Every Saint Has A Past & Every Sinner Has A Future

Many people go through their lives carrying the burden of guilt or regret over past mistakes. For some, the weight is such that it crushes their sense of self-worth and they are unable to live a normal life, and they go to their grave haunted by the wrongs they have done.

Most of us know, even if we do not remember it all the time, that every action has an equal and opposite reaction, and that we reap what we sow.This universal law warns us of the consequences of bad karma, but it also encourages us to do good karma. If one has done something bad, repentance cannot undo it. But one can learn from it and direct one’s energy to doing good.

Positive and charitable actions lift our spirits and bring benefit to others. They keep the mind engaged in a healthy way, help one forge good relations and, when done repeatedly, create a habit of doing good.

Soon, a time comes when good deeds outweigh past mistakes, and the person not only feels happy himself, but is also a source of support for others. This is how character transformation takes place.

There are several examples in history of people leaving behind an ignoble past and achieving greatness. St Augustine is perhaps the most famous. A hedonistic party goer who fathered an illegitimate son, he eventually heeded the pleas of his devout mother and became a Catholic priest. Today, he is regarded as a Doctor of the Church, a title given to saints of particular importance.

Similarly, Angulimala, a serial killer, became a monk after an encounter with the Buddha, and Valmiki gave up life as a robber and meditated for years in penance before he went on to compose the epic Ramayana. He is now revered as `Adi Kavi’, or first poet, as he is said to have invented the `shloka’, the first verse, which defined the form of Sanskrit poetry .

These examples show that no one is beyond redemption, and each one of us has the potential for spiritual progress regardless of our background.

As Oscar Wilde said, `The only difference between saint and sinner is that every saint has a past, and every sinner has a future.’ This is one reason criminal justice systems in some countries encourage the convicted to do something charitable to make amends for a mistake, or do community service fully or partially in lieu of other forms of punishment, such as imprisonment or paying a fine. Even where such a provision does not exist, convicts get reduced punishment if they show true remorse or cooperate with law enforcement agencies, and sentences are commuted if the convict has a record of good behaviour. Such measures aim to encourage reform, so that convicted criminals emerge better persons from their experience of crime and punishment.

While one cannot change one’s past, its negative influence on the present and the future can be eliminated by changing one’s way of thinking and behaviour. The key is to turn over a new leaf. A mistake does leave a stain on one’s life, but repeatedly thinking about it only darkens the stain. Instead, do good, so one can create bright spots that will eventually shine such that no one notices the stains.

Om Namah Shivay

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Seeing Past Yourself-2

Your feelings are not in your control. Mostly. Your actions are. I hope. Sometimes you feel indifferent or selfish or neutral, sometimes you don’t really feel anything when you see the other person in pain. Fine. It’s human (or inhuman), it’s not nice, but that doesn’t make you a bad person. You can’t choose your feelings, but, you can choose your behavior, you can act a certain way, in a compassionate way, in a more caring way. If you do that, before long, the river of empathy will murmur in your heart all through the four seasons.

Someone is having a headache and they are crying in pain. You don’t feel their pain. No problems. This may be how you are. But, get up and offer them medicine. This is compassion. Hear them out without reacting. This is empathy. When you practice both, you will not only begin to understand their pain, you will actually feel it. Your own existence goes through a profound transformation when you start to feel the pain of others. This is perhaps the most compelling thing about compassion and empathy: it actually helps you grow – spiritually and emotionally. You benefit directly when you act selflessly.

I once read somewhere: to understand the pain of the other person, don’t just step into his shoes but run a mile in them. If at the end of that run, you still don’t feel his pain, then, what the heck, at least you are a mile away from the sorry fellow and you have his shoes.

This was just for the laughs, because, the only other emotion as divine as compassion and empathy is humor. Like all good emotions, it’s enriching both for the giver and the recipient. Even materially. How else could Jerry Seinfeld be the wealthiest actor, you think? Imagine if acting humor could be so enriching, what would feeling it be like? Materially or spiritually. When you can’t be compassionate, when you can’t empathize, when you don’t feel their pain, at least don’t be mad; that’s what I mean to say.

Let’s loosen up a bit and see beyond our own desires, preferences and demands. The world will look a lot different then, it won’t feel as cold or morbid. Actually, I’m reminded of a beautiful sufi verse:

Khuda humko aisi khudai na de, ki apne siwa kuch dikhayi na de.

Mujhe aisi jannat nahin chahiye, jahan se doosre ki awaz sunayi na de.

Don’t bless me with so much lord that I [get so obsessed with myself that I] fail to see past me. I don’t want a heaven from where I can’t hear the cries of others.

When it comes to the pain of others, try to feel it. At least, try. If you can’t do that then reflect on it, think about it. If that’s too hard too then at least behave yourself so you don’t hurt others. That will do the trick. Above all, remember, we have no right to cause pain to the other person. None whatsoever.

Om Namah Shivay

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Seeing Past Yourself-1

Why are some people sensitive towards the needs of others while many just couldn’t care less? What is it in a person that better equips them to have greater empathy? There’s this famous and beautiful devotional song in India. It was Mahatma Gandhi’s favorite song, in fact. I quote below the first couple of lines:

Vaishnava jan to tene kahiye je peerh parayi jaane re,

Par dukhe upkar kare to yeh mann abhiman na aane re.

A true devotee of the lord is the one who understands the pain of the other person, the one who helps others and does not let ego or conceit bloat him.

There is something rather peculiar about suffering. It does different things to different people. Some of those who suffer decide to give it back to the world. “I didn’t have it easy, so no one else must have it easy either,” they believe. Whereas, there are some who do exactly the opposite. “No one else should suffer like I did,” they say. There is no dearth of people in either category, our world is full of good and not-so-good people. The question, however, remains: why do some people are more caring or empathic than others? Let me share with you a quick story first.

A guru taught a king’s son for twelve years and turned him into a fine young man — civil and noble. When he handed back the prince to the king, he couldn’t stop praising him. He predicted that the meritorious prince would be a great emperor one day. A few years went by and the prince began taking greater control of the affairs of the state. The aging king decided it was best to crown his son and retire.

Naturally, his guru was specially invited at the coronation.

“O Master,” the king said at the ceremony, “please bless your pupil so he may be a just king forever committed to the welfare of his subjects.”

The guru smiled and slowly walked up to the prince. Instead of blessing though, he started beating him with his stick.

The king, prince, courtiers and everyone else were shocked and appalled, but none uttered a whisper until the guru stopped.

“It is your right to punish me, master,” the prince said, “but, please tell me my crime.”

“Yes, sage,” the king followed, “why did you whip him? For what mistake?”

“There was no mistake,” the guru said. “This was the last lesson. Tomorrow, being a king, sometimes, he’ll have to punish people. Now, having experienced pain, he would exercise the right restraint. He’ll better understand the feelings of the one being punished.”

I like the message in this story. Somewhere, to truly understand the pain of the other person, to empathize, we must know what it’s like to be in pain. Paradoxically, it is why a certain degree of suffering can bring people closer to each other. It quickly breaks the superficial layers of hypocrisy, it thaws artificiality. In suffering, either you are with the other person or you aren’t. When they are in pain, either you are helping them or you aren’t.

So often I meet people who want to feel compassion, who want to feel empathy but they are unable to, they tell me. When they don’t get along with someone, all they feel is anger towards the other person. The pain, grief or sorrows of the other person doesn’t melt their heart, it doesn’t move them. They carry on with their affairs and behavior as if nothing happened, as though it doesn’t concern them. I hear what you are saying. No point feeling bad about it.

Om Namah Shivay

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When justice is tempered with mercy…

A thought provoking incident.
When justice is tempered with mercy…
A judge was sitting in judgment of an old lady who pleaded guilty of stealing some tapioca from a plantation.
In her defense, the old lady admitted to the Judge that she was indeed guilty of the crime because she was poor and her son was sick while her grandchild was hungry.
The plantation manager insisted that she be punished as a deterrent to others.
The judge going through the documents then looked up and said to the old lady, “I’m sorry but I cannot make any exception to the Law and you must be punished accordingly”.
The old lady was fined Rp.1 million (USD 100) and if she could not pay the fine then she will be jailed for 2 1/2 years as demanded by the Law.
She wept as she could not pay the fine.
The Judge then took off his hat and put in Rp.100,000 into the hat and said, “In the name of justice, I fine all present in the Court @ Rp.50,000 (USD 5.50) each as dwellers of this City for letting a child starve until her grandmother is compelled to steal to feed her grandchild. The Registrar will now collect the fines from all present.”
The Court managed to collect Rp 3.5 million (USD 350) including the fine collected from the plantation manager, whereby the fine was paid off and the rest was given to the old lady.

Om Namah Shivay

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