Two young nuns from a Buddhist monastery boarded a bus on their way to town. In one of the stops, a bunch of blustering college boys got inside the bus. The moment they spotted the nuns huddled in a corner of the front row seat the boys exchanged winks, preparing themselves to have fun at the latters’ expense. So, throughout the journey wisecracks kept flying thick and fast from them. While they were speculating loudly about the nuns’ way of life, their dress, appearance etc., the nuns maintained a dignified silence.
When their destination arrived, all of them got down from the bus. The boys however pursued the nuns relentlessly with their non-stop running commentary. They just wouldn’t stop!
Suddenly one of the nuns stopped midway. She turned around with a grim look on her face and advanced towards them menacingly in full public glare. “Boys! Do tell me if you have a problem here,” she told them, “We have been taught martial arts in our monastery.” Stunned by her unexpected action and the subtle threat in her voice, the group dispersed automatically and ran helter-skelter mumbling, “Sorry, sister!” The other people in the street smiled in admiration as the nuns walked away from the scene calmly.
What the spunky nun did here was to make it amply clear to the mischief-mongers that the dignity of not only their womanhood but also their divine calling was not something to be trifled with.
In the spiritual world there is a lot of confusion between egoism and self-respect. On the face of it both may appear one and the same but there is a world of difference between the two that most seekers are likely to miss. While egoism is all about being self-possessed with a supreme concern for one’s own welfare and interests, self-respect is primarily about the quality of being worthy of honour and dignity. This sense of pride and dignity denoting the very essence of the human spirit may be extrapolated to include other areas of one’s life as well. It could be one’s vocation or the community one is associated or the country to which one belongs. A life devoid of dignity can disturb one at a deep existential level.
In an eagerness to display the characteristics that are required of an egoless person, spiritual seekers often fail to defend their dignity when it is imperative for them to do so. Their ‘let go’ stance and silence can be mistaken for weakness making them appear effete and vulnerable in the eyes of the outside world.
Here, it is interesting to note that our world is ambivalent when it comes to spirituality. While on the one hand it is drawn to its mystical aspects, on the other it tends to view spiritual-seekers with a mixture of cynicism and incredulity. Often, they are considered ‘escapists’ or ‘misfits’ who badly need a course correction. Worse, at times they are also seen as hypocrites who want the best of both the worlds—spiritual and material. Even though great masters like Paramahamsa Yogananda had advocated combining the spiritualism of the east and materialism of the west for a purposeful existence, our world still associates spirituality with renunciation. They certainly don’t take kindly to seekers who pontificate on spiritual truths and at the same time lead a hedonistic lifestyle.
Under the circumstances, what could be the ideal way for seekers to preserve their dignity in a harsh judgmental world? It is not enough to declare that one is no pushover and that he or she is somebody worthy of honour and respect. Something more needs to be done to command this respect.
First and foremost, it would really help if seekers can be modest and not flaunt their spiritual knowledge by sharing it with people who are not like-minded and interested enough to appreciate it. Imagine a scientist trying to explain ‘quantum field theory’ to the man on the street. He is only going to invite a bored expression and possibly ridicule. Same is the position of seekers who try to hold forth on topics like a multi-dimensional universe or astral travel. The response is bound to be anywhere between lukewarm interest to cold indifference.
Secondly, it makes good sense not to boast about the prowess of one’s spiritual master or his so-called ‘miraculous’ powers to all and sundry. The seeker will only end up looking like a propaganda-machine for the spiritual organization of which he or she is a part. Here, the master’s name too is dragged to the mud for no fault of his, which is totally uncalled for.
If seekers can manage to adopt a realistic approach by being aware of all such aspects, they can ensure that their dignity is still intact while on their quest for greater glory. The world will surely look up to them and seek their guidance for a change.
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