I’ve just got back from a trip to India with friends from my meditation group. We were staying at Parmarth Niketan ashram in Rikikesh and on the last day of our visit we were granted a private audience with the spiritual leader of the ashram, HH Pujya Swami Chidanand Saraswatiji Maharaj (aka “Swamiji”).
This was quite an honour. Swamiji is one of India’s most important spiritual leaders and regularly receives visits from senior politicians and dignitaries from around the world. His pet topic at the moment is the project to clean up the Ganges on which he can talk for hours and hours. We wanted to get him off that subject and onto something which would be more relevant for us.
So we asked him to tell us this story. He’s a quietly spoken, modest man. I wasn’t prepared for his reply.
Swamiji said that when he was eight years old his parents invited the local holy man round for lunch. When he accepted his mother started dancing for joy and running round the house cleaning and tidying everything. When she’d finished, she started again at the beginning, cleaning and tidying everything again. But when the appointed time came the holy man didn’t arrive. So the young Swamiji was sent to his house to fetch him. The boy found the holy man and reminded him that he was expected for lunch. The holy man didn’t reply. Instead he just touched the boy on the forehead. The boy experienced a blinding flash of light and went into an ecstatic trance. He remained like this until his father called to find out what was going on. The holy man then touched the boy again on the forehead and he returned to normal.
The three of them then went back to Swamiji’s home for lunch, but already the boy was hooked. So at the end of the meal he asked the holy man to take him on as his apprentice. The priest said that if he wanted to come and join him he would have to pass a test. He was to sit on his own for one year, not seeing or speaking to anyone, not even members of his own family. So the family had a special room built inside their house and for one year the young boy, then eight years old, sat in silence, taking his meals through a hole in the wall. The priest called from time to time to check how things were going. At the end of the year the boy again asked the priest if he would take him on. The holy man said that he needed to repeat the test for another year…
At the end of the second year the priest took the boy on as his apprentice. He immediately announced that they would be going off into the Himalayan forests together. To which the boy replied that he didn’t want to do that because he was frightened ghosts! The priest would have none of this and off they went.
When they returned from the jungle Swamiji was sent off on his own and for a time he lived as a holy man on the streets accepting whatever food came his way. Sometimes he wouldn’t be given anything to eat for days. But when people asked him how he was he would always say “superb” even if he was dying of hunger. That was what was expected of him as a holy man.
We may or may not believe in blinding flashes of light, but there are some simple lessons from Swamiji’s story which anyone who wants to achieve great things should learn:
Lesson 1: Whatever you want in life, work out what price you need to pay and be prepared to pay it, however difficult
Lesson 2: Be prepared to confront your fears
Lesson 3: Always act “as if” – i.e. act as if you are already the person you want to become. Even when things aren’t going your way…