Someone who’s been following my blog and discourses since the beginning approached me the other day. He narrated a heart-melting story. Here it is in direct voice.
“Swami,” he said, “The first thing I do immediately after taking a bath in the morning is light a lamp at the altar and say my prayers. Other than incense and the lamp, I also offer fresh flowers. I have a small fenced area where I grow these flowers with great care and love because they are offered to God. I water them every morning and evening.”
“While you’ve just come from the mountains, it’s been extremely hot here in the plains,” he continued. “Due to the intense heatwave, people have been staying indoors as much as possible. Even dogs and cows run for shade and shelter during the day and the heat is already scorching soon after sunrise. If you step outside, you start sweating even at seven in the morning.
“It was a Sunday and I had barely slept the night before because of a power cut so I started my day later than usual. At around 9 a.m. I went outside to gather flowers for my morning prayers. Much to my annoyance, a street dog had made its way through the fence and was sitting on my little lawn. A hedge of flowers was partially destroyed. The dog had dug a pit creating a mound of earth nearby.
“With his tongue lolling out of his mouth, he was resting in the cool earth. I was as sad as furious to see the state of the lawn. Plus, I thought, how would I offer fresh and pure flowers at my altar now? He could have peed in any corner of the lawn and I wouldn’t know. I got really mad and yelled at the top of my voice and the dog ran away.
“I prayed in haste because I couldn’t focus at all, and spent the next hour fixing my lawn. I was in a bad mood throughout the day. Later that afternoon, I had to see a cobbler to get my shoes repaired. He was sitting on the footpath of a wide road. A faded and patched umbrella was tied to an old stick that was strategically stuck in the seat he sat on. A sooty and tiny workbench, that looked almost vintage, had countless engravings from weathering numerous cuts from various tools over the years.
“Alongside an awl and other implements, a whetstone lay nearby. And next to it was a soiled bowl with water. This is where he would regularly dip his sole knife and rub a bit on the stone to sharpen the blade. Sitting on my bike, I was feeling hot and restless while the cobbler worked slowly and patiently. He seemed unaffected by the heat or the noise.
“He was about to dip his sole knife in water when a stray dog sauntered in and started drinking from the bowl. The cobbler stopped and smiled. One moment I was looking at the dog and the next moment at the shoemaker. He was watching the dog with an unearthly serenity and contentment on his face. Soon the water was finished and the dog was licking the bowl.
“Without saying a word, he reached into his bag, pulled out an old plastic bottle and poured more water into the bowl. The dog was drinking again. The shoemaker too took a few sips from the bottle and put it back in his bag. Given the soaring mercury, the water must be more than warm if not nearly hot.
“After drinking some more the dog looked at him, wagged his tail and sat nearby. The cobbler gazed at him lovingly out of his compassionate eyes set in his dark and grimy face. The concrete pavement was too hot for the dog though. He got up, drank a bit more water, wagged his tail again and quietly left. As for the shoemaker, he dipped his knife in the same bowl and went about his business.”
“I can’t even begin to tell you, Swami,” he continued, “how ashamed I felt. There I was, an educated man who had been listening to your discourses for years and reading your posts and yet I could not see any God in the dog that spoiled my lawn. I chased him away like a madman. I was upset beyond words. And here was an illiterate cobbler who probably never read scriptures, nor prayed at an altar, yet he was far more spiritual than I could ever hope to be.
“I hear you say so often about seeing God in everyone and treating them like that, but when I actually had the opportunity to do so I failed miserably. A shoemaker, on the other hand, was living your words, he was adhering to the scriptures. I feel so guilty and terrible, Swami.”
“Don’t worry,” I said. “At least, you learned a lifelong lesson.”
“No Swami,” he cried. “Please tell me how I should repent.”
“Your awareness is your penitence.”
“Still, Swami,” he persisted, “give me something to do.”
“Okay then,” I said. “Put a bowl of water just outside your home for dogs and birds. And keep three chapatis or slices of bread next to the water. Every day. For as long as you can.”
His story reminded me of Saint Ravidas, a shoemaker by profession, who famously said, “Mana changa te kathauti vich ganga.” (If your heart is noble then the water in your vessel is pure like the Ganges). In a yogic and devotional sentiment, his verses in Guru Granth Sahib say:
Tōhī mōhī mōhī tōhī antaru kaisā, kanaka kaṭika jala taraṅga jaisā. Ja'u pai hama na pāpa karantā ahē anantā, patita pāvana nāmu kaisē huntā. (SGGS, p.93) Tuma candana hama iraṇḍa bāpurē saṅgi tumārē bāsā, nīca rūkha tē ūca bha'ē hai gandha sugandha nivāsā. (SGGS, p.486) You are me, and I am You. What is the difference between us? We are like gold and the bracelet, or water and the waves. If I did not commit any sin, O Infinite Lord, then how would You have acquired the name,'Redeemer of sinners'? Thou art sandal and I am the poor castor-plant, dwelling close to thee. From a mean tree I have become sublime and thine fragrance, exquisite fragrance, now abides in me.
When you realize God, you become humble naturally. Arrogance and ego flee from you as thieves do in the light. You become an embodiment of goodness, you choose your words carefully. You weigh your actions meticulously. You check your thoughts artfully. You act mindfully. It all happens effortlessly, for you see the same Divine in everyone.
No matter how learned or religious we may be, until we feel the pain of other sentient beings, we are all alike — self-centered and self-concerned. And when the truth dawns, you realize that we still are all alike — eternal and divine. Only the perspective changes. Before realization, you see bodies, differences and outer appearances. After realization, you see souls, similarities and the inner essence.
You see God in a dog then, in the flowers, in an ant, in everyone. Every time. For, that is the truth indeed.