Sunday, June 26, 2011

Gandhi's talisman

In one of the last notes left behind by Gandhi in 1948, he wrote,
"I will give you a talisman. Whenever you are in doubt, or when the self becomes too much with you, apply the following test. Recall the face of the poorest and the weakest man whom you may have seen, and ask yourself, if the step you contemplate is going to be of any use to him. Will he gain anything by it? Will it restore him to a control over his own life and destiny? In other words, will it lead to swaraj (self-governance) for the hungry and spiritually starving millions?
Then you will find your doubts and your self melt away."
I have often wondered whose that face may be, "the face of the poorest and the weakest man". Not a face that you can wince over for a minute, then submerge amidst the everyday busyness and needs and desires of your own existence - there is no dearth of such faces on the streets. But a face that will haunt you in the quiet moments before you fall asleep, when you sit down for dinner at a fancy restaurant, when you let yourself be tempted to buy that umpteenth pair of pretty strappy slippers.

A few weeks ago in the newspaper, I saw that face:

I want to burn the face of Hanumanthappa on my brain so I never again forget, slide into default easy ways of living, not thinking or doing anything for anyone except me and mine.

I need every gem of those swift kick in the pants shockers that Swami Vivekananda specialises in administering:
“The essential thing is renunciation. Without renunciation none can pour out his whole heart in working for others. The man of renunciation sees all with an equal eye and devotes himself to the service of all. Does not our Vedanta also teach us to see all with an equal eye? Why then do you cherish the idea that the wife and children are your own, more than others? At your very threshold, Narayana Himself in the form of a poor beggar is dying of starvation! Instead of giving him anything, would you only satisfy the appetite of your wife and children with delicacies? Why, that is beastly!”
Thank you Dr Asha Benakappa for writing that article and bringing alive Gandhi's talisman for so many of us.

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