Holy texts give us general principles

(… continued from ‘A pole star within’)

There are external lines and there are internal lines. We can find some guidance in the holy text but the holy text, though they give us general principles, will not tell us what to do in detail, there has to be inspiration. When the word inspiration is mentioned, we feel, “Oh, well, it’s alright if you’re Beethoven or Pasteur.”

Pasteur didn’t do very well when he was a boy. He was a good artist, very poor scientist. He touched the sources of inspiration five times in his life, entirely new insights often against the whole logic of the situation. So, we can say, “Well, what sort of thing would this happen, what would this inspiration bring, in the ordinary way?” There are inner lines of a situation.

Now, for instance, the Prime Minister of a small Indian state, long before the independence, he was a highly trained man, educated in the west, but he believed… he said, “Our Indian culture has the spiritual truths, but you have many material truths.” He became Prime Minister of this small state and he wanted to put through a programme of cholera injections.

Of course, the main solution to cholera is to improve the hygiene, but, in the meantime, he wanted that the people who are subject at risk should have the injections. The Brahmins objected strongly and said, “No, this is a foreign innovation. It will bring all disaster upon us.” Now he went into meditation, they clung to the ancient texts. This is a western innovation.

He thought… the idea came to him, “Yes, the ancient texts, the ancient texts.” So, he called three very learned scholars, youngish men, and he said, “The ancient medical texts, [of] Sushruta and his predecessors – how much have they been studied?” They said, “Oh, well, there’s a rough analysis, you know, but they haven’t been studied in detail.”  So, he said, “Well, I’ve got a special commission. I want you to go through those texts and find something corresponding to inoculation, if it’s there.” Which they did. Then he held a great public debate and his scholars produced passages from these ancient medical texts and presented them to the very orthodox Brahmanical opponents of the inoculation.

The Prime Minister said, “You see, we are not bringing in a western innovation, this is a development of an ancient Indian medical treatment, which has become lost to us.” Then the Brahmins enthusiastically supported the idea. Now he could have solved that problem by external means, he could have forced it through against their opposition.  He could have tried bribing them, he could have tried discrediting their reputation by false slanders but he found an inner way to change their whole attitude to come into line with their attitude of following the ancient texts.

Our teacher’s teacher Shri Dada was acquainted with a family and a girl came in to marry the son of the family.  Well, now, the mother-in-law, as sometimes happens, rather took against this girl, and she said, “She’s unlucky. I feel it, she’s unlucky.” The mother-in-law used to warm her straw bed by sometimes putting the hot ashes from the fire underneath the bed for a few minutes and then she would take it out and they’d go to sleep, the bed was slightly warmed.  That evening, in the excitement of the arrival of the bride, she forgot and the hot ashes caught some of the loose straw, the bed began to blaze. So, she said, “That proves it, she’s unlucky.” They said, “But you forgot.” She said, “I’ve never forgotten before. She came, then I forgot.”

Then there was a plague of a particular disease and the son caught it and nearly died and was nursed, with great devotion, by the new bride, and he finally recovered though he was only a shadow of himself. The mother-in-law said, “Look, look, the next one, she has nearly killed my son.” Shri Dada, our teacher’s teacher, was asked. He didn’t say to her, “Oh, well, you should be compassionate to her because she’s unlucky.” Or, “You should try to get over your prejudice.”

He said, “No, look at the facts. The neighbours down the road, there was a case there, wasn’t there? They died. Then there was another case over there, they died. She’s very lucky. She saved your son with her devoted nursing and she has brought good fortune. You have got an angel in the house.” The mother in law’s attitude completely changed. He didn’t forcibly change her attitude but he convinced her in another way.

A disciple of a teacher in a school where they were all required to memorise a not very long text (250 words) used to say, “Oh, I can’t memorise it, I’ve never been able to remember anything.” So, the teacher said, “Well how do you know you can’t remember it?” She said, “Oh, I’ve never been able to. When I was a small child, the school mistress set the class a list of six dates to learn. The others learnt it and I couldn’t learn it.”  The mistress said, ‘You’ll stay here until you have learnt it.’ So, I stayed there, but I couldn’t learn it, in two hours, three hours. Then my mother came, of course, and took me away. So, it was established then that I couldn’t learn anything by heart.”

Then the teacher blazed up and he said, “The world is full of lazy people, deliberately pretending to be idiots, in order to get special treatment.” He glared at her and she ran out. Then, a few days later, she came back very timidly and the teacher came out and he saw her looking so downcast. He said, “Is anything the matter?”

She said, “Oh, no, only what you said.” He said, “Well, what did I say?” She said, “You said, ‘Lazy people deliberately pretending to be idiots to get special treatment’.” He said, “You remember that?” So, she said, “Well I remember that, it applied to me.” He said, “Yes. When you study the holy texts, don’t think of them as general principles, apply them to yourself, then you’ll remember them.”

© Trevor Leggett

(Continued in ‘The riddle of the Self’)

Titles in this series are:

Part 1: A Pole Star Within

Part 2: Holy texts give us general principles

Part 3: The riddle of the Self