A short story about understanding what God means in everyday life
Bhagavad Gita, Chapter 7, Verse 17
Catur-vidha bhajate mam
Janah sukrtino ‘rjuna
Arto jijnasur artharthi
Jnani ca bharatarsabha
“According to the Gita, there are four types of devotees. The first will pray when they are in distress. This devotee remembers the Lord when there are hardships in their life and when there is no one else to call upon. The second devotee prays for what they desire, this may include wealth, a wife or husband, influence or success in business. Of course, there are times when it is appropriate to pray for these ends, and in times of hardships we all call upon the Lord. However, there are more noble pursuits. The third type of devotee prays to understand the Lord. They want to know the truth of God. Finally, the fourth type is the one who understands the Lord. He identifies with him totally.”
“So, which type of devotee do you want to be?” asked the Guru, as he took off his glasses. He held them in his hand as he smiled knowingly at the class. “The choice is yours.”
The choice is yours… the choice is yours… the choice is yours. The words circled around in Shanti’s head as she drove home from class. The girl was a perfectionist; she expected the best from herself and always tried to do the right thing. She challenged herself to do what was tough but right. She decided that she would be the third type of devotee. She was just seventeen years old. She was thirty years younger than her classmates in the Gita lesson, and many wondered what such a young girl was doing in a class like this. After all, most seventeen-year-olds aren’t interested in Hindu theology. If you asked her why she attended, she would say, “Because it makes me less confused.” She didn’t like talking too much. She was a normal girl in every respect, except for one thing. She was very quietly determined.
Yes, she decided, she would be the third type of devotee. She wanted to see what would happen if she followed the ‘right’ path.
She placed the palms of her hands together, closed her eyes and emptied her mind of all thoughts.
Om bhur bhuvahswah
Dhimahi dhiyo yo nah prachodayat
Shanti chanted the Gayathiri mantra in her head.
She opened her eyes and stared at the deity of Ganesha sitting resplendently in the sanctum. She smiled to herself. She was the type of devotee that she wanted to be. In her mind, this was the right attitude, asking for what she wanted, but not expecting anything.
“I’m only young, God will help me come to understand him in time, there isn’t any rush,” Shanti thought to herself.
She didn’t expect anything special, after all, she was just another devotee at the temple.
Ayumi placed the palms of her hands together, closed her eyes and emptied her mind of all thoughts.
“God, please send me to the right country, to help me fulfil your mission.”
It was a warm summer’s day in Tokyo. Ayumi was a religious volunteer worker. As a university student at 18, she wanted to volunteer overseas for six months, before returning to Tokyo to complete her studies. She was ready and prepared to go, where to was the question. Her organisation had decided on a lottery system. Whatever country she pulled out of the hat, would be her new home for the next six months.
Ayumi held her breath as she felt around the hat. Her fingers found a slip of paper and she promptly pulled out her hand.
“Well?” chimed her friends, eager to know where she would go.
“Sydney, Australia,” she read out expressionlessly. She hadn’t expected that.
Three months later, at 18, Shanti found herself at university, doing a degree she loved. For one subject, where group work was necessary, her team mates weren’t exactly what you would call… interested. Shanti looked around at her team mates. They were all texting on their phones. She sighed quietly. But, in true Shanti spirit, she thought to herself, ‘I’m going to whip these guys into shape.’ For the moment though, she was feeling quite deflated.
‘I’ll go have lunch in the park,’ she thought to herself, ‘Sitting in the sun will cheer me up.’
Ayumi was walking around, clipboard in hand, blank surveys printed out and pens at the ready. She was in Sydney now, carrying out duties. Today she was undertaking surveys. It was something she enjoyed doing. She felt that people in Sydney were more approachable than people in Tokyo. Looking for someone to approach, Ayumi saw a uni student eating lunch alone, staring off into space, deep in thought. The young woman agreed to complete the survey.
Shanti read the questions in front of her.
Do you believe in God?
What does God mean to you?
Do you look to God to dealing with hardships?
What is your purpose of life?
She was surprised.
“I was just thinking about this,” said Shanti. Tears welled in her eyes. It was a little extreme, but her team members were starting to get to her. She was thinking about why it had upset her so much, and berated herself for getting emotional. She shouldn’t have let her team mates bother her the way they did. Still, she was human after all. She sniffled.
Shanti filled out the survey and handed it back to Ayumi.
What is your purpose of life?
To be the best I can be.
That was pretty impressive. This girl looked about eighteen, but she seemed pretty mature for her age.
“Are you a Hindu? I like your star.”
“Thank you,” said Shanti. “It’s called a bindi.”
“That’s interesting. Tell me more about yourself.”
They ended up sitting in the park, talking for hours. For the first time, Shanti expressed the ideas she’d been having about her religion. She felt tired of being confused by, and afraid of, other people. She spoke about what was on her mind and everything she had been feeling lately. It was strange, she had just met this girl, but it felt like they were best friends. She felt comfortable talking to her and felt relieved that her ideas were shared by Ayumi. She felt less alone.
Shanti found herself in class again with her Guru. They were studying Ishavasya Upanishad.
“There are two characteristics of enlightened people,” Guru explained, calmly. “The enlightened person doesn’t hate anyone. They might not want to spend time with someone, but they don’t hate anyone. Secondly, the one who sees the truth doesn’t feel afraid of anyone.”
Shanti sat up straight in her seat, she was starting to understand what that felt like. She listened carefully.
“The one who really understands the truth does not feel afraid of sharing their opinions with others and being judged for them; they don’t feel afraid of other people.”
Shanti was confused. Did this mean she was enlightened? Could it be that all those prayers she made were coming to fruition? Was she coming closer to understanding the Lord?
“When life presents us with opportunities which help us in our pursuits, and we have the presence of mind to take them, we can count ourselves as blessed,” stated the Guru knowingly.
Shanti smiled to herself. She understood now. There was no other explanation for how she met Ayumi. There was no other explanation for all the little things that happened which allowed them to meet.
Her prayer had been answered.
She was blessed.