“A gem cannot be polished without friction, nor a man perfected without trials”-Lucius Annaeus Seneca (Roman philosopher of fifth century AD)
Living in an ashram where over 150 devotees struggle to serve selflessly has taught me many lessons in life.
One of the challenges for monks who give up the life of enjoyment outside, for service to God and humanity is the temptations and distractions that the outside world constantly offers. Or certain complications from their past family life lingers on even years after joining the ashram, and threatens to pull one away from his service.
One consistent thing I have observed over the last seventeen years is the fire of trials and tribulations helps devotees shine and sparkle more than ever before. Especially this has been true for those who stick to certain basic principles during their trying times. Those who live by principles are saved by the very principles. An example comes to my mind.
Recently I met one ashram friend who has seen serious health crisis in the last one year. His health worsened and a major operation had to be done. For months he was lying indisposed at our sevasthan– the place where sick monks recuperate within a day or two. As different devotees who would routinely fall sick visited the sevasthan, stayed for a few days, recovered and were discharged, this friend stayed on. Unfortunately due to our busy schedules and lifestyles many are not aware of who’s going through what. I too presumed he was out station travelling and preaching. Therefore it was a shock for me to discover him slowly trudging along to the prayer room. When I enquired I heard from him the details of his pain and suffering. Then I apologized for having not been in touch with him. And then he spoke about his last one year ordeal and his close shave; how he has now recovered and slowly regaining his health.
After an hour I was back in my room and realized I had met a different person. Throughout my conversation there was a certain calmness that he exuded. I was hit by his serene disposition and his inner contentment was palpable. The next day I made a conscious visit to his bed and did some more investigation; I was keen to know how he took this ordeal internally. He was full of gratitude. Not once did he blame anyone. He first spoke about the law of karma, and how he just burnt his bad karmas. Then he spoke about how the Lord mercifully cares for His devotees. He then recalled how different devotees took care of him during this period. Then he also mentioned the different lectures he heard and the scriptures he read. Although he was clueless on what was happening on his health front, he continued to maintain the spiritual principles that he had been following over the last decade in the ashram. Naturally when he was seriously sick, he was spontaneously inclined to follow the same schedule that he lived by during the good times. Although he couldn’t do all of it, he did his very best and that was a strong boost to his spiritual health. Most importantly I had known him always to be a very grateful and silently prayerful person. This quality came in handy when things went topsy-turvy for him. Seeing him gracefully face the tribulation reminded me what Charles Spurgeon, a British preacher of the nineteenth century said, “Trials teach us what we are; they dig up the soil, and let us see what we are made of “
My ashram mate also taught me another sacred lesson; when things are all right, don’t relax your standards. Never compromise on spiritual principles when you can follow them. Later when you can’t, they would save you from deviating or a fall down. Lord certainly helps you and reminds you of what to do when you are confused and bewildered by the twists and turns of life. He certainly cares.
I sobered up and resolved to follow what I had seen outside an army cantonment, “The more you sweat in peace, the less you bleed in war”