Thursday, February 27, 2014

The choice makes all the difference

Ponder over the following beautiful lines of Robert Frost from his poem ‘The road not taken’
I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I--
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

While Frost had to contend with one road that diverged in a yellow wood, our path in the journey of life is full of such forks or even with three or more diverging branches baffling us at several stages. As we cannot stand still and stare waveringly at the roads ahead, we are perforce to choose one to proceed further. Once taken there is no looking back in many cases. While we carefully choose the roads with only a hazy picture of where they may lead to, we fondly hope that our choices are such that we can say like the poet “And that has made all the difference.”
In life however things are always not that rosy. The choices are also not in our hands with several externalities deciding them. Take the case of a bright student not financially well placed but who aspires to do medicine and do research in the related field. Since the competition is high with demand exceeding supply and the wealthy can buy the seats, this guy loses out in the race and opts for another course that he least prefers. Likewise a young man who wished to pursue his studies beyond graduation level is sucked into rich family business by family compulsions. Both have disappointments. A third guy got his ambition of an engineering seat through hefty donation but could not cope with the rigour of study and had to drop out.
One former senior bureaucrat Mr. Kutty had put this interestingly in one of his lectures.”We cry over what we lose. Often we cry over what we gain. Two little teardrops were floating down the river of life. One tear drop asked the other. “Who are you?” It answered “I was shed by a girl who loved a man and lost him. And who are you?” Replied the first teardrop:”Well, I was shed by the girl who got him.”
It is sometimes an irony of life that those who realize their ambition and those who fail are equally disappointed with the outcomes. It is only very few who make the right choices and are happy too. Merit does not always play a big role. The wisest do not always run the country, the best deserving do not get recognition, the virtuous do not always succeed and the honest rarely thrives in business. It has got to do with some things more than what the roads they chose had to offer.
Often many avoid roads less travelled due to its unfamiliarity, difficult terrain and uncertain destination and take to boulevards that are well kept and crowded. We witness many talented writers slogging in government offices unsure about writing as a profession, several with a research oriented minds settling for stifling and humdrum positions, capable bureaucrats wasting their years in obscure posts. There could be many justifiable reasons for the choices. May be if circumstances permit they should make mid=course correction and choose something after their heart. I am reminded of a few successful writers, a few activists and officials turned politicians and some successful entrepreneurs change to social reformers in the recent past solely guided by the passion in their hearts. They had the courage to break away from the dull routine however comfortable.
The real test of life is to have the boldness and determination to choose the right fork and where chosen to persist with commitment regardless of how difficult and unpopular the choice is. The presence of an enabling and liberal society, where every individual is allowed to reach his full potential without any imposition of manmade hurdles and where merit is recognized, would be an advantage. It is only then people can choose intuitively what one desires, however uncommon and unique the choice is, and succeed in the path chosen. There is of course the imponderable destiny. It is for us to follow the path of wisdom trusting in God but ‘keeping the gun powder dry’ as Oliver Cromwell told his soldiers.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Refiner of silver

(This was sent to me by a good friend of mine many years back and I wish to share with you as I found it very touching)
Refiner of Silver
“He will sit as a refiner, our purifier of silver”
This verse puzzled some in a Bible study and they wondered what this statement meant about the character and nature of God.
One of the participants volunteered to find out the process of refining silver and get back to the group at their next Bible study.
That week the woman called a silversmith and made an appointment to watch him at work. She didn’t mention about the reason for her interest beyond the curiosity about the process of refining silver.
As she watched silversmith, he held a piece of silver over the fire and let it heat up. He explained that in refining silver, one needed to hold the silver in the middle of fire where the flames were hottest as to burn away all the impurities.
The woman thought about God holding us in such a spot and then she thought about the verse that says “He sits as a refiner and purifier of silver”
She asked the silversmith, if it was true that he had to sit there in front of the fire the whole time the silver was being refined.
The man answered that yes, he not only had to sit there holding the silver but he had to keep his eyes on the silver the entire time it was in the fire. If the silver was left a moment too long in the flames, it would be destroyed.
The woman was silent for a moment and then she asked the silversmith “How do you know the silver is fully refined?”
He smiled at her and answered “Oh, that is easy, when I see my image on it”
If today you are feeling the heat of fire, remember that God has His eyes set on you and will keep watching until He sees His image in you.


Monday, February 24, 2014

Make oneself trustworthy

I know a person, let us call her Nirmala (or Niranjan), who would be very nice when talking to you. She will listen with rapt attention to all that you say, nod her head approvingly and make sympathetic interjections to goad you to reveal more. She would appear very friendly and give the impression that she is trustworthy. In a trice she would have mesmerized you into pouring your heart out to her in a couple of meetings telling all the things that you would have normally kept to yourself. But for her responsive demeanour and the easy affability, Nirmala is the worst gossip who cannot bottle up anything. She would rush with excitement to whisper to others one by one not just what she heard from you but embroider it with half truths and embellish with imaginary stuff to make up for a good story. She would caution them against revealing to anyone else.

 You would be shocked one of your friends casually commiserating with you in hushed tone about your personal matters. Once bitten, you would be doubly shy of talking to Nirmala. You will avoid her like a plague like so many others whom she had befriended earlier. But she is not deterred and would go for new quarry. She never realized that she is an inveterate gossipmonger detested by all who knew her. Yet she was not able to change herself to earn the trust of the people. She never realized that half truths are nothing but slander and spoilt one’s reputation. The gossip spreads wildly. It is like a feather pillow that is cut open and the feathers allowed flying in all directions. You can never collect all of them back even if you wish to. Apology does not help to restore the damaged reputation or the revealed information private again.

The point is that each one of us is tempted, though not to the extent of Nirmala, but to tell others sometimes what has been told us in confidence. There is a counterfeit satisfaction in showing off that we are privy to some secret and know a little more than what the other person knows. The intention may not be to harm but nevertheless the act of betraying the confidence is bad. It is in us to control the way others respond to us by conducting ourselves in trust worthy manner

“A true friend never breaches the trust of his companion or stabs in his back. He is trustworthy and reliable.”



Thursday, February 20, 2014

Are you assailed by imaginary fears?

We are always troubled by fear of unknown happening and unable to cut ourselves out of it. It is not always fear about us or about failure of our actions. Our fear concerns those whom we hold dear and love. We are concerned about our parents, spouse, children, close friends, relatives and their health, well-being and happiness. We imagine all the worst fears we see around elsewhere happening to our near and dear. It is not a rational anxiety backed by realistic risks.
A rational fear is a sign of maturity and its awareness tends to keep the risks away. It is an essential part of living sounding us warning at the appropriate times. We do not leave open lamps when we leave the house, we ensure that doors are properly secured, we turn off the taps, and we walk on the platforms and adhere to signals when crossing the road. We are guided in these by fear of accidents or loss.
But unfounded irrational fears are more afflictions of the mind and have no basis. They spoil the present. We pass through much pain by the imaginary fears that have never come true and may not also. There can be unexpected hardships in life. Except for the normal precautions that we take, we must get along with life and be prepared to face the troubles as and when they come
There is this well known story of a slave travelling in a ship who was caught by the fear of the rough sea and started wailing much to the annoyance of other passengers. No amount of convincing him that the ship was safe and it ran absolutely no risk of getting sunk could make him calm down. When his screaming and crying became unbearable, the captain asked that he be thrown out into the sea. The poor chap was lifted bodily and thrown. The sea was rough, the wind harsh and the sun was setting. As he struggled gulping the salty water and was almost drowning, the slave looked up and pitiably pleaded to be rescued. The captain ordered that he be brought back. Once in the ship, he turned unusually quiet and was seen enjoying the blue sky and the stars during the rest of the journey. Exposed to real scare, his irrational fear vanished.
No man’s life is free from problems.”Into each life some rain must fall—but why open your umbrella while the sun is shining?” Faith in God can help overcome this fear of the unexpected.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Being aware of death

All of us are certain to die some day. Be he a king or pauper, death is inevitable. It is a leveller. Yet the thought that we too will meet the end one day occurs rarely in our mind. We are afraid of death and the unknown world beyond. We consider it negative, depressing and an unwelcome subject.
 We refuse to think about it and instead search for happiness in material possessions. We get mired in the mundane things to fulfill our desires and gratification of senses. We cling to our loved ones and realize pet ambitions in life. Our valuable life is spent in material pursuits that hardly help us to prepare for the life beyond.
In our busy chase after wealth and fame, there is not much place for others unrelated to us. Unaware that death can be on our doorstep anytime; most of us indulge ourselves in pleasurable pursuits commit wrongs, compromise our conscience and neglect the needy. We lead a pedestrian life without purpose with nothing noble to speak about us after we are gone. Let us leave aside the spiritual aim of life as the liberation from the cycle of birth and death or getting the grace of god. We must answer the question whether our life is intended to be a purely for self gratification or to be lived at least in part for the service of others following a path of right conduct, love and kindness.
I read a story as narrated by Asit M Kaushik in one of his articles. It is a story of “a woman who took her debauched son to meet Buddha. On seeing the youth, Buddha told him that he had just one more day to live. The youngster was shocked, but knew there was little that he could do about Buddha’s prediction. Having realized that time was short, he clung to his mother’s sari, and broke down. He wanted to meet all his family members, friends, neighbours before the end came. With six hours left for his death, he found himself lying on a cot, distraught and disillusioned.
When just three hours were left, Buddha paid him a visit. The youth did not wish to speak to Buddha, but the latter smiled at him and inquired if in the last 24 hours, he had lied or cheated. The youth replied in the negative. Buddha then asked him if he had stolen from or hurt anybody. The youth got irritated and replied how he could possibly think of doing such things when all he was thinking of was death.
Buddha gently patted his head and said “Son, I don’t know who has to die and who has to live, but understanding the ultimate truth can be very enlightening. While you became aware of death only now in the last 24 hours, I have been aware of it for the last 24 years.”

We should be aware of the impermanence of our life and its value to devote each day to right path enriching not only our life but others too to enable us face death calmly without fear when it comes. 

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Happiness

I wish to share this article  received in my mailbox.
There was a group of 50 people in a seminar.
Suddenly the speaker stopped and started giving each one a balloon. Each one was asked to write his/her name on it using a marker pen. Then all the balloons were collected and put in another room.
Now these delegates were let in that room and asked to find the balloon which had their name written, within 5 minutes. Everyone was frantically searching for their name, colliding with each other, pushing around others and there was utter chaos.
At the end of 5 minutes no one could find their own balloon.
Now each one was asked to randomly collect a balloon and give it to the person whose name was written on it.
Within minutes everyone had their own balloon.
The speaker began--- Exactly this is happening in our lives. Everyone is frantically looking for happiness all around, not knowing where it is.
Our happiness lies in the happiness of other people. Give them their happiness, you will get your own happiness.

And this is the purpose of human life.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Hold of tradition

A Zen Master used to meditate along with his disciples in his house. The Master had a cat that used to come running often to the meditation hall and disturb them. So the Master would tie up the cat to his bed in the first floor enabling them to meditate peacefully downstairs. After the Master's passing, his students continued to come to the house to meditate and tie up the cat to the bed.

One disciple who had left for another country returned after some years. When he returned he saw many people coming with cats in their hands to the Master's house. However to his shock, they did not come to meditate but only to tie up their cats to the bed!

This is not unusual. We continue to do many things that were done in the past to keep the tradition going without sparing a thought on their relevance. Either we are unquestioning slaves of habit or attach value to what was done in the past in good faith. Over a period of time the purpose for a custom is lost sight of or not known but we still observe even when the raison d etre is absent. We tend to assume what our parents or grandparents have done should be for a valid reason and do not question its relevance in the changed times. It is out of reverence to our forebears or just blind faith.
I am not talking about our touching faith in God but many mundane things we cling to  more symbolically than really. Everything we do should pass the test of time and relevance. Just because a tradition was followed for decades, it does not become correct. The duration of a custom is not sufficient to lend credibility to it. In Hindu marriages in South India a yoke is placed on the necks of the couple amid chanting of mantra. It is symbolic for the couple to pull through their lives together like the bulls in yoke. Younger generations are often left wondering at this strange ritual.
A tradition should be relevant to modern times. What was done century back when the history and social practices were different have no sanctity now. Many abhorrent things were done in the name of caste, gender and tradition. It required a Raja Ram Mohan Roy, Easwar Chandra Vidyasagar and several social reformers to do away with the evil traditions. We should constantly examine what we do on the touchstone of relevance and time. Colonial practices or archaic laws of 19th century that are prevalent even today have no place  and should be jettisoned. Women should be given their rightful place.
Two families, distant cousins, in the adjacent houses were always quarreling. When a new comer to the village asked one of them for the reason, he said “They are wicked people”. The stranger prodded further asking how they were wicked. He replied “I do not know. Even in my father’s time the two families were quarreling. I learn it was so even in grandfather’s time”
“Do you have any specific reason to quarrel with him except for the past tradition?” the stranger asked. He shyly said none that he was aware of.
The stranger went to the other man’s house and repeated the same questions and got the same answers. He then brought them together for them to laugh at their foolishness and rejoice at their coming together.
We carry not only meaningless traditions, inveterate habits but silly grudges too for long without valid reason. It is time we evaluate them again for their utility and fairness. 

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Blowing one's trumpet

I read a story about a popular doctor who was noted for his curative skill, patience and helpful nature. He accepted whatever was paid for and treated the poor free. He had however one flaw. He always spoke about his compassionate nature and wished others to praise him.
One day as he was walking with a rabbi, the doctor was proudly telling how he treated poor free. Rabbi said he also did the same.
Surprised, the doctor said he even gave medicines free to the hapless and rabbi replied that he also did the same.
Intrigued the doctor said he even donated money for food in deserving cases. Rabbi replied that he also did the same
The doctor was annoyed and asked rabbi whether he was a doctor like him because he replied always that he also did the same.
Rabbi replied that he was not a doctor. Whenever the doctor talked good about himself, rabbi replied that he also like the doctor spoke to others only about the good he did and never about his faults. That rabbi said was the one flaw in his own character.
Let us ponder for a minute how many of us talk or admit about our flaws to others. We rarely do. We always try to project the brighter side of us and abstain from telling or soften about our negative side. The resume generally exaggerates our capabilities or experience and is silent about our drawbacks. If we really have some achievements, we rarely shut up talking about it. We like to blow our trumpets. Why not if we are good at something some may ask in injured innocence..

No doubt pride gives one a self respect but showing it even when justifiable generally alienates him from the world. Pride unconsciously tends to be a bloated view of one's self be it talent, virtue wealth, family or anything. It often manifests itself in one’s speech and actions. Showing pride in conversation is generally considered a negative trait. This does not mean one should refrain from telling genuine achievements on appropriate occasions like in an interview. But talking about accomplishments even if real just to impress others without a purpose is undesirable Good wine needs no bush is a famous adage.

 Likewise acts of giving are best done silently without fanfare. Many philanthropists donate huge sums  incognito. They hardly talk about it. They feel embarrassed when their identity is revealed. The rain bearing clouds are often silent but it is the rainless clouds that revel in thunder. Imagine how ridiculous it would be for a musician clapping his own hands after rendering a song. The applause should come from the audience. Self adulation is indecent and improper. There is a German proverb”… self-praise stinks, a friend's praise is lame, a stranger's praise sounds."

Sampoorna kumbhaha shabdham na karoti – ardho ghato noonam ghoshamupaiti
vidwaan kuleeno na karoti garvam – gunairviheenaaha bahu jalpayanti
Fully filled pot does not make noise while half filled pot makes lot of noise
Scholars are always humble -while those  lacking good qualities boast a lot.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Prayer sans ego

There is this parable of two men who were granted permission to meet the king at the palace. Both were asked to wait in the richly furnished lounge.
One of them, a very rich man, had come in his finest apparel and other ornaments fit for an audience with royal personage. As he was waiting he surveyed the grandeur of the room comparing it with his own mansion by feeling the texture of curtains, examining the furniture, observing the curios and such. His mind was occupied with thoughts of how to make this audience with king beneficial to himself. He was not called in though waiting for long.
The other guy who sat in the edge of the upholstered chair appeared very poor from the cheap clothes he wore. His face with three days stubble showed no sign of scholarship. His hair was unkempt and he looked dirty. But he was sitting in total calm unconcerned with the liveried men and all the pomp around him. His mind was only on the king he was about to meet. But to rich man’s consternation, the indigent fellow was called in and was with king for a long time. Our rich man finally did not get to see the king at all.
To give a spiritual twist to this story, one can say that only those without the slightest  trace of ego ’I, me or mine’ will have access to God’s grace. Even a tint of ego is a barrier. The external appearance is irrelevant and what matters is the inside.  The matted locks, shaven head or smearing of ashes on the body covered in ochre robes do not make one a devotee.
Likewise knowledge of scriptures, wealth, high position or even good looks has the danger of making a person proud. There will be the pride in the sub conscious that would manifest itself through lack of humility in word, thought or action. We are witness to such important people seeking immediate attention even at God’s shrines and if necessary by peddling their wealth, influence or position negating the very purpose of their visit to shrine.
Prayer is attuning oneself to god by total surrender at His altar in whatever way and form your faith permits. What counts is the attitude of abject surrender to His divinity and supreme power. There would be no place for ego in it. The prayer could be thinking of Him by invoking His presence in our hearts or singing in praise of Him or listening to His divine qualities and glorious deeds. Heart has a dominant role more than mind in this exercise. It is falling in selfless love with god and nothing but a communion with Him. Prayer should be simple and pure with no strings attached. The purpose of such a prayer is for liberation or getting His eternal grace.
While this is the greater purpose, this does not preclude one from seeking His help and blessings during times of trials and distress. It eases one’s mind that he is safe in God’s hands. But this should not be confused with the selfless prayer talked about earlier.


Friday, February 7, 2014

Telling truth and being truthful

There was this story about a man who had many problems. He vowed during prayer that if the problems were solved, he would sell his house and give away the proceeds to the poor. His prayers were answered and with his problems gone it was time to redeem his vow. When it came to selling the house, there was a change in his mind. Unwilling to give away so much money, he devised a ploy to overcome the tricky situation. He marked the price for the house at one silver piece and included a cat as part of total package with the price of cat fixed at 10,000 pieces of silver. When someone bought the house and the cat that went with it, our man happily gave the single piece of silver to the poor as vowed and kept the balance with him. He felt comfortable that he had kept his word.
This was a clear case of deception and there is no salving of  the conscience as he felt. Was he truthful? There is a world of difference between telling the truth and being truthful. When someone asks you whether you have see his missing young daughter of five years in the colony and you say no, you are saying the truth as you have not seen her in the colony. But not saying that you saw her in a nearby park with some stranger is not being truthful. It is not the words that count but something more than that. Silence can be a thunderous lie. Being truthful means truth not only in words but in thought also. The harmony among speech, thought and action should not be strained.
Pandavas unable to stop the onslaught of Drona prevailed upon Dharmaputra to tell Ashwathama hatha,kunjara (‘Ashwatthama killed, the elephant’) when conches were blown to drown the words ‘the elephant’. Coming from Dharmaputra who always spoke the truth, Drona thought it was his son Ashwathama and stopped fighting overcome by grief. Dharmaputra though he said the truth about the death of elephant, the unusual juxtaposition of words and the intent made him untruthful.
As a young boy when I lied or promised to give someone something I was unwilling to part with, I kept my fingers crossed unseen at my back to negate the lie or promise. I believed childishly but earnestly I had said no lie or made no promise. We witness each day around us that what is promised is rarely given and lies hidden in the fine print or no print. There are always mental reservations when one promises. Promising and not performing is akin to a child crossing the fingers. Actions, speeches and thoughts are components of the same element and must in conformity with each other





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Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Our journey

I give the gist of an interesting story by Naftali Silberberg that I read about an illiterate and not so smart farmer in a remote village who hit a treasure trove to become very wealthy. He had to go a distant town that was more than thousand kilometers away on some urgent business. The nearest station to catch the train was itself a little away and the farmer who had never seen a train or a railway station before was very diffident and confused. Goaded by others, he went three hours before and asked for a ticket in the counter. When asked for which class, he did not know. The clerk advised him to take first class if he wished to travel in comfort and dignity. Since money was no issue, he took a ticket accordingly
He waited in a corner of the station where he found a few people also waiting like him. He shuddered in fear when the train led by monstrous sized black engine bellowing dark smoke entered the station with great noise. He did not know where to get in but followed the others who got into the last coach. There were some passengers seated and some were found sleeping. These men who boarded the train along with him crawled under the seats and hid themselves completely. The farmer also did like them after safely putting the ticket in his underwear. He.He could not stretch his legs and they protruded a little outside the seat. He dozed off tired as he was.
In a short while, he was rudely woken up by the train conductor with his gentle kick on the sides and was accused of travelling without ticket. The farmer protested and retrieved with great difficulty the ticket from his under garment. When the conductor saw an authentic first class ticket, his manner and tone turned deferential as he asked “Sir, Why are you travelling in third class coach crouching stealthily under a bench when you can travel in first class coach in great comfort with many amenities?”
He replied “That is what others who boarded the train with me did. I just followed them not knowing what else to do” he said in innocence
The message is this story is that we are all like the unlettered  farmer travelling in our life’s journey crouched under a dark bench very much like others although we have been given by God  a first class ticket in the form of Bhagavat Gita,Holy Bible, Quran or Granth sahib or such to travel in comfort and confidence. We are not utilizing the tickets to what we are entitled to or read the terms and conditions of our journey as given in these tickets. We simply follow what others do without exercising our minds and run the risk of being offloaded somewhere only to start the journey again. At the end of the day the Great Conductor will want to know why we have not used the first class tickets given to us for the life’s journey like the foolish farmer.

The analogy is compelling and forceful to highlight the need to make our journey in the right way. Life’s journey is a mixture of happiness and hardships. It is not smooth throwing up challenges not infrequently. When the problems are daunting they may test our courage and question our faith. It is the way we react then to the problems faced that would determine the way our journey through life would be and the likely outcome. Herein the teachings in our sacred scriptures help us wade through the storms of life. It is not that we should lead a life of recluse but lead a normal life but by following the teachings of our faith. The burdens may not seem heavy or the joys intoxicating. One will then get the confidence that comes from total reliance on god and being in communion with Him through constant prayers. The bottom line of course is to use the first class ticket that has been given to us and not seek refuge under dark benches.

Monday, February 3, 2014

Life is a hurdle race

There is a Sanskrit sloka about Sun god as in Hindu mythology
एकचक्रो रथो यन्ता विकलो विषमे हयाः।
आक्रामत्येव तेजस्वी तथाप्यर्को नभस्तलम्॥
ekachakro ratho yantā vikalo viṣame hayāḥ|
ākrāmatyeva tejasvī tathāpyarko nabhastalam||
Sun god is said to have a chariot with only one wheel, a disabled charioteer ( अरुणः had impaired limb), and the chariot was drawn by  an odd number of horses (seven). Despite these the brilliant Sun always attacks the sky (to dispel darkness)
Notice the many hurdles. His journey spans across the universe. One wheel does not give any stability, odd number of horses hampers coordination and direction and as if his woes are not complete his driver has a physical disability. Yet the Sun god undertakes the eternal journey successfully day after day undeterred by these obstacles.
Like Sun god exists with his impediments, there is also no human life without its hurdles. Be one high or low, rich or poor, man or woman, young or old there are always obstacles in the way. What may be a small hurdle for one may be big for another but no life is free from hurdles. Their nature and intensity may vary according to one’s preparedness, attitude and mental ability to overcome them. Have you ever pondered over what would life be without obstacles?
I read in the net the question posed by a Rabbi and his own answer on an event in Olympics where people run, jump over hurdles and race to the finish line. His question was would it not be easier to simply remove the hurdles or remove the obstacles? Wouldn't that make more sense?
His own answer was "That is the event! The hurdles are the event, overcoming these obstacles is the whole point of the event. Remove the obstacles and you have negated the entire event.”
It would be fair to say then that life is an event designed by god with obstacles (remember karma theory or as you sow, so you reap belief) and if you remove them then it is no life at all. Imagine a life for everyone without hurdles of any type; it would be like a frictionless space where particles keep moving with no control what so ever. It would not call for any human effort and everything involuntary. It is a scary thought as life would then be long uncontrolled monotonous boredom. It is the challenges that invest some charm to life and overcoming them makes it interesting. There is also the touching faith in the Providence and hope in the heart that animates life.
How we overcome the hurdles differs from one to the other depending on our attitude towards obstacles, preparedness to meet them and our effort to overcome. But it is on this tripod rests the success or otherwise in life. Life indeed is a hurdle race.


Saturday, February 1, 2014

The company we keep

A wise woman who was traveling in the mountains found a precious stone in a stream. The next day she met another traveler who was hungry, and the wise woman opened her bag to share her food. The hungry traveler saw the precious stone and asked the woman to give it to him. She did so without hesitation. The traveler left, rejoicing at his good fortune. He knew the stone was worth enough to give him security for a lifetime.
But, a few days later, he came back to return the stone to the wise woman.
"I've been thinking," he said. "I know how valuable this stone is, but I give it back in the hope that you can give me something even more precious. Give me what you have within you that enabled you to give me this stone."
This short story from an unknown author tells us that sometimes it's not the material possessions one has but, what's inside the person that others would admire and possibly need. The compassion, generosity and the detachment to material things were some of the fine qualities that distinguished the wise woman from the ordinary.
It also tells that good and bad traits are infectious. They rub easily and quickly on us. The other traveler poor in circumstances needed wealth and unabashedly asked the woman for the precious gem. But it was her selfless instant giving without a second thought that overpowered his basic instinct to acquire. He was transformed by sheer example without a word being uttered. Such is the power of example that good souls exude.
There is a Vietnamese saying: “Close to the ink, you will be blackened; near the lamp, you will be lit up” That is why it is always stressed that we avoid bad and keep good company. The dictum to judge the man by the company he keeps stems from this belief that one is no different from his companions in his traits. ..”But if you’re gonna dine with them cannibals, sooner or later, darling, you’re gonna get eaten” said a quote humorously. It is our free choice to decide with whom to be accompanied and it is our right to choose with whom not to be around. Instead of surrounding ourselves with wicked, bitter or lazy people, let us be around positive, virtuous and inspiring people. Like the fragrance of sandal wood attaching to the hand that holds it, good company invariably changes us for the better.