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Swami Vivekananda & Organization

“Why is it that organization is so powerful? Do not say organization is material. Why is it, to take a case in point, that forty millions of Englishmen rule three hundred millions of people here? What is the psychological explanation? These forty millions put their wills together and that means infinite power, and you three hundred millions have a will each separate from the other. Therefore to make a great future India, the whole secret lies in organization, accumulation of power, co-ordination of wills.”

 I begin by quoting this passage from the Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda. This passage appears in his lecture ‘Future of India’ delivered by the great Swami in Chennai on 14th Feb 1897.

We see a few interesting points in the above passage:

The first thing to note is that here we have a spiritual giant of the stature of Swami Vivekananda discussing such a mundane idea as making a nation great! Isn’t that the job of politicians and diplomats? Isn’t that the job of the leaders of political parties? Isn’t that the job of leaders who have legislative power? Should a monk speak or think on these issues?

The second thing to note is – Swamiji says that the forty millions of Englishmen put their wills together. Did they, really? If so, how and why? Does history mention any such development where the forty million Englishmen of the 19th century came together and decided that they would put their wills together? None of the history books mentions such a development. Why is Swamiji mentioning this here?

The third thing to note is – Swamiji says here ‘Do not say organization is material’. Who said organization is material? Most of us don’t even know what organization means! Some of us perhaps think that organization means corporations, consisting of profit-minded executives; some perhaps even think that it refers to groups of people who come together for a particular cause, such as the organization for blacks’ rights, or organization for the economically deprived. Even if we do understand this word to mean something like that, who amongst us ever felt that organization is ‘material’?

The fourth thing to note is – in order to become a great nation, India needs to do only one thing! There is no need to do many things. Only one thing is necessary, says Swamiji. And that is – ‘Coordinate the wills of the Indians’.

Let us deal with each of these points one by one.

Why is a spiritual man, a monk, and that too, one of the stature of Swami Vivekananda, talking about the future of a nation, about making India great, about organization? Shouldn’t a monk confine himself to spiritual practices, to scriptural study, to rituals and spiritual ministration? Isn’t it wrong for a monk to deal with ideas such as those mentioned in this passage?

Well, traditionally, monks have dealt with such issues. Our country has had a marvelous history.[1] The social power structure has always been managed by the two upper castes – the Brahmins and the Kshatriyas. Between them, they ruled the people of this country. When the Kshatriyas lost touch with the ground reality and became too dictatorial, the Brahmins overthrew the Kshatriyas and took power into their hands. Same thing happened when the Brahmins lost touch with the ground reality and became arrogantly powerful and oppressed the people whom they ruled. It is because of this dipole power structure in India from ancient times that class struggle (so fondly studied by the Communist historians) never arose here.

Over and above the four castes of this unique social structure, there was one more group of people who outlawed themselves from this four-caste structure and stayed outside the society. They were the monks. This group of people were quite objective in their perceptions of society and were sensitive to the tilts in the power balance of the ancient Indian society. Since the monks were self-declared outlaws, they did not need patronage from anyone, neither the Brahmins nor the Kshatriyas. They would boldly point out the flaws in their functioning and warn them to correct themselves or get ready for an upheaval and overthrowing from power. Moreover, since monks themselves were not beneficiaries in the resulting social change, their observations and advices carried a great moral value. Repeatedly, this happened in Indian history. However, the unwritten norm of the Hindu monks has been that the monk could at most point out the flaw and then hands off! The monk would not engage in actually re-structuring the power equations in society. From time immemorial, it was considered one of the activities assigned to monks to point out the corrective measures that society needed to get back on track; and it was simultaneously considered anathema for monks to directly get involved in engaging in the political activities required for bringing about the prescribed social changes.

This is what we see Swamiji do here. He was able to see why Indians lived as slaves to a foreign power. He was able to see why a foreign power was able to enslave the Indians and rule over them. He was able to see how Indians could break themselves from the shackles of such foreign domination. But, he wouldn’t involve himself directly in any political activity required for breaking India free from foreign rule. He however delineated what was required for Indians to become a great nation, which included obtaining political freedom, educational self-reliance and economic superiority in the comity of nations. If we were concerned about our country’s future, we would heed these words of Swamiji and work as directed by him.

Swamiji says that the forty millions of Englishmen put their wills together. Did they, really?

The rise of the Joint Stock Companies in Europe, especially in Britain was a watershed event in the history of mankind. This event fueled the Industrial Revolution as much as the scientific discoveries did, if not more. Man knew a particular type of production until then. Production activity was largely localized. And it was confined to a small group of people who held the technical knowhow as a safely guarded secret. All of a sudden, the British were engaged in a new type of production that required enormous coordination of the activities of an enormous number of people across enormous physical distances. For instance, a large number of people were engaged in one part of the world in growing cotton. Once they had grown the cotton, it was all collected by another large group of people and transported across oceans to huge mills situated in some other part of the globe. Yet another large group of people ran these huge mills. They worked day and night to manufacture standardized cotton threads. These threads were then collected by yet another large group of people who were engaged in manufacturing clothes out of those yarns. One more large group of people then transported those clothes all over the world and handed them over to a different large of people who then sold them to end-users.

This was the main reason behind the rise of the organization in Britain. The cause was economic in nature. More and more number of people joined together in a particular enterprise. Large amounts of money and resources were pooled in. Huge amounts of things were manufactured in a short time. And the things thus manufactured were more often than not, very complex. As long as man confined himself to the old style of manufacturing, all he could produce was a bullock cart, or a horse drawn carriage. Once large number of people came together, as they did in Britain, man was able to produce a motor car. It is impossible to produce a modern motor car in the old style of production.

Whatever be the reason, the British had found out a way to get a large number of people to come together, pool in their money, resources and effort, and consequently multiply their individual strengths while cancelling out their individual weaknesses. This strange form of community activity was later on given the term organization. Thus, the root of the modern organization, as we know it today, is purely economic, purely material.

The point that Swamiji is trying to make here is – granted that the western world’s organization has purely materialistic roots, but, once an organization has been formed, it no longer remains a purely materialistic entity. Why is that so? The objectives of forming an organization may be to earn money, to wage wars and kill people and to conquer new regions. But what exactly is an organization? Is any motley group of people called an organization? If a group of people is to be considered an organization, there are certain important criteria. First, there has to be a group of people, who, amongst them have a wide variety of skills, talents, experiences and abilities. This allows for division of labor amongst them. Secondly, they have jointly agreed upon a common goal, or a common set of goals to be achieved. Thirdly, all of them pool in their resources, energies and time to work together in order to achieve those commonly set goals. Fourthly, their attitudes and behaviors are conditioned by commonly accepted norms. And lastly, all of them recognize that the group has an existence of its own, just as all of the individual members have an existence independent of one another. In other words, the group is considered as a living entity, just as the individual members are. And this existence is recognized in all the individual and collective activities and decisions of the group. These criteria show one very important characteristic: the existence of the organization, therefore, is not temporal. The existence of organization is in the minds of the members. The more the individuals get identified with this mental construct, the stronger that organization becomes. The individual members pour in their life-force into the sustenance and growth of this organization. That organization now develops a life of its own, as it were. It develops individuality, as it were. Long story short, it comes into existence. All that exists has Spirit as its basis. Hence, Swamiji says that we shouldn’t write off organizations as inconsequential by thinking it is a mere material entity.

These ideas that we have explored till now in this article lead to a wonderful theory, which have enormous ramifications on our actions and on our lives. Let us try to analyze that briefly:

Swamiji said to Sister Nivedita once[2], “That is precisely my position about Brahman and the gods! I believe in Brahman and the gods, and not in anything else!”…. You see, I cannot but believe that there is somewhere a great Power that thinks of Herself as feminine, and called Kali, and Mother. And I believe in Brahman too …But is it not always like that? Is it not the multitude of cells in the body that make up the personality, the many brain-centers, not the one, that produce consciousness?… Unity in complexity! Just so! And why should it be different with Brahman? It is Brahman. It is the One. And yet and yet it is the gods too!” Elsewhere he makes a significant statement about God: “….the only God that exists, the only God I believe in, the sum total of all souls[3]” It seems fairly clear to us now that Swamiji saw God as the sum-total of souls, apart from subscribing to the Impersonal aspect. When we extend this idea to an organization, we find that when a group of people come together, putting in their wills together for a common goal, no matter how trivial or mundane that goal be, in effect, there is a spiritual entity, a god, that is created!

This is a very powerful idea.

Our actions here have a repercussion on the spiritual realm! It has always been believed to be the other way around. It has always been held that some entities somewhere in an unapproachable spiritual realm decides that something should occur on earth, in our lives, and then we human beings act out that decision of the gods. This has been the commonly held belief. When we combine these three ideas of Swamiji – first, that organization is a spiritual entity; second, Reality is Personal as well as Impersonal; third, Personal God is the sum total of souls; – we arrive at a totally different conception of human actions. Gods may or may not influence our actions. But it is of much greater importance for us that our actions here influence the spiritual realm! By our actions, we can create new spiritual entities. If we decide to get together and combine our wills, we give rise to a new god! And that god needs to be worshipped. How? By our actions, again. Take an organization such as a factory. The moment you consider yourself a part of that organization, you are in the presence of a new god, the spiritual entity associated with that organization. You will need to worship that new god. Since this new god has a strange form, unlike a stone image, consisting of buildings and machinery and people and processes, your worship will have to be in consonance with this new form. Your so-called ‘work’ in that factory will be nothing but worship that the new god demands.

Some readers may object to the line of thought presented here, saying, I am blowing a simple idea of Swamiji out of all proportions. To answer such objections, let me quote one amazing statement of Swamiji: “Now we have a new India, with its new God, new religion, and new Vedas.[4]

This brings us to the fourth point: What India needs for a bright and strong future is just this – organization. People living in the geographical confines of India should feel identified with India. That is one organization Swamiji definitely wanted to take shape. All through history, people have populated this particular geographical region but have seldom felt identified with it as a Nation. Our identity has all along been to the religious and cultural mores of the sub-regions rather than to the abstract concept of a Nation.

The historic struggle for freedom from the British Rule in the early 20th century saw the development of national sense in us. The post-independence period in India however has done little to ensure that this national sense grows in the coming generations. The national sense grows along various lines in different cultures. The Civic sense is the basis in most western countries. In India, we do not see much hope along that line. A poor nation, habituated to hunger and squalor cannot be expected to appreciate the civic sense to any decent degree. Our hope lies in spiritualizing the abstract concept of the Nation. Swamiji makes a significant observation in a letter as follows: “But, excuse me if I say that it is sheer ignorance and want of proper understanding to think like that, namely, that our national ideal has been a mistake. First go to other countries and study carefully their manners and conditions with your own eyes – not with others’ – and reflect on them with a thoughtful brain, if you have it: then read your own scriptures, your ancient literature, travel throughout India, and mark the people of her different parts and their ways and habits with the wide-awake eye of an intelligent and keen observer – not with a fool’s eye – and you will see as clear as noonday that the nation is still living intact and its life is surely pulsating. You will find there also that, hidden under the ashes of apparent death, the fire of our national life is yet smoldering and that the life of this nation is religion, its language religion, and its idea religion; and your politics, society, municipality, plague-prevention work, and famine-relief work – all these things will be done as they have been done all along here, viz. only through religion; otherwise all your frantic yelling and bewailing will end in nothing, my friend![5]

India is a living goddess and She demands our worship. Won’t we respond? Extrapolating this idea further, every sub-structure within the nation is also a goddess (or a god, if you will). Every organization constituting the national economy is a living goddess. Let us worship these goddesses with the appropriate form of rituals. While a stone or marble image of a goddess called for the ritualistic dashopachara or shodashopachara puja, these new goddesses call for meaningful, systematic labor of our hands, heads and hearts. Let us please these modern goddesses, which are organizations, and allow our Nation to reach great heights of economic and social development simultaneously achieving our own spiritual unfoldment, ‘Atmano moksha jagaddhitashcha’.

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[1] Cf: Complete works of Swami Vivekananda: Vol-4: Modern India: An essay written for Udbodhan magazine, wherein Swami Vivekananda delineates this history in a masterly fashion, giving ample evidences from Indian history.

[2] Cf: Complete works of Sister Nivedita: Vol-1: Master as I saw him: Ramakrishna Sarada Mission, Kolkata: 1967: pg-118

[3] We can recall here the fact that Sri Ramakrishna used to go into Bhava Samadhi whenever he saw a gathering of people assembled for singing the praises of the Lord. Could it be that he perceived a vision in those cases, the vision of the spiritual entity corresponding to that group? See for instance, Cf: Sri Ramakrishna & His divine play: Swami Saradananda: Vedanta Society of St. Louis: 2003: pg 235 & pg 858.

[4] Cf: Complete works of Swami Vivekananda: Vol-7: Epistles: Letter No. XXXII, dated 27th April, 1896, written from Reading, USA to his brother disciples at Alambazar Math

[5] Cf: Complete works of Swami Vivekananda: Vol-5: Writings: Prose and Poems: The East And The West (Translated from Bengali) Chapter-I: Introduction

 

What Students Really Need to Hear[1]

It’s 4 a.m.  I’ve struggled for the last hour to go to sleep.  But, I can’t.  Yet again, I am tossing and turning, unable to shut down my brain.  Why?  Because I am stressed about my students.  Really stressed.  I’m so stressed that I can only think to write down what I really want to say — the real truth I’ve been needing to say — and vow to myself that I will let my students hear what I really think tomorrow.

This is what students really need to hear:

First, you need to know right now that I care about you. In fact, I care about you more than you may care about yourself.  And I care not just about your grades or your test marks, but about you as a person. And, because I care, I need to be honest with you. Do I have permission to be honest with you — both in what I say and how I say it?

Here’s the thing: I lose sleep because of you.  Every week.

Before I tell you why, you should understand the truth about school. You see, the main event of school is not academic learning. It never has been. It never will be. And, if you find someone who is passionate in claiming that it is about academics, that person is lying to himself or herself and may genuinely believe that lie. Yes, Physics, Manufacturing processes, Microprocessors, Concrete technology, Power systems — all are important and worth knowing. But they are not the main event.

The main event is learning how to deal with the harshness of life when it gets difficult — how to overcome problems as simple as a lost mobile, to critical classmates, to gossip, to people doubting you, to asking for help in the face of self-doubt, to pushing yourself to concentrate when a million other thoughts and temptations are pressing over you.

It is your resilience in conquering the main event — adversity — that truly prepares you for life after school. Because, mark my words, school is not the most challenging time you will have in life. You will face far greater challenges than these. Sure, you will have times more amazing than you can imagine, but you will also confront incomparable tragedy, frustration, and fear in the years to come.

But, you shouldn’t be worried about the fact that you will face great adversities. You should be worried because you’re setting yourself up to fail at overcoming them. Here’s the real reason I lose hours of sleep worrying about you: You are failing the main event of school. You are quitting.  You may not think you are quitting, but you are, because quitting wears many masks.

For example, you quit by throwing the day away and not even trying to write a sentence or solve a numerical because you think it doesn’t matter or you can’t or there’s no point. But it does. What you write is not the main event. The fact that you do take charge of your own fear and doubt in order to write when you are challenged — that is the main event.

Some of you quit by skipping class. Being punctual to fit the mold of the classroom is not the main event of attending class. The main event is delaying your temptation and investing in your own intelligence — understanding that sometimes short-term pain creates long-term gain and that great people make sacrifices for a greater good.

Another example of your quitting; you quit by being rude and disrespectful to adults in the college campus who ask you to come to class. Bowing to authority is not the main event. The main event is learning how to problem-solve maturely, not letting your judgement be tainted by the stains of emotion.

I see some of you quit by choosing not to take opportunities to work harder and pass a class, no matter how far down you are. The main event is not getting a number to tell you that you are worthy. The main event is pulling yourself together and making hard choices and sacrifices when things seem impossible.  It is finding hope in the hopeless, courage in the chasm, guts in the grave.

What you need to see is that every time you take the easy way out, you are building a habit of quitting. And it will destroy your future and it will annihilate your happiness if you let it.   Our society cares nothing for quitters.  Life will let you die alone, depressed, and poor if you can’t man up enough to deal with hardship.  You are either the muscle or the dirt.  You either take resistance and grow stronger or blow in the wind and erode.

As long as you are in my life, I am not going to let quitting be easy for you.  I am going to challenge you, confront you, push you, and coach you.  You can whine.  You can throw a tantrum.  You can shout and swear and stomp and cry.  And the next day, guess what?  I will be here waiting — smiling and patient — to give you a fresh start.  Because you are worth it.

So, do yourself a favor: Step up.  No more excuses.  No more justifications.  No blaming.  No quitting.  Just pick your head up.  Rip the cords out of your ears.  Grab the pen and let’s do this.

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[1] Posted on the internet by a teacher named Mr Chase Mielke on 8th March, 2014

Sri Ramakrishna and Prayer

What is the way?

Let me start by asking a question: Sri Ramakrishna has said so many things in the Gospel pertaining to spiritual life. If we ask, what is the one spiritual practice that he has emphasized again and again for all of us, what would be your answer?

Let us take a look at the Gospel to get the answer. By far the most common question asked of Sri Ramakrishna was ‘Sir, what is the way?’ I give below a sample list of Sri Ramakrishna’s answer to this question. Let us look at the following 12 instances recorded in the Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna and analyze the answers that Sri Ramakrishna gave to different people who asked him this momentous question:

  1. A Devotee: “Then what is the way, sir?”

Master : “Prayer and the company of holy men.[1]

  1. A Marwari Devotee: “Sir, what is the way?”

 Master: “There are two ways. One is the path of discrimination; the other is that of love. Discrimination means to know the distinction between the Real and the unreal. God alone is the real and permanent Substance; all else is illusory and impermanent. The magician alone is real; his magic is illusory. This is discrimination.

Marwari Devotee: “Revered sir, you just mentioned two paths. What is the other path?”

Master: “The path of bhakti, or zealous love of God. Weep for God in solitude, with a restless soul, and ask Him to reveal Himself to you. Cry to your Mother Syama with a real cry, O mind! And how can She hold Herself from you? “[2]

  1. A Vaishnava goswami was seated in the room. The Master said to him: “Well, what do you say? What is the way?”

Goswami: “Sir, the chanting of God’s name is enough. The scriptures emphasize the sanctity of God’s name for the Kaliyuga.”

Master: “Yes, there is no doubt about the sanctity of God’s name. But can a mere name achieve anything, without the yearning love of the devotee behind it? One should feel great restlessness of soul for the vision of God. Suppose a man repeats the name of God mechanically, while his mind is absorbed in ‘woman and gold’. Can he achieve anything? Mere muttering of magic words doesn’t cure one of the pain of a spider or scorpion sting. One must also apply the smoke of burning cow-dung.”[3]

  1. A Brahmo Devotee: “Sir, what is the way?”

Master: “Attachment to God, or, in other words, love for Him. And secondly, prayer.”

Brahmo Devotee: “Which one is the way— love or prayer?”

Master: “First love, and then prayer.”[4]

  1. Devotee: “Now, sir, what is the way?”

Master: “It is extremely difficult to practise spiritual discipline and at the same time lead a householder’s life. There are many handicaps: disease, grief, poverty, misunderstanding with one’s wife, and disobedient, stupid, and stubborn children. I don’t have to give you a list of them. But still there is a way out. One should pray to God, going now and then into solitude, and make efforts to realize Him.” [5]

  1. A Devotee: “Then what is the way for those who have not seen God? Must they give up all the duties of the world?”

Master: “The best path for this age is bhaktiyoga, the path of bhakti prescribed by Narada : to sing the name and glories of God and pray to Him with a longing heart, ‘O God, give me knowledge, give me devotion, and reveal Thyself to me!’ The path of karma is extremely difficult. Therefore one should pray: ‘O God, make my duties fewer and fewer; and may I, through Thy grace, do the few duties that Thou givest me without any attachment to their results! May I have no desire to be involved in many activities!’ It is not possible to give up work altogether. Even to think or to meditate is a kind of work. As you develop love for God, your worldly activities become fewer and fewer of themselves. And you lose all interest in them. Can one who has tasted a drink made of sugar candy enjoy a drink made of ordinary molasses?”[6]

  1. A Devotee: “Sir, what is the way?”

Master: “Discrimination between the Real and the unreal. One should always discriminate to the effect that God alone is real and the world unreal. And one should pray with sincere longing[7]

  1. Mahendra: “Then what is the way?”

Master: “No salvation is possible for a man as long as he has desire, as long as he hankers for worldly things. Therefore fulfil all your desires regarding food, clothes, and sex. (Smiling) What do you say about the last one? Legitimate or illegitimate? (M. and Mahendra laugh.)

        Prior to this conversation, Sri Ramakrishna had answered Mahendra’s question, “Why does one slip from the path of Yoga?” as follows: While thinking of God the aspirant may feel a craving for material enjoyment. It is this craving that makes him slip from the path…”[8]

While Sri Ramakrishna goes on to tell Mahendra and M that the smaller, harmless desires for enjoyment can be fulfilled by the devotee, elsewhere, in other conversations, he instructs that the bigger ones, the really fundamental desires should be eliminated by prayer to God. For instance: Say to God with a guileless heart, ‘O God, reveal thyself to me.’ And weep. Pray to God, ‘O God, keep my mind away from “woman and gold”.’ And dive deep.[9] The obstacle to Yoga is “woman and gold”. Yoga is possible when the mind becomes pure…what are the spiritual disciplines that give the mind its upward direction? One learns all this by constantly living in holy company…In order to renounce, one must pray to God for the will-power to do so.[10]

  1. Trailokya: “What is the way to dry up the craving for worldly pleasure?”

Master: “Pray to the Divine Mother with a longing heart. Her vision dries up all craving for the world and completely destroys all attachment to ‘woman and gold’. It happens instantly if you think of Her as your own mother. She is by no means a godmother. She is your own mother. With a yearning heart persist in your demands on Her. The child holds to the skirt of its mother and begs a penny of her to buy a kite. Perhaps the mother is gossiping with her friends. At first she refuses to give the penny and says to the child: ‘No, you can’t have it. Your daddy has asked me not to give you money. When he comes home I’ll ask him about it. You will get into trouble if you play with a kite now.’ The child begins to cry and will not give up his demand. Then the mother says to her friends: ‘Excuse me a moment. Let me pacify this child.’ Immediately she unlocks the cash-box with a click and throws the child a penny.  “You too must force your demand on the Divine Mother. She will come to you without fail.[11]

  1. Host: “Revered sir, what is the way for us?”

Master: “Chanting the name and glories of God, living in the company of holy men, and earnestly praying to God.”[12]

  1. Musician: “Sir, what is the way to realize God?”

Master: ” Bhakti is the one essential thing…It is enough to have yearning for God. It is enough to love Him and feel attracted to Him: Don’t you know that God is the Inner Guide? He sees the longing of our heart and the yearning of our soul. Suppose a man has several sons. The older boys address him distinctly as ‘Baba’ or ‘Papa’, but the babies can at best call him ‘Ba’ or ‘Pa’. Now, will the father be angry with those who address him in this indistinct way? The father knows that they too are calling him, only they cannot pronounce his name well. All children are the same to the father. Likewise, the devotees call on God alone, though by different names. They call on one Person only. God is one, but His names are many.”[13]

  1. Girish: “What is the way for people like us?”

Master: “Bhakti is the only essential thing. Bhakti has different aspects: the sattvic, the rajasic, and the tamasic. One who has sattvic bhakti is very modest and humble. But a man with tamasic bhakti is like a highwayman in his attitude toward God. He says: ‘O God, I am chanting. Your name; how can I be a sinner? O God, You are my own Mother; You must reveal your-self to me.'”[14]

Notice how, in each case, Sri Ramakrishna adds that prayer is essential for us to achieve our spiritual goal.

There is a very interesting conversation recorded on 15th June 1884. There was a major celebration in Surendra’s house and many devotees had gathered. Sri Ramakrishna stayed there for the whole day. Around 2pm, Pratap Chandra Mazumdar, a co-worker of Keshab Chandra Sen in the Brahmo Samaj arrived and joined the celebrations. He asks Sri Ramakrishna a most interesting question: “Revered Sir, are those living with you making progress in spiritual life?” Sri Ramakrishna gives a wonderful reply, words which form the credo of all devotees of Ramakrishna Mission, so to say. He says, “I tell people that there is nothing wrong in the life of the world. But they must live in the world as a maidservant lives in her master’s house.  Referring to her master’s house, she says, ‘That is our house.’ But her real home is perhaps in a far-away village. Pointing out her master’s house to others, she says, no doubt, ‘This is our house’, but in her heart she knows very well that it doesn’t belong to her and that her own house is in a faraway village. She brings up her master’s son and says, ‘My Hari has grown very naughty’, or ‘My Hari doesn’t like sweets.’ Though she repeats, ‘My Hari’ with her lips, yet she knows in her heart that Hari doesn’t belong to her, that he is her master’s son.  Thus I say to those who visit me: ‘Why don’t you live in the world? There is no harm in that. But always keep your mind on God. Know for certain that house, family and property are not yours. They are God’s. Your real home is in God.’ Also I ask them to pray always with a longing heart for love of God’s Lotus Feet.[15]

We must refer to the authoritative book by Swami Saradananda, Sri Ramakrishna and His Divine Play to understand the value of this most interesting conversation. Swami Saradananda writes:[16]

After he had attained perfection in various Sadhanas, the Master had many unique intuitive perceptions. Some of them were related to himself and others to spirituality in general:

  1. He is an incarnation of God.
  2. There is no liberation for him.
  3. He knew the time of his death.
  4. All religions are true: as many faiths, so many paths.
  5. Human beings adopt dualism, qualified non-dualism and non-dualism according to their temperaments.
  6. Ordinary people will progress through karma yoga
  7. A religious organization based on this catholic attitude should be founded.

Regarding the 6th perception, Swami Saradananda elaborates: The Master indicated the limits of action when he said, “The action of a sattvic person drops off automatically. He cannot work even if he tries to; the Lord does not allow him to work. It is just as when a young wife advances in pregnancy. She is given less and less work to do; and when the child is born, she gives up household work altogether and is busied exclusively with the infant. But an ordinary person must try to do his duties with detachment, depending on the Lord, like the maidservant who does everything for her master, knowing in her heart that her home is elsewhere. This is known as karma yoga. As far as possible one should take the name of the Lord and meditate on Him while discharging one’s everyday duties in an unattached way.”[17]

Prayer is thus an integral part of karma yoga, the path for the present age, as revealed by the Divine Mother of the Universe to Sri Ramakrishna. Prayer is therefore an integral part of Sri Ramakrishna’s Mission on earth. Everyone works in this world. What distinguishes work from karma yoga is prayer.

Further, there are instances in the Gospel where Sri Ramakrishna most emphatically states that prayer alone is enough for achieving one’s spiritual goal. He also very forcefully states that prayer done under certain conditions will certainly be heard by God. For instance: “Let me assure you that a man can realize his Inner Self through sincere prayer.”[18] “One should pray to God with a longing heart. God certainly listens to prayer if it is sincere. There is no doubt about it.”[19] “You will attain God if you sing His name and glories and pray to Him with a longing heart. There is not the least doubt about it.”[20]

Is this prescription of prayer only for married people? For, all the instances mentioned above seem to pertain only to householders. Well, look at what Sri Ramakrishna himself said while speaking with Pandit Shashadhar Tarkachudamani, “A devotee who can call on God while living a householder’s life is a hero indeed. God thinks: ‘He who has renounced the world for My sake will surely pray to Me. He must serve Me. Is there anything very remarkable about it? People will cry shame on him if he fails to do so. But he is blessed indeed who prays to Me in the midst of his worldly duties. He is trying to find Me, overcoming a great obstacle – pushing away, as it were, a huge block of stone weighing a ton. Such a man is a real hero.’”[21] Again while speaking with Nanda Bose, Sri Ramakrishna said, “Though you are a householder, still you have kept your mind on God. Is that a small thing? The man who has renounced the world will pray to Him as a matter of course. Is there any credit in that? But blessed indeed is he who, while leading a householder’s life, prays to God. He is like a man who finds an object after removing a stone weighing twenty maunds.”[22] So, prayer is meant for all spiritual aspirants, monastic or married.

In fact, the tremendous feeling Sri Ramakrishna had for the married devotees is simply amazing! Just look at this particular prayer he once offered to the Divine Mother on behalf of the married devotees. It is unparalleled in all religious history! I quote from the Gospel entry for 5th Jan 1884:

The Master was weeping and praying to the Mother in a voice choked with emotion. He prayed to Her with tearful eyes for the welfare of the devotees: “Mother, may those who come to You have all their desires fulfilled! But please don’t make them give up everything at once, Mother. Well, You may do whatever You like in the end. If You keep them in the world, Mother, then please reveal Yourself to them now and then. Otherwise, how will they live? How will they be encouraged if they don’t see You once in a while? But You may do whatever You like in the end.”[23]

It seems logical to conclude that prayer is indeed the universal spiritual practice that Sri Ramakrishna prescribed for all of us. Of course, he also prescribes many other spiritual practices – meditation, discrimination, chanting the names of God, Japa, singing His glories, holy company, austerity, even purascharana, etc. But the common feature in all his prescriptions is ‘Prayer’. Sri Ramakrishna seems to hold that prayer is alone necessary and sufficient means for achieving one’s goal in spiritual life. Of course, ‘conditions apply’! But let us first of all convince ourselves of the fact that prayer has been given utmost importance by Sri Ramakrishna as a spiritual practice.

He says, “It is enough to know that everything depends on the grace of God. But one must pray to God; it will not do to remain inactive. The lawyer gives all the arguments and finishes his pleading by saying to the judge: ‘I have said all I have to say. Now the decision rests with Your Honor.’”[24]

We need not complicate this simple advice of Sri Ramakrishna by analyzing further what prayer is and how to perform it. That is what scholars and philosophers do.[25] They take a simple statement or idea and complicate it so badly that people lose interest in it. Everyone knows how to pray. Everyone knows what prayer is. Sri Ramakrishna however describes some of his own prayers, which are unique in their content.[26] It is surprising to learn that he prayed for all sorts of things. We find him praying for bodily strength even! Every now and then, he would discover some habit of thought or behavior in himself, which he wanted to get rid of. What would he do? Pray to the Divine Mother! That was his method. Again, he would develop a fancy for a particular spiritual state. His method would be to pray to the Divine Mother. For anything and everything, we find Sri Ramakrishna praying to the Divine Mother. I point this out because, in most places in the Gospel, we find Sri Ramakrishna exhorting that we must pray for knowledge, devotion and Love. But he himself had prayed for anything that he wanted, not just for knowledge, devotion and Love. So, basically, prayer is the default state of mind of a spiritual aspirant; that is what we learn from Sri Ramakrishna.

How to pray?

Everyone prays. In fact, anyone who has passed through the modern education system will automatically learn how to pray! But prayer is an art that can be developed to great heights. It is a skill in which we can become better and better. Sri Ramakrishna shows the way how this can be done. He lists out a whole set of qualities of mind and heart that embellish prayer. With each of these qualities, the efficacy of our prayer increases.

  1. Spontaneous, earnest and sincere: Prayer has to be from the heart, spontaneous. Prayer cannot be tutored. You cannot copy prayer. It has to be earnest. Earnest prayer is real prayer. Sri Ramakrishna says, “There is another way: earnestly praying to God. God is our very own. We should say to Him: ‘O God, what is Thy nature? Reveal Thyself to me. Thou must show Thyself to me; for why else hast Thou created me?’[27] “One must pray earnestly. It is said that one can realize God by directing to Him the combined intensity of three attractions, namely, the child’s attraction for the mother, the husband’s attraction for the chaste wife, and the attraction of worldly possessions for the worldly man.”[28] “(The way is) chanting the names & glories of God, living in the company of holy men, and earnestly praying to God…Pray to Rama. Meditate on Him. He will certainly provide you with everything.”[29] “He who is a real devotee of God seeks nothing but God. If he finds himself entangled in too much work, he earnestly prays, ‘Lord, be gracious and reduce my work; my mind, which should think of Thee day and night, has been wasting its power; it thinks of worldly things alone.’”[30]

Prayer has to be sincere. There has to be longing in the heart that prays. That is when prayer becomes efficacious. Sri Ramakrishna says, “A man may call on God by any name; if he is sincere in his prayer he will certainly reach Him. He will succeed if he has longing.”[31] “Let me assure you that a man can realize his Inner Self through sincere prayer.”[32] “One should pray to God with a longing heart. God certainly listens to prayer if it is sincere. There is no doubt about it.”[33] “A man can realize God by following his own path if his prayer is sincere.”[34] “One should pray to God with sincere longing. God cannot but listen to prayer if it is sincere.”[35] “What will you gain by merely repeating ‘Siddhi’[36]? You will not be intoxicated even by gargling with a solution of siddhi. It must go into your stomach; not until then will you be intoxicated. One cannot comprehend what I am saying unless one prays to God in solitude, all by oneself, with a longing heart.”[37] “You will attain God if you sing His name and glories and pray to Him with a longing heart. There is not the least doubt about it.”[38] “(The way is) one should pray with sincere longing.”[39] “The best path for this age is bhakti yoga, the path of Bhakti prescribed by Narada. To sing the name and glories of God and pray to Him with a longing heart, ‘O God, give me knowledge, give me devotion, and reveal Thyself to me!’”[40] “…with love and longing in your heart pray to God, ‘O God, grant me devotion at Thy lotus feet and reduce my worldly duties. Please grant me the boon that the few duties I must do may be done in a detached spirit.’”[41]

“One must pray to God without any selfish desire. But selfish worship, if practiced with perseverance, is gradually turned into selfless worship. Dhruva practiced tapasya to obtain his kingdom, but at last he realized God. He said, ‘Why should a man give up gold if he gets it while searching for glass beads?’”[42] “You are no doubt in the world. What if you are? You must surrender the fruit of your action to God. You must not seek any result for yourself. But mark one thing. The desire for bhakti cannot be called a desire. You may desire bhakti and pray for it.”[43] “Pray to Him with a yearning heart, and weep. That will purify your heart…Pray to Brahman with attributes, who listens to your prayers, and He Himself will give you full Knowledge of Brahman; for that which is Brahman with attributes is verily Brahman without attributes, that which is Brahman is verily Sakti. One realizes this non-duality after the attainment of Perfect Knowledge. The Divine Mother gives Her devotee Brahmajnana too…God is our Inner Controller. Pray to Him with a pure and guileless heart. He will explain everything to you. Give up egotism and take refuge in Him. You will realize everything.”[44] “Whatever path you may follow, you must pray to God with a restless heart. He is the Ruler of the soul within. He will surely listen to your prayer if it is sincere. Whether you follow the ideal of the Personal God or that of the Impersonal Truth, you will realize God alone, provided you are restless for Him. A cake with icing tastes sweet whether you eat it straight or sidewise.”[45] “Why shouldn’t one realize God while living in the world? But…one must live in holy company, pray to God, weeping for His grace, and now and then go into solitude. Unless the plants on a foot-path are protected at first by fences, they are destroyed by cattle.”[46] “Can one know God through reasoning? Be His servant, surrender yourself to Him, and then pray to Him.”[47]

Once when Sri Ramakrishna had visited the house of a devotee called Devendra, the following conversation occurred: Sri Ramakrishna said, “The mother of a certain Mallick, who belonged to a very noble family, asked me if prostitutes would ever be saved. She herself had led that kind of life; that is why she asked the question. I said: ‘Yes, they too will be saved, if only they cry to God with a yearning heart and promise not to repeat their sins.’ What will the mere chanting of Hari’s name accomplish? One must weep sincerely.”[48]

Notice three things in the series of quotations made here: first, how emphatically Sri Ramakrishna insists that God does listen to prayer, if it is sincere, direct from the heart. Second, repeatedly Sri Ramakrishna points out that God can be realized while leading a married life; well, he goes much further and includes even the morally depraved! Third, he hints at a certain order regarding prayer – first of all become the Lord’s servant, then surrender to Him, and only then pray to Him. This gradation in the practice of prayer is important to note. This takes us to the next set of instructions that Sri Ramakrishna gave on prayer.

 

  1. A definite relationship with God: Sri Ramakrishna reveals a great secret regarding prayer. We need to develop a definite relationship with God for our prayers to become efficacious. There is a wonderful conversation between Pandit Shashadhar Tarkachudamani and Sri Ramakrishna recorded in the Gospel, from which I quote:

Pandit: Does God listen to our prayers?

Master: God is the Kalpataru, the Wish-fulfilling Tree. You will certainly get whatever you ask of Him. But you must pray standing near the Kalpataru. Only then will your prayer be fulfilled. (The conversation continues and then again, Sri Ramakrishna reiterates) God is the Kalpataru. One should pray standing near It. Then one will get whatever one desires.[49]

Again, during his meeting with the aristocrat of Baghbazar Nanda Bose, Sri Ramakrishna made the same statement:

Nanda: Is there no after-life? What about punishment for our sins?

Master: Why not enjoy your mangoes? What need have you to calculate about the after-life and what happens then, and things like that? Eat your mangoes. You need mangoes. You need devotion to God.

Nanda: But where is the mango-tree? Where do I get mangoes?

Master: Tree? God is the eternal and infinite Brahman. He does exist; there is no doubt about it. He is eternal. But you must remember this, that He is the Kalpataru. ‘Come, let us go for a walk, O mind, to Kali, the Wish-fulfilling Tree, and there beneath It gather the four fruits of life.’ You must go to the Kalpataru and pray. Only then will you obtain the fruits. Only then will the fruits fall from the tree. Only then will you be able to gather them.[50]

Look at this condition that Sri Ramakrishna puts for efficacy of our prayers; we need to stand near the Kalpataru; which means we need to place ourselves near God and then pray. What does this ‘standing near’ mean? Elsewhere, Sri Ramakrishna explains to M:

One should assume a particular attitude toward God while praying to Him – the attitude of friend or servant or son or hero. I assume the attitude of a child. To me every woman is my mother. The divine Maya, seeing this attitude in an aspirant, moves away from his path out of sheer shame. The attitude of hero is extremely difficult. The Saktas and the Bauls among the Vaishnavas follow it, but it is very hard to keep one’s spiritual life pure in that attitude. One can assume other attitudes toward God as well the attitude in which the devotee serenely contemplates God as the Creator, the attitude of service to Him, the attitude of friendship, the attitude of motherly affection, or the attitude of conjugal love. The conjugal relationship, the attitude of a woman to her husband or sweetheart, contains all the rest – serenity, service, friendship, and motherly affection. (Then he asks M) Which one of these appeals to your mind?[51]

This assuming a particular attitude towards God is what is meant by ‘standing near the Kalpataru’.

  1. Unceasing, and in secret: Sri Ramakrishna now ups the ante regarding prayer and goes one step further and exhorts that prayer ought to become continuous. Sporadic praying is but the beginning[52]. Gradually, the prayerful attitude ought to become constant in us. He uses words such as ‘always’ and ‘unceasing’ with regard to prayer. I quoted a conversation between a Brahmo devotee and Sri Ramakrishna in the beginning of this article. Let us look at that particular conversation in detail now.

A Brahmo Devotee: Sir, what is the way?

Master: Attachment to God, or, in other words, love for Him. And secondly, prayer.

Brahmo Devotee: Which one is the way – love or prayer?

Master: First love, and then prayer.

The Master sang:  Cry to your Mother Syama with a real cry, O mind! And how can She hold Herself from you? How can Syama stay away?

Continuing, the Master said: And one must always chant the name and glories of God and pray to Him. An old metal pot must be scrubbed every day. What is the use of cleaning it only once? Further, one must practice discrimination and renunciation; one must be conscious of the unreality of the world.

Brahmo: Is it good to renounce the world?

Master: Not for all. Those who have not yet come to the end of their enjoyments should not renounce the world. Can one get drunk on two annas’ worth of wine?

Brahmo: Then should they lead a worldly life?

Master: Yes, they should try to perform their duties in a detached way. Before you break the jack-fruit open, rub your hands with oil, so that the sticky milk will not smear them. The maidservant in a rich man’s house performs all her duties, but her mind dwells on her home in the country. This is an example of doing duty in a detached way. You should renounce the world only in mind. But a Sanyasi should renounce the world both inwardly and outwardly.[53]

When Sri Ramakrishna was returning to Dakshineswar after what was to be his last visit to Keshab Sen, he stopped at Jaygopal Sen’s house. Many people had gathered there. There was one neighbor of Jaygopal Sen who had an interesting conversation with Sri Ramakrishna, from which I quote:

Neighbor: You ask us, sir, to live in the world after knowing God. Can God really be known?

Master: God cannot be known by the sense-organs or by this mind, but He can be known by the pure mind, the mind that is free from worldly desires.

Neighbor: Who can know God?

Master: Right. Who can really know Him? But as for us, it is enough to know as much of Him as we need. What need have I of a whole well of water? One jar is more than enough for me. An ant went to a sugar hill. Did it need the entire hill? A grain or two of sugar was more than enough.

Neighbor: Sir, we are like typhoid patients. How can we be satisfied with one jar of water? We feel like knowing, the whole of God.

Master: That’s true. But there is also medicine for typhoid.

Neighbor: What is that medicine, sir?

Master: The company of holy men, repeating the name of God and singing His glories, and unceasing prayer. I prayed to the Divine Mother: ‘Mother, I don’t seek knowledge. Here, take Thy knowledge, take Thy ignorance. Give me only pure love for Thy Lotus Feet.’ I didn’t ask for anything else. As is the disease, so must the remedy be. The Lord says in the Gita: ‘O Arjuna, take refuge in Me. I shall deliver you from all sins.’ Take shelter at His feet: He will give you right understanding. He will take entire responsibility for you. Then you will get rid of the typhoid. Can one ever know God with such a mind as this? Can one pour four seers of milk into a one-seer pot? Can we ever know God unless He lets us know Him? Therefore I say, take shelter in God. Let Him do whatever He likes. He is self-willed. What power is there in a man?[54]

There is a marvelous conversation between some Marwari devotees and Sri Ramakrishna from which I quote:

You are merchants. You know how to improve your business gradually. Some of you start with a castor-oil factory. After making some money at that, you open a cloth shop. In the same way, one makes progress toward God. It may be that you go into solitude, now and then, and devote more time to prayer…One should always chant His name. Even while one is performing one’s duties, the mind should be left with God. Suppose I have a carbuncle on my back. I perform my duties, but the mind is drawn to the carbuncle.[55]

A closely related, but equally interesting quality Sri Ramakrishna specifies regarding prayer is secrecy! He says, “Pray to God in secret and with yearning, that you may have that passionate attachment and devotion to Him. Shed tears for Him. A man sheds a jugful of tears because his wife is sick or because he is losing money or because he is worrying about getting a job. But tell me, whoever weeps for God?’[56]

Notice how Sri Ramakrishna advices going into solitude every now and then, so that we could devote more time to prayer. This is apart from developing the habit of continuous, unceasing prayer even in the midst of our daily activities.

The reason Sri Ramakrishna exhorts us for praying unceasingly is this: If a man practices spiritual discipline before his death and if he gives up his body praying to God and meditating on Him, when will sin touch him? It is no doubt the elephant’s nature to smear his body with dust and mud, even after his bath. But he cannot do so if the mahout takes him into the stable immediately after his bath.[57] Death can catch up on us at any time. We need to face death with the Lord’s name on the top of our conscious mind. That is possible only if we have made a habit of praying ceaselessly.

What to pray for:

Again, we all know what to pray for; this knowledge is inherent in us. Or is it? There is no end to our desires. For all kinds of things, we pray. When we study the Gospel, we find that Sri Ramakrishna also has prayed for all kinds of things. But what is noteworthy is how Sri Ramakrishna emphasized that prayer is a powerful tool that should not be wasted on obtaining sundry things for ourselves. It is like using a powerful computer for only typing letters! The computer can do so much more. It can, in fact, manage the working of the entire company; while we end up only typing letters on it!

The question that comes up is this: Often we feel helpless and completely pressurized by the turn of events in our life. For instance, we have an illness, or one of our loved ones has a serious illness. We feel like praying for a cure. Or, we need a job; or need to pass an exam. Under such situations we automatically feel like praying. It might come as a surprise to you that Sri Ramakrishna endorses each of these cases!

When Sri Ramakrishna had visited Keshab Sen during his illness, Keshab’s mother had asked Sri Ramakrishna to pray for Keshab’s improvement of health. Sri Ramakrishna’s answer was quite uncharacteristic of his usual replies to such requests. He had said to Keshab’s mother, “Please pray to the Divine Mother, who is the Bestower of all bliss. She will take away your troubles.”[58] It is noteworthy that he asked Keshab’s mother to pray to God for such a mundane thing as her son’s health. There is a lesson in this for all of us. Quite often, the pressures of existence press down upon us and we feel lost. In such circumstances, it is perfectly alright to pray to God for even mundane things. Once during a conversation with Dr Mahendralal Sarkar, Sri Ramakrishna made the following observation: “Ah, what a splendid thing you said the other day! ‘We lie in the lap of God. To whom shall we speak about our illness if not to Him?’ If I must pray, I shall certainly pray to Him.” The Gospel mentions that as Sri Ramakrishna said these words, his eyes filled with tears.[59] We do not find Sri Ramakrishna castigating Dr Sarkar for making such a statement as ‘To whom shall we speak about our illness if not to Him?’ In fact, Sri Ramakrishna himself supports Dr Sarkar’s sentiment by adding “If I must pray (about curing my illness), I shall certainly pray to Him.”

A few days before shifting to Shyampukur, Dr Rakhal had come to treat Sri Ramakrishna. A conversation started in Sri Ramakrishna’s Dakshineswar room and M makes the following entry in the Gospel:

A Devotee: You will soon be cured if only you say to the Divine Mother, ‘Mother, please make me well.’

Master: I cannot ask God to cure my disease. The attitude of the servant-master relationship is nowadays less strong in me. Once in a while, I say, ‘O Mother, please mend the sheath of the sword a little.’ But such prayers are also becoming less frequent. Nowadays I do not find my ‘I’; I see that it is God alone who resides in this sheath.[60]

Most of us pray for personal things such as a job. What is Sri Ramakrishna’s instruction regarding such prayers? Although, in general, Sri Ramakrishna discouraged us from praying for jobs and such things, it is not that he was totally against such prayers. If the prayer were sincere, even if it was for such a mundane thing as a job, Sri Ramakrishna approved of it! Yes, this may sound a little off-color, but there is a reference to exactly such a thing in the Gospel.

One day, Sri Ramakrishna asks Adhar Sen, “Didn’t you get the job?” Adhar held the post of deputy magistrate, a government post that carried with it great prestige. He earned three hundred rupees a month. He had applied for the office of Vice-Chairman of the Calcutta Municipality. The salary attached to this office was one thousand rupees. In order to secure it, Adhar had interviewed many influential people in Calcutta.

Master (to M. and Niranjan ): Hazra said to me, ‘Please pray to the Divine Mother for Adhar, that he may secure the job.’ Adhar made the same request to me. I said to the Mother: ‘O Mother, Adhar has been visiting You. May he get the job if it pleases You.’ But at the same time I said to Her, ‘How small-minded he is! He is praying to You for things like that and not for Knowledge and Devotion.’ [61]

What a wonderful incident this is! Just observe the details and try to read between the lines here. How sympathetic to human weakness, Sri Ramakrishna is! Sri Ramakrishna says Hazra asked me to pray to the Divine Mother for Adhar’s promotion; later on, Adhar Sen himself asked for Sri Ramakrishna’s intervention; in both these cases, Sri Ramakrishna didn’t scold them away. He did pray to the Divine Mother for Adhar’s job! What an amazing thing! And then, an even more wonderful thing is – Sri Ramakrishna asks Adhar, “Didn’t you get the job?” You see, Sri Ramakrishna had prayed to the Mother for Adhar’s job; that prayer is certain to bear fruit; that is why he is inquiring!

But, the power of prayer would be wasted if these were all we prayed for. It is common knowledge that this world doesn’t change. We may pray for these things – good health, end of our present troubles – but soon, something new will crop up. It is an endless cycle. Hence, Sri Ramakrishna repeatedly exhorted us to pray for more lasting things. Thus we find Sri Ramakrishna generally discouraging us from praying for cure of illnesses, for a job, or for money.

So, we come back to our main question: What should we pray for? Sri Ramakrishna held prayer to be a powerful tool meant to assist us in our spiritual journey. Rest everything was important only insofar as they helped in this main objective. Look at this conversation from the Gospel:

Mahimacharan: By what kind of work can one realize God?

Master: It is not that God can be realized by this work and not by that. The vision of God depends on His grace. Still a man must work a little with longing for God in his heart. If he has longing he will receive the grace of God. To attain God a man must have certain favorable conditions: the company of holy men, discrimination, and the blessings of a real teacher. Perhaps his elder brother takes the responsibility for the family; perhaps his wife has spiritual qualities and is very virtuous; perhaps he is not married at all or entangled in worldly life. He succeeds when conditions like these are fulfilled.[62]

A study of the statements made by Sri Ramakrishna as recorded in the Gospel show us that there are two categories of things for which we should pray to God. One set of things is what we need removed from our personality. God’s intervention is needed there. The other set of things is what we need to develop in our personality. Again, God’s intervention is needed there. Both these negative and positive achievements lead to establishing the ‘favorable’ conditions that Sri Ramakrishna mentions.[63] Let us look at these two categories for which we need to pray.

Pratap Chandra Hazra is a strange character in the Gospel. He and Sri Ramakrishna had many differences of opinion. There is an interesting record in the Gospel in this regard, which clarifies our question, as to what is the aim of prayer:

Hazra entered the room and sat with the devotees on the floor. Hazra repeated now and then, “Soham! Soham!” (I am He! I am He!) To Latu and other devotees he often said, “What does one gain by worshipping God with offerings? That is merely giving Him things that are His already.” He had said this once to Narendra. The Master spoke to him about this.

Master: I explained to Latu, who the object of the devotee’s worship is.

Hazra: The devotee really prays to his own Self.

Master: What you say is a very lofty thought. The aim of spiritual discipline, of chanting God’s name and glories, is to realize just that. A man attains everything when he discovers his true Self in himself. The object of Sadhana is to realize that. That also is the purpose of assuming a human body. One needs the clay mould as long as the gold image has not been cast; but when the image is made, the mould is thrown away. The body may be given up after the realization of God. God is not only inside us; He is both inside and outside. The Divine Mother showed me in the Kali temple that everything is Chinmaya, the Embodiment of Spirit; that it is She who has become all this the image, myself, the utensils of worship, the door-sill, the marble floor. Everything is indeed Chinmaya. The aim of prayer, of spiritual discipline, of chanting the name and glories of God, is to realize just that.[64]

Thus, the one aim of prayer is to realize the divine inside and outside us.

While the overarching aim of prayer is realization of Self, Sri Ramakrishna instructs us to pray for getting rid of animal feelings and worldly attachments, for not being born again in this world, and for reducing our duties in our life so that our prayers become really efficacious.

Addressing Bankim Chandra, Sri Ramakrishna said, “…Like the swan are those who think of God, who pray day and night to get rid of their attachment to worldly things and their love for ‘woman and gold’, who do not enjoy anything except the nectar of the Lotus Feet of the Lord, and to whom worldly pleasures taste bitter…After the birth of one or two children, husband and wife should live as brother and sister and talk only of God. Then both their minds will be drawn to God, and the wife will be a help to the husband on the path of spirituality. None can taste divine bliss without giving up his animal feeling. A devotee should pray to God to help him get rid of this feeling.”[65] Elsewhere, Sri Ramakrishna says, “Do you know the significance of the Siva emblem? It is the worship of the symbols of fatherhood and motherhood. The devotee worshipping the image prays, ‘O Lord, please grant that I may not be born into this world again; that I may not have to pass again through a mother’s womb.’”[66] Another unique theme Sri Ramakrishna introduced is prayer for reducing our duties. For instance, “Now you should pray to God that your worldly duties may be reduced.”[67]

Now, this sense of duty is a bugbear with all of us; we can’t live with it, nor can we live without it. For most of us, a sense of duty is indispensable for our personal growth. Society prescribes two kinds of duty for all of us: duty that arises from our innate tendencies, and duty that entails upon us from our social obligations. Both of these have to be reduced so that more and more time can be devoted to spiritual practices prescribed by the Guru. To Shambhu Charan Mallik, Sri Ramakrishna famously said, “When you realize God, will you pray to Him, ‘O God, please grant that I may dig reservoirs, build roads, and found hospitals and dispensaries’? …Then mustn’t one perform acts of compassion, such as charity to the poor? I do not forbid it. If a man has money, he should give it to remove the sorrows and sufferings that come to his notice. In such an event the wise man says, ‘Give the poor something.’ But inwardly he feels, ‘What can I do? God alone is the Doer. I am nothing.’” [68]

Just observe the nuance here! The attitude we entertain towards the social obligations we have is most important. This prayer for reducing our worldly duties is meant to awaken this attitude in us.

Closely associated with this sense of worldly duties is the bond of marriage. Sri Ramakrishna’s advice in this regard is extremely valuable, and it is something that the present society stands direly in need of. Listen to Sri Ramakrishna’s words addressed to Dr Mahendralal Sarkar:

Master (To the doctor): The renunciation of ‘woman and gold’ is meant for the Sannyasin. He must not look even at the picture of a woman. Do you know what a woman is to a man? She is like spiced pickle. The very thought of pickle brings water to the tongue; it doesn’t have to be brought near the tongue. But this renunciation is not meant for householders like you. It is meant only for Sannyasins. You may live among women, as far as possible in a spirit of detachment. Now and then you must retire into solitude and think of God. Women must not be allowed there. You can lead an unattached life to a great extent if you have faith in God and love for Him. After the birth of one or two children a married couple should live as brother and sister. They should then constantly pray to God that their minds may not run after sense pleasures anymore and that they may not have any more children.[69]

Simultaneously with praying for removing these negatives traits from our personality, we ought to pray for bhakti, devotion, faith, pure love and discrimination. The references in the Gospel for such prayers or instructions for such prayers are really numerous.[70] In fact, the main strain of Sri Ramakrishna’s instructions on prayer is to obtain these things – Bhakti, devotion, faith, pure love and Discrimination.

Whom to pray to?

The last portion of our discussion concerns whom we have to address our prayers to. The obvious answer is – God. But, we who are devotees of the Ramakrishna Mission have a much more specific mandate. We can pray to Sri Ramakrishna. When Swami Vivekananda dictated the ‘Math Rules’ to Swami Shuddhananda, he included the following observation there: The Lord has not yet given up the Ramakrishna form…this Form will last until He comes again in another gross Body. Though He is not visible to all – that He is in this Sangha and is guiding it is a fact of everybody’s experience. Otherwise such a world-wide movement could never have been set on foot in so short a time by this handful of insignificant, helpless and persecuted boys. This truth forms the basis of our assertion that as devotees of Ramakrishna Sangha, we can pray to Sri Ramakrishna. Furthermore, there are recorded instances in Sri Ramakrishna’s life which lend credence to this assertion of ours. Let us look at the following three instances to understand this:

1st incident: I quote from the Gospel:

Evening worship was over in the temples…It was now late in the evening and time for M.’s departure; but he felt reluctant to go and instead went in search of Sri Ramakrishna. He had been fascinated by the Master’s singing and wanted to hear more. At last he found the Master pacing alone in the natmandir in front of the Kali temple. A lamp was burning in the temple on either side of the image of the Divine Mother. The single lamp in the spacious natmandir blended light and darkness into a kind of mystic twilight, in which the figure of the Master could be dimly seen. M. had been enchanted by the Master’s sweet music. With some hesitation he asked him whether there would be any more singing that evening. “No, not tonight”, said Sri Ramakrishna after a little reflection. Then, as if remembering something, he added: “But I’m going soon to Balaram Bose’s house in Calcutta. Come there and you’ll hear me sing.” M. agreed to go.

Master: Do you know Balaram Bose?

M: No, sir. I don’t.

Master : He lives in Bosepara.

M: Well, sir, I shall find him.

As Sri Ramakrishna walked up and down the hall with M., he said to him: “Let me ask you something. What do you think of me?” M. remained silent. Again Sri Ramakrishna asked: “What do you think of me? How many annas of knowledge of God have I?”  M: “I don’t understand what you mean by ‘annas’. But of this I am sure: I have never before seen such knowledge, ecstatic love, faith in God, renunciation, and catholicity anywhere.”  The Master laughed. M. bowed low before him and took his leave. He had gone as far as the main gate of the temple garden when he suddenly remembered something and came back to Sri Ramakrishna, who was still in the natmandir. In the dim light the Master, all alone, was pacing the hall, rejoicing in the Self — as the lion lives and roams alone in the forest.  In silent wonder M. surveyed that great soul.

Master (to M.): What makes you come back?

M: Perhaps the house you asked me to go to belongs to a rich man. They may not let me in. I think I had better not go. I would rather meet you here.

Master : Oh, no! Why should you think that? Just mention my name. Say that you want to see me; then someone will take you to me.[71]

Although this is a simple statement made by Sri Ramakrishna to M, in the context of a very particular situation, we can indeed read a whole lot of meaning into it. In fact, Swami Chetanananda makes the following observation in this regard:

‘Just mention my name – then someone will take you to me,’ is a significant, hopeful statement. He is telling not only M, but all lost and confused people of the world how to reach him. Doors will open in all directions for anyone who repeats his name – whether it is a wealthy man’s mansion, or a poor man’s cottage, or the labyrinth of the world. As a prince has free access to any room in the palace and the gatekeepers open the door for him with a salute, so Mahamaya opens the door of liberation for the disciples and devotees of an Avatar. The Avatar is the ruler of Maya.[72]

2nd incident:

On 1st January 1886 Sri Ramakrishna became the Kalpataru and blessed his devotees saying “Be illumined”. Navagopal Ghosh was not there at that time. When he came to Cossipore later on that day, Ram Chandra Dutta told him, “Hello, Sir, what are you doing? The Master has become a Kalpataru today. Please go to him right now. If you have anything to ask for, this is the right time.” Navagopal rushed to the Master and, bowing down to him, asked, “Master, what will happen to me?”

After a little pause, the Master asked, “Will you be able to practice a little Japa and Meditation?”

Navagopal replied, “I am a family man with several children. Moreover, I am very busy with my various household duties and taking care of my family members. Where is the time to practice spiritual disciplines?”

The Master kept quiet for a while and then said, “Can’t you even repeat the Lord’s name a few times regularly?”

“I don’t have time, Master.”

“All right! Will you be able to repeat my name a few times?”

“Yes, that I can do.”

Then the Master said, “That will do. You will not have to do anything else.”[73]

3rd incident:

In the life of Mathurnath Biswas, we find yet another totally unexpected aspect regarding prayer and Sri Ramakrishna. I quote from Swami Chetanananda’s book ‘They lived with God’:

Whenever Mathur was in trouble, he would go straight to Sri Ramakrishna in Dakshineswar for help. Once he ordered his guards to take part in a brutal gang fight with the guards of a rival landlord. When the news reached him that a man had been killed, Mathur came to his senses and realized that he would be prosecuted. He pleaded with the Master to save him. Sri Ramakrishna rebuked him, saying, “Rascal, you will create a row every day and come and cry, ‘Save me!’ What can I do? Go and suffer the consequences.” But at last, seeing Mathur’s deep anguish, the Master said, “Well, it will be as Mother wills.” Mathur escaped arrest.[74]

This is an amazing incident, indeed! Sri Ramakrishna is almost telling us, as it were, ‘Why don’t you inform me? Why don’t you just drop in a word? I can set things right for you!’

In this connection, we find the following observation of Swami Saradananda in Sri Ramakrishna and his Divine Play: (Mathur) also noticed that when faced with the Master’s keen insight, insincerity could not remain hidden behind its façade. If a person, after committing any sinful act – even murder – frankly and sincerely took refuge in the Master, he lovingly accepted that person and forgave all misdeeds. He endowed that person with the power to recognize and realize the higher ideal. The impossible became possible by virtue of the mysterious power that worked though the Master.[75]

We see a vivid example of this observation by Swami Saradananda in the following extract from the Gospel:

Gradually he came down to the consciousness of the outer world. Still in a spiritual mood, he began to talk, sometimes addressing the devotees, sometimes the Divine Mother.

Master: Mother, please attract him to Thee. I can’t worry about him anymore.

(To M) My mind is inclined a little to your brother-in-law.

(To Girish) You utter many abusive and vulgar words; but that doesn’t matter. It is better for these things to come out. There are some people who fall ill on account of blood-poisoning; the more the poisoned blood finds an outlet, the better it is for them. At the time when the upadhi of a man is being destroyed, it makes a loud noise, as it were. Wood crackles when it burns; there is no more noise when the burning is over.  You will be purer day by day. You will improve very much day by day. People will marvel at you. I may not come many more times; but that doesn’t matter. You will succeed by yourself.

The Master’s spiritual mood became very intense. Again he talked to the Divine Mother.

Master: Mother, what credit is there in making a man good who is already good? O Mother, what wilt Thou accomplish by killing one who is already dead? Only if Thou canst kill a person who is still standing erect wilt Thou show Thy glory.[76]

Just look at these words of Sri Ramakrishna! This is the power that he has unleashed amongst us by his unique life. He has unleashed the infinite power of God to work wonders in our lives! Let us have faith in this fact. Swami Vivekananda asks us pointedly to have faith in this unique achievement of Sri Ramakrishna. In an undated letter to his brother disciples written from USA in 1894, he writes: It won’t do merely to call Shri Ramakrishna an Incarnation, you must manifest power. This is also what Swami Shivanandaji meant when he said that Sri Ramakrishna had awakened the Brahma-Kundalini by his Sadhana.

Although Sri Ramakrishna has indeed unleashed this unprecedented power, there is one little thing we ought to do. And that is pray. I end this discussion by quoting a poignant extract from the Gospel, which reveals the innermost feelings of Sri Ramakrishna in this regard:

Master: That is why I say that work is necessary. It will not do to say that God exists and then idle away your time. You must reach God somehow or other. Call on Him in solitude and pray to Him, ‘O Lord! reveal Thyself to me.’ Weep for Him with a longing heart. You roam about in search of ‘woman and gold’ like a madman; now be a little mad for God. Let people say, ‘This man has lost his head for God.’ Why not renounce everything for a few days and call on God in solitude? What will you achieve by simply saying that God exists and doing nothing about it? There are big fish in the Haldarpukur; but can you catch them by merely sitting idly on the bank? Prepare some spiced bait and throw it into the lake. Then the fish will come from the deep water and you will see ripples. That will make you happy. Perhaps a fish will jump with a splash and you will get a glimpse of it. Then you will be so glad!  Milk must be turned to curd and the curd must be churned. Only then will you get butter. (To Mahima) What a nuisance! Someone must show God to a man, while he himself sits idly by all the while! Someone must extract the butter and hold it in front of his mouth! (All laugh.) What a bother! Someone else must catch the fish and give it to him! A man wanted to see the king. The king lived in the inner court of the palace, beyond seven gates. No sooner did the man pass the first gate than he exclaimed, ‘Oh, where is the king?’ But there were seven gates, and he must pass them one after another before he could see the king.[77]

 

***************

[1] Cf: The Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna: Tr. Swami Nikhilananda: 2002: Sri Ramakrishna Math, Madras: Pg.: 96

[2] Ibid: Pg.: 179

[3] Ibid: Pg.: 190

[4] Ibid: Pg.: 215

[5] Ibid: Pg.: 326

[6] Ibid: Pg.: 452-53

[7] Ibid: Pg.: 385

[8] Ibid: Pg.: 534

[9] Ibid: Pg.: 291-292

[10] Ibid: Pg.: 401

[11] Ibid: Pg.: 629

[12] Ibid: Pg.: 640

[13] Ibid: Pg.: 111

[14] Ibid: Pg.: 702

[15] Ibid: Pg.: 456-57

[16] Cf: Sri Ramakrishna and His Divine Play; Swami Saradananda; 2003; Vedanta Society of St. Louis: Pg.:361

[17] Ibid: Pg.: 362

[18] Cf: The Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna: Tr. Swami Nikhilananda: 2002: Sri Ramakrishna Math, Madras: Pg.: 256

[19] Ibid: Pg.: 257

[20] Ibid: Pg.: 171

[21] Ibid: Pg.: 471

[22] Ibid: Pg.: 821

[23] Ibid: Pg.: 381

[24] Ibid: Pg.: 599

[25] Sri Ramakrishna tells M: You have no need of many opinions and discussions. You have come to the orchard to eat mangoes. Enjoy them to your heart’s content. You don’t need to count the branches and leaves on the trees. Ibid: Pg.: 506

[26] There are innumerable instances in the Gospel where Sri Ramakrishna mentions how he used to pray. These prayers are unique in their content. A separate article dealing with them will be published shortly on http://www.scribd.com & https://wordpress.com/posts/vedatitananda.wordpress.com

[27] Ibid: Pg.: 96

[28] Ibid: Pg.: 244

[29] Ibid: Pg.: 640

[30] Ibid: Pg.: 671

[31] Ibid: Pg.: 306

[32] Ibid: Pg.: 256

[33] Ibid: Pg.: 257

[34] Ibid: Pg.: 596

[35] Ibid: Pg.: 703

[36] Siddhi: It is the colloquial name for Marijuana or Hemp, an intoxicant used liberally by Tantric spiritual aspirants.

[37] Ibid: Pg.:844

[38] Ibid: Pg.:171

[39] Ibid: Pg.:385

[40] Ibid: Pg.:452

[41] Ibid: Pg.:454

[42] Ibid: Pg.:379

[43] Ibid: Pg.:612

[44] Ibid: Pg.:636

[45] Ibid: Pg.:867

[46] Ibid: Pg.:98

[47] Ibid: Pg.:106: This was Sri Ramakrishna’s advice to Vidyasagar.

[48] Ibid: Pg.:740

[49] Ibid: Pg.:481

[50] Ibid: Pg.:820

[51] Ibid: Pg.:377

[52] Cf for instance Sri Ramakrishna’s advice: At dusk put aside all duties and pray to God. One is reminded of Him by darkness. At the approach of darkness one thinks: ‘I could see everything a moment ago. Who has brought about this change?’ The Mussalmans put aside all activities and say their prayers at the appointed times. Ibid: Pg.:588

[53] Ibid: Pg.:215

[54] Ibid: Pg.:328-29

[55] Ibid: Pg.:162

[56] Ibid: Pg.:627-28

[57] Ibid: Pg.:912

[58] Ibid: Pg.:323

[59] Ibid: Pg.:923

[60] Ibid: Pg.:846

[61] Ibid: Pg.:518

[62] Ibid: Pg.:646

[63] In this connection, please see the article A Devotee’s Contract on http://www.scribd.com, which is a translation of a Saturday evening Kannada lecture (sometime in the 1980s) at Ramakrishna Math, Bangalore by Rev Swami Purushottamanandaji Maharaj, titled ‘Yenagu Aane, ninagu aane’ on a wonderful song by Purandara Dasa.

[64] Ibid: Pg.:521

[65] Ibid: Pg.:670

[66] Ibid: Pg.:603

[67] Ibid: Pg.:506

[68] Ibid: Pg.:379

[69] Ibid: Pg.: 866

[70] Ibid: Pp: 612; 186; 542; 670; 190; 453; 454; 902; 299; 682; 138; 308; 324; 329; 371; 614; 547; 87; & 748

[71] Ibid: Pg.: 92

[72] How to live with God; Swami Chetanananda; 2008; Advaita Ashrama, Kolkata: Pg.: 110

[73] They lived with God; Swami Chetanananda; 2006; Advaita Ashrama, Kolkata: Pg.: 245-46

[74] Ibid: Pg.: 44; Also Cf: Sri Ramakrishna and His Divine Play; Swami Saradananda; 2003; Vedanta Society of St. Louis: Pg.: 518

[75] Cf: Sri Ramakrishna and His Divine Play; Swami Saradananda; 2003; Vedanta Society of St. Louis: Pg.: 508

[76] Cf: The Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna: Tr. Swami Nikhilananda: 2002: Sri Ramakrishna Math, Madras: Pg.: 741

[77] Ibid: Pg.: 646

Why do bad things happen to good people?

Good evening to all alumni members and their spouses assembled here today.

Mr. Biswas has been kind enough to have introduced me to you all. Before I begin, let me tell you how I came to be here today.

I know Dr Subramanian, the Jt Director of Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan through his younger brother Mr. Gopal Krishnan. I have interacted with Mr. Krishnan for quite some time now. Shilpamandira has signed an MoU with Tata Motors regarding training and placement of our automobile technicians. It was Mr. Krishnan who made this happen. He had introduced me to Dr Subramanian. One day, about a fortnight ago, Dr Subramanian came to my office along with Mr. Biswas and asked me if I could address this gathering. Before I could say yes or no, Mr. Biswas said to me, “Maharaj, please choose a catchy topic, something that will be attractive to the alumni members and will be intellectually stimulating to them.” Well, there he actually caught me – with ‘intellectually stimulating’. I said yes, I would go to address the alumni gathering. But then, I pleaded for some time to choose the topic. I then told them about what had happened in our Vedanta Society of Northern California long ago. There was a monk there long ago called Swami Prabhavananda. He was supposed to give a lecture every Sunday in his Center. Over a period of time he found that the number of people attending his weekly lectures started dwindling. He wished to increase the attendance in his lectures. So he came up with an ingenuous plan. He gave an advertisement in the local papers saying “This Sunday, Swami Prabhavananda will speak on ‘How to make money’ at such and such address.” The hall was overflowing, with people having no place even to stand; so many had turned up. He slowly walked up to the rostrum and told them, “Well, I don’t know how to make money. But, if I hadn’t advertised like this, so many of you wouldn’t have come here. Now that you have all come here, I will tell you about Vedanta which I do know. Please listen.” We had a good laugh about it. Today’s evening also is something of the same sort, I am afraid! Anyway, I had asked for some time to decide on the topic. Then I went about my day’s work in Shilpamandira. I had a series of meetings with various departments that day. One of my lecturers came to me with a personal problem. And in the course of our discussion, he asked me this question – why do bad things happen to good people? That was when I immediately messaged both Dr Subramanian and Mr. Biswas that this would be my topic.

So much for the background; now I will inform you my plan for this evening. I will speak for so long as one of us – either you or I – gets bored. Then I will throw the house open for questions. Now, let me elaborate on today’s topic of my lecture.

While introducing me, Mr. Biswas said that I was an Engineer before I became a monk. I in fact studied in the same college in Bangalore as Mr. Biswas’s son studied in. Just as the introduction got over, Mr. Amitava Chakravarti here pointed out that my becoming a monk was indeed a good thing for me, but must have certainly been a bad thing for my parents! I will come to that point a little later in my lecture. That is the whole problem with this question. Good and bad certainly seem to be vague and naïve categorizations.

We will all agree that this is a question that we have all asked ourselves sometime or the other in our lives. I will point out to you some of the important points concerning this question. Then I will try to explain to you what Vedanta has to say on this question. You see, I am a monk of the Ramakrishna Mission. I represent Swami Vivekananda’s ideas and they are basically Vedanta ideas, with some important deviations.

I believe that all of us in this hall will agree that we all consider ourselves to be ‘good people’. There will be no one here who will claim to be a bad person. You know what most of us think about ourselves? ‘I am a good person. I do admit that I have some weaknesses, some short-comings, but then, I am not a bad person at all!’ This is what most of us feel about ourselves. Am I not right? And as a corollary of this self-concept, we ask ourselves, ‘I am a good person; how could such a bad thing happen to me?!’

This brings me to an important idea that seems to be pervasive among all human beings. That is the idea that if we are good, only good things ought to happen to us. Since I haven’t done anything wrong, how can something bad happen to me? This is the line of thinking that seems to be pervasive all over the world, irrespective of culture, race and religion.

I wish to point out one important fallacy with this line of thought. I think it was George Bernard Shaw who once said, ‘We are excellent advocates of our short-comings and the cruelest judges of the mistakes that others commit.’ We seem to be unable to make an unbiased judgment about our own actions. Hence we always judge ourselves to be correct and hence ‘good persons’. Others, on the other hand, seem to be committing a hell of a lot of mistakes and hence they ought to be receiving blows after blows for their ‘bad’ actions! How correct is this judgment?

Then there is the thing about the point of us being all good. What exactly is the basis on which we judge ourselves to be good? Since we never committed a ‘bad’ act, we claim to be good. Not being bad – is it necessary and sufficient condition to be categorized as ‘good’? Let me tell you a small story: A couple developed some trouble between themselves and their marriage was getting rocked. They approached a marriage counselor. The counsellor told the husband, ‘Go home and listen to what your wife says. She has something to say to you about many things. Just listen to what she says.’ So the husband went back home and went on listening attentively to all that his wife had to say. A month later he came to the marriage counsellor. The counsellor asked him, ‘Well, how is the situation now?’ The husband said, ‘A little better.’ Then the counsellor advised, ‘Now, go back home. This time, along with listening to all that she says, listen very carefully to all the things that she doesn’t say!’ Very similar is our condition too, I guess. We, of course, don’t commit crimes. But then, how many of us here can claim that we go out of our way and perform acts of real goodness? Most of us cannot claim that. And yet, we are quite hasty in classifying ourselves under the group ‘good people’!

Somehow we all seem to assume that life is quite logical in its unfoldment. We assume that there is a linear logic governing our lives. This feeling is pervasive in all of us. But, is it really linear? Listen to a story. A man was once walking along a road. He saw that two policemen were walking behind him, a little far away. He stole a look at both of them. He suddenly felt that their faces and their animated body language seemed to tell him that both of them were discussing about him and that they suspected him about something. A fear enveloped him and he bolted. As soon as the two policemen saw that the man before them was running, they gave chase. He came across a huge iron gate. He jumped over it and entered a graveyard. There was a freshly dug out grave. He jumped into it and hid there. But it wasn’t long before the law enforcement officers caught him there. They asked him why he was hiding there. When they asked him that question, he realized that he had acted in haste and that he was never a suspect in the first place. He gave an answer which I appreciate a lot. He said, “Officer, you have asked a simple question. But I assure you that I cannot give you an equally simple answer to that question. All I can safely tell you is this – I am here because of you both, and the both of you are here because of me!” So, within small circles of events, there does seem to be linear logic working in our lives, but when you consider the events of our lives in larger circles, in larger periods of time, linear logic doesn’t seem to be operative.

Anyway, be that as it may. This is a question that is asked by people all over the world, at all times and under every conceivable situation. I hold that if there is some tendency that is pervasive in human beings, then, it means that that tendency ought to serve some universal benefit. If it did not serve a universal purpose, it wouldn’t be present in such a pervasive manner. Vedanta claims that this tendency present in us – the tendency to seriously ask ourselves – ‘why do bad things happen to us?’ is meant to serve some purpose in our lives. In other words, Vedanta says that it cannot answer this question, but it can show you how you can put this tendency to ask this question, the capability to feel suffering, to good use.

This is one characteristic feature of Vedanta. It says that just because you ask a logical question, there is absolutely no guarantee that a logical answer can be given. That is Vedanta’s stand. This is a question that cannot be answered satisfactorily at all. It is impossible to give a logical answer to this question. However, that doesn’t mean Vedanta is not interested in the question. Vedanta is interested in this question because, it can show you a way to put the faculty that gave rise to this question to a wonderful use and enable us to achieve a marvelous objective for yourself.

Semitic Religions like Christianity, Islam, Judaism, and Zoroastrianism have attempted to answer this question by a simplistic method. They posit two entities – God and the Devil. All that is good comes from God. All that is evil comes from the other side!

Vedanta doesn’t accept such an approach. There is no attempt to hook moral judgments onto God. Vedanta does posit a God, a creator-preserver-destroyer. And everything comes from Him. Good comes from Him. Bad too comes from Him. Why does Vedanta say such a thing? This is because, categorization of people or events into two water-tight compartments of good and bad is very naïve. Any person with sufficient maturity will understand that such compartmentalization is impossible. Let me explain this by telling you a story. I read this story long ago. I guess it was written by Leo Tolstoy. There was a man living in a Russian village. He had a strange habit of saying that everything that happened was for his good. His friends did not agree. They made fun of him saying that events were either good or bad and his outlook that everything that happened was good was stupid. One day, this man’s only young son went hunting with his friends. During that hunt, his son broke his leg. He came back home and his situation was so bad that there were doubts if he would be able to walk again at all. This man’s friends now approached him and asked him how he felt about this event. As usual, the man held that this had happened for his own good. They concluded that he was a fool and was incorrigible and went away. Some weeks later, Russia entered into a war and the Czar issued a decree that all able-bodied young men should join the army and fight on the battle field. Now the man ran to his friends and pointed out that while all of them had to send their sons to the army, he was exempted because his only son couldn’t walk yet! So, wasn’t he right in his claim that the accident that had occurred was actually good?

Thus, the very scheme of things in this world seems to be such that the border line between good and bad keeps shifting. What we considered good at one time, under one set of situations may turn out to be bad a little while later, under a different set of situations. When such is the actual situation, it is quite right that Vedanta chooses to ignore answering this question of ‘why do bad things happen to good people?’ and instead focuses on putting the tendency to ask this question to some better use.

Vedanta focuses on discovering something inside us that is eternal. Vedanta claims that the core of our being, in each one of us, is perfect, is undying, and is pure. Vedanta says that although perfection is so close to us, rather closer than anything else, we don’t know it. And that makes us go towards it is suffering. Suffering opens our eyes. I agree that this statement appears harsh, cruel, even unsettling. But then, this whole business of dealing with the Truth is only for those with the stoutest hearts. In the Mahabharata, there is a prayer by Kunti, a marvelous prayer. She prays to the Lord as follows: ‘O Lord, give me more and more suffering, so that I can remember you so much more.

Look at this artifice. Suffering brings us in closer contact with the Lord. In other words, suffering brings us in closer contact with our inner core. Hence, it makes sense in asking for more and more suffering so that we can get closer to our inner core so much earlier and sooner! Western psychology speaks of a type of persons called ‘Masochists’. These persons also seek pain and suffering. I however hold that Vedanta is not masochism. The reason why a masochist seeks suffering is because he gets a perverse happiness in undergoing pain. A Vedantist seeks suffering so that he can move further inside himself towards his inner core.

How does Vedanta expect us to go deeper within ourselves using the experiences we get in our life? There is a great mental block regarding spiritual unfoldment. Most of us feel that we need to lead a dedicated life, a life consisting of only devotional practices and meditation for spiritual growth. In no other way can we grow spiritually; this seems to be the popular conception. Well, Vedanta does have some such practices too. There is a path called Raja Yoga. It prescribes that one should lead a secluded life. Not engaging in any activities other than meditation and pranayama, one is expected to lead a totally isolated existence. There are endless rules and regulations about how & what to eat, about what to think and what to speak, about how much to exercise and how much to sleep and what to wear and things like that. If one chooses to follow such a path, of course, one has to completely forget one’s social life, one’s family and friends and become a monk. You will immediately ask me – what will happen to my family? And my business?

Vedanta prescribes a wonderful path called Karma Yoga for the masses. Most of the other paths like Bhakti Yoga and Raja Yoga are for a very special type of people. Karma Yoga is for you and me. What is this Karma Yoga? How does one practice it? What developments occur in us as a result of practicing this Yoga? I will tell you a small story to indicate these things. I will elaborate on this topic some other day, if we meet again. For now, I will just give you some broad indications of the actual scope of Karma Yoga in our daily lives.

 

 

Most of us think that Karma Yoga means catching some poor beggars, destitute people and distributing some clothes and food to them; or, running a dispensary. Indeed, that is a type of Karma Yoga, where we do something to someone who can never repay us; something done selflessly. But the main form of Karma Yoga is something else. It is practiced in the context of our daily life itself. All of us have to work. There is a particular mode with which we can work and reap enormous benefit from it.

 

I will tell you a story that Swami Vivekananda recounted in his seminal book ‘Karma Yoga’. This story is taken from the Mahabharata. It concerns a Vyadha. Vyadha is a Sanskrit term for a butcher, one who kills animals and sells their meat for his living. The story is as follows:

“A  young  Sannyasi  went  to  a  forest;  there  he  meditated,  worshipped,  and  practiced  Yoga  for  a long  time.  After  years  of  hard  work  and  practice,  he  was  one  day  sitting  under  a  tree,  when  some  dry leaves fell upon his head. He looked up and saw a crow and a crane fighting on the top of the tree, which made him very angry. He said, “What! Dare you throw these dry leaves upon my head?!” As  with these words he angrily glanced at them, a flash of fire went out of his head — such was the Yogi’s power — and burnt  the  birds  to  ashes.  He  was  very  glad,  almost  overjoyed  at  this  development  of  power  —  he  could burn the crow and the crane by a look. After a time he had to go to the town to beg his bread. He went, stood at a door, and said, “Mother, give me food.” A voice came from inside the house, “Wait a little, my son.” The young man thought, “You wretched woman, how dare you make me wait! You do not know my power yet.”  While  he  was  thinking  thus  the  voice  came  again:  “Boy,  don’t  be  thinking  too  much  of yourself. Here is neither crow nor crane.” He was astonished; still he had to wait. At last the woman came, and he fell at her feet and said, “Mother, how did you know that?” She said, “My boy, I do not know your Yoga or your practices. I am a common everyday woman. I made you wait because my husband is ill, and I was nursing him. All my life I have struggled to do my duty. When I was unmarried, I did my duty to my parents; now that I am married, I do my duty to my husband; that is all the Yoga I practice. But by doing my duty I have become illumined; thus I could read your thoughts and know what you had done in the forest. If you want to know something higher than this, go to the market of such and such a town where you will find a Vyadha (The lowest class of people in India who used to live as hunters and butchers.) who will tell you something that you will be very glad to learn.” The Sannyasi thought, “Why should I go to that town and to a Vyadha?” But after what he had seen, his mind opened a little, so he went. When he came near the town, he found the market and there saw, at a distance, a big fat Vyadha cutting meat with big knives, talking and bargaining with different people. The young man said, “Lord help me! Is this the man from whom I am going to learn? He is the incarnation of a demon, if he is anything.” In the meantime this man  looked  up  and  said,  “O  Swami,  did  that  lady  send  you  here?  Take a seat until I have done my business.” The Sannyasi thought, “What comes to me here?” He took his seat; the man went on with his work,  and  after  he  had  finished  he  took  his  money  and  said  to  the  Sannyasi,  “Come  sir,  come  to  my home.” On reaching home the Vyadha gave him a seat, saying, “Wait here,” and went into the house. He then washed his old father and mother, fed them, and did all he could to please them, after which he came to the Sannyasi and said, “Now, sir, you have come here to see me; what can I do for you?” The Sannyasi asked him a few questions about soul and about God, and the Vyadha gave him a lecture which forms a part of the Mahabharata, called the Vyâdha-Gitâ. It contains one of the highest flights of the Vedanta.

When the Vyadha finished his teaching, the Sannyasi felt astonished. He said, “Why are you in that body? With such knowledge as yours why are you in a Vyadha’s body, and doing such filthy, ugly work?” “My son,” replied the Vyadha, “no duty is ugly, no duty is impure. My birth placed me in these circumstances and environments. In my boyhood I learnt the trade; I am unattached, and I try to do my duty well. I try to do my duty as a householder, and I try to do all I can to make my father and mother happy. I neither know your Yoga, nor have I become a Sannyasi, nor did I go out of the world into a forest; nevertheless, all that you have heard and seen has come to me through the unattached doing of the duty which belongs to my position.””

This is the path prescribed by Karma Yoga for all of us. The inner growth occurs as a result of intense self-introspection and self-correction when we face blows in the course of our daily life.

If you think Kunti’s prayer is strange, wait till you hear about the Bodhisattva. The Buddhists have something called the Bodhisattva Ideal. The Bodhisattva is a person, or rather, a state of mind, in which a person starts feeling that he should suffer all the pains of all beings in this world so that every being should be happy! Actually the Buddhists appropriated this ideal from Vedanta. The Vedanta speaks of an ancient King called Rantideva. This king too had his own prayer which was as follows:

Na tvaham kaamaye raajyam, na svargam, na punarbhavam;

Kaamaye duhkataptaanaam praaninaam aarthinaashanam.

“I do not desire for this kingdom, or for heaven, or even for another birth. What I desire is that I should suffer all the suffering of all beings that are in pain!”

Let us pause for a moment here. We began our deliberation today by asking ourselves as to why bad things happen to good people. In other words, why do good people suffer? Or again, in other words, how can good people [like ourselves] avoid suffering. And now, we find here some characters from the Vedanta who are apparently seeking for more and more suffering, in each case with an end in view. While Kunti sought more suffering so that she could remember the Lord more, King Rantideva sought suffering so that other beings could live happily. Just see how strange this mentality is from the mentality that we all possess right now.

When I was a young boy and read such stories in our holy books, I used to feel that they were all fiction and that in reality people like you and I could never raise ourselves to such a standard. Then I got introduced to Swami Vivekananda and I am afraid I have had to change my views about this. This transformation is very real, very possible and in fact, such a transformation seems to be our destiny! Let me highlight two incidents from the life of Swami Vivekananda to explain what I mean.

The first incident I speak about is when he was about 18 or 19 years old. His father was a rich man with a roaring legal practice. He hailed from a famous family right here in this city. He was very intelligent, highly talented and had an extremely bright future ahead of him. Exactly when everything seemed so right for him, his father died. His father had obviously not planned for his early death and hence overnight, Narendranath found himself in deep debt that he inherited from his father. He also inherited innumerable family legal suits and with all his talent, intellectual achievements and excellent family background, he was unable to get a decent job anywhere in this large town. Further, he was in such a bad shape that he couldn’t afford two square meals for himself and his mother and brothers and sisters. Yet, he continued to practice his daily devotions to the Lord. His mother observed this trait in him and one day chided him with this question that we began our discussion today. When his mother asked him that question, the young boy Narendranath was tongue-tied. He had no answer.

The second incident I refer to is to a letter that Swami Vivekananda wrote sometime in 1901. In that letter he writes, ‘I am ready to go to hell [i.e. undergo endless suffering] if I can bring even one man to the Light’. See what a transformation in a person in a matter of just 12 or 15 years! So I got the conviction that such a transformation is indeed possible in this very life.

Before I end my lecture, I will address just one more aspect of this topic. Some of you may think that the question would make more sense if I had asked ‘Why do good things happen to bad people?’ In other words, it seems really horrible that bad people seem to be having a very good time, while good people go on suffering. Why does that happen? Frankly speaking, I don’t know. But I will tell you a story.

You all know that Bhagawan Buddha, before he arrived at the Truth, was an earnest seeker by the name Siddhartha Gautama. One summer day he was walking in the forest and he came upon a beautiful lake. It had cool, clear water and he felt like taking a bath. He slowly entered the water, had a bath, felt refreshed and as he was about to come out of the lake, he saw some beautiful lotus flowers in bloom at the far end of the lake. He went near the flowers, bent down and smelled the heavenly fragrance of the flowers. Then he came out of the lake and started wearing clothes. At that moment, a Yaksha, a demigod materialized before him. The Yaksha said, “Say, young monk, how dare you enter my lake without obtaining my permission?” The Yaksha berated Gautama for quite some time. Gautama’s head was bent down in shame. He wanted to say that he had no idea that the lake had a caretaker, but he never got a chance to put in a word; the Yaksha was relentless in his scolding. In the meantime, a King’s nobleman rode up to the lake on horseback. He too saw the cool, clear waters on that hot summer day, tied his horse to a tree, tore his clothes apart and jumped into the lake. He splashed around for a long time, making the clear water all murky. When he had finished his sporting in water, as he was about to come out, he too eyed the beautiful lotus flowers in bloom. He went to the corner of the lake, roughly plucked a handful of flowers for his sweetheart at home, came out of the lake, wore his clothes and rode away. All this while, Gautama was thinking, ‘I did nothing in comparison to what this nobleman is doing and I was berated so badly; perhaps the Yaksha will strike this man down dead any minute now!’ But, when the nobleman went away safely, Gautama said to the Yaksha, “Well, Yaksha; I now understand you. I am a gentle person and hence you scolded me to your heart’s content. I saw that you did nothing to that nobleman. Of course, how could you? He is a big, powerful man.” The Yaksha’s reply is worthy of our meditation. The Yaksha said, “Gautama, I scolded you because you proclaim to follow a very high ideal in your life. That nobleman is an ordinary man, with simple goals in his life. The standards of behavior are different for you and for him.” so by claiming to be a good person, our responsibility increases greatly.

I have tried to give you some ideas about today’s topic. I have also tried to explain to you Vedanta’s stand on this subject. With this, I end my lecture. I now open the topic for a Q&A session. Thank you for a patient hearing.

*****************

 

How to teach Science & Maths

JBNSTS Science Teachers Training Program

at

Ramakrishna Mission Vidyamandira (Ekalavya Model Residential School), Jhargram

Revered Swami Shantimayanandaji Maharaj, Revered Swami Shubhakaranandaji Maharaj, distinguished guests on the stage and learned colleagues: it is a pleasure to be present here amongst you all today and to deliver the keynote address at the JBNSTC Science Teachers Training Program. I came to this school exactly one year ago, just a day before Ramakrishna Mission took over this school from the Government. Today, when I entered the campus, I was wonderstruck at how much it had changed. Indeed, the efforts of Shantanu Maharaj are paying off, and in an incredible manner. Who would have ever imagined seeing this kind of development in this remote school! And that too in so short a time! It will not be an exaggeration to say that Bhagawan Sri Ramakrishna is using Shantanu Maharaj and his team to work up a revolution here in this Ekalavya School at Jhargram.

Today onwards, JBNSTC will be conducting a workshop for the Science and Math teachers. I am given to understand that there are teachers from various schools of Jhargram.

I too have been in this education area for the last decade. I know what problems areas exist for us. I am also aware of how ill-prepared we are for handling those problems. It is a tough job we are doing. In fact, our job is also very dangerous. You know, once George Bernard Shaw was asked about the most dangerous profession in the world. He replied that it was ‘teaching’. His humorous argument was like this: if a lawyer makes a mistake, it hangs six feet above the ground, and then the whole world forgets about it. If a doctor makes a mistake, it is buried six feet underground, then everyone forgets about it and the world moves on. But if a teacher makes a mistake, six hundred years of the country’s history gets damaged!

When I was asked to look after a school in Arunachal Pradesh, I made a special study of the Jesuit philosophy of Education. One particular saying of the Jesuit Father Ignatius Loyala seemed to sum up the entire philosophy of teaching, for me. He said, “If you wish to teach Math to John, you should know Math and you should know John.” Just look at this statement!

We must know our subject very well. After some years of teaching the ‘syllabus’, we become experts, so to speak. We develop the habit of going to classes without any preparation. We are confident of winging it! I remember seeing some books in our Bangalore Ashrama. There was a very revered Swamiji there long back called Swami Yatishwaranandaji. He was a great scholar and a highly venerated monk. Yet, till the last, he would prepare notes for his lectures! Those books had those notes; painstakingly he would write down all the points he would deal with in the class. He naturally had no need to such notes. It was all at his fingertips. Yet…

We should ‘know’ our student. What is meant by this? Is it that we should know about his family background? The problems he faces at home? Those things too matter. But what is more important is that the boy is not a blank slate. He comes with some fund of information in his young mind. Can we understand that? Unless we know that, we can never really teach him effectively. The problem is this – we too were students once upon a time, and we too had struggled with ideas; for a long time, the concepts and principles made no sense for us too. Then, the constant effort we put in bore fruit and connections were made with pre-existing ideas in our brain! And we have forgotten how exactly those connections were made. If only we can recall those moments, we will be able to really ‘know’ our student!

I am sure you all will agree with me that teaching Science and Math is especially challenging. Teaching any subject, for that matter, is a tough job. But more so with these two subjects. Why? Because they are very dry. Consider History or Literature. There are stories, plots, sub-plots, poems, intrigues, heroes and villains; there is always an excitement about what will happen next! That is completely absent with Science & Math. Just lifeless ideas and numbers! Have you wondered why there has been no blockbuster Bollywood movie on Science? Our subjects don’t lend themselves to that kind of treatment.

I wish to place two ideas before you today. Actually I will be sharing these two ideas, which are actually my life-lessons during my stint as a teacher. First, the importance of remembering facts and principles; second, some techniques I picked up on the way.

We must acknowledge the fact that we need two different approaches while teaching Science & Math. The approach we adopt for the students up to secondary level is different from the approach we adopt for teaching the HS students. But, in both cases, we need to emphasize the habit of learning by-heart a whole lot of facts. I am afraid, we don’t do this. Our present examination system is doing away with this habit. And it is working to the detriment of our boys. Unless the boy knows a whole lot of things my memory, he won’t be able to play with ideas. Playing with ideas, calls for a solid fund of facts in the brain. And what is Science & Math teaching-learning if it’s not playing with ideas! Just take a look at the ancient tols in our country. The first few years of the student’s life was spent in rote-learning. If the student could learn by-heart a certain set of books, he could graduate to the higher education. Then would start the most interesting play with the ideas which the boy could recall from memory!

For instance, in our Aalo School, I had to teach force analysis in Mechanics in Class-XI. I found out that the students had no clear understanding of trigonometry. During those days, trigonometry was taught in Class 9 & 10. So I passed on this feedback to teachers who handled those classes. The next batches became better!

Similarly, once our HS Chemistry had resigned in the middle of a year. So I had to handle Chemistry for Class XII. While teaching the class, I found that the students had trouble working numerical problems in Electrochemistry, especially the ones on Nernst’s Equation, etc. I found out why that was so. The students had to have a conception of logarithms for working these problems. And wonder of wonders, the CBSE in its great wisdom had removed logarithms from the entire school syllabus. Hence it was never taught! So, I sat with my teachers and decided that we would give an introductory class on logarithms to our Class XI students. That too bore great results later on for us.

Remembering facts and numbers must become a passion with students. It must seem rewarding to the students. We need to encourage students to develop their own ‘memory development techniques’. Mnemonics, for instance, could be very helpful.

  • To memorize the colors of therainbow: the phrase ‘Richard Of York Gave Battle In Vain’ – each of the initial letters matches the colors of the rainbow in order (Red, Orange, Yellow, Green, Blue, Indigo, Violet). Other examples are the phrase ‘Run over your granny because it’s violent’ or the imaginary name ‘Roy G. Biv’.
  • To memorize the North AmericanGreat Lakes: the acronym HOMES – matching the letters of the five lakes (Huron, Ontario, Michigan, Erie, and Superior)
  • To memorizecolor codes as they are used in electronics: the phrase “Bill Brown Realized Only Yesterday Good Boys Value Good Work” represents in order the 10 colors and their numerical order: black (0), brown (1), red (2), orange (3), yellow (4), green (5), blue (6), violet or purple (7), grey (8), and white (9).
  • To memorize chemical reactions, such asredox reactions, where it is common to mix up oxidation and reduction, the short phrase ‘LEO (Lose Electron Oxidation) the lion says GER (Gain Electron Reduction)’. An alternate mnemonic is ‘Oil Rig’ can be used – which is an acronym for ‘Oxidation is losing, Reduction is gaining’.
  • To memorize the names of the planets, use theplanetary mnemonic: Each of the initial letters matches the name of the planets in our solar system (Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune, [Pluto]).

Mean Very Evil Men Just Shortened Up Nature

Mary’s ‘Virgin’ Explanation Made Joseph Suspect Upstairs Neighbor

My Very Easy Method Just Speeds Up Naming Planets

Many Very Educated Men Justify Stealing Unique Ninth

My Very Educated Mother Just Served Us Nachos

  • Mnemonic phrases or poems can be used to encode numeric sequences by various methods. One common one is to create a new phrase in which the number of letters in each word represents the according digit of pi. For example, the first 15 digits of the mathematical constantpi (3.14159265358979) can be encoded as ‘Now I need a drink, alcoholic of course, after the heavy lectures involving quantum mechanics’; ‘Now’, having 3 letters, represents the first number, 3, and so on. Piphilology is the practice dedicated to creating mnemonics for pi.
  • To remember the order oftaxa in biology

(Domain, Kingdom, Phylum, Class, Order, Family, Genus, Species):

Dear King Philip Come Over For Good Spaghetti/Soup

Do Kings Play Chess On Friday Golf Saturday?

Do Kings Play Chess On Fat Green Stools?

Did King Paul Cry Out For Good Soup?

Do Kings Play Chess On Fine Green Silk?

Dumb Kids Prefer Candy Over Fancy Green Salad

Dumb Kids Playing Catch On Freeway Get Squashed

Do Kids Pass Chemistry Or Flunk General Science?

Does King Phillp Come Over For Grape Soda

Don’t Kill Parrot’s Carrots Or Face Gruesome Sicknesses

  • To remember the lifecycle of cells

(Interphase, Prophase, Metaphase, Anaphase, Telophase, Cytokinesis):

Idiotic Penguins Make Antarctica Too Cold

I Pee More After Tea Consumption

  • To remember the common functional groups

(Hydroxyl, Carbonyl, Carboxyl, Amine, Sulfhydryl, Phosphate, Methyl):

Hair Care Can Always Save People Money

  • To remember the processes that define living things:

MRS GREN: Movement; Respiration; Sensation; Growth; Reproduction; Excretion; Nutrition

  • Metabolism; Response; Homeostasis; Growth; Reproduction; Nutrition:

My Really Hungry Grasshopper Refuses Neglect

  • To remember the roles of reproductive organs in flowers:

Stamen are male; stigma (as in mother) are female

  • To remember the number of humps on types of camels:

D in Dromedary has one hump; B in Bactrian has two

  • To remember the 6 nutrients (Water,Carbohydrates, Proteins, Minerals, Vitamins, Lipids).

What Car Protects My Vital Lips?

Order of mathematical operations

PEMDAS- Parenthesis, Exponents, Multiplication & Division, Addition & Subtraction can be remembered by the phrase: ‘Please excuse my dear Aunt Sally’.

BEDMAS – Brackets (parenthesis), Exponents, Division & Multiplication, Addition & Subtraction

BIDMAS – Brackets, Indices (exponents), Division, Multiplication, Addition, Subtraction

Trigonometry

ASTC stands for All Students Take Calculus, as well as the more simplified mnemonic Add Sugar To Coffee, which represents the trigonometric functions that are positive in each quadrant, beginning with the top right and continuing counterclockwise: All, sine, tangent, cosine – All Science Teachers Are Crazy – All Silver Tea Cups – Annie Spewed Terrible Curses

Remembering the definitions of sine, cosine, and tangent can be done by memorizing SOHCAHTOA, which helps to encode Sine = Opposite over Hypotenuse, Cosine = Adjacent over Hypotenuse, and Tangent = Opposite over Adjacent. These mnemonics are more useful if they can be recited in three groups of three words.

Other ways to remember SOHCAHTOA are:

Some Old Horses Can Always Hear Their Owner Approaching

Some Old Horse Came A-Hoppin’ Through Our Alley

Silly Old Henry Can’t Add Hundreds, Tens Or Anything

Some Old Hags Can’t Always Hide Their Old Age

Some Old Hippie Caught Another Hippie Tripping On Acid

SPH-CBH-TPB (sine = perpendicular/hypotenuse, cosine = base/hypotenuse, tangent = perpendicular/base)

Some People Have Curly Brown Hair Through Proper Brushing

Some People Have Curly Brown Hair Turned Permanently Black

Another odd permutation:

Oranges Have Segments, Apples Have Cores, Oranges Are Tangy

In Hindi, there is a funny mnemonic — Sona Chandi Tole Pandit Badri Prasad Har Har Bole, where:

Sona = Pandit / Har (sine = perpendicular/hypotenuse)

Chandi = Badri / Har (cosine = base/hypotenuse)

Tole = Prasad / Bole (tangent = perpendicular/base)

Let us remember that if we initiate our students into this interesting game of forming mnemonics, they will later on formulate creative ways by themselves. And that will go a long way in enabling effective teaching-learning in the higher classes. It is like building a large vocabulary when it comes to speaking a language. If you don’t have a good fat fund of words, what will you speak?

So, this is the first idea I wanted to share with you. The second idea I want to share with you all is – I have picked up some important techniques which I have used to great advantage with my students. I will explain them one by one.

We must try to provide a physical manifestation of the concepts we teach. For instance, while teaching fractions; consider we have to teach the concept of 2/7. Take a long stick and divide it into 7 parts. Place all the parts on the table and show how it can be called 7/7. If you take 2 parts away, then the arrangement would be called 2/7. A child who sees this demonstration will develop a new insight into numbers, which will blossom into something wonderful in the higher classes.

Why can’t we provide a rationale for the concept that is being taught? What do we do? We take up some idea like differential calculus. We open a standard text book, start dealing with the rules and then proceed to working out the numerical problems. Of course, our Indian boys and girls are really good at picking up unrelated bits of ideas and living their entire lives with those bits of nonsense running riot in their brains! I once read in a book how to introduce the students to the concept of Limits that forms the basis of differential calculus.

We all know the famous story of the hare and the tortoise. Let us assume that the tortoise is given a head start. After the tortoise runs for 1 hour, let us allow the hare to start running. Let us assume that in 1 hour, the tortoise has covered 100 meters. Let us assume that the hare covers this distance in 1 minute. Did the hare catch up with the tortoise? No. Why? Because in that 1 minute, the tortoise would have moved 1 inch more. Let the hare cover that 1 inch in say 1 second. Did the hare now catch up with the tortoise? No. Why? Because in that 1 second, the tortoise would have moved 1mm. Let the hare cover that distance in 1/100th of a second. Again, our linear logic tells us that the hare will never catch up with the tortoise. So, the four operations on numbers – addition, subtraction, multiplication & division – are incapable of analyzing this problem for us. We need a new operation now. And that is Calculus. When the time and distance divisions become smaller and smaller so that they approach the limit of zero, the hare will finally overtake the tortoise! Thus, in this case, the real world and mathematics will match only if we adopt this new tool called calculus.

We teachers have to provide a perspective for the concept we teach. We seldom do that. The ideas we teach are obvious to us. They need not be so obvious to our students. I recall; I was once teaching the concept of coefficient of thermal efficiency to Class IX students in Aalo. I used the standard example of the railway track, as given in the NCERT textbook. At the end of the class, I saw blank expressions in the eyes of my students. I delved inside their minds to find out where the disconnect had happened. Why hadn’t they understood what was to me a very simple concept? Do you know what I found out? Those students hadn’t ever seen a real railway track! The only tracks they had seen were in TV and movies. You never get to see the gap in the tracks in the movies or TV, you see.

How about making the students aware of multiple approaches to same problem? Many of us have the habit of teaching according to the ‘syllabuses’. Then there are the five-year or ten-year question papers. A lot of today’s education is governed by these two – syllabus & past question papers. I once overheard one of my teachers; a boy had asked him something; this sage replied, ‘Hey, that is not in your syllabus; they will never ask that in the Exam; don’t bother!’ And, we all worry – why don’t the students of the present generation respect us anymore?! Anyway, we need to make students aware of more than one method of approaching the same problem. Take the example of Factorization. Let us say, we need to find the factors of (x2+5x+6). This is exactly of the [x2+(a+b)x+ab] = (x+a)(x+b) form. With a=2 and b=3, we can factorize this expression as (x+2)(x+3). Well, that is one way of doing it. If we make the students work out many problems of this type,

Then there is another way too. Suppose we need to factorize (x2+5x+7). The students cannot do this with the technique we taught them. They will need another technique for this. Hence we will teach them about roots of the quadratic equation. : . Now, the original expression itself will be seen in a different form, not the [x2+(a+b)x+ab] form, but as (ax2+bx+c). Then we teach the students that these two forms of the quadratic equation are indeed one and the same, interchangeable.

Another important technique I learnt about teaching Science to students is to explain the historical background for those concepts. Take for instance thermodynamics. We know that there is the Zeroth Law of Thermodynamics. Now, how can someone name a law as the Zeroth Law? It is unimaginable. Listen to a story.

There was a numismatic exhibition. Many famous coin-collectors had put up their collections on exhibition. There was a prize for the rarest coin. The prize went to a person who had exhibited a coin which mentioned ‘53 BC’! Now, how can someone print BC on a coin? BC means before Christ. How the hell did the people at that time know that they were 53 years before the birth of Christ?! That coin was fake!

Similarly, with this Zeroth Law! How could anyone know that this was the Zeroth Law? Any sane person would have named it the First Law of Thermodynamics. What actually happened was this: the 1st, 2nd & 3rd Laws of Thermodynamics were enunciated long ago. Then, sometime in the 1930s, there was a British Science teacher called Fowler who was teaching Thermodynamics from a book written by two Indians Saha & Srivastava. In this book, on the 1st page itself, the two authors have mentioned the principle of equivalence of temperatures. Fowler realized that if the three known laws of thermodynamics have to stand, then this equivalence principle was fundamental. Hence, he couldn’t name it as the fourth law of thermodynamics and was constrained to name it the Zeroth Law! That is how it happened.

Lastly, I wish to emphasize the idea of teaching students to imagine vividly, in pictures. We have to understand this world around us. We need a language to do that. Mathematics evolved as that language. However, we can still think quite clearly about everything in this world without resorting to Math. This habit has to develop. After sufficient failure in dealing with this world purely in pictures, we will be forced to resort to Math; not before! The mistake we do is to introduce Math to students without allowing them to struggle with the situation purely armed with their imagination. For instance, take this problem[1]:

A boat carrying a large stone is floating on a lake. The stone is thrown overboard and sinks. The water in the lake, with respect to the shore

  1. Rises
  2. Drops
  3. Remains the same.

It is possible to imagine what happens here. The answer can be arrived at by purely imagination. Math is not required to answer this question. However, if we need to find out how much the boat will rise after the stone is thrown, we will need to use numbers, not until then.

So, I have shared some of my ideas about teaching Science & Math with you all. I believe I have set the tenor for the workshop. I hope the next three days will be profitable to all of you. I pray to Bhagawan Sri Ramakrishna to shower His blessings on you all and on this EMRS Jhargram School.

***************

[1] These problems are called “Mazur’s Concept tests”.

IS GOD LISTENING?

IS GOD LISTENING?

By Kenneth L. Woodward[1] On 3/30/97 At 7:00 Pm

Mimi Rumpp stopped praying for a winning lottery ticket years ago. With a husband, two kids and a full – time job, she didn’t have time for trivial pursuits. But after a doctor told her sister Miki last year that she needed a kidney transplant, the family began praying for a donor. This, Mimi thought, was a prize worth praying for. Less than a year later, Miki has a new kidney, courtesy of a bank teller in Napa, Calif., to whom she had told her story. The teller was the donor; she was so moved by Miki’s plight she had herself tested and discovered she was a perfect match.

Coincidence? Luck? Divine intervention? Rumpp is sure: “It was a miracle.”

It was almost 20 years ago, but the woman, now a Los Angeles journalist, still trembles when she describes the scene. Late on a black, noiseless night in upstate New York, she decided to take a shortcut home, up a steep, unlit path. Then she heard steps behind her, faster than her own. An instant later the man was upon her, tightening her new striped scarf around her neck, then ripping at her pants. At home, her mother woke from a deep sleep, seized with fear that something terrible was about to happen to her eldest daughter. The mother immediately knelt down beside her bed and prayed. For 15 minutes she begged God to protect her daughter from the nameless but real threat she felt her daughter faced. Convinced she had won God’s attention – and protection – the mother returned to bed and a sound sleep. Back on the stony path, the would – be rapist suddenly ceased his assault. He cocked his head, almost beastlike, the woman recalls, and fled down the hill.

Coincidence? Luck? Or divine intervention? Were prayers answered or were prayers irrelevant? The devoted mother and her daughter, a professional skeptic, are certain in their belief. That was the Devil on the hill, and it was God who led him away.

Such are the mysteries of prayer. For those blessed with faith, of course, there is no doubt: these are answered prayers, pure and simple. And Americans are a praying people. In a new Newsweek Poll, a majority of American adults – 54 percent – report praying on a daily basis, and 29 percent say they pray more than once a day. For them, it is not an unrequited relationship: 87 percent say they believe that God answers their prayers at least some of the time.

And when he doesn’t, what then? Gary Habermas is chairman of the philosophy department at Liberty University, the institution founded by the Rev. Jerry Falwell, the fundamentalist televangelist. By belief and by habit, Habermas is a praying man. In the 1980s, he kept a prayer list, with hundreds of names, often of people he didn’t know. He prayed for their jobs, their health, their children, and, after watching a remarkable set of healings, concluded that personal prayer works. So, when his 87 – years old grandmother fell deathly ill, he sat at her bedside in ‘serious prayer’. To his delight, she recovered. And then, in May 1995, his wife of 23 years was diagnosed with stomach cancer. Once again he prayed, more anxiously than ever, to his trustworthy God. He didn’t mean to be selfish, he prayed. “If it’s not your will that she be spared, then your will be done.” But he didn’t want to be judged indifferent, either. “But you understand, I really want her back.”

By one measure, he failed. Debbie died. But before she did, she told her husband that “God spoke to me. Three words: I love you.” Habermas was torn between grief and gratitude for a power he could no more master than understand. “She had doubted God’s love all her life, yet now she was as sure of his love as she was of mine,” he says today. “I trust him to have a good answer to my prayers. That’s not the same as knowing what that answer is.” Habermas is in the mainstream. According to the Newsweek Poll, 85 percent of Americans say they accept God’s failure to grant their prayers. Only 13 percent say they have lost faith – at any time – because their prayers went unanswered.

It is remarkable that in millennial America, where public cynicism seemingly knows no bounds and the coin of the mass – culture realm is cheap, ironic detachment, trust in God persists. The prayers keep coming – for health, safety, love and, to a remarkable degree, for others. At her Roman Catholic parish in Newton, Mass., Dorothy Reece runs a prayer line in which 50 congregants pray for a long list of needy people. Her current prayer registry reveals a Job – like list of human miseries: a heart attack, a spleen removed, stomach cancer, drug addiction, infertility, a husband’s desertion, a job interview. “We really do believe that God can take care of more than one person at a time,” says Reece.

Pentecostals are firm believers that God works miracles all the time. At Oral Roberts University in Tulsa, Okla., students run a round – the – clock prayer ministry, taking requests by phone, fax and e – mail. For those who prefer the Web, there’s the Praise & Prayer Center site. If you’re Jewish and can’t make it to Jerusalem, an Israeli company offers e – mail service with direct delivery of prayer requests to the Wailing Wall. At Foundary Memorial United Methodist Church in Washington, D.C., where the Clintons usually worship, there are Thursday evening healing services for the sick in body, mind or soul. Although the president has never attended one of those sessions, congregants prayed last week for a quick healing of his damaged knee.

This ubiquity of prayer came as a surprise to Foundary Memorial’s pastor, the Rev. J. Philip Wogaman. He had spent most of his career teaching seminary students before he took Foundary’s pulpit five years ago. And, as he said last week, “I had no idea people were doing these things.” This is a subject that frankly embarrasses some religious intellectuals. “If you look at formal liturgies,” says Robert Bruce Mullin, author of ‘Miracles and the Modern Religious Imagination’, and a religion professor at North Carolina State University, “they come right to the point of talking about the power of intercessory prayer. But they don’t want to cross the line saying, ‘Yes, God can intervene in the world’.”

Many of the nation’s leading theological schools have become obsessed with liberation theology, feminist theology, all forms of serious icon – shattering postmodern theology. But the people in the pews never forgot that they had come to pray. When Roberta Bondi, now a professor at Emory University’s Candler School of Theology, was herself a Methodist seminarian, asking God for personal favors was considered “an exercise in narcissism and dishonesty: prayer was a way of bucking us all up to be socially responsible.” Today, for her, it is something much more personal and direct. “If I want a real relationship with God, I have to tell him what’s going on,” she says. “As with any relationship, you don’t know in advance how it’s going to turn out. You just do it, you make yourself accessible so you’re prepared to receive grace when it comes.”

Jesus, of course, repeatedly urged his followers to petition the Father for their needs. Many of his own miraculous cures occurred only after others begged him to heal their afflictions. “Ask and you shall receive,” he said, “seek and you shall find, knock and the door will be opened to you.” By that measure, millions of Americans are finders as well as seekers.

How do the faithful know that God really answers prayers? More than any other issue in religion, the response depends on point of view. If you believe, no proof is necessary; if you don’t, no proof is sufficient. For nonbelievers, prayer of any kind is folly, and relying on God for favors is the worst form that folly can take. In his final book, “The Demon – Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark,” the late Carl Sagan included prayer along with astrology, spoon – bending, witches, ESP, spiritualism and repressed memories as examples of the persistence of irrationality (next story). The fact that most Americans both pray and believe that Earth has been visited by odd – shaped extraterrestrials, he pointed out, does not offer much confidence that faith in God – the Supreme Extraterrestrial – is rationally warranted.

The challenge Sagan raises is one that bothers many theologians and other religious intellectuals. The issues involved are particularly acute for Christian faith and practice. In the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus taught his disciples specifically to ask the Father for their ‘daily bread’ and for deliverance from ‘evil’. That covers a lot of ground, and pious Christians have been filling in the details ever since. But while ordinary believers continue asking God for favors, an international group of Christian scientists, philosophers and theologians has been grappling with the implications of this old and seemingly innocuous habit. Although their arguments are often abstruse, participants believe they are necessary for the coherence and integrity of religious faith. Given what science tells us about the laws of nature, what does it mean to say that God intervenes to answer individual prayers? What do answered prayers say about God? Since many prayers go unanswered, does this mean that God plays favorites? And what kind of prayer is it that tries to manipulate God for personal benefit? Doesn’t all petitionary prayer treat God as a kind of divine vending machine? In short, what does the simple act of begging for this or that presuppose about our understanding of God, the world of nature and ourselves?

For some theologians, the basic issue is simple. Modern science presents an increasingly compelling model of how the world works to which religion, if it is to remain intellectually honest, must adjust its ideas about God. For these theologians, prayers of petition are understandable but intellectually outdated. “It’s not very helpful to think of God as an old man in the sky waiting for communication and answering it,” says Gordon Kaufman, emeritus professor at Harvard Divinity School. “We have to think of God much more in accordance with the general picture of the world.” According to that picture, Kaufman argues, the universe is an ecological system where scientific laws govern the course of events, making the idea of a transcendent personal God untenable. “I prefer to think of God as creativity, rather than as creator,” he says. In this reconfigured world, therefore, praying to a personal God, as he once did, makes no sense. Instead, says Kaufman, the only kind of prayer that works is “meditation – trying to understand faults, mistakes, where I’ve gone wrong.”

But there are a number of academics who think that Kaufman’s view claims too much for science, too little for God. Several of them are both scientists and Anglican priests, members of a group called The Society of Ordained Scientists, who believe faith and science share a common ground of intellectual inquiry. “Twentieth – century science has seen the death of a nicely mechanical view of the world,” says the Rev. John Polkinghorne, a particle physicist and currently a visiting professor at New York’s General Theological Seminary. Nor is the world, he believes, a place where laws of nature determine and explain everything that happens. Modern physics alone reveals a world shot through with uncertainty and indeterminacy. “The causes that bring about the future are not just the causes that physics processes in bits and pieces,” says Polkinghorne. “They also include what I call active information from human beings and from God.” In his model of the world, there is room for nature to be itself, human beings to make choices and God to influence history through Divine Providence. “The world isn’t God’s puppet theater,” he observes.

If there is ample room for God in the perspective of these theologian – scientists, there still isn’t much space for miracles. To scientists who look for universal laws and work with repeatable experiments, a single inexplicable event can only be described as nature’s ‘misbehavior’, says physicist Paul Davies of the University of Adelaide in Australia, who has written numerous popular books on the philosophical dimensions of modern science. A miracle by definition is a direct act of God – and that, often enough, is what ordinary people say has been the answer to their prayers. According to the Bible, miracles are signs and wonders that point to the reality and power of God.

But all miracles are in the eyes of the beholder, and can be recognized only if those eyes are open to faith. “Healings are certainly healings, but if you take them as just the restoration of somatic health, then you’ve missed the point,” says Episcopal theologian Charles Hefling of Boston College. If one is sick, prays for healing, gets better and then forgets about what’s happened, that’s not a miracle, says Hefling. “Even if the doctors can’t explain why it happened, it’s not a sign and wonder in the Biblical sense because it hasn’t opened one’s eyes to that Something Else.”

There is, in sum, no way to prove empirically that even the most inexplicable event is an act of God. His ways are indeed mysterious. But many doctors are convinced that prayers can significantly improve a patient’s health. And several of them are designing tests to try to prove the power of prayer.

The most intriguing experiment involves 60 patients at the Arthritis Treatment Center in Clearwater, Fla. Because rheumatoid arthritis has clear manifestations – including swollen joints and crippling pain – relief of these symptoms can be easily measured. The study is under the general direction of Dr. Dale Matthews, an associate professor of medicine at the Georgetown University School of Medicine in Washington, D.C. Matthews is also a Presbyterian who has been praying for and with patients for years and now wants to find out if science can confirm that prayer really has healing effects.

He has divided the participants into two general groups. All patients will receive four days of healing prayer through the traditional Christian practice of laying on of hands by members of the Christian Healing Ministry. In addition, half the patients will receive six months of long – distance intercessory prayer. Both groups will be examined by the same clinician before the experiment, immediately afterward and again at one, three, six and twelve months. Throughout, Matthews is using strict scientific protocols and standards set by the American College of Rheumatology. By the end of this year, after an outside physician has scrutinized the data, Matthews and his team hope to show what difference, if any, prayer has made.

Already, a videotape of the early phase of the study shows that some individual patients have experienced extraordinary short – term results from prayer. “There’s something weird going on here, and I love it,” says one patient. At the beginning of the experiment he had 49 tender joints. After four sessions with a hands – on praying minister, he had only eight. Six months later, he says he has no pain at all and no need of medication.

Matthews doesn’t expect that all the patients will turn out so well. He’s mainly interested in discovering whether prayer has long – term benefits. But what is being tested here, the power of prayer or God’s willingness to take part in scientific experiments? “That’s a fair question,” Matthews acknowledges. “God can bless or not bless this study.”

Indeed, one of the great problems in asking God for any favor is that he often does not grant it. And when he favors some and not others, it appears that he does indeed play favorites. Is God unjust or is it that he only appears that way?

The question is as old as the book of job, and believers have been wrestling ever since with the answer God gives there: “Who has a claim against me that I must pay?” Deists take the view that God set the universe in motion and then withdrew from intervention in its unfolding: that is why bad things often happen to good people. But that makes God a remote and unapproachable being. Protestant theologian Ronald Goetz of Elmhurst College in Illinois doesn’t see how a God worthy of the title has any choice but to interact with the people he has created. “I don’t think a deistic god, who doesn’t involve himself, is any less innocent than the God of Scriptures who says he is committed,” Goetz argues. “If a creator is uninvolved, then I shall be uninvolved with him.”

A vision of God who can act but won’t – who sits back paring his nails, in James Joyce’s famous phrase – can be unsettling. The Jewish community in the West continues to ask how an event so horrific as the Holocaust could have happened, and this can generate skepticism about the power of prayer. Petitionary prayer is not foreign to Judaism; healing centers have opened recently in New York and San Francisco. But most rabbis prefer to pray for wisdom, not relief. The master of this view is Rabbi Harold Kushner, whose ‘When Bad Things Happen to Good People’ was just the first in a series of best sellers. “I don’t like the notion that when we pray and don’t get answers, God has considered our request and said, ‘No’,” Kushner says. “I’d get very angry if I felt God had the power and chose not to. I don’t know anything about the nature of God. But I know prayer makes life better and richer for me.”

Prayer can certainly be manipulative and trivial. Must God choose between a boxer who thanks Allah for victory and his opponent who prays to Jesus? When Notre Dame played Texas Christian University in basketball last week, was the Irish victory a sign of divine preference? In fact, coaches today use prayer as a form of team bonding, asking only that players perform up to their full potential. On professional teams like the New York Knicks, athletes who want to pray, sometimes do it together with members of the opposition. Serious athletes – if not passionate fans – know that God does not provide a competitive edge.

Still, prayers of petition can be the beginning of a lifelong relationship. “We go to God with dirty hands and ambiguous motives,” observes theologian Goetz. But with repetition, elementary prayer can develop into more refined, less self – centered habits. “If you’re learning to play the piano, do the exercise first,” advises theologian Hefling. “Chopin comes later.”

At Easter time, all Christians are reminded that Jesus himself did not always get his own prayers answered. At least not the way he wanted. As the liturgy of Good Friday recalls, Jesus pleaded with the Father, just before his arrest by Roman soldiers, that ‘the cup’ of suffering he was about to drink be taken from him. He literally sweated blood, the Gospels say, while thinking of the hideous death that lay before him. Yet his supplication was refused, and he went to the cross in obedience to the Father’s will. Mark’s Gospel records that his last words were dark indeed: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” It was the Father’s will that, Christians believe, Jesus should be crucified for others. And the purpose, the Gospels also tell us, was that all might enjoy everlasting life. Such are the mysteries of prayer.

In this Newsweek Poll, 82% say they ask for health or success for a child or family member when they pray; 75% ask for strength to overcome personal weakness; 87% say that God answers prayers; 51% think God doesn’t answer prayers to win sporting events; 36% never pray for financial or career success; 29% say they pray to God more than once a day; 25% pray once a day; 82% say they believe that God does not play favorites in answering prayers; 79% say God answers prayers for healing someone with an incurable disease; 73% think prayers for help in finding a job are answered; 54% say that when God doesn’t answer their prayers, it means it wasn’t God’s will to answer; 82% don’t turn away from God when prayers go unanswered.

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Citation Details : Is God listening?

Article Abstract:

Skeptics and believers argue over the observation that prayer is a powerful tool to ward away evil. A Newsweek survey reveals that a majority of Americans still believe in the power of prayer and can attest that most of the unexplainable events in their lives are due to divine intervention.

Author : Woodward, Kenneth L.

Publisher : Reader’s Digest Association, Inc.

Publication Name : Reader’s Digest

Subject : General interest

ISSN : 0034-0375

Year : 1997

Topic Tags : Analysis, Personal narratives, Psychology, Religious, Psychology and religion, Transcendence of God, Divine transcendence

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[1] Cf: http://www.newsweek.com/god-listening-170460; Also see the colophon to this article for citation.

Useful Message for Youth: A message to Garcia

 

Introduction:

Horse Sense

If you work for a man, then work for him with all your heart. If he pays wages that supply you your bread and butter, work for him, speak well of him, think well of him, stand by him, and stand by the institution he represents. I think if I worked for a man, I would work for him. I would not work for him a part of his time, but all of his time. I would give an undivided service or none. An ounce of loyalty is worth a pound of cleverness. If you must vilify, condemn, and eternally disparage, why don’t you resign your position? And when you are outside, speak ill of the man and his institution to your heart’s content. But, I pray you, so long as you are a part of an institution, do not condemn it. Not that you will injure the institution-not that-but when you disparage the institution of which you are a part, you disparage yourself. And don’t forget – “I forgot” won’t do in business.

This essay, ‘A Message to Garcia’, was written one evening after supper, in a single hour. It was on the 22nd February, 1899, Washington’s Birthday, and we were just going to press with the March issue of ‘Philistine’. The essay leaped hot from my heart, written after a really busy day, when I had been struggling to train some rather lazy villagers to come out of their sleepy, idle state and get active & productive. The immediate suggestion, though, came from a little argument while having tea, in my house. During the argument, my son Bert suggested that Rowan was the real hero of the Cuban War. Rowan had gone alone and done the thing – carried the message to Garcia.

It came to me like a flash! Yes, the boy is right. The hero is the man who does his work – who carries the message to Garcia. I got up from the table, and wrote the essay ‘A Message to Garcia’. I thought so little of it that we ran it in the Magazine without a heading. The edition went out, and soon orders began to come for extra copies of the March ‘Philistine’, a dozen, fifty, a hundred; and when the American News Company ordered a thousand, I asked one of my helpers which article it was that had stirred up the cosmic dust. “It’s the stuff about Garcia,” he said. The next day a telegram came from George H. Daniels, of the New York Central Railroad, thus: “Give price on one hundred thousand Rowan article in pamphlet form – Empire State Express advertisement on back – also how soon can ship.” I replied giving price, and stated we could supply the pamphlets in two years. Our facilities were small and a hundred thousand booklets looked like an awful undertaking.

The result was that I gave Mr. Daniels permission to reprint the article in his own way. He issued it in booklet form in editions of half a million. Two or three of these half-million lots were sent out by Mr. Daniels, and in addition the article was reprinted in over two hundred magazines and newspapers. It has been translated into all written languages.

At the time Mr. Daniels was distributing the ‘Message to Garcia’, Prince Hylakoff, Director of Russian Railways, was in this country. He was the guest of the New York Central, and made a tour of the country under the personal direction of Mr. Daniels. The Prince saw the little book and was interested in it, more because Mr. Daniels was putting it out in such big numbers, probably, than otherwise. In any event, when he got home he had the matter translated into Russian, and a copy of the booklet given to every railroad employee in Russia. Other countries then took it up, and from Russia it passed into Germany, France, Spain, Turkey, Hindustan and China. During the war between Russia and Japan, every Russian soldier who went to the front was given a copy of the ‘Message to Garcia’. The Japanese, finding the booklets in possession of the Russian prisoners, concluded that it must be a good thing, and accordingly translated it into Japanese. And on an order of the Mikado, a copy was given to every man in the employ of the Japanese Government, soldier or civilian. Over forty million copies of ‘A Message to Garcia’ have been printed.

This is said to be a larger circulation than any other literary venture has ever attained during the lifetime of the author, in all history – thanks to a series of lucky accidents!

Elbert Hubbard

 

Initiative

The world bestows its big prizes, both in money and in honors, for only one thing. And that is Initiative.

What is Initiative? I’ll tell you: It is doing the right thing without being told.

But next to doing the thing without being told is to do it when you are told once. That is to say, carry the Message to Garcia: those who can carry a message get high honors, but their pay is not always in proportion.

Next, there are those who never do a thing until they are told twice; such get no honors and small pay.

Next, there are those who do the right thing only when necessity kicks them from behind, and these get indifference instead of honors and a pittance for pay. This kind spends most of its time complaining about hard-luck and injustice.

Then, still lower down in the scale than this, we have the fellow who will not do the right thing even when someone goes along to show him how and stays to see that he does it; he is always out of job, and receives the contempt he deserves

To which class do you belong?

By Elbert Hubbard

1899

  

A Message to Garcia

By Elbert Hubbard

In all this Cuban business there is one man stands out in my memory. When war broke out between Spain & the United States, it was very necessary to communicate quickly with the leader of the Insurgents. Garcia was somewhere in the mountain vastness of Cuba – no one knew where. Neither mail nor telegram could reach him. The President of USA must secure his cooperation, and quickly.

What to do!

Someone said to the President, “There’s a fellow by the name of Rowan in our Army. He will certainly find Garcia for you, if anybody can.”

Rowan was sent for and given a letter to be delivered to Garcia. How ‘the fellow by the name of Rowan’ took the letter, sealed it up in an oil-skin pouch, strapped it over his heart, in four days landed by night off the coast of Cuba from an open boat, disappeared into the jungle, & in three weeks came out on the other side of the Island, having traversed a hostile country on foot, and delivered his letter to Garcia, are things I have no special desire now to tell in detail.

The point I wish to make is this: President McKinley gave Col Andrew Summers Rowan a letter to be delivered to Garcia; Rowan took the letter and did not ask, “Where is he? Where can I find Garcia?” By God! There is a man whose form should be cast in pure bronze and the statue placed in every college of the land. It is not book-learning that young men need, nor instruction about this and that, but a stiffening of the backbone which will make them to be loyal to a trust, to act promptly, to concentrate their energies: Do the thing – ‘Carry a message to Garcia!’ General Garcia is dead now, but there are other Garcias.

Every man, who has endeavored to carry out an enterprise where many hands were needed, would have certainly been shocked at the imbecility of the average man. What do I mean by imbecility? It is the inability or unwillingness to concentrate on a thing and do it. Slip-shod assistance, foolish inattention, indifference, & half-hearted work seem to be the rule. In the present circumstances, no man succeeds in getting work done by others, unless by hook or crook, or threat, he forces or bribes other men to assist him. Of course, in the rarest of the rare situations, God in His goodness performs a miracle, & sends him an Angel of Light as an assistant.

You, reader, put this matter to a test: You are sitting now in your office. Six clerks are working in your office and you are free to call any of them and assign them a task.

Call any one and make this request: “Please look in the encyclopedia and write a brief note for me concerning the life of Correggio.”

Will the clerk quietly say, “Yes, sir”, and go do the task?

I will bet you a thousand dollars, he will not. He will look at you out of the corner of his eye and ask one or more of the following questions:

Who was Correggio?

Which encyclopedia?

Where is the encyclopedia?

Was I hired for that?

Don’t you mean Bismarck?

What’s the matter with Charlie doing it?

Is he dead?

Is there any hurry?

Wouldn’t it be better if I bring you the book and let you look it up yourself?

What do you want to know for?

And I will bet you another thousand dollars that after you have answered the questions, and explained how to find the information, and why you want it, the clerk will go off and get one of the other clerks to help him try to find Garcia – and then come back and tell you there is no such man. Of course I may lose my bet, but according to the Law of Average, I will not.

Now if you are wise you will not bother to explain to your ‘assistant’ that Correggio is indexed under C, not under K, but you will smile sweetly and say, “Never mind”, and go look it up yourself.

This incapacity for independent action, this moral stupidity, this infirmity of the will, this unwillingness to cheerfully catch hold and lift, are the things that put pure Socialism so far into the future. If men will not act for their own good, what will they do when the benefit of their effort is for all? A first-mate with knotted club seems necessary; and the fear of getting ‘fired’ Saturday night, holds many a worker to his place.

Advertise for a stenographer, and nine out of ten who apply, can neither spell nor punctuate- and do not think it necessary to. Can such a one write a letter to Garcia?

“You see that Accountant”, said the foreman to me in a large factory.

“Yes. What about him?”

“Well he’s a fine accountant, but if I’d send him to town on an errand, he might accomplish the errand all right, but there is an equal chance that he might stop at four shops on the way for some personal matter of his own, and when he got to Main Street, would forget what he had been sent for!”

Can such a man be entrusted to carry a message to Garcia?

We have recently been hearing much sympathy expressed for the ‘downtrodden, poor people’ and the ‘homeless wanderer searching for honest employment’. Generally, along with such cries, we also hear many hard words spoken about the men in power, the people who employ.

Nothing is said about the employer who grows old before his time in a vain attempt to get these idiots to do intelligent work. No one ever speaks about the employer’s long & patient striving with ‘the assistant’ who does nothing but loaf when his back is turned. In every store and factory there is a constant weeding-out process going on. The employer is constantly sending away ‘assistants’ that have shown their incapacity to further the interests of the business, and others are being taken on. No matter how good times are, this sorting continues. The incompetent and unworthy worker goes out of work. It is the survival of the fittest. Self-interest prompts every employer to keep the best – those who can carry a message to Garcia.

I know one brilliant man, who cannot manage a business of his own, and yet who is absolutely worthless to anyone else. Why? Because, he carries with him constantly the insane suspicion that his employer is oppressing, or intending to oppress him! He cannot give orders; and he will not receive them. If we gave a message to him to take to Garcia, his answer would probably be, “Take it yourself”.

Today, this man walks the streets looking for job. He doesn’t even have a good coat to protect him from the cold wind. No one who knows him will dare to employ him, for he is a regular fire-brand of discontent. He is impervious to reason. And I believe that the only thing that can impress him is the toe of a thick-soled size-9 boot!

It may be argued that this man is morally deformed. And family conditions, school & college situations, and life in general is responsible for his moral deformity. As a result, he has to be pitied just as we pity a physically handicapped person. But in our pitying this imbecile, let us also drop a tear for the men who are striving to carry on a great enterprise, whose working hours are not limited by the siren, and whose hair is fast turning white through the struggle to hold in line the stupidly indifferent, the slip-shod imbecile, the heartless & ungrateful idiot. It is a fact that these imbeciles and idiots would be both hungry & homeless, if they were not painfully kept in employment by the very business that they curse day and night.

Have I put the matter too strongly? Possibly I have. But when the entire world has gone to sleep at night, I wish to speak a word of sympathy for the man who succeeds, the man who, against great obstructions, has directed the efforts of others, and having succeeded, finds there’s nothing in it: nothing but bare board and clothes. In my own life, there was a time when I have worked for daily wages. And I have also been an employer of labor. And I know there is something to be said on both sides. There is no excellence, per se, in poverty. Rags are no recommendation. And all employers are not rapacious and high-handed, any more than all poor men are virtuous.

My heart goes out to the man who does his work when the ‘boss’ is away, as well as when he is in office. And the man who, when given a letter for Garcia, quietly take the letter, without asking any idiotic questions, and with no hidden intention of throwing it into the nearest sewer, never gets ‘fired’. Neither does he have to go on a strike for higher wages. Civilization is one long anxious search for just such individuals. Anything such a man asks shall be granted. Such a kind of person is so rare that no employer can afford to let him go. He is wanted in every city, town and village – in every office, shop, store and factory. The world cries out for such. He is needed, & needed very badly – the man who can carry a message to Garcia.

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A note on Andrew Summers Rowan:

Colonel Andrews Summers ROWAN was born in Gap Mills, Virginia, in 1857. He was an American officer and graduated of West Point class of 1881. In the years before the Spanish American War, Rowan served several frontiers posts and with military intelligence in Latin America. He was interested in Cuba in particular and wrote a book about the island. With tensions between the United States and the Spanish (who then ruled Cuba) growing, President William McKinley saw value in establishing contact with the Cuban rebels who could prove a valuable ally in case of war with Spain. McKinley asked Colonel Arthur Wagner to suggest an officer to make contact with Garcia’s rebels. Wagner suggested Rowan who then traveled to Cuba via Jamaica. Rowan met Garcia in the Oriento Mountains and established a rapport. Rowan garnered information from Garcia who was eager to cooperate with Americans in fighting the Spanish. Rowan returned to the US and was given command of a force of ‘Immunes’, African-American troops assumed to be immune to tropical diseases found in Cuba. After his service in the Spanish-American War, he served in the Philippines and posts in the US Fort Riley (Kansas), West Point (Kentucky) and American Lake (Washington), retiring in 1909. More than twenty years later, Rowan was presented the ‘Distinguished Service Cross’ for his extraordinary heroism in action in connection with the operations in Cuba in May, 1898. Rowan died in San Francisco in 1943. He is buried at Arlington National Cemetery.