect upon the nature of Atman and also reflect upon our imaginary identity of body and mind.  The body and mind are constantly changing. They have a beginning and an end. The constantly changing body and mind cannot be our True Identity.

Atman is a part of Brahman, which is the Ultimate Reality of the universe.  There is only one Existence which Vedanta describes as Brahman.  From Brahman the universe has come.  Brahman nourishes the universe and the universe dissolves in Brahman.  Also, what is in the universe is in an atom, just as a whole tree lies within a seed. Thus, Atman is nothing but Brahman.

(3)  Nididhyasana: This means we have to make efforts to realize this Atman within.  The realization of Atman is not an intellectual knowledge. We have to feel within that our true nature or identity is the Atman and our body-mind are like clothes that the Atman is wearing.  Once we realize Atman, we find that it is the same Atman residing in all beings, animals, and all the things of the universe.  With this awareness of unity, we love all and hate none. We always are ready to serve all with unselfish love, without expecting anything in return. We feel that the purpose of our life is fulfilled and all our doubts go away from our mind. Once we attain the Highest Knowledge, we feel that all the basic questions of life have found their answers. Sages and saints are great because they have attained this knowledge.

Thus, the message of the story is to listen to scriptures, reflect upon the essence of the scriptures, practice the essence of the scriptures, and realize our True Identity (Atman).

(Thanks to Radha Dhar for editing and Pamela C. Beniwal for providing an illustration.)

Laugh and Learn – 6

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.

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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!”

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Reflections:

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.)

Laugh and Learn – 5

What is the Solution?

The following post is based on a story I heard from Swami Adiswarananda, the Spiritual Leader of the Ramakrishna Vivekananda Center in New York from 1973 to 2007.

In the U.S., we see monkeys only in zoos.  Many cannot imagine a group of monkeys wandering around in cities or villages, from place to place, mainly in search of food, and maybe in order to maintain or develop their “jumping” skills.  They climb up on a tree and swing from branch to branch or jump around on the terraces of buildings a few stories high. In India, we see many such groups of monkeys.

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This is the story of one such group of monkeys in search of food.  In India, the weather is mostly sunny, so the windows remain open most of the time.  In order to stop monkeys from entering into houses through the windows, houses have iron window grilles built in. Those people who cannot afford such windows have uninvited monkey guests in the house. I have known a few people who were shockingly surprised to see monkeys in their house. If the windows are without grilles, monkeys simply go to the kitchen, grab food, and jump out of the house.  If windows have grilles and any food is near the window grilles, monkeys extend their hands inside and grab it.

A group of monkeys is made out of a family or a few families. One such group of monkeys was jumping on the terraces of houses looking for food. Among them was a small monkey who was learning all the monkey tricks and ways to get food.  He was jumping around and all of a sudden he saw an apple lying inside a grilled window.  It was a big, red apple.  Any mouth becomes watery by seeing this apple. The little monkey jumped to the window, extended its hand inside the grille, and grabbed the apple.

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The monkey was delighted to grab the apple. But, as soon as it tried to bring its hand out with the apple, it found that its hand is not coming out of the grille. The apple was much bigger than the space between the grilles.  It tried grabbing the apple in different ways, but its hand could not come out with the apple.  It seemed that there was no one in the house. The small monkey started screaming for help.  The other monkeys came running to help this little one. They saw the problem and they all started thinking about how to solve it.

One monkey said, “Let us find some sharp object. Then slowly we will cut the grille.” That monkey found a sharp object and started cutting the grille.  One monkey said, “Let us try to pull out the whole window.  Then the little monkey will have to walk around its whole life with a window on its hand.”  That monkey tried to pull out the whole window.  One monkey said, “Let us pray to God.  I am sure God will find a solution.”  It started praying to God.  One monkey said, “Try to think that your hand is not caught by the grille.”  Among all the commotion, one elderly monkey came and told the little monkey, “Just let go of the apple and pull out your hand.”

Lesson learned:  Many times we unnecessarily suffer because we have some desire to fulfill.  If the desire is useless or unneeded, then it is better to give it up.  With that act of giving something up, we may not lose anything. In fact, our mind will be free from hundreds of worries and struggles.

Sri Ramakrishna gave an example of this.  A bird picked up a fish and wanted to eat it.  The bird sat on a branch of a tree to eat the fish.

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But, several crows saw that the bird had a fish.  They all followed the bird with piercing cawing.  The bird tried to run away from the craws and tried to sit on various trees and places.  But, all the crows followed it and started poking it with their beaks.  Finally, the fish fell from the bird’s mouth.  All of the crows followed the fish and left the bird alone.  The bird then peacefully sat on a tree.  Thus, worries and struggles follow a desire.

The question might arise that, knowing this fact, should we give up all desires? It is true that each desire brings worries and problems.  But, as long as we have a body, we will have desires; like desire to live and survive.  So, what we should do?

Well, desires are of various kinds.  The Shrimad Bhagavad Gita says, “I am the desire in all beings that is not contrary to dharma (7.11).” That means God, the Creator of the Universe, has created righteous desires in all beings.  The desires which uplift us from the physical level to the spiritual level, destroy our bondages, and are not harmful to anyone are okay to fulfill.  But, our mind runs around and fills itself up with hundreds of other desires, which make us slaves to our senses and are harmful to us and/or others. Such desires should be shunned.  These useless and harmful desires bring us many worries and frustrations.  Buddha said that the cause of suffering is desires.  In life, we get tired by carrying a baggage of extra desires.  If we want peace of mind, then we have to reduce the desires to a minimum—the desires which free us from all bondages.

Deeper Meaning of the Story:

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Imagine an ocean filled with millions of waves.  The Ultimate Reality (Brahman or Consciousness) is like an ocean.  Each wave is an individual being or an object. All beings and objects appear as waves (as names and forms) for a little time and then merge into the ocean of The Ultimate Reality.  When each wave thinks of itself as a separate entity, then it has conflicts with all other waves and has fears of disappearing as a wave. Similarly, if we think ourselves with our names and forms as separate entities from the Ultimate Reality, then all the problems start.  We think that the whole world is against us, that nature is against us, trying to crush us down, and we have a constant fear of death.  When we give up our separate identity, then all the problems and fears go away.  At that time, keeping in mind ourselves as the Spirit (or Atman, a part of the Ultimate Reality), we just act, like actors/actresses of a play, in the world as separate entities with names and forms.

Notes:  (i)  The photo -1 is from the Bangalore Gallery , India (ii) Photo – 2 is from dreamtime.com and (iii) the sketch -1 is made by Sneha Shah.       

(Thanks to Radha Dhar for editing and Sneha Shah for providing an illustration.)