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The Beggar in the Boat

It was a beautiful evening. The sun was a glorious sight in the western sky. There was not a hue in creation that was missing there. Birds could be seen against the fabric of colours, returning home at the end of a busy day. Boats lay idly at the ghat. Men sat and talked about nothing, in great leisure. A slight breeze touched the river and a thousand ripples of ecstasy were born the next instant.

The ferry that took people across the river was about to go when an old beggar hurried towards it. He was a quite old man, his clothes all worn out, his feet bare, owning nothing more than the bundle on his shoulder. As he entered the ferry, some passengers moved away from him in disgust. One or two others pushed him away roughly. A few young boys made fun of the old man.

The old man sat down quietly on the floor of the ferry and his closed his eyes. A few moments later he was deep in prayer – his daily evening prayer. There were tears in his eyes as he prayed silently in his heart.

The abuse and the taunting did not stop in spite of his sitting down quietly on the floor, away from others. They were getting bolder seeing that he did not react. Then suddenly a young man got up and kicked him with his foot. He wanted to show his friends he was the boldest of them all.

All on a sudden there was loud thunder and a voice spoke from the skies. “Shall I overturn the boat, my son? That will teach these people a lesson.”

There was complete silence for a moment. And then the very people who had abused him rushed at him and fell at his feet. This was no ordinary beggar, but a great sage! God watched over him and spoke to him. The boy who had kicked him shook in terror.

The old man continued his prayers as though nothing happened. Then he got up and raising his head towards the sky asked, “O God, when did you start speaking the language of the devil?”

The sound of thunderous laughter filled the skies. And God answered, “That was not me speaking, son. That was the devil. And I am pleased that you weren’t tempted by him.”

Frequently, the devil speaks in the voice of God. At times what we hear as the voice of God is the devil’s voice.

All blessings do not come from God. Some blessings are from the devil – curses disguised as blessings.

Wisdom is recognizing blessings from the curses packaged as blessings.

Pray for true blessings, and not for curses packaged as blessings. And remember: both will be granted.

In his bestselling Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff at Work, Richard Carlson says: “A man I knew dreamed of a job he felt would be “so much better” within the same company he was working with. He lobbied for that job for quite some time, constantly complaining about his current position. It wasn’t until he finally secured that job that he realized the major tradeoffs that were involved. It was true that he had a bit more prestige and a slightly better salary, yet he was now forced to travel several days a week, often much more often than that. He missed his three kids terribly and started missing important events – soccer games, music performances, teacher conferences, and other special dates. In addition, his relationship with his wife became strained as their relatively peaceful routine was set aside for the alleged “better” life. He was also forced to scale way back on his much loved exercise routine due to his busier, less flexible schedule.”

We live in an age which criticizes contentment and adores endless ambition. Young people frequently ask me – and these are some of the most promising young men and women in India, who are waited upon with choice job offers by the best national and multinational companies – shouldn’t we constantly aspire for the still higher? Isn’t that the way humanity progresses, an individual grows? These are bright young people and they do have a point.

Contentment is not always good. Contentment is considered sattvic, but all contentment is not sattvic. There is also tamasic contentment, and discontentment is far better than contentment born of tamas. For instance, the kind of contentment in which India lived for a long time is tamasic contentment. When we are contented with slavery, with injustice, with poverty that is avoidable, with inhuman treatment, that is tamasic contentment.

Similarly, ambition is good too. The bird that doesn’t aspire for the sky remained bound to the tree on which it was born. And if we did not aspire for greater comforts, faster communication, and more efficient technology, we would not be living in the world in which we live today.

But that does not mean all ambitions are good.

Wisdom lies in recognizing ambition that is good from ambition that is bad.

This reminds me of the story of the young man on his first date with a new girl. As he was leaving home, his father asked him, “Where are you going?”

“On a date, Dad” the boy said. “I am meeting a new girl.”

“Why are you taking the torch,” asked the father. “I never took a torch when I went courting.”

“That figures,” said the boy looking at his mother. “Look what you got.”

Keep the torch of awareness with you, and you will always be right about the choices you make. Keep the torch of awareness with you, and you will always know what blessings to pray for, and what not to. Keep the torch of awareness with you, and you will always know which blessings to accept and which to reject, even when they are given unasked for.


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