“I think this explains why I am miserable sometimes”, Kishor got candid, “I am sorry to interrupt, but during my initial days in the monastery I was so excited to chant, hear and speak spiritual stuff and thoroughly enjoyed my life. But now I frequently get irritated. I guess that’s because I am no longer performing my spiritual activities as an end in itself but have become fruitive, thinking of using them as a currency to get something else in return. Maybe I want appreciation and recognition from others for what I am doing”
Aki laughed mildly while others sat silent. Venky thought there was nothing funny in what Kishor said.
“I am reminded of an incident as a teenager”, Aki was now revealing why he laughed.
“We were highly cricket conscious after India defeated West Indies for the first time during the 1971 series. Gully cricket became common after Sunil Gavaskar’s heroics in that series; we wanted to play cricket and become a hero like Gavaskar. One day one of our elderly neighbors, a friend of my grandpa came over to our group and profusely thanked us for playing right in front of his house. We were surprised because in the past he had hurled the choicest of abuses at us and threatened us with dire consequences if we disturbed him by our cricket ruckus. We’d always ignore him, knowing he’s a harmless old man. Therefore it was unusual to see him appreciate our batting and bowling. We felt flattered and happy. He then requested the leader of our group to promise him that he’d ensure we play daily outside his house as long as he was alive. He then called us inside and offered us snacks. We didn’t mind that. And as we were leaving he handed us five rupees- a huge amount then-as a token of his appreciation for our excellent cricket.
“We were on a high that evening, we not only enjoyed playing cricket but also got snacks and money for what we love to do. But we were naïve to the worldly ways; little did we know what was coming up soon.
“The next day again after our game, he called us in, and showered the same hospitality. This went on for few days. Then slowly he became a little casual and offered only water. One day he was a little rude and we felt treated as beggars. The next evening, he ignored us totally, and the following morning, he took up cudgels with the leader of our group, who always decided when and where to play.
“That evening our leader declared to us that this senile old man doesn’t deserve to see us play cricket. He doesn’t respect us and we shall teach him a lesson by not playing cricket outside his house. What does he think of himself? We are not his servants. We all shared our leader’s anger and left his gully angrily, never again to play cricket outside his house.
“Years later when I was in college, the old man died, and his folks had organized a memorial meeting. As his friends and relatives spoke fondly their memories, I was particularly struck by what his daughter-in-law said. She recalled how years ago, a group of rowdy young boys disturbed his sleep and peace by playing cricket outside their house. I knew she was talking about me and my friends. She then explained how he was exasperated trying to get rid of us. He then devised a great plan which he confided only to his young daughter-in-law.
He became loving to this group and pampered their egos. ‘That’s me’ I thought, and the mystery of his good behavior got unraveled that evening. He got us hooked to flattery and respect. And once we were attached to the respect more than our game, he played a different card. By insulting us, he hit our egos and to take revenge we boycotted his courtyard and left elsewhere to play. The crowd laughed and clapped at the wily old man’s tricks. Some of them pointed to me and we laughed aloud admiring our shrewd uncle from the neighborhood.
And again it was many years later, in the ashram that the spiritual purport of this incident dawned on me. What the old man did is what the world does to us, albeit unintentionally and ingenuously. Initially we play, chant, glorify the Lord and perform because we want to express ourselves, we want to love and feel loved by God and our own deep inner souls. Soon we get recognized for who we are and what we do. Like this oldie, the world appreciates us without any malice. The people who love us are innocent and their appreciation genuine. But we fall for the bait; we take it too seriously and then our practices become a performance. We find the worldly accolades titillating to the senses. Although the reciprocation from the Lord of our hearts is deeply satisfying, the experience is often challenged by various distractions of the world. And then we get addicted to it. While appreciation is a good tonic it now becomes an addiction; we can’t do without it. We crave for it, fight for it and soon forget the original, pure desire to simply love and chant the Holy Names of the Lord. The devil of our false ego has got us. Eventually we refuse to practice the sublime spiritual process just because someone has offended us, we sell our souls to the tricks of our mind and egos.
To be continued…