You are on page 1of 15

Food for thought Have you heard them say that a story is the shortest distance between a man

and truth? Some great man said it a long, long time ago. Listen to some stories that have remained inside my mind for a very long time now. Today, I can‟t even recall who told them to me first, whether I read them or heard them or what. Nor do I even faintly recall where and when. But, the idea conveyed through these stories are so profound that I have thought over them times without number, meditated on them for years, and told and retold them to hundreds of my friends. I could safely say that these stories are now mine, you see. They have become one with me now. One more word before I start: Please do not try to search for any kind of order or scheme or sequence in the narrative. I have presented them in the order in which they popped up in my mind. I suggest, you would profit by just reading the stories and allowing its meaning to seep into you. Believe me; it will do you a lot of good. So, sit back, relax & enjoy. Here goes:  I was once going down the riverside, looking for a place to sit down for fishing. Fishing, you know, is really relaxing. Apart from listening to music, and taking long walks, it is fishing that I recommend for relaxation, although not necessarily in that order. So, here I was taking a long walk along the river side, looking for a suitable place to sit down and throw my bait, when I saw a man lifting a fish from the waters and placing it on a tree. I asked him, “What are you doing? Why place it on a tree? Why don‟t you carry a basket with you to collect your catches?” His reply, still ringing in my ears, was, “Catch? What do you mean? This stupid fish was drowning in the rapid currents of the river. I was passing by when I saw it. I just saved that fish from drowning!” [I hope our uncontrollable urge to serve others doesn‟t end up like this idiot‟s efforts!] The capital city of the kingdom was under siege. The army of the neighboring king surrounded the city completely. The army chief sent an emissary to the King‟s palace. He read out the message, “You are hiding a traitor in your city. Surrender him to us and we will have peace.” They were alluding to a wandering monk, who had openly preached certain radical ideas about God and Soul and destiny in the different kingdoms that he passed by. His preaching, although welcomed by the populace, had irked the authority everywhere. And now, he was indeed staying in this kingdom. He planned to stay some days here and then pass on, as was his wont. The king consulted with his learned courtiers. They in turn consulted their books. One of them, who was more learned than the rest of them, quoted this from the books, “Better that one man should die than sacrifice an entire town.” That clinched the issue for them. They handed over the monk to the neighboring kingdom‟s army chief. The monk was killed by the enemies. Many years later there came another wandering monk to the kingdom. He admonished the king saying, “He was a realized soul, he was the messiah. Why did you hand him over?” The king said, “But we consulted the books.” The monk shouted, “Oh fools! You looked into the books! Why didn‟t you look into his eyes?”

Page 1 of 15

A man had a beautiful lawn. He took great care to nurture it. First thing in the morning, he watered it with a sprinkler. He mowed it regularly as per schedule. The strong cane-wood fence prevented livestock from grazing on the grass, but at the same time added beauty to it. It was a beautiful lawn and never failed to fill his heart with joy. The lush green lawn attracted a large variety of birds in and out of season. These birds brought with them some seeds of dandelion and in a few months, his grand lawn was filled with dandelions. He tried every method he knew to uproot the ugly dandelions, for they destroyed the beauty of his lawn, but couldn‟t succeed. At last, he wrote a letter to the Agriculture Dept, describing all his efforts and his predicament and asked them for their intervention to restore his lawn to its pristine beauty. He got a reply saying, “You have already exhausted every method that we know of. We note with gladness that some of your de-weeding methods are new in horticultural practices and our field officers will be using it from now on. As regards your „dandelion problem‟ we can only suggest you to start loving those stubborn dandelions, and come to think of it, Sir, dandelions have a charm of their own.” Thus our man, lost a clean lawn, but got an extremely beautiful garden that attracted people from far and wide. The General had decided to attack the enemy although his troops were outnumbered ten to one. The morale of his soldiers was at its lowest. Just before the battle started, he assembled his handful of boys and told them, “Battles are decided by Destiny. Numbers don‟t count, but fate actually decides the fortunes of an army. Let‟s all pray to the Almighty for a minute, and then I shall toss a coin; heads, we shall win; tails, we shall lose. Let destiny reveal herself today.” After the prayer, he tossed the coin and it landed heads up. This unforeseen development fired up the inspiration of his handful of soldiers. And they achieved a full victory, killing every single man on the enemy side! During the victory celebrations, an inebriated soldier shouted, “Hail Destiny! No one can change Destiny!” Then the General stood up and showed the raucous soldiers the coin he had used. It had heads minted on both sides! “For a long time I was a neurotic. Everyone detested my presence. Everyone advised me that I needed to change as early as possible. That was the only way I could preserve my sanity and be accepted by society. I tell you, I did try, very sincerely, but couldn‟t. And each advice and each of my unsuccessful attempts at changing myself frustrated me, making me more depressed, leaving me a tangle of high strung nerves at the very verge of snapping any moment. Then one day, my sister‟s small boy came home and seeing me, said, „Uncle, I love you as you are.‟ Ah! What sweet words! They echoed in my ears, reverberated in my heart and relaxed my nerves…and…suddenly…yes, instantly I found myself changed!” Thomas was out a-hunting in the forests of Belgian Congo. He stumbled upon a fox which had lost all its four legs. Yet, it looked quite healthy. It intrigued him. How could a wild animal in the thick jungles stay healthy without its limbs? He hid behind a thick bush and waited for hours, wanting to observe the habits of this strange fox. Around evening, a tiger came with a dead deer in its mouth, laid it down on the ground, ate its fill and left the remains for the fox to eat. „Lucky jackal‟ thought Thomas and left. But this was surely a quirk of fate today, what happened between the tiger and the fox. It could not happen every day. He was determined to unravel the mystery of the limbless, healthy fox and so he returned again the next day, and again the day Page 2 of 15

after. Each day he saw the same thing being repeated; that tiger came to the fox each evening with a game in its mouth, ate its fill, leaving the rest for the fox. This revelation had a terrific impact on Thomas. He understood that the Lord Almighty supplied sustenance for all His creatures. He decided to sit in a corner and wait for others to feed him. A fortnight passed and no one came by. Thomas was reduced to bones and life merely hung on to him. He was all but dead. But his faith in the Lord‟s benevolence did not waver, for he had seen it in the jungle. Then, one morning, with the rising sun, Thomas heard the voice of God, booming inside his heart, “Fool! Open your eyes and see! Imitate the tiger, not the fox!”  Parameshwara lived in a small village on the Malabar Coast. He was the terror of the entire village. Profligate beyond description, he was always drunk, chasing the village girls, stealing fruits from the gardens and chicken from people‟s farms. In the same village lived Ramachandra, of saintly habits, a true man of God. Whenever he came across Parameshwara, he admonished him to change his decadent ways of life, only to be scoffed at vigorously by the rogue. One day Ramachandra decided to go on a long pilgrimage to all the 51 Shakti piths. He also decided that before he left, he would admonish Parameshwara just one last time. As he got up to go, an ethereal voice spoke to him, “Don‟t waste your breathe on Parameshwara. He is a friend of God and hence under his patronage and protection.” Extremely intrigued, he came to the rogue and said, “Well, Parameshwara, I will be gone for a couple of years on pilgrimage. Today morning, I felt that before I left, I must talk to you about changing your life style one last time. Just as I was starting for your home, I heard a distinct voice tell me that I need not bother about you, as you were God‟s close friend and hence under His patronage and protection. Anyhow I felt I must meet you and tell you at least this much.” Utterly stunned by what he had heard just now, Parameshwara stammered, “What?...Did the voice say…I…even I…was God‟s friend?” But, Ramachandra was gone by then. Three years later, Ramachandra came back towards home. He had wanted to visit the Kollur Mookambika Temple last of all, as it was near his village. Inside the Temple, he saw a recluse with a glowing face and deep indrawn eyes that seemed to gaze eternally into the infinite. Ramachandra felt that this recluse seemed to resemble Parameshwara, the village rowdy. “Why! Is it not our Parameshwara?” he asked in surprise. Ye s. It was indeed Parameshwara. After Ramachandra had left, he too had left in search of his Friend, who accepted him, inspite of his decadent, immoral life. A highly idealistic, very sincere spiritual aspirant had joined the monastery. He went about his spiritual practices with uncommon diligence. A couple of years later, one day he said to the Abbot, “Father, when I see these brothers, I sometimes feel discouraged. They sleep very soundly, never waking up in time for the morning practice of meditation.” The wise old Abbot softly said, “My boy, it is better to sleep than to slander.” A visitor came to see the old Abbot in his cell. The old man was famed for his spiritual achievements. When he entered the cell, he was taken aback. It was literally empty. The old man had almost nothing. “Father, where are your personal belongings?” “Where are yours? You too don‟t have any now, do you?” “But I am only visiting you. Why would I have my personal belongings here?” “Well, it‟s the same with me. I too am only visiting, you see.” Page 3 of 15

A wandering monk came to the village. He settled himself into a corner in the village temple. Suddenly a man came running to him, out of breath, saying, “Give me the stone!” “What stone?” “Yesterday night I had a vivid dream in which I was told that you would come by today and that you had a precious stone and that if I got it from you, I would be rich beyond imagination.” “Oh! That stone in my bag must be what you are alluding to. Open my bag and take it, please.” The man hurriedly opened the monk‟s ragged bag and beheld an uncut diamond as large as the head of an ostrich‟s egg. He was thrilled. Thanking the kind monk he left. But, he couldn‟t sleep the whole night. And the next morning he was back to the monk, who asked him, “What brings you back, friend?” “Holy man, give me that wealth which made you give away this diamond without even a second thought.” A group of spiritual aspirants approached the Abbot and asked, “Father, give us some words of wisdom.” The old monk said, “Wisdom is not in words, but it is revealed in action.” They were a group of sincere aspirants, and they plunged headlong into various kinds of activities. Observing them for about a year, the Abbot said, “That is not action. That is all mere motion.” The young disciple in the monastery was a man of vast learning. He was a prodigy. He was in fact a walking encyclopedia. Whenever he had a little time, he would be found pouring over tomes and tomes of books. Scholars approached him from far and wide to consult with him. Once the King was looking for an Advisor. He asked the Abbot, “Father, is it true that this young monk really knows as much as they say he does?” The grand old man replied in measured tones, “Your Excellency, the young fellow reads so much that I don‟t see how he could ever find time to know anything!” When I came across the man, he was in the middle of a street, looking up and shouting obscenities. I asked him why he was shouting and at whom. He said, “I am shouting at that stupid eagle that flew away snatching the chicken from my hand.” “So how will the shouting help you, my friend?” “Look here, I was walking back home with a piece of dressed chicken in my left hand and a recipe for preparing it in my right. Out of the blue swoops down this stupid bird and snatches away the chicken from my hand and flies off. You see, he may have taken the chicken, but the recipe is still with me. Now, of what use is the chicken to that bird if it doesn‟t have the recipe?” “You see, I was born deaf. I was always intrigued by the a ctions of my people at home. Sometimes when we had family get-togethers, they would all stand up and start gyrating their bodies, making peculiar genuflections with their hands and feet, with a look of ecstasy on their faces. I never felt that way, ever, but used to imitate them, so as not to feel left out. Last year I had a cochlear implantation and I started hearing. That was the first time I heard those strange sounds, which they call music. And when I heard it, I completely understood what they meant by dance.”

Page 4 of 15

Orthodoxy and truth are very different. They are always at loggerheads. And generally, when there is a conflict between the two, the world prefers orthodoxy. Once there was a job interview for an accountant in a reputed company. One candidate, when asked, “What is two plus two?” had replied, “Four”. He was rejected for another candidate who had replied for the same question, “Whatever the Boss wants it to be.” The hero had just returned from the deep Amazon forests. His lectures were all recorded and his journeys were mapped meticulously. All the flowers he saw were reproduced on paper, drawings made of the wild animals he encountered and the entire river was charted on a cartographer‟s table. A group of young men approached him once to hear directly from him about the Amazon. He said, “Indeed I have tried my best to describe it all as clearly as I could. But how can I convey to you the intense joy, the exhilaration, the strange feelings that flooded my heart when I saw those exotic flowers & heard those night sounds in the forests & sensed the danger of being close to those wild animals & of paddling in those treacherous rapids! Go out and find out for yourselves, young men.” Those young fellows understood. They went out, found the master map, framed it, and using the pioneer‟s lectures and drawings, became experts in interpreting the Amazon map. There is absolutely no limit to fanaticism, really. Man takes it to absurd heights. It is the very nature of fanaticism that it distorts the truth. And when there is a face-off between truth and fanaticism, alas, it is generally fanaticism that wins. Once a scientist approached a theologian and told him, “Sir, your scripture says that Earth is 5000 years old. But here I have this bone, whose carbon dating tells me that it is at least a million years old!” the learned theologian replied, “When God our Father created this Earth 5000 years ago, he put in a million years old bone inside it to test your faith!” Capitalism is catching up on us like never before. And it is here to stay. We need to adapt to it if we wish to survive. There was once a small time street side grocer, whose business supported him and his family. He never had plenty, but his small business sustained him well enough. Then, when the market opened out, post-liberalization, a huge super-market, belonging to an internationally renowned Mall-chain, came up right across his shop. The grocer started losing his mind, because his customers all switched to that super-market. He didn‟t know what to do. One evening, his devout wife took him to see a wandering monk who was visiting that city. During their audience with the monk, the grocer‟s wife explained the developments. The monk advised him, “Every morning, before you open your shop, look towards the super-market, bless it wholeheartedly and begin your business. So also, after you close your shop for the day, heartily bless that super-market.” On the way back home, the grocer laughed at the absurd advice. But, next day on, inspite of himself, he found himself following the monk‟s strange advice. Business however declined further. A year later, when the monk returned again to the city, he was met by a very grateful couple. The grocer and his wife now looked rich. Six months ago, the grocer was offered to work for the Mall-chain as the Chief Manager of the Super-market! His monthly salary now was more than the profit he used to make in one year.

Page 5 of 15

A Professor in an Engineering College asked his students, “Can anyone tell me the length of this hall in which we are sitting.” One student said, “20 feet.” “Wrong answer.” Another volunteered, “22 feet, Sir.” Again “Wrong answer.” All the students tried numbers between 18 feet and 23 feet. But each answer was turned down as wrong by the Professor. “What is the right answer then, Sir?” they all asked him. He replied silently, “The right answer is…‟I don‟t know.‟” A man once went to visit a University. Sprawling campus, lush green trees everywhere, large open spaces in-between. In one such meadow, he saw a young boy sitting under a tree, intently poring over a huge tome in his hands. He went near. He was surprised to see what he felt to be the genuine scholarly trait, so rare these days. He went near the boy. The book was really huge. When he came within a hand‟s reach of the boy, he saw that the boy was still in his teens, the book on his lap was a trilingual dictionary, and the book was held upside down! “Well, dear young man, you…ah…seem to be holding the book upside down. Are you able to read and understand in this condition?” he asked, full of surprise, even expecting that in the higher reaches of scholarship, this was an important level to be reached and crossed. “Now, Sir, that you ask, I am enjoying the joy of not understanding anything at all!” said the young scholar. Once a lion was hunting in the forest. A jackal, who saw this, thought that if he could team up with the lion during the hunt, he may be able to get a share in the spoils later on. After the prey was hunted down, the jackal stayed on near the lion. The lion understood its intentions. It picked up a lump of solid mud from the ground, drew two lines on the dead bison, partitioning the corpse into three parts and roared, “Look here, fellow, this first part is the share of the King of the jungle; this second part is my share, since I was a partner in this hunt; this third part is yours, take it if you dare!” I have always been in search of optimism, as seen in people in the world. I made notes of some of the best examples I could come across in my search. I give here the best two. The first is from Jim Carrey‟s movie „Dumb & dumber‟. Jim Carrey proposes to the already married rich heiress in a hotel suite and asks her what chances he has of holding her hand in wedlock. “Say, one in a million” she says, meaning, impossible. Jim Carrey starts dancing around in joy. She can‟t understand what happened to him. The fool says, “That means there is a chance!” The second example is as follows: the completely demoralized soldier informs his commanding officer on the battlefield, “Sir, we are totally surrounded on all sides by the enemy!” the commanding officer laughingly says, “That‟s fine. Now, we can fire in any direction we please. Fire!” “Sir, I believe there is no God” said the barber to the Monk as he was shaving his head in the parlor. “And why do you believe so?” asked the Monk. “Look at the world, Sir. So much violence, so many people in trouble. Do you think a living God would allow all that? No Sir. God is a fiction.” The Monk said nothing. The shaving over, he got up and went out. On the street corner, he found a lazy lout, sitting a-begging. The Monk rushed back to the parlor and announced, “Be it known that this town has no barbers.” “What nonsense, Sir! I am here. What makes you say this?” “Come here and look at that lout. He hasn‟t been shaved since his beard sprouted, for sure. If barbers existed, could that have happened?” “Well, Sir. He has never bothered to come here. That‟s all. You can‟t jump to a preposterous conclusion that barbers don‟t Page 6 of 15

exist just by seeing uncut beards. Find out whether he has ever approached a barber in his life, and if not, why he hasn‟t done so.” “Then, be informed, Barber, that the same holds good for God, too. He exists. But how many have approached Him, and approached Him in the right way, and taken His help? And if not, then, why?”  A boy once brought home his Marks Report Card and showed it to his father. He had to get it signed by his father and submit it back to his class teacher. When he saw that his father had not affixed his signature, but had instead put his thumb-print on it, he asked in surprise, “Papa, why not sign? Why the thumb-print?” “Son, with marks like that, you can‟t possibly have a father who can read & write!” “Mom, why do you send me to school?” asked the young fellow of his mother. Over her vegetable cutting, the mother replied, “Why? In order to make you a man, dear one!” “But…mommy…the teacher makes me a hen everyday!” complained the boy. That is the state of education now-a-days. What is to be done? Nobody knows. Nobody seems to know where to stem the rot. I cannot, for goodness‟ sake, understand why our teachers cannot love their students like their own children. Sometimes I tend to despair that perhaps, these miserable people called teachers, who seem to take up the teaching profession purely because they get no other job, are incapable of loving even their own kids. May be that‟s the answer. You see, I remember an incident from the life of Sir Winston Churchill, one of my childhood heroes. As a school boy, he one day returned home in tears. His mother asked him the reason. He had failed in the exams. His mother asked why that had happened. His reply was mature beyond his years, so completely reflective of his future capability of his power of verbal-expression. He said, “Mother, I was so interested in telling them what I knew, but they were determined to find out what I didn’t know!” Who was it – either G B Shaw or Mark Twain – who said, “My schooling has been continuous throughout my life, except for a few years when I attended School!” A mental asylum once had a visitor. He sauntered in and saw everyone busy with their duties. No one gave him attention. After sometime, he contemplated leaving, sad that his desire for seeing a mental asylum in detail could not be fulfilled, as no one would give him their time & attention. As he was about to turn back, a man, neatly dressed in dhoti and kurta, accosted him and told him that if he was interested, he would show him around. He took the glad visitor all around the huge campus, showing him the dept where the patients are brought first for a detailed check-up. Then he showed him the different wards and all the auxiliary sections. When the tour was completed to the utter satisfaction of the visitor, the glad man bade his guide farewell and was about to go out of the gate of the asylum when the guide called out to him and said, “Oh Sir. I forgot to show you one last thing.” And saying this, he lifted his dhoti above his waist! An old lady rushed into the Police Station, all bedraggled, and completely out of breath, said, “Sir, please register a case. I have been raped.” The Police Officer was shocked. Which animal could have behaved so grossly with such a venerable lady, he wondered? Hesitantly, he asked, “Err…Madam…could you…like…sort of describe the man?” “He was a handsome bloke of about 20 years, blond hair curled into a beak, about 6‟ in height, wore cologne aftershave, had a green pullover shirt and dark blue corduroy pants, and probably works in some shopping mall.” Page 7 of 15

“My…you have rather observed him closely, Madam.” “How couldn‟t I? I had to help him over his act at every stage!”  A cat and a jackal were friends. Both lived in a constant fear of being attacked by the lion. They used to discuss their fears endlessly. Each such discussion ended with the jackal giving the cat innumerable ways of escaping from the lion, if he should turn up sometime. One day, the lion indeed did turn up. He chased both the creatures. The cat scrambled up a tree. The lion, unable to climb trees, went after the jackal and after a short run, overtook it and dug its teeth into its jugular. With its dying breath, the jackal asked the cat, “With all my intelligence, here I am today, dying at the lion‟s mouth, while you are safe. How can this injustice happen in this world?” the cat‟s reply was significant. It said, “Friend, you had many ideas, but had no faith in the efficacy of any of them. While, ignorant as I am, I have learnt only one way of escape, that of climbing up, and I have faith that this one method will save me. Hence the difference in our conditions today.” An alumnus who had made it big in the world once visited his alma mater. Full of nostalgia, he went to his bachelor‟s room in the hostel. The dean accompanied him. When they re ached the door, he showed the dean the knife-scratch he had made on the door jamb as a student. “Same door & jamb” he said. They knocked. The door opened. It was occupied by a young scholar now. They went inside. „Same color of the wall” he said. He went t o a window, opened it and said, “Same view.” From behind the closet door came a beautiful girl. The present occupant immediately clarified to the dean that it was his sister. “Same alibis” said the alumnus with a great laugh. He was walking along the main road of the city. The road was the pride of the entire region, full of the best shops and filled with fine people attired in the very best of dresses and jewelry. He was highly pleased to see that the city of which he was the Mayor was at its best. But at the corner of the street, on a piece of rag spread out on the pavement, sat a leprous old man, with festering wounds all over his hands and face, a-begging. The sight of this man was such a contrast to the finery all around, a shrill note of utter discord. The Mayor, with upturned face, and with genuine concern, asked the Maker, “Oh, Lord! What is this misery? Can‟t you see how despicable this creature is? Don‟t you have any kindness at all? Indeed, what injustice! What have you done for this creature that you have created?” from the skies a voice thundered, as it were, “Why? I have created you! What have you done for your own brother-creature? Why haven‟t you helped him?” A man once worked in a big multi-national company. He was bright, industrious and had great prospects of rising to the very top of the company‟s hierarchy. “But…young man, this problem that you have is a great embarrassment for your rise in the company, you see” said his boss. He was referring to a peculiar problem he faced. He had absolutely no control over his bladder. Anywhere, anytime, he would urinate and soil his pants. This was indeed a rare medical condition and a source a no end of embarrassment to the bright young man. “Don‟t you worry. Here…take this address…make up an appointment with this Urologist. Take my name. He is a good friend of mine. He will help you with your incontinence” said his boss. The young executive took and Page 8 of 15

appointment, for which he was on leave for three days. Then he returned to work a new man. Everyone could see the change in his very demeanor. Then, in front of his boss, in his boss‟ chamber, he again emptied his bladder and wet his pants. “What! Didn‟t he cure you?” “Well, sir. It‟s like this. I went to the hospital. Due to some emergency, your friend the Urologist was out attending a patient in some other city. Meanwhile, I went to the psychiatrist, who stays next door to the Urologist. I explained my problem to him. The psychiatrist treated me for three days and now I am a changed man. He couldn‟t solve my incontinence. But he has cured me from being embarrassed with my unfortunate situation!”  The Pope wanted a good monk to train his novices, a genuine, devout and learned monk who could look after his Pontifical Seminary in the Vatican. Knowing the state of his senior monks, given to all sorts of luxury and politicking, he wrote to the Grand Patriarch of the Eastern Orthodox Church. When the Papal Bull arrived, the Grand Patriarch called all his sagely Cardinals and showed them the letter. “Do you see? The Pope wants someone to train his monks. Notwithstanding all the history of enmity between the Roman Catholic Church and our Mother Church, we shall send him what he wants, won‟t we, Holy Fathers?” “As you decree, and as our Dear God the Lord wishes, Your Holiness” said the Cardinals in unison. The Grand Patriarch selected four young, promising, devout and learned monks and sent them to the Vatican, instructing them that they would report to the Pope, telling him that Mar Thoma, the Grand Patriarch of the Eastern Orthodox Church had sent them. The other Cardinals all felt that when the Pope had asked for just one monk, why was their Grand Patriarch sending four? They couldn‟t understand it and finally decided that old age was catching up finally on him and that he had missed that detail and by mistake he had sent four while only one would have sufficed. Meanwhile, the party of the four monks trudged along the long and arduous path from Constantinople to Vatican. On the way lay a thick forest. They saw some Bushmen hiding among the trees, peering intently at them. “Holy Brothers, look at them. They are men like us, but, not having heard about our Savior, they have sold themselves to the Devil. Let me stay among them and bring back their lost souls back to Christ” said one of them and urged all the others to move on. After some days, the party of three monks reached a village and took shelter in the house of the Chieftain. After dinner, the Chieftain wailed, “Holy Fathers, our Pastor passed away a few days ago and we are all sheep without a shepherd. Can‟t one of you stay with us and guide our souls?” this speech touched the heart of one of the three monks and he stayed on tending that village church, urging the others to carry on. After some more days, the two monks reached the Tiber River. Beyond the bridge lay the Vatican. Just as they both crossed the Tiber Bridge, perhaps overcome by the cumulative exhaustion of the long journey, one of the monks collapsed and died. The monk who reached the Vatican was welcomed by the Pope and very soon endeared himself to the Pope due to his piety and wisdom. The Pope wrote a fine letter thanking the Grand Patriarch for sparing such a fine monk. When that thanks letter arrived, all the Cardinals were called and the Grand Patriarch announced, “Do you see? The Pope speaks of only one monk! Do you see now why I sent four when the Pope had asked for only one? Many of us embark on life‟s journey, only to be sidetracked here and there, losing sight of our goal, getting shunted before reaching our destiny.”

Page 9 of 15

Leonid Bernstein had an engaging hobby of gardening. Every day, in the evening, he would spend at least two hours tending his garden. And every day, at that time, his Rabbi would walk along the road on his customary evening stroll. Every evening the Rabbi saw Bernstein nurture his garden. He could also see the sense of pride in his eyes when, months later, the garden became a really beautiful place. Feeling responsible for his fellow-Jew, the Rabbi used to call out to Bernstein, “Bernstein, a really beautiful garden you‟ve got there. But remember that God and you are partners in it.” This went on every day. After a few days, Bernstein got tired of the Rabbi‟s words. One day, when the Rabbi gave out his customary call, “Bernstein, a really beautiful garden you‟ve got there. But remember that God and you are partners in it”, he retorted back, “But, Rabbi, you should‟ve seen it when God was the only partner!” A Christian monk wanted to see what there was in the exotic beaches that everyone flocks to. So he and a brother monk decided to go to the Tahiti Islands, incognito. They went to the exotic beaches on the Islands, dressed as normal tourists. Sometime later, they saw a beautiful lady, clad only in bikinis, walk towards them. “Hello, Father Robert. Hello Father Bernard” she called out as she passed them. The two monks were taken aback to find that they were recognized by this beautiful lady. They came back the next day dressed in the most outlandish outfit. Again, when this lady passed them by, she called them out by their monastic names and went her way. Father Robert was completely floored. No matter how they hide themselves, the world seemed to know that they were monks. Yet, he wanted to find out how this lady could recognize them despite their disguise. “Excuse me, young lady. But, could you kindly tell me how you have been able to recognize us no matter how we hide ourselves?” “Why, Father! Aren‟t you able to recognize me? I am Sister Agnes from your Abbey!” A sitting Judge once fell down on the slippery corridors of the High Court. Many lawyers rushed to him and helped him up. One of them asked, “Is your Honor hurt?” “To hell with my honor! My ankle hurts, man!” The Ministry of Agriculture once notified that sparrows were a menace to the crops and should be killed. When sparrows were killed, hoards of insects, that the sparrows would have eaten, descended upon the crops and ravaged the harvest. The Ministry then came up with the idea of costly pesticides. The pesticides made the food expensive. They also made the food a health hazard. They discovered, but alas, too late, that it was the sparrows who, feeding on the crops no doubt, managed to keep the food wholesome and inexpensive! Father said to his young daughter, „If you mow the lawn, I will get you the new dress you saw in the Mall.‟ The girl set upon the task with great zeal and by evening, the whole lawn had been beautifully mowed, expect for a large uncut patch of grass in one corner. „I can‟t get you the dress agreed upon because the whole lawn hasn‟t been mowed‟ observed the father. „I can forego the dress, but I shall not cut that patch of grass‟ said the little one firmly. Curious to find out why, the father checked the uncut patch. There, right in the centre of the patch, sat a large toad. The girl had been too tender-hearted to run over it with the lawn-mower! Indeed, where there is love, there will be some disorder. Perfect order would make this world a graveyard. Page 10 of 15

There was a farmer whose wheat always got the first prize at the State fair. He had the habit of sharing his wheat seeds with all the farmers in the neighbourhood. Someone asked him why he shared his excellent seeds with his neighbours. He replied, „The wind picks up the pollen and carries them from field to field. So, if my neighbours grow inferior wheat, the cross-pollination brings down the quality of my own crops. That‟s why I‟m concerned that they too should plant the best quality wheat.‟ A question was once asked „How do you tell when the night has ended and the day has begun?‟ Many answers were given. „When you see an animal from some distance and can tell whether it is a cow or a horse.‟ „When you look at a tree from some distance and can tell if it is a neem tree or mango tree.‟ Etc. All were rejected as wrong. When pressed for what was the right answer, they were told, „When you look into the face of any man and recognize your brother in him; when you look into the face of a woman and recognize in her your sister. If you cannot do this, no matter what time it is, it is still night!‟ Ajay‟s tooth ached like hell. He feared dentists. However, now he had to see one. But how? He was too poor to afford a dental treatment. Maybe he would go and ask a dentist to just see his tooth and get some medicine prescribed, and not get the tooth treated or pulled out. So he went to a dentist nearby. „Hmmm....this tooth is in real bad shape, young man.‟ „Aw, doctor, I already know that.‟ „But don‟t worry; I‟ll fix them.‟ „No, doctor. I don‟t have money to pay you.‟ Saying so, he started climbing out of the chair. „What do you do, young man?‟ asked the doctor, filing a syringe with novocaine. „I told you I have no money‟. „Are you studying in the Govt College?‟ „I don‟t see what difference that‟s going to make to you, doctor‟ was his curt reply. When one‟s teeth start aching, all gentility takes flight. „After your graduation, you plan to get a job?‟ „Great! Doctor, just tell me what medicine will subside this bloody pain. And what exactly are you doing – turning into my career manager?‟ „Well, you can pay me when you graduate and land a job. Meantime, you concentrate on your studies and leave your tooth-problem to me‟. Saying so, the doctor pushed the needle into Ajay‟s gums. Ajay never forgot this incident. It changed his outlook towards life forever. Page 11 of 15

Nitin was in High School. He was excited and eager to participate in the Under-16 State Level Athletics Championships. While his parents watched expectantly from the stands, he ran and won the gold medal in the first race. He was proud of his medal and the cheers from the crowd. Then he ran in the second race. Just at the finish line, when he would have again won, he stopped and stepped off the track. His parents gently chided him, „why did you do that, Nitin? If you had continued running, you would have won the race, you know.‟ Nitin innocently replied, „But, mummy, I already have a medal. Santosh didn‟t have one yet.‟ There was once a lion which stuck a friendship with a bull. It is said that the powerful can relate with the powerful. So a thick friendship grew between the lion and the bull. The jackal observed this and smelled danger for his own self-interest in this friendship. One day, it approached the lion and with a heavy voice said, “Lord of the Jungle, these days you seem to have no time for old friends like me.” Lion: That's not true. Jackal: Oh yes, my Lord. Your uneven friendship with the Bull has grown very deep. Oh, I feel for you, my Lord! Lion: Feel for me? What the hell for? The Bull is a good fellow. He understands me & I understand him. What is wrong with our friendship? Jackal: O my Lord, don‟t you ever stop & ask yourself why he befriended you? Has any Bull ever befriended a Lion, ever? The Lion felt some truth in these words of the jackal and asked, “What do you think i s the reason he befriended me?” Jackal: Ah! Now you are reasoning like you always have, my Lord. I have friends that live in the Jungle borders where the Bull also lives. I have confidential information that every day before & after meeting you, the Bull sharpens his horns! And I also have confirmed information that one of these days, he plans to rip open your soft under-belly with his super-sharp horns. Oh! The pain I felt in my heart when I heard this! Lion: Bosh & stuff! Who told you such nonsense? Jackal: My Lord, just observe him from afar when he approaches you. His eyes will be red, burning with anger against you. But when he approaches you, he controls himself and appears normal. He is just biding his time. One day when he finds you tired, he will complete his nefarious plans! Oh! Will I have to live to see that day too!! Saying this, the jackal went away. He went to the borders of the Jungle and sought out the Bull. Approaching the Bull, he said, “Friend, tsk, tsk! I pity you.” Bull: And why would you do that?

Page 12 of 15

Jackal: you know very well that I am an old confidante of the Lion. Don‟t I know his mind? Ah! Pity your sorry existence, my friend! Bull: What are you blabbering? Be clear, puny creature! Jackal: Well, your friendship with the King of the Jungle; don‟t you think it is a bit odd? Have you ever heard of such an unnatural thing? Don‟t you yet realize the motive behind the Lion‟s befriending you? He is a born carnivore. He plans to one day jump at your jugular, kill you and eat your healthy flesh. Ah! My fate! How many yet such scenes have I to see?! Bull: Bosh & stuff! Who told you such nonsense? Jackal: My friend, just observe him from afar when you approach him. His eyes will be red, burning with anger against you. But when you approach him, he controls himself and appears normal. He is just biding his time. One day when he finds you tired, he will complete his nefarious plans! Oh! Even discussing it pains me!! Saying this, the jackal went away & hid himself at a vantage point where he could see the place where the Bull daily met the Lion. That day, when the Bull approached the Lion, he strained his eyes to see if the Lion‟s eyes were really red as the jackal had said it would be. Similarly, the Lion too was straining its eyes to see the same in the Bull. Both found something changed in each other‟s demeanour. The seed of doubt had grown to gigantic proportions by the time the two strong animals had come near each other. The Lion sprang on the Bull. The Bull drove its horns into the Lion‟s belly while the lion had already sunk its teeth into the Bull‟s jugular. Both lay dead on the ground. The jackal brought its brood and feasted on the two dead animals for a month.  Two donkeys were carrying huge loads from one place to another. They had to wade through a river on the way. One of the donkeys was carrying many sacks of salt. When it came out of the river on the other side, all the salt had dissolved. It started dancing with joy on the bank! The other donkey had many sacks of cotton. When it came out of the river on the other side, it nearly died of overload on the banks! Similarly, two persons enter into religion. One emerges our alive, while the other drowns. This story is a very famous one. We have all heard it as children. We have read it in comic books and later on in Sufi and Zen story books too. But I marvel at the intense common sense hidden in it. I also feel that, although we have heard it innumerable times since our childhood, we haven‟t really understood it. For, if we had really understood it, we wouldn‟t be committing the stupid things we keep doing. We find that our relationship with someone is slowly breaking down and we do everything to set it right except uncovering which words or actions of ours has hurt the other person, and genuinely apologize for it! Our workplace is slowly crumbling down and we resort to all sorts of „scientific‟ methods to restore it to normalcy, except do the obvious! Our health is slowly breaking down. We consult all sorts of doctors and consume all sorts of multivitamins. We seldom stop and think what is wrong with our lifestyle that had led to this kind of Page 13 of 15

gradual breakdown! And about the religious life, the less said the better. We search for our soul everywhere except in the obvious place! Well, here is the much-repeated story: Mulla Nasruddin was one night found searching furiously for something on the street across his house. Many passers-by stopped and asked him what he was searching for. He said he was searching for his keys. They all started helping him. Some asked him what it looked like. Some others asked him whether it had a key-chain and what it looked like. Yet others asked him when he had lost it. One old man asked him where he had lost it. Mulla replied that he had lost it somewhere in the garden inside his compound. All stopped, dumbstruck, and asked him why then was he searching on the street outside. Mulla replied, as if he were doing the most obvious thing a sane person would do, that since his garden was dark and there was a powerful sodium-vapour street lamp on the street, he was searching there!  A bald man was once crossing a river by boat. There was a prankster on the same boat. He saw the shining bald head too tempting and couldn‟t resist giving it a resounding smack. The bald man got up to beat him into pulp. The prankster stopped him and asked him, “Wait! Answer my question first: Did you bald head produce the loud sound, or was it my hand?” The bald man growled, “You answer your stupid question yourself at leisure. You don‟t feel the pain I feel now. I can‟t theorize!” [Whenever I tend to enter into a philosophical discussion, this story blares in my mind‟s ear!] The little fish said, “Brother, you are older than me. Tell me where I can find the Ocean.” The older fish said, “Ocean is what you are in now.” The little fish felt offended and said, “This? This is water. Do you take me for a fool? Perhaps you don‟t know. I will seek elsewhere.” I don‟t claim to understand the following story. But there is something in it that captivates me. I hope you too will feel it: A Sannyasin came into the Master‟s room and said, “Sir, for years I sought Him everywhere.” The Master asked him, “Have you found Him?” The Sannyasin replied, “No. Have you?” The Master remained silent. What could he say? The evening sun was sending in shafts of golden light into the room. Sparrows were twittering on the Banyan tree. There was the dull noise of traffic on the highway from afar. A mosquito droned a warning strike....yet, this Sannyasin could sit there and say he hadn‟t found Him!  There was a Lama who had a desire to build a golden temple for the Buddha in his home town. He travelled all over northern China and collected a huge sum. When he was returning to his hometown, he passed through a district that was affected by the Plague. Thousands were dying due to lack of timely help. He stopped there. Using the money, he organized a huge sanitation drive and millions were saved. He felt sad that his desire for his Lord was yet unfulfilled. Since he had already collected money in the northern regions, people would take him for a fraud. Of course, he could tell them that he had used it for a good cause, but who would believe him? So, he planned to go to Southern China this time. Again, he was able to collect a much larger sum. As he was returning to his hometown, the Yangtze-Kiang river, the scourge of China, flooded its banks and millions were rendered homeless. His heart melted seeing their suffering. He started Page 14 of 15

using that money for organizing relief and rehabilitation among the people there. By now, age had also caught up on him. He could not collect the required amount for building the golden temple. He retired to his village. But before he died, the poor villagers, to honour his noble wish, managed to build a small, but beautiful, temple for the Lord Buddha out of wood, for it was a village of carpenters. The Lama passed away peacefully. Though small, and situated in a wayside village, the temple started devotees from far & near. It is said that when the devotees would come to visit the temple, the villagers would explain to them that their village had three temples of the Lord. Two were made of gold but were visible only to the inner eye and the visible one was made of wood!  A love-struck youth pressed his suit unsuccessfully, but relentlessly. He applied himself for months, but each time met with atrocious rejection. Finally, his sweetheart yielded. She said that she would meet him alone in such & such a place, on such & such a day, at such & such time. There, they sat, next to each other. The youth had brought all the letters he had written her. Burning words of love, he read them all aloud to her. The ludicrous youth was lost in his letters of longing love for the girl of his heart who now sat next to him! [Often when I attend a formal prayer meeting, I remember this story.] ****************************

Page 15 of 15