Thursday, 24 March 2016

Why should I be good? An answer inspired by the Master...

A small episode at the Yajur Mandir

It was a warm afternoon in the divine hamlet of Puttaparthi. Bhagawan Sri Sathya Sai Baba or Swami (as devotees reverentially address Him) was at His residence in the Yajur Mandir. He was listening to the Radiosai broadcast that day. Along with Him was also a lad who was massaging His feet. The discussion on the radio was on an interesting subject - whether atheists also could get liberation or the realization of the Ultimate Reality.
Prof. G.Venkatraman, a Padma Shri awardee in 1991 and the director at the Radiosai studios was fielding the above question. The answer he gave was this,
“No! Atheists cannot attain liberation. But if the atheist is a good person who does noble deeds, then, he will be blessed with a next birth into a god-loving family. Then, he will be able to attain liberation/salvation.”
While that answer by the professor seems like a convincing one for every theist, the lad who was with Swami was very intrigued by this question. He felt that maybe that was not the complete answer. Thus, he too was lost in his own thoughts about the question. After a while, he made bold to ask Swami,
“Swami, can atheists also attain liberation?”
Swami smiled and replied,
Yes! Anyone who can give up dehabhimanam can achieve liberation.

Dehabhimanam - What is it?

Before I proceed any further, let us clarify how Swami defines dehabhimanam or ego as it is termed in English. Ego is wrongly identified as vanity and pride. Swami states that ego refers to ‘false-identification’. Ego arises when an individual considers himself/herself as the body-mind complex. That is when the concept of ‘mine’ and ‘thine’ comes up. One begins to feel that this is ‘my family’, that is ‘my home’ or this is ‘my job’. Naturally, along with this also come the feelings that this is ‘not my problem’, that is ‘not my friend’ or this is ‘not my job’.
Swami says that when one feels as a separate entity, a being distinct from everyone and everything else, this is false-identification/ego/dehabhimanam. When one realizes the Truth that everyone and everything in the universe is a spark/subset of the same divinity and thus feels unity with all, that is correct-identification/egolessness/daivabhimanam.
And here was Swami saying that anybody who is able to give up false-identification or ego will attain liberation (irrespective of whether one is good or bad, theist or atheist).

A train of thoughts

Experience had taught me that every word of Swami is Truth itself. In fact, innumerable have been the instances which have proved that His word is the vedavakya and that once it is said even casually or in jest, it is bound to be true. So when I heard about this statement that Swami made, I was lost in thoughts of my own. And am sure, anybody who reads this statement too may get such thoughts. They went like this,
“If everyone is equally capable of attaining the ultimate/liberation, then why this emphasis on being devoted to God?" The mind is a specialist in extrapolation. Extrapolating Swami’s statement and needling me a little deeper, it asks,
"If everyone can get liberation, then does God not distinguish even between the ‘good’ people and the ‘bad’ people?”
I was plagued by this thought and try as hard as I did, I was not able to figure out an answer. Recently, I walked to my altar and sat in peace and quiet. I just prayed and told Swami,
“If both the theist and the atheist, the good and the bad have equal chance of attaining liberation, why should one love God or be good? Does not the Lord support the good and the devoted?” (Please note that this thought, in no way, intends to equate theists with 'goodness' and atheists with 'badness'! )
And then, there was silence as I sat. After a while, an answer formed within,
“God loves the theist and the atheist, the good and the bad equally. There is no difference. He supports both equally.” (Please let this not be understood as either the atheist or the theist is 'bad'. Those are two independent statements.)
I don’t know how to state it, but this was the answer that just ‘formed’ from within. Though I found it hard to accept, somewhere deep within, I knew that that was the correct answer.

A friend’s experience

Ranganatha Raju's experience with Swami shows that God definitely encourages one to be good and have faith
The mind is very persistent and almost ‘nagging’ in its doubts. The battle between the mind and the heart is an eternal one. And so, when my classmate and friend, Ranganatha Raju shared an anecdote, my thoughts were again triggered. I share the anecdote first.
Raju was my classmate at the Sri Sathya Sai Higher Secondary School and my roommate too in the hostel. I remember the day when he joined the hostel for XI std. It was the first time he was staying away from home and did not know much of English. (I must add that he went on to become an ace script-writer for several dramas staged in Baba’s divine presence. That is what God’s grace can do!)
He had been brought up in such a way that even in his worst nightmares, he had not dreamt of doing things like sweeping and mopping the floor. But he had to do exactly that in the hostel for the Sri Sathya Sai system on integral education banks heavily on dignity of labor and independence via self-effort. I remember all of us telling Raju that he too had to do his share of the sweeping of the common room like any of us.
It was a tough experience for Raju and he grew homesick. The language barrier also made him shy to communicate. He prayed to Swami daily and hoped that he would get some interaction during the darshan sessions in the evening. But nothing seemed to be happening. It was within a few days of joining the hostel that his turn to sweep the room came. Having no previous experience of doing so, he struggled and put in hard effort to sweep the room. By the time he was done, all of us had left for classes. He had to hurry for he was late already.
Suddenly, he exploded angrily! He walked to Swami’s photo in the room and pointing the broom at Him said,
“See how my condition is here. This (pointing at the broom) is the
ghanakaryam that you have made me do.”
Then he rushed to classes.
(The word ghanakaryam actually means ‘great deed’ but it is often used sarcastically as Raju did here.)
That evening, as Swami came close to Raju during darshan, He asked him,
“What do you want?”
Raju was pleasantly surprised. He got up on his knees. He did not know what to ask.
“Swami, give me vibhuti...”, he said.
“Why?” Swami asked, “is it your birthday? Is it your marriage?”
Raju got overawed with Swami’s physical proximity. He replied in a quivering voice,
“Swami... please give me vibhuti...please...”
Swami smiled, waved His palm and materialized some grey, fluffy, perfumed ash.
He then placed it in Raju’s palm.The next statement from Swami took Raju’s breath away.
This is the reward for your ghanakaryam (great deed)!

Why one should be good?

The incident above is one among many that I have experienced or know of where Swami has encouraged goodness in people. I also know of several instances where Swami has outrightly condemned selfish and vice-filled acts, discouraging people from indulging in them. The question now in my mind was -
“Why does Swami encourage the good and discourage the bad if both are equally capable of achieving the ultimate; if both are equal in His eyes?”
This question bothered me and I seemed to find no resolution for the same. Another visit to the altar and silent-sitting followed. I just stopped thinking in the sense that I made no efforts to focus, concentrate of direct my thoughts. I just sat there looking at Swami’s picture. And slowly, but surely an answer formed. And what an answer Swami gave! It thrilled me and so I wrote this article to share with one and all. (Because when it comes to spirituality, Swami’s directive to me has been that the more I share, the more joy that I shall derive!)
Point 1:Good and evil are an integral part of the world like light-darkness, happiness-misery and positive-negative. It is the nature of the world to have both in equal measure and that balance has been maintained from times immemorial. There has never been a time of ‘only-good’ or of ‘only-bad’. That has been the case because in the dual world, they cannot be separated just like one cannot separate the two sides of the coin. The only way out of ‘duality’ is the understanding of one’s Divine Reality. That is exactly what the Masters have done - be it Ramana Maharshi, the Buddha, Mahavira, Guru Nanak etc. None of them ‘wiped out evil’ from the face of the earth. They lived and taught men to transcend their consciousness beyond this duality. To transcend duality, one has to put in lot of efforts.
Point 2:
Though both good and evil coexist, the way the ‘good’ perceives the ‘bad’ and vice versa is totally different. The ‘bad’ has no problem or qualms about the ‘good’. ‘Bad’ does not try to destroy the ‘good’ or transform it. It is not plagued by the question,
“Why is there good in the world?”
In fact, ‘bad’ needs the ‘good’. What would a cheat do without innocent prey to swindle? ‘Bad’ knows that if everyone is ‘bad’ it cannot thrive!
On the other hand, the ‘good’ always tries to either destroy the ‘bad’ or transform it. ‘Good’ is plagued by the question,
“Why is there evil in the world?”
‘Good’ does not need the ‘bad’ because the absence of ‘good’ is ‘bad’ just as the absence of ‘light’ is ‘dark’.
"Duality" is the very nature of the world and it cannot be changed. 

The crucial point

Ah! Now we are ready to handle the reason why God encourages the good though good and bad have an equal capacity to attain liberation.
Since ‘bad’ is happy with status quo, it does not make any efforts to change the world. Since ‘good’ is always trying to change a ‘dual’ world into a ‘world without dualities’ (a world where only ‘good’ exists), it is bound to meet with failures. And this is because the world CANNOT be changed. The world is dual by nature! However there is a higher Truth than the world and that is the inherent divinity.
Anityam Asukham Loke - the world is impermanent and filled with sorrows - as Swami says. The defeat, disappointment and despair of the ‘good’ in its efforts to change the world, make it turn inward for solace. It is in that inner search that the individual is able to give up dehabhimanam and identify with the absolute Truth. That is what Gautama did; that is what Ramana did - launched on an inner search that gave enlightenment and liberation.
And THAT is why Swami encourages the good - because the good alone makes endeavours which lead to discouragement and disappointment. And out of that arises the inspiration and intensity needed to pursue the Truth and achieve it too!

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  1. Sai Ram. Thanks for a wonderful answer to a question that has been troubling me too for long. Through your blog, Swami has given me the answer.....

  2. Sairam brother. It was a wonderful article. Provides great insight as to why we have to be good and devoted to God.

  3. Sairam brother. Thanks for sharing a wonderful article which provides great insight as to how being good turns our inner vision towards eternal truth.

  4. Sairam brother... profound thought/message, something to reflect upon. Thank you very much for sharing this and am sure this would help in unfolding the doubts/questions that many people (myself included) would have. Jai Sai Ram

  5. Succinctly put an appropriate display of contemporary problems through a perfect exapmle...Thank you Arvind Bhaiyaa for giving us the very needed strength to face the chaos arising which confuses most of the "SAI believers' mind" in present times...GOD Bless...Sairam

  6. Nicely quoted and thoroughly explained .swami answers in many ways !!

  7. Sairam Aravind. Another thought provoking article inspired by SWAMI through you. For GOD all are equal and HIS grace is there for all, but the channel to receive that Grace needs to be kept open by the individual.It is GOD who decides which individual gets transformed and when, like a robber Ratnakar becomes Valmiki through Tapas / renunciation, there are many stories like that an example for us. Overcoming Dehabhimanam is not easy, needs lot of sadhana by good or bad individual, once dehabhimanam goes that realised soul sees only GOD in all and in everything.
    Best wishes and love,
    Madhusudanvithal Nori

  8. Brother Aravind, I would like to ask you a fundamental question - who is qualified as a bad person? Is there any such thing as a bad person in this world? I feel that there are none. Even a terrorist who kills innocent people does so only because of his/her limited perception. He/she is probably at the lowest stage of spiritual evolution next to an animal who hunts for prey. So in that sense, there are NO bad people in this world. We are all on a one-way road leading to the Lotus feet. And we come to this realization as and when we hit that stage of evolution. We are all fruits on the same tree, ripening and falling off according to our time.

    And so yes, all are equal in God's eyes.

  9. Sairam Brother! Very nice experience and excellent thoughts about Good and Bad..Swami is blessing all of us and especially through your blog we are getting more and more exposure..Thankyou so much..

  10. Thanks a lot for sharing this key information

  11. superb.thanks a lot.this article gave a sense of relief to my troubled heart.

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  13. As a student at the hostel, I too had to do sweeping duty. I had never done it in my life, but I just put my head down and began sweeping. Seeing all the dirt particles getting swept away with the room becoming cleaner gave me great satisfaction. The room is where 12-14 of us lived - keeping it clean was of utmost importance for the sake of our own health and well being. And everyone was doing sweeping duty, it was not a punishment or anything like that. Doing these kind of tasks teaches one humility and self sufficiency. I am glad I was provided this opportunity.

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  15. Sai ram brother thank You for sharing such wonderful story of brother Ranganatha raju with us it was a heart touching story to read as is was asking Swami about my "ghanakaryam" of cleaning the bhajan hall, and there was not much excitement for me in it,  but the story of brother Ranganatha raju answered my question in a blissful way and the answer for the question why should i be good? was simple but thoughtful.
    Again thank you for writing a great article brother
    Jai sai ram


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