Category Archives: Story

Laugh and Learn – 14

The Relativity of Troubles

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.

Martha was working in a company for many years. She found that in the last seven years, many senior employees were laid-off and the management was hiring young people who did not complain and worked more for less money. She had lost few of her friends.

Recently, a young lady named Jane was hired in the company. Martha thought that she might make a good friend. Martha talked to her about the company’s policy and people and the ways to survive in the company. Jane also started feeling comfortable in Martha’s company. Soon, they developed trust in each other and started exchanging their personal life.

Martha found one strange thing in Jane’s behavior. She found that Jane often takes out her cell phone from her purse, looks at a photo of someone for a while, mumbles something, and then puts the cell phone back into her purse.

Initially, Martha ignored that behavior. But, as their friendship became closer, one day Martha took the courage to ask Jane during their lunch: “Hi Jane! If you don’t mind, can I ask you one question?”

Jane said, “What is it?” Martha asked, “Often you take out your cell phone from your purse, and look a photo for a while and then you put your cell phone back into your purse. I wonder whose photo it is that you look at so often.” Jane smiled and said, “Oh! It is my husband’s photo.” Martha said, “I have never seen a wife loving her husband so much that she often needs to look at her husband’s photo. Wow! I must tell your husband about it.”

Jane was silent for a few seconds. Then, she smiled and said, “It is none of this. See, in this company, it is very difficult to work with people who are mean. There are many such people, especially the boss, who is the most difficult to work with. When I get too depressed and frustrated, I take out my husband’s photo and tell myself ‘What more trouble could I have than marrying this guy.’ After that every trouble looks very small and bearable to me and thus my life goes on.”

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Lessons I learned:

Swami Rama Tirtha’s Story:

I have heard this story of Swami Rama Tirtha.  This is a story from the time when Swami Rama Tirtha was a student. One day his mathematics teacher came to the class and drew a line on a blackboard. Then, he asked all the students to make that line smaller without touching the line. All the students were puzzled and could not find a solution. At that time, young Rama Tirtha got up from his chair, took a chalk in hand, and drew a longer line under the line drawn by the teacher. The teacher was extremely pleased and the students were thrilled.

Problems of Life:

Problems of life are relative. A person is not happy with his/her salary and complains about not having enough money to buy a better car, live in a bigger house or go to an expensive resort for a vacation. But, when he/she thinks about the people in the world who do not have a job, or enough food to eat, not to even mention having a car or a house, then he/she realizes that his/her problems are smaller.

This works on the other way around too. A person is happy with what he/she has such as their house, car, job, salary etc. But, sometimes seeing other people’s big houses, or expensive cars, or high salaries, makes the same person sad and not happy with what he/she has.

A Practical Suggestion:

If we are not happy with our material possessions, or physical comforts, or family problems, then we should think of those who have less possessions and comforts than us and who have more major problems in life to face than we do. Then, we should pray for them and wish the best for them. This way, our problems will become lesser in size and more bearable.

On the other hand, when we are happy with our knowledge or spiritual progress, we should think of the people who have acquired more knowledge than us and who have further advanced their spiritual life than us.  This way, our efforts for acquiring knowledge will increase and our urge for spiritual progress will be more intense.

A Story of Shiva Mahimna:  There is a story described in shloka 10 of the famous hymn Shiva Mahimna. This story actually describes the glory of Lord Shiva, but we can also learn an important lesson from it. This is my version of the story:

Once there was a dispute between Brahma, the creator of the universe and Vishnu, the preserver of the universe.  Each one claimed that he is superior to the other. Brahma said that if he does not create anything, then Vishnu does not have a job of preserving. Vishnu claimed that if he does not preserve the universe, then the universe would have died as soon as it was created, thus rendering the creation is useless. While they were arguing with each other, an infinite fire-pole appeared out of nowhere and filled everything with blinding light. Vishnu asked Brahma whether he had created this pole and Brahma said, “No.” Brahma asked Vishnu whether he had preserved this pole from outside his universe and Vishnu said, “No”. Both were baffled. They decided to check out the ends of the pole to find something about its origin. Brahma went towards the sky to find its end and Vishnu went down for the same. After a long time, they both were exhausted and returned without finding its end. Then, they prayed to the pole to reveal its identity to them. At that time, from the fire-pole Lord Shiva came smiling and said that the Ultimate Reality Brahman is infinite. Infinitely many universes arise from Brahman and merge into Brahman.  Each universe has its creator and its preserver. There is no need to boast about their finite work.

I learned a lesson that when we think of the infinite time span, the infinite universe that we live in, then our existence looks like a one little tiny spot and our span, of say, 100 years, is like a Nano- second or Mili-second. Now, what is the significance of our problems, how big they may be, in this short life whose existence is a very small dot in the infinite universe?  This is not a pessimist outlook, but rather, a realistic one. In the background of the vision of the infinity of space and time, many of our problems in life become less threatening and we can gather our inner strength and face these problems as vigorously as we can.  Even if we die fighting these problems, we do not worry, because in that infinite background even death is totally insignificant.

Progression of Wisdom:

Swami Adiswarananda mentioned three stages of wisdom as we make progress in acquiring wisdom.

First Stage of Realization:  (1) There is a problem.

When people are ignorant, they think that life is all good. They think that the goal of life is to get as much joy as possible from the body, mind, people, and the objects of the universe. Then, the reality of life starts revealing itself and the first sign of wisdom comes when we realize that “Life is not all good. There are unavoidable problems in life. We have to pay a high price for each pleasure of our life.”

Second Stage of Realization: (2) The cause of the problem is in me.

We find the problems in life, but then we blame the whole world for these problems.  When we introspect more, we find that we have a significant role in creating these problems. The causes of many problems lie in me. If I remove the cause of a problem by transforming my life for good, then the problem either disappears or becomes less painful.

Third Stage of Realization: (3) I am the problem:

When we advance further in our reflections of life and the teachings of the scriptures and saints, we find that our ego “I” causes all the problems. As I separate myself with my name and form (body and mind) from my true identity “Atman”, I make myself limited and more cut off from the reality of life.  This is the cause of all my problems. With this wisdom we try to search within our true identity. When we realize our true identity as Atman, whose nature is “Sat-Chit-Ananda” (Existence, Knowledge, Bliss Absolute), then we acquire infinite strength to face these little problems of life. We face these problems with a peaceful mind, and remain content in the opposite situations like joys and sorrows, honor and insult, praise and blame.

(Thanks to Abhishek Senjalia for editing this post and Sneha Shah for the illustration.)

 

Laugh and Learn – 13

Change!

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.

A Buddhist Monk came to New York as a visitor. He was excited to teach Buddhism to New Yorkers. Whomsoever he met, he started talking to them about the Buddhist philosophy and its applicability.

Walking around in New York, he was hungry. He saw a vendor selling bagels. There was a line of five to six people waiting to buy bagels. He waited also at the end of the line and started talking to the guy in front of him about the teachings of Buddha. He told the guy that a transformation in life has to come just like that which happened in the life of Buddha. The guy was getting a little annoyed, but he did not want to be rude. He continued listening to the Buddhist until his turn came to buy the bagel.

When the guy left, the Buddhist started talking about Buddhism to the vendor who was selling the bagels. The vendor cut off the conversation and asked, “What kind of bagel do you want and what do you want on it?” The Buddhist started telling the vendor that he was not a narrow minded person and he respected all religions. He learns and gathers good thoughts from all. Again, the vendor ignored this sidetrack of conversation and asked, “What kind of bagel do you want and what do you want on it?”

The Buddhist gave a $20 bill to the vendor and told him, “I don’t want to be a narrow minded person. So, give me an ‘everything bagel’ and put everything on it.”

The vendor gave him an ‘everything bagel with butter, cream cheese and mustard’ on it. Then he went to take care of the other customers. The Buddhist waited for a while and soon realized that the vendor was taking care of the other customers one by one.

The Buddhist finally asked him, “What about my change?”

The vendor continued to prepare a bagel for the next customer and said, “Change comes from within!” 🙂


What I learned:

Not to talk about spirituality to everyone:

After giving him the profound message of Practical Vedanta, the essence of the Upanishads, and the science of four yogas, Shri Krishna at the end of Bhagavad Gita told Arjuna, “Do not tell this teaching to anyone who is (1) not austere, (2) without devotion, (3) not interested in listening to this message, and (4) he who speaks ill of Me.” (Gita 18.67)

Shri Krishna is teaching us not to talk about spirituality or God to the above mentioned people. It is futile to talk to them. A beginner in the path of spirituality may lose faith by talking to such people. Their negative influence may wipe out the developing beginner’s faith.

Sri Ramakrishna said that occasionally out of two friends, while one was enjoying listening to his talks about God and spiritual practices, the other friend would became restless after a while. The other friend would whisper into the ears of his friend and ask, “How long are you going to be here?” The interested friend would get annoyed of this distraction. Then, Sri Ramakrishan used to tell the restless friend to go out and visit the temple and the garden.

The great Sanskrit Poet Kalidas prayed to God that he would accept any punishment for his ill-performed actions, but not a punishment where he would have to recite poetry in front of people who are not interested in poetry. He actually said it three times: “Maa likha, maa likha, maa likha.” “Please do not write, please do not write, and please do not write in my destity.”

The same is with talking about spirituality and God to the people who are not interested.

On the other hand, Shri Krishna said, “One who is endowed with supreme love for Me (God or Brahman) shares this profound teachings (of Bhagavad Gita) to My devotees will definitely without any doubt becomes one with Me.” (Gita 18.68)

Sharing uplifting and positive thoughts is good, but it should be only with the people who understand and appreciate them.

Swami Vivekananda’s Thoughts on Changing the World:

The following are Swami Vivekananda’s thoughts on the world and the idea of changing it. These thoughts reflect deep insights of the world and our responsibilities to the world. We can learn great lessons from these thoughts.

“This world is like a dog’s curly tail, and people have been striving to straighten it out for hundreds of years; but when they let it go, it curls up again. How could it be otherwise? When we know that this world is like a dog’s curly tail and will never be straightening, we shall not become fanatic (to change it).”

“There is God in this universe. It is not true that this universe is drifting and stands in need of help from you and me. God is ever present therein; He is undying and eternally active and infinitely watchful. When the whole universe sleeps He sleeps not; He is working incessantly; all the changes in the world are caused by Him.”

“We have to bear in mind that we are all debtors to the world and that the world does not owe us anything. It is a great privilege for all of us to be allowed to do anything for the world. In helping the world we really help ourselves.”

“The world is a grand moral gymnasium wherein we all have to take exercises so that we become stronger and stronger spiritually.”

Swami Vivekananda’s Thoughts on the Characteristics of a Reformer:

“If you want to be a true reformer, you must possess three things:

(1) The first is to feel. Do you really feel for your brothers? Do you really feel that there is so much misery in the world, so much ignorance and superstition? Do you really feel that all men are your brothers? Does this idea permeate your whole being? Does it run in your blood? Does it tingle in your veins? Does it course through every nerve and filament of your body? Are you full of that idea of sympathy? If you are, that is only the first step.

(2) Next, you must ask yourself if you have found any remedy.  The old ideas may be all superstitions, but in and around these masses of superstition are nuggets of truth. Have you discovered means by which to keep that truth alone, without any of the dross? If you have done that, that is only the second step; one thing more is necessary.

(3) What is your motive? Are you sure that you are not actuated by greed for gold, by thirst for fame or power? Are you really sure that you can stand up for your ideals and work on, even if the whole world wants to crush you down? Are you sure that you know what you want and will perform your duty, and your duty alone, even if your life is at stake? Are you sure that you will persevere so long as life endures, so long as one pulsation is left in the heart?

Then you are a real reformer, you are a teacher, a master, a blessing to mankind.”

Mahatma Gandhi’s Thoughts on Change:

Henri Edberg is a writer who lives on the east coast of Sweden. He is passionate about happiness and personal development. He writes about it in his “The Positive Blog.” He has written an article “Gandhi’s 10 Rules for Changing the World.” He wrote on the following 10 quotations of Mahatma Gandhi (Henry Edberg gave the titles):

(1)  Change yourself:

“You must be the change you want to see in the world.”

(2) You are in control:

“Nobody can hurt me without my permission.”

(3) Forgive and let it go:

“The weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is the attribute of the strong.”

“The eye for an eye ends up making the whole world blind.”

(4) Without actions you aren’t going anywhere:

“An ounce of practice is worth more than tons of preaching.”

(5) Take care of this moment:

“I do not want to foresee the future. I am concerned with taking care of the present. God has given me no control over the moment following.”

(6) Everyone is human:

“I claim to be a simple individual liable to err like any other fellow mortal. I own, however, that I have humility enough to confess and retrack my steps.”

“It is unwise to be too sure of one’s own wisdom. It is healthy to be reminded that the strongest might weaken and the wisest might err.”

(7) Persist:

“First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win.”

(8) See the good in people and help them:

“I look only to good qualities of men. Not being faultless myself, I won’t presume to probe into the faults of others.”

“Man becomes great exactly in the degree in which he works for the welfare of his fellow-men.”

“I suppose leadership at one time meant muscles; but today it means getting along with people.”

(9) Be congruent, be authentic, be your true self:

“Happiness is when what you think, what you say, and what you do are in harmony.”

(10) Continue to grow and evolve:

“Constant development is the law of life, and a man who always tries to maintain his dogmas in order to appear consistent drives himself into a false position.”

(Thanks to Abhishek Senjalia for editing the post and Viraj Khetani for the illustration.)

Laugh and Learn – 12

Wait a minute!

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.

A devotee wanted money from God. So, he started praying to God. After a few years of sincere and intense spiritual austerities, God thought to reveal Himself to him.

One day the devotee profusely cried for God. Seeing the devotee’s agony, God granted the devotee a vision of Him. The devotee was overjoyed with this vision.

Then, God asked him, “What do you want?”

The devotee said, “I just want one cent from you.”

God said, “Why just one cent?”

The devotee replied, “God’s one cent is like millions of dollars.”

God wanted to uplift this devotee from his limited wants and make him aware of the higher importance of God-vision, so God said, “Wait a minute!”

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Reflections:

Time and Space are Relative:

Moving clocks are slower than stationary ones.  Distances (the space is in-between two points) and the durations are observer-dependent.  Do you believe this? Einstein’s Theory of General Relativity proves it.

Let us not go into deeper science and think in terms of common experiences. Four to eight lower-middle class people living and adjusting in one bedroom apartment of big cities like New York, Mumbai, London and others feel that they have enough space.  When a family of four moves to a 3-4 bedroom house with one acre land initially feels that they have enough space. But, when they filled up the house with furniture and needed or not-needed things, then the same house looks small.

We all know that time is relative. When we are waiting for people whom we love, then one minute feels like one hour. But, when we are having fun, then one hour passes like one minute.

Time in Bhagavad Gita:

Shri Krishna says, “Those people who know that the day of Brahma (the Creator) is thousand eons long and the night of Brahma is thousand eons long, know the day and night. At the approach of the day of Brahma, all manifested objects come forth from the un-manifested (Brahman, or Consciousness, or Energy) and at the approach of the night of Brahma, all the manifested objects merge into the un-manifested.” (8.17-18)

Evolution and Involution:

When we wake up our universe begins. As soon as we wake up all the thoughts of our activities and all of our relationships with people come to the surface of our mind. It stays with us for the whole day. When night comes and we go into deep sleep, all our thoughts and relationships go deeper into our minds in very subtle (encrypted) form.

It is the same with the whole universe. The Bhagavad Gita, as a part of Vedanta, says that the whole universe emerges from one thing called Brahman (in scientific terms we can call this Consciousness or Energy), which is called an evolution. It is similar to how a tree comes out from a seed. Then, after some time (which may be billions of years) everything merges back into Brahman (Consciousness or Energy). Science also talks about black holes.  These black holes give us an idea of the process of involution, or the merging of manifested objects into un-manifested. It is like the whole tree merging into a tiny seed.

Time is Maya:

Vedanta says that there is only One Ultimate Existence, called Brahman.  From the Brahman the whole universe came. Thus, everything in the universe is nothing but Brahman. But, we do not see it. We see the separate existence of individuals and objects. Vedanta says that these differences have been created by space, time, name and form.

If a wave of an ocean thinks that it has its own separate existence and that the ocean does not exist, that would be ludicrous.  If a gold ornament, like a necklace, thinks that it is different from the gold and that gold does not exist, that would be ludicrous. If a clay figure of a man or a woman or an elephant thinks that it is separate from the clay and that clay does not exist, that would be ludicrous. Similarly, if a human individual thinks he/she is different from Brahman, and Brahman does not exist, that is ludicrous. But, we all think that we have separate individual existence, and we have nothing common and we live in delusion.  As a result, based upon our selfish motives, we love some, hate some, and go up and down in joys and sorrows.

What deludes us? Vedanta tells us that it is Maya, the power of Brahman, which deludes us. This Maya is space, time, name and form.  Brahman is Maya-pati, the Lord of Maya, meaning is beyond Maya. Thus, Brahman is beyond space, time, name and form.

Story of Krishna and Narada:

Swami Vivekananda told a story from mythology in his lecture “Maya and Freedom,” delivered in London, October 22, 1896.

Narada asked Shri Krishna, “O Lord! Show me your Maya.” Shri Krishna said that he had to come with him in a trip to forests.  Both walked and walked into deep forests. The sun was scorching. Shri Krishna said, “O Narada! I am thirsty. Can you please look around and see if there is any water nearby. I have no energy to walk.” Narada said, “Yes my Lord! I will look for water and bring it to you.”

At a little distance, Narada found a small village. He stopped at a house, knocked at the door and loudly asked if there was anyone in the home. A beautiful young girl opened the door.  Narada was overwhelmed by her beauty and started conversing with her. He asked her name, about her parents, and asked if she is married. The girl also showed interest in Narada and she called her parents. The parents were very happy to see Narada and they accepted his proposal to marry their daughter to him. Narada and the girl got married. They had two children. The girl’s parents died and Narada inherited their home and property. Thus, twelve years passed.

Then a big storm came. Due to high wind and several days of heavy rain all over, one night, the nearby river rose until it overflowed and flooded the whole village. The current of the river was very strong. Houses fell, men and animals were swept away and drowned and everything was floating in the rush of the stream. Narada’s house fell. He had to escape. He held his wife with one hand, a child in his other hand and put one child on his shoulders. He was trying to swim to survive. But, the strong current took away the child from his hand. When he was trying to save that child, the other child flipped over and was swept away. When he tried to save that child, he lost his grip on his wife’s hand and she too was torn away by the current. After being dragged by the current of the river for a distance, he was thrown onto land. Narada wept and wailed in bitter lamentation.

Then, he heard a gentle voice, “O Narada! Where is the water? You have gone away for half an hour to get water.” Narada exclaimed, “Half an hour! Twelve years passed through my mind in half an hour!”

After telling this story, Swami Vivekananda said, “And this is Maya!”

If we are not careful, then years pass like hours without gaining any accomplishment or knowledge which could bring true satisfaction in life.

So, we should think, reflect, do spiritual practice and serve humanity (the Living God) unselfishly.

Maya created by Human Beings:

Brahman creates Maya, but human beings also create Maya. It is Maya of money and greed. Because of greed our life becomes a money-making machine, and it will not leave any time to enjoy the money acquired.  We have to make sure that we enjoy money and money does not enjoy us.

Knowledge and Devotion:

God is our father and mother. We should have faith that if we sincerely pray to God and perform our responsibilities, then God will take care of us. We have to pray to God for knowledge and devotion which will fulfill all our desires.

(Thanks to Sonali Tatapudy for editing this post and Viraj Khetani 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.

goatee

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.)