The gift of things, the gift of courage, and the gift of wisdom

Three Gifts

Words may not be needed. There are people who, when you visit them, say almost nothing so that you think perhaps you’ve wasted your time going to see them. But when you get home, you find something you’ve been frightened of doing is now not so frightening after all, in fact it is easy. You have received the holy gift of courage.

Classically there are three kinds of gift: the gift of things, the gift of courage, and the gift of wisdom. You can be given money, which would be the gift of a thing, but that soon goes. There is another gift, not given necessarily through anything physical, and that is the gift of courage. Instances of it were often cited by our teacher.

He recalled how Japanese would seek an interview with the great Saigo, and sit silently in the same room with him but without a word exchanged. They returned peaceful, free from their anxieties, and invigorated. And the third gift is the gift of wisdom.

Swami Mangalnath, a great yogin in our tradition at the turn of the last century, lived mostly in solitude as a monk. But he did sometimes come down from mountains. His talks had a strong effect on the hearers, amongst whom was Pandit Madan Mohan Malviya, famous as the founder of the university at Benares. Later, one of these meetings was the scene of an example of inspiration from samadhi, the peak of meditation.

From that very university, a learned man, young and arrogant but with a genuine desire to know truth, came to challenge Swami Mangalnath. He posed two difficult questions with some idea of trapping the mahatma. (A brief account of what happened is in the introduction to Triumph of a Hero, by Swami Mangalnath, translated by Dr Shastri.) The Mahatma made no reply but went into samadhi, and by grace the inquirer found the answers arising in himself.

He prostrated himself and asked to be taken as a disciple. He thus received the gift of wisdom and it was given in complete silence.

The ancient Brahma Sutra classic says: By intense meditation, that which is hidden becomes manifest. The commentator explains that what is hidden is the divine potentiality in the individual. Meditations on objects are performed by Karma Yogis, to whom the world is real. Meditations such as “God is the light of the sun and moon” and “God sends the rain” are on the pure divine attributes which uphold the world; they exalt, purify and clarify the mind of the meditator, to whom they are as real if not more real than his own body.

How real that is to him is soon made obvious by events of daily life. Suppose a splash of boiling water falls on to the hand: if its owner feels “I am burned,” then this world is real to him. So when instructions are given to Arjuna to do his duty in the world, its reality and importance are taken for granted. In the present state, things are real and we are to respond properly to events. For Karma Yogis, the world consists of separate things. God too is apart, to be worshipped and obeyed; from his side, he helps and blesses us.

One of the three main elements of Karma Yoga is samadhi practice, which means penetrating meditation. It has grades. Teachers give as an example the meditation described above, on the form of Rama. The Karma Yogi feels that the Lord is apart. The time comes, however, when the Rama-meditation begins to lose its own character of “I am meditating on Lord Rama.” Patanjali, who wrote the classic on meditation, says, “It is when the meditation loses its own nature, as it were, the separation into subject and object (I am meditating on this) begins to disappear and there is only the object, blazing forth in its own light.”

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