A person was once given some sweet prasad (consecrated offering) in a bag. The man placed it in a corner, with the intention of eating it a little later. A few minutes later he turned to find a whole horde of little black ants marching towards the bag. As these ants are harmless and don’t bite, they are generally not killed in India. So the man picked up a brush and patiently tried to push them away. But the ants were quite determined and persisted on attacking the prasad. He was at a loss, and didn’t want to spend the whole day brushing the little critters away. As he watched the ants, an idea struck him. He did not have to worry about the ants. All he had to do was to simply protect the prasad from the ants. The man quickly went to the kitchen, brought a big bowl filled with water and placed the plastic bag containing the prasad in the bowl. The ants could not attack the prasad anymore because they were now protected by the “fort” of water. Such a simple solution!
Sri Sri Muralidhara Swamiji once narrated a wonderful incident from the life of a great mahatma. This saint was once touring India by foot. He happened to set up camp for a few days in a village on the banks of the Godavari River. As it was mid-summer, the sandy river bank was scorching hot. The mahatma had to walk to the river from his tent for a bath. When he set out to the river, a disciple rushed to him with a pair of sandals and an umbrella.
Suddenly the mahatma stopped and became thoughtful. He then said, “In the summer we find the sun scorching us from above and the sands burning us from below. But we have to walk this path to the river to take our baths. Now, to save ourselves from this heat, we could build an overhead cover extending from the camping place to the river. To save our legs from the heat of sand, we could build a wooden pathway. But these are not practical solutions.
So what are we actually doing here? We don’t try to change the sun, the sand or the landscape around us. To save ourselves from the scorching sun, we just use the umbrella. To save ourselves from the hot sands, we use a pair of sandals.”
The mahatma continued, “We need not bother ourselves about how perfect or imperfect the world is. Newspapers show us the state of the world. The world and its happenings scorch us. Virtues have gone to the winds. This state of the world burns us like the sun from above and the sands from below. In such a situation, it would be very pleasant to hear someone say that the world should be a better place or that the world should be changed or that people should be more virtuous. But is it really possible to change the world in even an entire lifetime? Of course not.
Still, it is important for us to save ourselves from such a world, right? How can we do that? Just as we have our own sandals and umbrella, we should also pave a path of virtue/dharma personally for us and hold on to it steadfastly, irrespective of how the world is. If we walk such a path uncompromisingly, name, fame, wealth and every kind of prosperity will ensue. Instead, if we hanker after name, fame and wealth and give up our moral values in such a pursuit, we will be the losers.”
How wonderfully mahatmas bring out profound truths and practicable paths out of mere day to day events!
Sri Sri Muralidhara Swamiji further simplifies this beautifully. He says that people are usually confused with regard to “dharma”. This is because dharma is very subtle. But there is a simple dharma, following which may or may not change others, but will definitely protect us. It will act as our “fort”. What is it? It is the Divine Name of the Lord.
Chanting the Divine Names of the Lord incessantly, saves us, who are also sweets, from the ants which are nothing but our automatic negative thoughts like jealousy, anger, pride, etc. These negative thoughts try to etch away all the sweets of goodness in us like love, wisdom and dispassion. If we try to drive away one of these ants, the others charge at us! If we try to fight these negative thoughts, we will end up spending our entire lifetime in it without any progress.
Hence it is wiser to protect our inherent divinity by chanting the Divine Names of the Lord and making a fort around us instead of trying to fight each of our negativities. Following dharma itself is a fort. But if we find it tough to adhere to some dharma, the easiest dharma that can be adopted by all is that of Nama kirtan, chanting the Names of the Lord.
The Divine Names will serve as a shield and protect us. It can be the Name of any deity. It can be Krishna, Rama, Shiva, Muruga or any other, according to one’s taste and culture. The beauty is, the path of chanting the Divine Names exists not only in India or its religion, but also in other religions born in other countries. Chanting the Divine Names of the Lord is the common dharma, a common fort of protection across the world for all.
This is the way to protect ourselves from the ills of the world. Can we change the world? We don’t know. It’s not in our hands. Instead of crying out loud about how bad the world is and feel helpless, we can do something that is within our capability and that is chanting the Divine Names of the Lord.
When we travel in an airplane, in case of a reduction in the oxygen level, we are advised to first wear our oxygen masks before helping others with their masks. How true! Unless we are fit ourselves, how can we help others? So before helping others, before protecting the world, let us protect ourselves by chanting the Names of the Lord. The Divine Names will protect us from the adharma (unrighteousness) of the world and save our inherent divinity and love. When the transformation happens in the individual, his very presence will spread the fragrance of love and understanding all around. And THAT will certainly change the world for the better.
Sri M. K. Ramanujamji, Chennai, India