Peace - This have I learnt
by J.P. Vaswani
At the feet of my master and mentor, Sadhu Vaswani, I learnt the supreme lesson that life and all its bounties are given to us as a loan to be passed on to those whose need is greater than ours
Misfortunes are blessings if we handle them well. They are like knives, which hurt or help depending on whether we hold them by the blade or the handle
Life has taught me innumerable lessons, an important one being that life is a school where experience is our teacher. So many experiences, which appear to be bitter, come to teach us the lessons we need to learn. Suddenly a dear one is snatched by death, we suffer loss in business, or fall ill. Instead of trying to run away from these experiences, let us greet every incident and accident, illness and adversity with the words: “Welcome, friend, what lesson do you have to teach me?”
One of the earliest lessons I learnt was the value of time. Every moment is precious. There is a Chinese proverb: “An inch of time is an inch of gold. But an inch of gold cannot buy an inch of time.” We realise the value of the moment only when the last moment arrives. As King Alexander, the world conqueror, lay dying, he asked: “Is there anyone who will give me a breath of his life? In exchange I will give him my whole empire.” There was no answer. Alexander exclaimed: “I wasted millions of my breaths in carving out an empire in exchange of which I cannot get a single breath!”
The river of time flows on. Hours quickly change into days, days into months and months into years. Suddenly, one day, the call rings forth: “Vacate the house (of the body)!” Then man realises he has lost the golden opportunity of human birth. We must be careful with our time and use it creatively, never forgetting that each moment is the right time to do a right thing. If we wait for more opportune moments, we may have to wait till eternity. Take care of your moments and the years will take care of themselves.
We must fix a goal. So many of us, alas, are just moving, knowing not where we are going. Time is neutral. It could be used either constructively or destructively. Let us fix a goal—secular or spiritual—and each day strive to draw closer to it.
Fortunately for me, I was drawn to my beloved master and mentor, Sadhu Vaswani, at a comparatively early age, as a college student. At his feet I learnt the supreme lesson that life and all its bounties are given to us as a loan to be passed on to those whose need is greater than ours. The day on which I have not helped someone in need—a brother here, a sister there, a bird here, an animal there—is a lost day indeed.
Sadhu Vaswani was a prophet of the revolution that is coming—the revolution of love. He revealed to us our kinship with all who suffer, our partnership with those in pain. You and others are not apart, he said, all are part of the One Whole. He lived in this vision of unity.
One day, he was in a village. The villagers looked at his luminous, love-filled eyes and wondered who he was. “Are you Hindu or Muslim?” they asked him. He answered: “I know not who I am! I only know that my brother and I are one. Children of the one God are we all. And this, too, I know, that salvation is neither in Kashi nor in Mecca. Whether you go to the Ganga or to the Yamuna, you carry heavy fetters on your feet if you have not love in your hearts.”
The way of love is the ‘little way’. It is the way which simple folk, such as we are, can tread. It is the way of bhakti, devotion, surrender to the Lord. It is the way of deep yearning for the Soul’s Beloved. As a miser longs for gold, as the lover longs for his beloved, as a child longs for its mother, even so, said Ramakrishna Paramahansa, must you long for the Lord. The longing of the heart breaks forth into tears. Sant Tukaram exclaimed: “Blessed are they who have tears in their eyes. The tears of bhakti are more precious than the holy waters of the Ganga, Yamuna and Godavari.”
In silence, the bhakta sits everyday and, in the agony of separation, cries the cry of love. Coming out of silence, as he looks around him, he finds that the world is torn with tragedy, smitten with suffering. Such a world needs sympathy, compassion and love. As he moves amongst men, he gives the service of love to all—the virtuous and the wicked alike. For all are the images of the One Lord of Love: and love must be denied to none. It is neither the will-to-power nor the will-to-love, but the will-to-become an instrument of God’s help and healing, in this world of suffering, that will lead to the fulfilment of man’s divine destiny.
Love must flow to every creature. For every ant and insect, dog, goat and lamb, cow, horse and pig, every tiny chicken that is strangled, yearns for love. Love quickens the evolution of he who loves and he who is loved. Therefore, kill not creatures nor eat their flesh, but give them pure, unselfish love, and you will be blessed and they will be blessed. We need to grow in the spirit of reverence for all life. All life must be regarded as sacred. There can be no peace on earth until all killing stops, for the simple reason that if man kills an animal for food, he will not hesitate in killing a human being whom he regards as an enemy.
Studying various world religions and teachings of their great founders, it seems to me that there is but one light in all religions and each one of them emphasises the same fundamental truths. Fights in the name of religion are meaningless. Nor do I believe in conversion from one religion to another. All we need to do is help a Hindu become a true Hindu, a Muslim become a true Muslim, a Christian become a true Christian, and so on. Are we not all children of the One Heavenly Father, the One Divine Mother of the Universe?
Today, India seems to be passing through a difficult period. I regard it as a transitional phase. I believe that the spirit of India is strong: it will, in due course, assert itself. India has a mission to fulfil, a message to give to the nations of East and West that there can be no true freedom without spirituality.
My vision for the 21st century is one of optimism and faith. I visualise a world without war and want, in which every person receives the necessities of life. A world in which every human being, irrespective of country, colour, creed or race can hold his head high, a world in which the right to live is accorded to every creature that breathes the breath of life.
My hope is not in politics but in education. But education must be directed and inspired by men and women of light and illumination. Such an education will integrate the character of pupils and prepare them to become servants of humanity. We must, therefore, begin with the child. We have neglected our children for a long time. They are the builders of a brave, new world. Let us give them the time and attention and love without which no child can grow in the right way.
During my life, the Lord has brought me in touch with many enlightened souls. I spent early years of my life in Sind, the land of my birth. I regard its soil as sacred. There I first came into contact with dervishes and fakirs. Later, when I came to India, I met several saints and holy men. From them I have learnt innumerable lessons. I will share some:
1. In the endless adventure of existence, God and man are comrades. God is our one unfailing companion. He will never leave us. We may try to run away but He will follow us as our own shadow. In the words of Edward Thompson, He is the ‘Heavenly Hound’.
2. There is a meaning of mercy in everything that happens to us. For God is all-love. He is all-wisdom. He is too loving to punish, too wise to make a mistake. Whatever happens in the Divine Providence happens for our good. Nothing happens a moment too early or too late. God’s clocks are never slow. Everything happens at the right time to the right person at the right place. Wherever God takes us, let us go; wherever He keeps us, let us remain. Let us never forget that all is well, all was well, all will be well, both today and a hundred years hence.
3. When man surrenders to God, He takes on man’s entire responsibility. All we need to do is to hand ourselves over, in childlike trust, to the Lord, and the angels of God will clear our way. We shall be free from fear, anxiety, worry, stress and tension. We shall find that all our needs are provided for even before we become aware of them.
4. Thought is a tremendous force in the life of every individual. Thoughts shape our attitudes. Attitudes mould our character. Character influences our life. By changing our thought pattern, we can change our life.
5. Problems are not a dead end; they are only a bend in the road. Problems are not stumbling blocks; they are stepping-stones to a richer, more radiant life. Often, problems become the door through which God enters our life. We surround ourselves with hard shells that keep God away from us. Problems crack the shell so that God easily enters our lives.
6. Neither rites nor rituals, neither creeds nor ceremonies are needed to improve the condition of the world. All that is needed is love.
7. Are you anxious to find God? Then you must be prepared to lose yourself! Do you want to be yours? Then you must first become his!
8. How may we know that we are drawing closer to God? The closer we draw to God, the more tender and compassionate become our hearts to the needs of those around us.
9. What is the best exercise for the heart? Reach down and lift up as many as you can.
10. Misfortunes are blessings if we handle them well. They are like knives, which hurt or help depending on whether we hold them by the blade or the handle.
11. Life is too short to be spent in fault-finding or holding grudges. Forgive even before forgiveness is asked for. Forgive and forget.
12. The worst thing that can happen to a man is that he has a hot head and a cold heart.
13. If a person has moved in the wrong direction, he can always take a U-turn. The angels of God will be with him. The past does not, cannot, bind us.
14. You, who are looking for miracles, open your eyes and see! All around us are the miracles of God. A tiny seed grows into a huge banyan tree. A caterpillar becomes a butterfly.
15. Open thine heart and let love enter, and all things in the universe will gravitate to thee. For love is the power that pulls.
16. Give, give, give—until it hurts to give! This will release you from bondage to the ego—and to things.
17. I must never forget that every thought I think, every word I utter, every action I perform, every feeling, every emotion that wakes up within me, is recorded in the memory of nature. I may be able to deceive those around me or even myself. But I cannot deceive nature.
18. When a particular problem has vexed you for some time and you are unable to do anything about it, hand it over to God. Breathe out: “Thy will be done, O Lord!” Soon a way will be shown to you.
19. Does God want our work? Or does He want our love? He wants that we should work for him in love.
20. If you wish to know God and understand Him, you must love Him more and more. The more you love Him, the more you will know Him. The key to knowledge is—LOVE!
21. The aim of life is to realise that we are immortal spirits—not the bodies we wear.
22. An infinite potential lies hidden within us. We are unaware of it because we think of ourselves as limited creatures. We have identified ourselves with a biochemical mental organism. Our True Self is the atman. Tat twam asi! (That art thou.) There can be no limit to what we can do, and achieve.
23. When storms blow around us, let us close our eyes, think of God and say: “God is with me and He is in control.” Those are words of power and can quell the fiercest storm.
24. No man can attain enlightenment by his own efforts, only by the grace of God. Strive for enlightenment. But be like the peasant who tills the soil and sows the seed, then turns to the heavens for rain.
25. The greatest illusion is perhaps that of death. In reality there is no death. Death is like sunset. When the sun sets here, it has already risen elsewhere. Likewise, death here is birth elsewhere. Life is eternal.
26. The greatest intoxication is that of the ego. The worst madness is that of anger. The person who is free from arrogance and anger finds goodness and beauty wherever he goes.
27. Has someone offended you? Insults are like bad coins. You cannot avoid them, but you can always refuse to accept them.
28. The test of a man is how much he can bear, how much he can share, and how soon he confesses a mistake and makes amends for it.
29. If while praying we can think of worldly matters, why can’t we think of God while doing worldly things?
30. Think positively. Eat sparingly. Exercise regularly. Walk as much as you can. Be careful that your thoughts and actions are clean. A guilty mind breeds diseases. Herein lies the secret of a happy, healthy, harmonious life.
31. I have met many who will go to any length to prove the superiority of their religion over others. They will even fight and die for it. But I have met few who live for their religion, who bear witness to the great teachings in daily living. Religion is life.
These and many other lessons have I sought to learn for over 85 years. I have always kept reminding myself that what is needed is not words, but life. I may recite by rote all the 700 verses of the Bhagavad Gita. I may write learned commentaries on the Gita, the Upanishads and the Brahma Sutras, but if my life does not bear witness to the teaching in daily living, am I better than a tape recorder? Rightly did Sadhu Vaswani exclaim: “Religion? Let us talk of it less, practise more!”
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