April 2019

Practical religion consists in living the philosophy one has understood. – Chinmaya

The wisdom of the religion percolates into us in three stages:

In the first stage, we gain information about the right ways of living by listening to scriptural teachings. This stage is called as Shravanam.  

In the second stage, we reflect upon the knowledge gathered from the scriptures. The purpose of reflection is to remove all doubts. With the removal of doubts, the information in us becomes conviction. This process is called Mananam.

In the third stage, we try to live the knowledge. Here we try to break ourselves away from the old habits of thinking and behaving. This process continues until the scriptural ways of thinking and behaving becomes natural in us. This process is called Nididhyaasanam.

When can we say we have become wise?

When we are able to live our convictions, only then can we say the knowledge in us has blossomed into wisdom. 

When we no longer react to situations under the pressure of our worldly vasanas; instead we learn to respond to situations based on the spiritual vasanas, only then can we say knowledge has matured into wisdom.

 When we are no longer under the clutches of the “small i” and when we learn to think and act as the “Great I”, only then can we say that the knowledge has ripened into wisdom.

Only when we ‘walk the noble thoughts and the tall talks’ can we say knowledge has digested into wisdom.

Gandhiji was in the habit of taking a brisk walk every evening. He would walk for three or four miles, covering the distance in about an hour. Accompanying on the walk would be some members of the ashram community, children and some visitors to whom he wanted to talk during the walk, thus saving on the time that he would otherwise have had to find from his heavy schedule of work. The walk was not merely a stint of exercise but also a period of relaxation. Gandhiji would be up to his pranks with children or would be provoking laughter with his playful and friendly exchange of teasing remarks and wit.

 On a cold December day in 1939, as he stepped out of the ashram for his walk, he found a human form with a bundle in his hands about to enter the ashram. On seeing Gandhiji, the visitor halted six steps away, kept his bundle down and did obeisance to Gandhiji.

Gandhiji looked grave; a thick pall of sorrow fell on his face. He recognised the man before him. It was Parchure Shastri, a famous Sanskrit scholar and poet who had been with him in Yervada jail in 1922.

In these years Shastri had contacted a vicious form of leprosy. He had tried treatment at many hospitals and with many doctors. Nothing had helped. He wanted to disappear from view and meet what was in store for him. But before making his final exit, he wanted to have a darshan of Gandhiji.

Gandhiji looked at him with infinite sadness. He wanted to take Shastri to the ashram, but there were many others, including women and children, in the ashram. He was debating in his mind whether it would be proper for him to ask Shastri to live with him in the ashram, knowing well the nature of the disease from which he was suffering.

Shastri realised Gandhiji’s difficulty, and said, “I have had your darshan. This bundle contains the yarn that I spun while at Hardwar, with the hope that I will be able to give it to you someday. My purpose is served. I shall now spend the night under the tree in the distance, and go away in the morning.”

Gandhiji asked him whether he had had a meal. When he learned that Shastri had not eaten, he asked one of the inmates of the ashram to fetch food for him and serve him. Gandhiji then resumed his walk with a face that was overcast with pain and introspection. That evening he was silent during his walk. Others in the entourage too were silent.

He returned to the ashram, and after the evening prayer, went to his bed. But he could not sleep. The picture of Parchure Shastri and the dilemma that he was facing kept sleep away. What was he to do? Could he turn Shastri away? Could he make him reside in the ashram if the other inmates of the ashram resented or panicked? By morning all the aspects of the question have been weighed, and Gandhiji was clear on what he should do.

As soon as the morning-prayer was over, Gandhiji spoke to the inmates of the ashram. He explained the situation and the risks. He expressed his desire to keep Shastri in the ashram and nurse him back to health. But he could do so only if they also welcomed him. He felt that God in the form of Parchure Shastri had come to test his sincerity. To turn Shastri away would be to deny himself and God. But to let him stay would be to expose the ashramites to risk. The members of the ashram too had been entrusted to his charge by God. Would they share the risk with him, and welcome Shastri?

The members of the ashram community were unanimous in declaring that Shastri would be welcome in the ashram.

The next morning, a special hut was set up for Shastri near the hut that Gandhiji occupied.

Every morning Gandhiji would go to him, talk with him and cheer him up for a while. He would then wash and clean the leprous wounds on Shastri’s body. They were days when momentous political decisions were being taken. The ashram was full of leaders of the nation who were there for discussion with Gandhiji. But everyday Gandhiji found time to dress Shastri’s wounds and massage his ailing body. Gandhiji determined the patient’s diet, and the food served to Shastri was taken to Gandhiji for inspection thrice a day.

In a few days, the ashramites took over the task of dressing Shastri’s wounds. But Gandhiji would go to the hut every day in the morning and evening and spend some time talking to Shastri.

Once when he went to see Shastri on his day of silence, Shastri recited Sanskrit poetry and talked animatedly on many issues. But Gandhiji could not talk. After listening to Shastri with a smile, Gandhiji took out a fresh orange from his shawl and offered it to Shastri with a smile. That was his answer. Before he left his hut, he had remembered that it was his day of silence, and therefore had taken an orange along as a token of his love and concern. Shastri’s face reflected the glow of love.

Shastri’s stay in the ashram extended itself to years. The affection and attention that he received from Gandhiji and the ashramites, and the treatment that he followed finally helped him to recover.

If our religion has not taught us how to live in peace and harmony, in sacrifice and service, in loving, caring and sharing, then we have not learnt anything from it at all.

Unfortunately, the modern education system considers religion as non-essential and ‘the opium of the masses’. What happens when religion is taken away from the masses?

This letter is an appeal to the teachers from a school principal who survived Nazi Camp:

“I am a survivor of a concentration camp. My eyes saw what no person should witness. Gas chambers built by learned engineers. Children poisoned by educated physicians. Infants killed by trained nurses. Women and babies shot and killed by high school and college graduates. So I am suspicious of education. My request is to help your students to be human. Your efforts must never produce learned monsters, skilled psychopaths, or educated maniacs. Reading and writing and spelling and history and arithmetic are only important if they serve to make our students more human.”

Only when the eyes behold the world with a vision of oneness… Only when the speech is fragrant with the sweetness of love…  Only when the heart is blossomed with forgiveness and compassion…  Only when the actions are drenched in selfless service… Only when the ego is drowned in the austerity of self-effacement…- 

– Only then can we say we are truly religious.

O   M         T   A   T         S   A   T

Posted in: Chintana

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