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This is a commencement speech made by Anna Quindlen at Villanova:

It’s a great honor for me to be the third member of my family to receive an honorary doctorate from this great university. It’s an honor to follow my great Uncle Jim, who was a gifted physician, and my Uncle

Jack, who is a remarkable businessman. Both of them could have told you something important about their professions, about medicine or commerce. I have no specialized field of interest or expertise, which puts me at a disadvantage talking to you today. I’m a novelist. My work is human nature. Real life is all I know.

Don’t ever confuse the two, your life and your work. The second is only part of the first. Don’t ever forget what a friend once wrote Senator Paul Tsongas when the senator decided not to run for re-election because he had been diagnosed with cancer: “No man ever said on his deathbed I wish I had spent more time at the office.”   Don’t ever forget the words my father sent me on a postcard last year: “If you win the rat race, you’re still a rat.” Or what John Lennon wrote before he was gunned down in the driveway of the Dakota: “Life is what happens while you are busy making other plans.”

You will walk out of here this afternoon with only one thing that no one else has. There will be hundreds of people out there with your same degree; there will be thousands of people doing what you want to do for a living.  But you will be the only person alive who has sole custody of your life. Your particular life. Your entire life. Not just your life at a desk, or your life on a bus, or in a car, or at the computer. Not just the life of your mind, but the life of your heart. Not just your bank account, but your soul.

People don’t talk about the soul very much anymore. It’s so much easier to write a resume than to craft a spirit. But a resume is a cold comfort on a winter night, or when you’re sad, or broke, or lonely, or when you’ve gotten back the test results and they’re not so good.

Here is my resume: I am a good mother to three children. I have tried never to let my profession stand in the way of being a good parent. I no longer consider myself the center of the universe.

I show up. I listen.  I try to laugh. I am a good friend to my husband. I have tried to make marriage vows mean what they say. I am a good friend to my friends, and they to me. Without them, there would be nothing to say to you today, because I would be a cardboard cutout. But I call them on the phone, and I meet them for lunch. I would be rotten, or at best mediocre at my job, if those other things were not true. You cannot be really first rate at your work if your work is all you are. So here’s what I wanted to tell you today:

Get a life.  A real life, not a manic pursuit of the next promotion, the bigger paycheck, the larger house. Do you think you’d care so very much about those things if you blew an aneurysm one afternoon, or found a lump in your breast?

Get a life in which you notice the smell of salt water pushing itself on a breeze over Seaside Heights, a life in which you stop and watch how a red tailed hawk circles over the water or the way a baby scowls with concentration when she tries to pick up a Cheerio with her thumb and first finger. Get a life in which you are not alone.

Find people you love, and who love you. And remember that love is not leisure, it is work. Pick up the phone. Send an e-mail. Write a letter.

Get a life in which you are generous.  And realize that life is the best thing ever, and that you have no business taking it for granted. Care so deeply about its goodness that you want to spread it around. Take money you would have spent on beers and give it to charity. Work in a soup kitchen. Be a big brother or sister. All of you want to do well. But if you do not do good too, then doing well will never be enough.

It is so easy to waste our lives, our days, our hours, our minutes. It is so easy to take for granted the color of our kids’ eyes, the way the melody in a symphony rises and falls and disappears and rises again. It is so easy to exist instead of to live.

I learned to live many years ago. Something really, really bad happened to me, something that changed my life in ways that, if I had my druthers, it would never have been changed at all. And what I learned from it is what, today, seems to be the hardest lesson of all.

I learned to love the journey, not the destination. I learned that it is not a dress rehearsal, and that today is the only guarantee you get. I learned to look at all the good in the world and try to give some of it back because I believed in it, completely and utterly. And I tried to do that, in part, by telling others what I had learned. By telling them this: Consider the lilies of the field. Look at the fuzz on a baby’s ear. Read in the backyard with the sun on your face. Learn to be happy . And think of life as a terminal illness, because if you do, you will live it with joy and passion as it ought to be lived.

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When I was very young, not long after I came to Parmarth Niketan, a very old, revered saint came to Rishikesh to give his divine satsang at Parmarth Niketan.

However, rather than staying in the comforts of the ashram, he used to stay in a small hut on the banks of Ganga a little bit away from the center of the ashrams.

I was given the special seva of going to pick him up each morning and bring him to the ashram. As we walked through the busy marketplace, I would try to push everyone and everything out of his way so that this revered saint could walk comfortably and unimpeded to the ashram. I asked everyone along the way, Side please. Please give us the way to walk. I would gently push all of the wandering cows out of his path. I moved standing bicycles and fruit carts out of the way so he could pass.

Finally as we reached the gate of the ashram I was feeling very glad that I had been able to bring him so safely and smoothly to the ashram, and that I had been able to clear such a nice path for him to walk.

This saint, however, looked at me lovingly and said, Beta, kis kis ko hatate rahoge? Aur kab tak hatate rahoge?  My child, how many people and cows can you push out of the  way? For how long can you move other people and things out of your path? That is not the way. Apna rasta banate jao. Apna rasta banake nikalte jao. Do not try to move others; rather find your way between the others and around them. Make your own path, but do not worry about moving others. Find your own way in the midst of the chaos.

In our lives we frequently get frustrated and broken by feeling that others are blocking our way and thwarting our path.  We blame their presence and their actions for our own failure. We explain to ourselves that we would have been able to succeed if only they had let us, if only they had moved out of the way for us. We try to push people and obstacles aside to clear a way for ourselves in life.

However, obstacles never stop coming. People who are jealous never stop trying to block our path. For how long can we try to move them aside? How many obstacles, how many enemies can we try to push away? The answer is to simply find our own way, around them, between them. If they are blocking the path on the right, we walk on the left. If they are blocking the path on the left, we walk on the right.

We must be more concerned about finding our own way rather than focusing on moving all of those whom we think are blocking our path. For those who are pure in mind, thought and deed, there will always be a path in which to walk. The path may be narrow at times and it may seem that obstacles and enemies line both sides. But we must humbly and sincerely make our own way on the path of life. We must just keep walking the path of our dharma, the path of righteousness, the path of honesty, purity and piety without worrying about those who try to block our way.

So much of our precious time, energy and focus are wasted in the futile task of trying to remove obstacles and other people from our path. It is not necessary. Find your own path around the obstacles. Find your own path around the enemies. Do not try to push them aside or push them down or fight them for the right of way. Rather, carefully examine the situation and see where the path is clear. Then, choose that path and continue on your way.

The more attention we give to those who are trying to sabotage us and trying to thwart our progress, the less time and energy we have to walk to right path. In that way, then, the enemies win, for they have stolen our peace of mind, our tranquility, our joy and also our time. Instead of trying to fight them out of the way, we must remain humble, pure and single-minded on the goal. If we can see our destination clearly then we will always be able to find a path in which to walk.

So, keep the destination firm in your mind. Stay focused on the goal and nikalte chale, nikalte chale jao [move around the obstacles and continue on the path.].


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Once there was a sadhu, a renunciant living on the banks of a river, performing his sadhana with great piety and determination.

One day as the holy man went for his bath in the river, he noticed a scorpion struggling in the water. Scorpions, by nature, cannot swim and the sadhu knew that if he did not save the scorpion, it would drown. Therefore, carefully picking up the scorpion, the saint lifted it out of the waters and was just about to set it down gently on the land when the scorpion stung his finger. In pain, the sadhu instinctively flung his hand and the scorpion went flying, back into the river.

As soon as the sadhu regained his composure from the sting, he again lifted the drowning scorpion out of the water. Again, before he could set the scorpion safely on land, the creature stung him. Again, as the sadhu shook his hand in response to the pain, the scorpion fell back into the water. This exchange went on for several minutes as the holy man continued to try to save the life of the drowning scorpion and the scorpion continued to sting his savior’s hand before reaching the freedom of the river bank.

A man, who had been out hunting in the forest, noticed this interaction between the holy man and the scorpion.

He watched as the saint carefully and gingerly lifted the creature out of the water, only to fling it back in as his hand convulsed in pain from each fresh sting. Finally, the hunter said to the sadhu, “Revered Swamiji, forgive me for my frankness, but it is clear that the scorpion is simply going to continue to sting you each and every time you try to carry it to safety. Why don’t you give up and just let the evil creature drown?”

The holy man replied, “My dear child, the scorpion is not stinging me out of malice or evil intent. It is simply his nature to sting. Just as it is the water’s nature to make me wet, so it is the scorpion’s nature to sting in order to protect himself. He doesn’t realize that I am carrying him to safety. That is a level of conscious comprehension greater than what his brain can achieve. But, just as it is the scorpion’s nature to sting, so it is my nature to save. Just as he is not leaving his nature, why should I leave my nature? My dharma is to help any creature of any kind, human or animal. Why should I let a small scorpion rob me of the divine nature which I have cultivated through years of sadhana?”

In our lives we encounter people who harm us, who insult us, who plot against us, and whose actions seem calculated simply to thwart the successful achievement of our goals. Sometimes these are obvious acts, such as a coworker who continually steals our ideas or speaks badly of us to our boss. Sometimes these acts are more subtle – a friend, relative or colleague who unexpectedly betrays us or whom we find has been surreptitiously speaking negatively about us behind our back. We often wonder “How could he/she hurt me like that? How could they do this to me?” Then, our hearts become filled with anger and pain, and our minds start plotting vengeance.

Slowly we find that our own actions, words and thoughts become driven by anger and pain. We find ourselves engaged in thoughts of revenge.  Before we realize it, we are injuring ourselves more by allowing the negative emotions into our hearts than the other person injured us by his words or actions. She insulted us, plotted against us or interfered with a well-deserved achievement at work. But we injure ourselves more deeply and more gravely by allowing our hearts and minds to turn dark.

Our dharma is to be kind, pure,  honest, giving, sharing, and caring. Others, due to ignorance, due to lack of understanding (much like the scorpion who doesn’t understand the sadhu’s gentle intention) or due to the way in which their own karmic drama must unfold, may act with malice, deceit, selfishness and indifference. But we must not let their actions or their ignorance deprive us of fulfilling OUR dharma. We must not allow ourselves to be lowered by their ignorance, their habits or their greed. The darkness in their heart should not be allowed to penetrate into the lightness of our hearts.

Sometimes people ask, “But Swamiji, how long should we continue to tolerate, to forgive, to love in the face of other people’s aggression, jealousy, hatred and malice?” The answer is forever. It is not our job to hand out punishment to others based on their negative actions. That is God’s job and the job of the law of karma. They will get their punishment. Do not worry. They will face the same misery they are bringing to you. Do not worry. But it is not our job to give that to them. It is God’s job and – with the exacting law and science of karma – evildoers will receive punishment. But not by our hands. If we allow ourselves to injure them, insult them, plot against them and hurt them, then we are simply accruing more and more negative karma for ourselves.

If the sadhu had allowed the scorpion to suffer and drown in the river, he would have forsaken his own divine path in life. Sure, we can say that the scorpion deserved to die for what he had done to the sadhu. We can say that the sadhu had tried and tried to save the scorpion but the scorpion would not let him. We can give a list of explanations to excuse the sadhu for not rescuing the scorpion. But, to pardon bad behavior is not the goal. To excuse ourselves for failing to fulfill our duties is not the goal. The goal is to live up to our full, divine potential as conscious, holy beings.

So, let us pledge to always remember what OUR dharma is – to live lives of purity, piety, peace, selflessness, integrity and love – and let us never allow anyone to divert

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Once a woman was standing outside in the street searching and searching for something under the bright street lamp. A wise man walked by and asked her, “Mother, what are you searching for?”

She replied, “I have lost my needle and I am looking for it.” The man helped her search for quite sometime, all to no avail.  Finally, he asked, “Mother, where exactly did you lose your needle?” She replied, “I was sewing inside on the chair and the needle was lost there.”

The wise man queried, “But Mother, if you lost your needle inside then why are you searching outside for it?”

The woman answered, “Because inside it is dark and I cannot see. Here, with the light of this lamp I can see easily and search for my needle.”

The wise man counseled her, “Mother, go back inside. It may be dark and difficult to see, but your needle is inside. Light a candle and search inside. You will never find your needle out here.”

We laugh at the silliness of the old woman who looked for her needle outside even though it had been lost inside.

Yet, don’t we do the same thing in our lives? We look outside for our happiness, for our fulfillment and for our joy. We look to possessions to fulfill us. We think that if we have the newest model car, a new CD or a new pair of shoes that we will be happy.  When we feel depressed or stressed, what do we do? We go shopping or we go on a holiday to the beach.

Yet, we all know that happiness and peace are not there. We are never truly happier or more peaceful the day after buying something new than we were before. In fact we frequently forget that we even bought it! The new coat, pair of shoes or CD gets put in a closet or store room and we forget about it.

The reason that these things don’t bring happiness is that we may have a new coat, but it is still being worn by the same person. We may have new shoes, but they are covering the same feet. We may be driving a new car, but the driver is the same.  We may be in Hawaii or Tahiti or on a cruise ship – but WE are still there and the pain comes from within, not from without.  If the dissatisfaction and the pain come from within then how can the satisfaction and joy come from without?

They cannot. The sooner we realize that the true answer lies within – in our hearts, in our relationship to God, in our inner selves — the quicker we will find that answer. It is a rare person, though, who pauses to look inward for answers. Most of us are so busy searching shopping malls, vacation catalogues and our relationships with other people for the answers.

Why do we look outside? Because it is lighter. It is easier. It is easier to see things and other people than our own selves. So we search these things and these other people for the keys to our happiness. But, although the light is there, the needle is not.

We must go inward, even though it seems dark and even though it seems that we may never find anything.  We must have faith and start searching. Meditation, prayer, faith in God, a spiritual practice, a Guru, introspection, silence – these are all things that light the way for us to look inward, to find that needle.

Our candle may be dim at first, it might be hard to see. But slowly that candle will get brighter and brighter, and we will eventually find the needle which we lost.  However, the longer we search outside, the longer our needle will remain lost.

I pray that you all may turn inward. I don’t mean that you should ignore your family and friends or not to buy gifts for your children. Rather, as you enjoy the time with your family and as you enjoy the gifts you receive, please remember that nowhere – other than within your own heart – lies the true answer to your happiness. Love your family without expectation. Enjoy the material gifts without expectation. Enjoy the vacation without expectation. When we expect these external things, people and places to bring us the ultimate bliss in life, that is when we will be disappointed. When we love and appreciate them as they are, but turn inward and to God for the true bliss, that is when we will be satisfied both externally and internally.

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A man once went to see a doctor complaining of aches and pains all over his body. “Doctor my whole body hurts me,” he moaned. The doctor asked him to show exactly where the pain was.

The man explained, “When I touch my shoulder, it hurts. When I touch my back it hurts. When I touch my legs, they hurt.”

The doctor did a thorough examination and told the man, “Sir, there is nothing wrong with your body. Your finger is broken. That is why it hurts wherever you touch. Get your finger plastered, rest it for a couple of weeks and all of your pains will disappear.”

In life so frequently it is our own perspective that causes us pain. As we go through life “feeling” the world with our fingers, if our finger is broken naturally we will experience pain everywhere.  But, we make the mistake of blaming the external world for our ailments: “My job is over-taxing, my husband is too demanding, my wife nags, my children are disobedient, my in-laws don’t understand me, etc. etc.” But if you look throughout the world you will be able to find someone who has the same type of job  but is calm, or someone who has the same type of spouse but is happy, or someone who has the same type of children but is patient, or someone who has the same type of in-laws but is grateful.

What is it that allows two people to experience the same external situation but respond in two different ways? Our own perspective. Our own perception.  The key, then, is not to try to change every situation in our life, but rather to change the glasses through which we see the world. Sure, if we have a fixable situation at the office or at home, we should definitely do our best to improve it. But, what I have seen is that if someone has the nature to be dissatisfied, or the nature to be stressed, or the nature to be pained, that person’s nature is not going to change simply by changing the external situation.

A massage for the back, shoulder or legs or a chiropractic or acupuncture treatment would not help the man in our earlier example because it is his finger which is broken. He could spend hundreds of dollars to ease the pain in his body, but unless he puts his broken finger in a splint, he will continue to experience pain every time that finger touches the various parts of his body.  Similarly, we run around through life trying to “fix” our jobs or marriages or family life, but frequently the reality is in our own perspective. If we spend the same amount of energy “fixing” our perspective as we spend trying to “fix” our spouse or children, everything would be fine.

This is not to say that pains and troubles don’t really exist in our day to day life. Of course they do.  The man in our example may also have a stiff back or sore shoulders. But the excruciating pain he experienced was due not to the minor aches and pains in his body, but due to the severely broken finger with which he was touching them.  Similarly, our jobs  and our families are taxing. They demand a lot of us. However, the unbearable pain many of us experience is due not to the demands and commands from without, but due to the demands and commands from within ourselves.

In the Gita it is said that we are our best friend and also our own worst enemy, depending upon how we live our lives.

Let us all take some time to examine what our own personal “broken finger” is. What is it within ourselves that causes us to experience pain in the world? What irrational fear, what unfulfillable desire, what selfish motive, what ego-driven need has broken the finger with which we feel the world or has colored the glasses with which we see? We spend so much time examining others, but very little time examining our own selves.

The Source of all joy and peace lies within us. We are blocked from that Source by a host of desires, fears and ignorance. The key to finding and tapping into that Source must come from within. Let us find the key within ourselves and unleash the Ocean of Divine Bliss in our lives.


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There was once a disciple of a Guru who was living a divine life of sadhana and seva in his Guru’s ashram.  One day, he went to his Guru and said, “Guruji, I want to live a spiritual life. I want to live in the service of God. I want to go beyond the binding chains of this mundane, materialistic world. But, I feel that I am not quite ready. My desires for a family, for wealth and enjoyment are still too strong. Grant me some time to fulfill these wishes and then I will return to your holy feet.”

So the Guru said, “No problem, my child. Go. Get married, have a family and earn wealth. In ten years I will come back for you. My blessings are with you.”

With the blessings of his Guru, the man went out and quickly found a beautiful girl to marry. They had 3 beautiful children, and the man become financially successful.

After 10 years, there was a knock on the door of their home. The man’s wife opened it to see a haggard-looking beggar standing on the doorstep. The beggar asked to see her husband. At first she started scolding the beggar, thinking that he was just there to beg for money. But, the husband realized that the beggar was his Guru so he lovingly invited him inside.

“I have come to take you away from this world of illusions now that you have fulfilled your desire of having a wife, family and earnings. Come with me, my son, let me show you the way to God.”

But, the man looked at his Guru pitifully and he said, “Dear, Beloved, Guru. Yes,  you are right. You have given me my 10 years ever so generously and with your blessings I have prospered. But, my children are very young and my wife would not be able to handle the burden of all of them alone. Allow me to stay another ten years until the children are old enough to care for themselves.”

A true Guru will guide you to the path, show you the light and help when help is requested, but will never force a disciple — against the disciple’s will — to follow any particular path. Thus, the man’s Guru compassionately agreed, saying, “So be it, my son. Stay another 10 years until you feel that your mission is fulfilled.”

Ten years later, the Guru returned to the home and again gave his disciple the call, “My child – I am here to take you away from this world of illusion. Your children are now grown. You have given 20 years to married life. Come now and embark on your spiritual journey.”

However, the man fell at his Guru’s feet and cried. He said, “My Divine Guru. Yes, it is true that 10 more years have slipped by, but you see that now my children are just finishing their education and they are just getting ready to marry. I cannot leave this householder world until I marry off my children and get them settled professionally. My youngest is fifteen, so if you could ever so graciously give me only ten more years, then all of my responsibilities will be complete.”

“So be it, my child.” The Guru said. “But remember that your true path is a spiritual path. Remember to keep your aim on God. Fulfill your duties but do not become too attached.”

Ten years later, the Guru returned to the house to find a large bull-dog out front guarding the house. Immediately he recognized his disciple in the dog and saw — with his divine vision — that the man had passed away in an accident several years prior but, due to his intense protectiveness over his family and wealth, he had reincarnated as a guard dog. The Guru put his hand on the dog’s head and said, “My child, now that you have regressed from a human to a dog due to your attachment to these worldly things, are you finally ready to come with me?”

The dog licked the hand of his Guru lovingly and said, “My beloved Guruji. You are right that it is my own attachment which has driven me to take birth as a dog, but you see my children have many enemies who are envious of their wealth and power. These enemies are very dangerous to my children and I must stay here to protect them. However, I am sure that within a few years everything will sort itself out and they will be fine. Give me just seven more years to protect them, then I am yours.”

The Guru left and returned 7 years later.

This time, there was no dog out front and the home was filled with grandchildren running around. The Guru closed his eyes and saw with his divine vision that his disciple had taken birth in the form of a cobra, wedged into the wall near the family safe to guard the money. He called the grandchildren of the house: “My children,” he said. “In the wall to the right of your safe, there is a cobra curled up in a small nook. Go there and bring the cobra to me. Do not kill it. It will not harm you, I promise. But, just break its back with a stick and then bring it to me.” The children were incredulous, but went to the wall where the old man had directed them. Incredibly they saw that — just as the Guru had said — a cobra was curled up in the wall. Following his orders, they broke the cobra’s back and carried it outside to the Guru. The Guru thanked the children, threw the cobra over his neck and left.

As he walked away carrying the cobra over his neck, the Guru spoke to the cobra, injured and aching, “My child, I am sorry for hurting you, but there was no other way. Thirty seven years and three births ago you left to taste the material world of sensual pleasures. But the ways of Maya are so alluring and so subtle that they trap us instantly. You have wasted these lifetimes in the futile pursuit of material success and in attachment to people who also are only actors in the Cosmic Drama. My child, all here is Maya – Cosmic Illusion. It lures us into its trap, convincing us that it is real, permanent, everlasting and significant. But, in reality, the only thing which is real is Him, and the only true purpose of life is to get close to Him. These attachments merely divert our attention and focus away from the true purpose of life. I had no choice but to come to your rescue as I saw you sinking deeper and deeper into the deep clutches of Maya.”

So frequently in life we think, “Just one more year” then I will cut back on my luxuries and cut back on my time at the office. “Just one more year” and I will dedicate more time to meditation and spiritual pursuits. “Just one more year” and then I will go to India, sit at my Guru’s feet and delve into the divine depths of spirituality. “Just one more year” and then I will cut down on my sensual pleasures.”….and on and on. But, that “one more year” never comes. Our intentions are good. We want to be more spiritual. We want to devote more time to spiritual pursuits. We want to spend less, need less and serve more. We want to be the master over our lust, anger and greed rather than vice versa. But, the power of Maya is stronger than the power of our will. Thus, we continue to find excuses for why we must continue to work 50 or 60 hour work-weeks, why we still have no time for meditation, why we can’t squeeze a visit to the holy places of India into our year’s planning, and why we must continue to satiate our insatiable sensual urges.

The only way to break free from the veil of illusion that Maya wraps around our minds is to surrender to God and beg Him to show us the true light. The only way to break free is to make AND STICK TO concrete vows of how we are going to be better people. Rather than saying “I will find time to meditate” we must say “I will not leave for work without sitting in meditation and I will not sleep at night without doing my nightly introspection.” Rather than saying, “I will try to come to India and visit holy places whenever I can,” we must say “I will take my vacation this year in India.” Rather than say, “I will try to cut back on my expenses so that my financial needs are less,” we must say, “I will not buy another jacket or pair of shoes [or anything] until the ones that I have are broken, torn or no longer fit me.” Rather than say, “I will try to overcome my anger, lust and greed,” we must commit to having daily appointments with God in which we introspect on all the times we allowed ourselves to be overpowered by these emotions and we must pray for strength, DAILY, to be remain calm, peaceful and sattvic in our lives.”

If we wait for the right time, that time will never come. The only time is now.

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Once there was a saint who lived in the Himalayan forests. He lived in an ashram deep in a beautiful jungle where he spent his time in meditation and looking after the ashram.

Once a traveler came upon the saint and the ashram while trekking through the Himalayas. The young man started talking to the saint about the spiritual life. The young tourist asked him, “What did you do before you became enlightened?”

The saint replied, “I used to chop wood and carry water from the well.”

The man then asked, “What do you do now that you have become enlightened?” The answer was simple. The saint replied, “I chop wood and carry water from the well.”

The young man was puzzled. He said, “There seems to be no difference then. What was the point in going through all those years of sadhana in order to attain enlightenment if you still spend your days doing chores and menial tasks?”

The Master replied, “The difference is in me. The difference is not in my acts, it is in me: because I have changed, all my acts have changed. Their significance has changed The prose has become poetry, the stones have become sermons and matter has completely disappeared. Now there is only God and nothing else. Life now is liberation to me, it is nirvana.”

So many people complain, “My job is not spiritual.” Or “How can I live a spiritual life while I have to care for children and a family?”  The answer to a spiritual life is not in WHAT you’re doing, but in HOW you’re doing it. How attached are you to the details of what you’re doing or how focused is your mind on God? Have stones become sermons? A spiritual life is not about renouncing work or renouncing chores or renouncing tasks that we may see  as “beneath us.”  Rather, a spiritual life is about turning these tasks into tapasya, turning jobs into joy, turning stress into sadhana. This is a spiritual life.

People tend to think: first I’ll complete my householder years and then I’ll turn myself to God. Yes, in our culture, one dedicates one’s life after retirement to God, to simplicity, to seva, to spirituality. But, you don’t have to wait until you’ve retired in order to attain that glorious state. You can attain it while living IN the world. It’s all a matter of the mind. Are you counting cars in front of you before you reach the tollbooth on the highway or are you counting the names of the Lord in your mind? Are you reciting lists of things to be done when you get home from the office, or are you reciting God’s holy name? Is your tongue speaking angry remarks at your family, your co-workers and your neighbors or are you speaking only pure, calm, peaceful words?

Attaining enlightenment does not mean being out of the world or away from tasks. It means being IN the world, but not OF the world. It means DOING tasks, but not BEING the tasks.

Let us try – today – as we complete our daily routine to ask ourselves, “How would this routine be different if I were enlightened? How would my attitude change? How would my actions change?” Let us then pray to God for the strength to act accordingly. Then we’ll know that we’re really living a spiritual life, not merely relegating it to a few moments alone in the mandir at the end of the day.


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There is a beautiful story of a beggar who lived all of his life under one tree. Each day he would go out into the villages and beg for just some dry bread crumbs to sustain his life. Then, he would come back to his tree and eat his bread or whatever scraps the villagers had given him that day.  For forty years the beggar lived under the same tree, pleading with the people to give him some food. He’d walk to all the nearby villages, alternating days, begging for his nourishment. Slowly, day by day, he became weaker, and finally one day his body could no longer sustain itself and he passed quietly into death.

When the villagers found him, they decided to bury his ashes under the tree where he lived out his life. As they began to dig, in order to place his ashes deep in the ground, they found a treasure chest – full of gold, diamonds and jewels, a mere six inches below the ground.

For forty years, the beggar had lived, barely scraping by on his dry bread crumbs, sitting six inches above a treasure chest which would have rendered him as rich as a king. If only it had ever occurred to him to explore the depths of the Earth on which he sat, or to delve deeply into the recesses of his home – he would have discovered this treasure chest. But, he did not. Rather,  he sat on the surface, suffering and withering away, day by day.

Too frequently in life we are also like this beggar – running here and there searching, begging for that which we need to fulfill our lives. Perhaps we are not begging for food or basic life necessities. More likely we are searching and yearning for peace, happiness or God. We go here, we beg there. We search this place, we search that place. But that priceless and yet crucial peace and happiness still elude us.

If only we would sit still for a moment and go deeper within, we would find that treasure chest. We don’t even have to dig six inches. Just right within us, sitting in our heart, is God, and through our connection to Him, all of the riches of the world are bestowed upon us.

However, too frequently I see people running in the opposite direction in their fruitless search. They run from this workshop to that workshop, from this new trend to that new trend, all the while being frustrated in their search. Stop for a moment and look within.

The Indian youth, especially, are all incredibly blessed. Your culture, your heritage and your traditions are a true treasure chest of meaning, understanding, wisdom and insight. Through opening this box of jewels you will definitely find the happiness, contentment and peace for which you are searching.

Go back to your roots, back to your heritage, back to the temple. Listen to the stories of your parents and grandparents. Perform aarti with deep devotion. Go to have the satsang and the darshan of visiting saints. Take a trip to India rather than to the beaches or ski slopes.  Through this re-connection to your culture and your heritage you will find the key which will open the treasure chest.

But, never forget that the treasure chest is inside of you, flowing through your veins. It is not some external “thing” to be obtained or found. Rather, the divine joy is residing within you, in your heart, in your breath and in your blood.


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I heard a story once of a man who was a great devotee of God. Always throughout his life, God was his companion. He loved God more than anything else in all the world. When the man was very old, he lay in his bed one afternoon and had a dream.  In this dream, he could see his entire life stretched out before him, as though it was the coastline along the ocean.  And he could look back and see his footprints — deep impressions in the wet sand — marking the path he had walked in this life.  As he looked back further and further, he could see that, in fact, there was not one, but 2 sets of footprints, side by side, along the edge of the ocean.  He knew the other footprints were those of God, for he had felt God’s presence beside him throughout his life.

But, then he saw something that woke him immediately from his dream; his heart beat fast and he could not hold back the tears.  “God!” He cried out. “I just had a dream, and in this dream I could see the whole path of my life; I could see the footprints I left along the way.  And beside my footprints, there were yours, for You walked with me, and…” Now the man was full of tears and could barely speak. “But, God, sometimes there was only one set of footprints, and when I looked, I could see that those were the times I was really fallen, really broken, when I needed You most.  How, God, how could You leave me when I needed You most?  I thought You promised You’d be with me forever.  Why did Your footprints disappear at the times I really needed You?”

Softly, gently, God laid a hand on the man’s head, wiped away the tears.  “My child, I promised to always be with you, and I have never left you for a second, not even while you slept. Those times when you see only one set of footprints, those darkest moments of your life, it was those times that I carried you in my arms.”

There are times we feel abandoned by God, times we doubt His presence in our lives.  It is easy to have faith when all is going well, easy to believe in a plan when that plan brings us joy and fulfillment.  It is much more difficult to believe in the inherent goodness of the Planner when the plan causes agony.  Do we all not, on some level, feel that when our lives are tough, that we have been left by God?   But,  it is those times that our faith will carry us through.  It is truly those times in which we are being carried by God. Perhaps, as we get so much closer to him, as we move from walking beside Him to being in His arms, we actually feel His presence less, so we doubt it. Perhaps as the boundaries and borders between Him and us dissolve, and we simply become His children, perhaps that is when we truly lose ourselves in Him.  As the otherness is gone, perhaps we feel less aware of the presence.

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Once, a wonderful spiritual master gave a demonstration in front of a large class. He drew a horizontal line on the chalkboard and asked the class the following question: “Is there anyone in the room who can make this line appear shorter without erasing it?” The students thought and thought. They concluded that the only possible way to reduce the size of the line would be to erase part of it from either side. Thus, they told Swamiji, “No, there is no way to reduce the size of the line without erasing any of it.”

Swamiji then proceeded to draw another, much longer, horizontal line on the board, a few inches above the previously drawn line. “Now,” he asked. “Hasn’t the first line become shorter in comparison to the new, longer line? Doesn’t it appear quite short?” Everyone agreed that the line now appeared much shorter.  “One does not have to erase a piece of the first line in order to make it  appear shorter. One simply has to draw a longer line near it, and it will automatically seem shorter.”

In life, in the rush to get ahead, in the rush to prove ourselves and make a name for ourselves, we frequently resort to criticizing, condemning and badmouthing others. In order to make ourselves look better, we put other people down.  So many times we tell examples of the shortcomings of our colleagues so that we – in comparison – will appear better, or we criticize those with whom we are in competition.

However, this is not the way to get ahead or make a name for ourselves. Let us not try to diminish others in order to look good ourselves.  That is like erasing the line to make it shorter, simply so we will look bigger in comparison.  The way to get ahead in life should not be at the cost of others. Instead of bringing others down, let us raise ourselves up. Instead of cutting others, let us learn how to grow. Let us become long lines ourselves, rather than erasing others. If we focus on becoming as “long” as we can, then we will naturally shine above others.

It is very difficult in life to accept our own responsibility, our own mistakes. It is much easier for us to condemn others, criticize others, judge others and blame others.  We rarely realize how frequently our own actions contribute to a negative situation. It is so much easier to simply blame others. This is like erasing others in order to look long ourselves.

A woman once went to the doctor. She told the doctor, “My husband talks all night long in his sleep. You must give me some medicine for him to make him stop talking in his sleep.” The doctor gave the woman a prescription for medicine and told her, “If you take this medicine every day, your husband will stop talking in his sleep.”

But the woman was shocked, “Why must I take the medicine, doctor? It is my husband who has the problem. I am not sick. My husband is the sick one who talks in his sleep. It is for him you must prescribe medicine.”

The doctor explained to her as follows: “Ma’am, your husband talks in his sleep because you don’t let him talk during the day time. Every time he tries to say something you correct him, belittle him or tell him to be quiet. So, he has no choice other than to talk in the night. The medicine will make you be quiet during the day so your husband can say what’s on his mind. Then he won’t have to talk in his sleep anymore!”

Whenever we are in a difficult situation, a frustrating situation or a challenging situation, let us examine what we can do to solve the problem. Let us examine what role our own actions may have played in bringing about the current circumstances. Let us work WITH others to get ahead, rather than work AGAINST others. Let us cooperate instead of compete.

Indian culture teaches us “milaanaa not mitaanaa” and “journa not tourna” [bring together, don’t cut. Unite, don’t break].  But, don’t break what? Don’t break others’ minds, hearts and spirits with our selfishness.  When we push ourselves ahead at the expense of others, we naturally hurt them in the process. We break their spirit, their enthusiasm and their self-esteem. Heights of success must not be attained through lowering others. Rather, we must climb and climb higher and higher to fulfill our own divine potential, to live our own divine Dharma.

When Bhagwan Rama sent Angadji to Ravana in Lanka in order to bring Sitaji back, he told Angadji, “Kaaj Hamaara taasu hita hoi.” [Fulfill your mission in rescuing Sita, but do not hurt Ravana in the process. Just try to make him understand that he should peacefully return her.] This is the Divine way: do your duty, do your best, fulfill your obligations, but don’t hurt anyone in the process, either physically or emotionally.

We must dedicate our lives to growing as much as we can, to learning as much as we can, to serving as much as we can and to getting closer and closer to the ultimate goal of Union with the Almighty. We must not let competition, jealousy, complexes or petty complaints stand in the way of our great Mission.