Strolling through the quiet streets of Lanka at night, Hanumana was rather taken aback when he heard the chants of Sri Ram coming from a home. These were not loud or prominent chants but whispers escaping through the windows. In the city ruled by Ravana, who could be chanting the name of my lord? The house too looked different from all the others, as if the occupant was a devotee of Vishnu, particularly with the cluster of tulasi plants just outside and walls bearing signs of Sri Hari.
Just then a man opened the front door and came out chanting the holy names as Hanumana took to hiding behind a wall. The sky was still starlit and the time was a couple of hours before dawn. The man offered water to the tulasi plants while performing a circumambulation; signs that were unfailingly indicative of an ardent devotee of Vishnu. Unable to contain his joy and curiosity, Hanumana waited till he finished and in one hop stood before him with his hands folded. Upon inquiry, the man introduced himself as Vibhishana, a devotee of Rama. He mentioned that he was a brother of the emperor himself.
“It baffles me,” Hanumana said, “you are a devotee, a noble soul. How on earth do you live among these demons?”
Vibhishana smiled and said, “Just as a tongue lives in the mouth.”
With thirty-two teeth biting and grinding around it, not only does the tongue remain untouched, it enjoys all the taste. The very food that sits and rolls on the tongue is chewed to a pulp by the teeth and yet, this snaky little thing escapes unscathed. And the only time it gets hurt is when we have a lapse in mindfulness, when we are trying to utter dental consonants while eating.
Wonder why? Purely from a philosophical perspective, the way I see it is that the chief difference between the two is flexibility. The tongue’s flexibility is the key to its longevity. It is why it gets the taste while the teeth get, well, you know, root canals and cavities. Even at the dentist’s, the tongue gets a nice little vacuum while the hardworking teeth have to put up with drills, screws, syringes, and whatnot.
Besides, have you noticed that as we age, our teeth discolor and we lose them no matter how much we care for them? You rinse, mouthwash, floss, water-floss, brush, every day, twice a day, without fail, and yet, these are the ones to go first. Even a child has to lose her milk teeth before she grows another set. But, no one loses their tongue until they die. No threat of shedding your tongue, no visits to any specialist or oral plumber. It doesn’t even wrinkle.
I guess a lot can be learned from this humble body part. There are numerous things in our lives that we don’t control, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing either. We can’t change the nature of those around us. Some will grind and bite, but that doesn’t mean you can’t protect yourself or that you stop enjoying the taste of life. All it takes is to be flexible. I am not suggesting that it’s easy but, perhaps, we should look upon flexibility and adaptability as skills and not traits.
We teach our kids to be strong, we tell each other to be strong, but how about teaching them to be flexible. Sometimes just standing firm is not strength but merely a show of strength. Many times, the real strength is in being flexible. Everything will hurt less, bother less, and matter less if we loosen up a bit, just a tad bit is enough to trigger an avalanche of peace and joy. You don’t need a lot of salt in your meal, just a few grains. The more flexible you are, the easier you’ll find it to be happy.
Not to mention that most of our waking life is spent communicating with others. And what body part do we use in all verbal communication? Not the brain, right? Speak sweetly, respectfully, and more sweetly, and before long, you will have their votes. Humor aside, our tongue remains the single most important medium of communication. The world around you cares about truth, but it cares a lot more about how you tell that truth. Mastery of the tongue can make even the most distressing news palatable.
If you want lasting peace and joy, learn from your tongue and live like it. Befriend it, tame it. In the spirit of the subject and subject matter, I’ve kept this post short and sweet.
Reflect on it and you’ll discover that your tongue-in-teeth has a great bearing on the quality of your relationships. It directly impacts how people around you perceive you, and its wisdom shows how you could go about living in this world in the most joyous manner.
I mean it; this is no tongue-in-cheek.