Meditations on The Journey Home – Lesson from Chapter 1
Richard and Gary often visited bookstores and glanced through various books for inspirational passages. One day Richard found a book that taught lessons on playing Harmonica, a musical instrument that Richard poured his soul into. Since he couldn’t afford to buy the book, he was tempted to steal, and carefully slipped it under his vest. Gary approved of the theft and later showed his own prized possession of a carved wooden crucifix of Jesus. Richard was upset that Gary had stolen from the Church, a house of God. Gary argued back that Richard had been a hypocrite because he too had stolen a book, and was now preaching on the virtue of honesty. Later Richard reflected on a lesson he had learnt that evening, “I’m a hypocrite. Was it not hypocrites that nailed Jesus to that crucifix? How dishonest it is to preach but not practice.”
Radhanath Swami’s personal preference for practice over preaching has inspired thousands of men to dedicate their lives for a spiritual purpose. Once a student complained to Radhanath Swami about a few members in the monastery who had become irregular and lenient in their spiritual practices. Radhanath Swami took the blame on himself. He said since he was the teacher of the ashram residents, he should be setting highest standards and promised to be stricter with himself. The complaining student’s protest fell on deaf ears as Radhanath Swami, despite his sixty plus years and ill health, daily attended all the rigorous spiritual services, beginning at four in the morning. He was already a regular participant but now extended his services for a longer period. Once despite a high fever, the Swami attended the morning japa, meditation session, with all other members. A friend of Radhanath Swami burst out, “Why don’t you take some rest and chant your prayers later when you are healthier?” Radhanath Swami spontaneously expressed, “I am here chanting prayers because I need this association for my spiritual purification. I want to be with other devotees.” The illusion of many that he was attending to teach others a lesson on strictness was shattered. He is not practicing spiritual discipline to teach others; he’s convinced it’s for his own development. That’s a real teacher- not conscious of sermonizing others, rather accepting the teachings for one’s own spiritual growth and enlightenment.
Radhanath Swami often guards his students on accepting superior positions, and instructing others beyond our level of realization. He warns that God will test us for all the lofty principles we teach. We will be put into challenging situations and then practicing what we preach will be difficult. His advice, “Don’t speak beyond your level of realization, and be honest.” He however implores us to rise beyond honesty and attain a high level of integrity. The difference- the former refers to telling what we do, while the latter is doing what we tell. Thus integrity requires us to work hard and raise our spiritual standards.
Radhanath Swami requests us to be careful of two contaminating influences of modern times- quarrel and hypocrisy; when we come together we quarrel over trifles, and when we are alone our hypocrisy is exposed. These negative influences can be overcome if we are humble and consider ourselves as servants of God and all living beings. We should be conscious of our own faults and never take a holier than thou position. Once a student asked what in the Swami’s opinion the greatest sin in the world was. Radhanath Swami replied, “When we self righteously see others as sinners we are sinning ourselves.” “But we can see some are indeed sinful”, challenged the student, “and they are doomed to suffer, both in this life and next. Aren’t we supposed to be compassionate on them, as we are better situated?” Radhanath Swami’s sagacity shone forth like the mid-day sun, “We can’t be compassionate ourselves, but rather strive to be the instruments of Lord’s compassion. We may be presently more fortunate than them but we are certainly not better than anyone. If those wayward men and women are to seek a spiritual path, they would leave us all far behind. They are certainly more glorious but aren’t aware of a spiritual purpose of life. Pray for them and be humble.”