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Chapter 4 / parts 5 - 7

Summary of the Workshop on Spirituality
5  Removing the Impurities

   So, the single most important spiritual practice is to remove these impurities from ourselves which have covered our divine self, and hidden it from view.

   There was a certain lady who would always look out her kitchen window and see the neighbor's laundry hanging up. Invariably, she had some critical remarks to make to her husband about the neighbor's poorly washed clothes, which she could see hanging across the court. She would see many spots and notice how the wash wasn't really very white. The husband had to bear with this day after day. But then one day she looked out the window and noticed that all of the neighbor's wash was spotless and gleaming white. She was so surprised. What has happened to that neighbor lady? Suddenly she has learned how to do her wash properly. The wife told her husband, "Look at what's happened to the neighbor's wash. For the first time it is really clean." The husband answered, "No dear, there has been no change in the neighbor. Every day her wash has been the same. It is just in how you saw it. Today it appears different to you, because this morning I cleaned your kitchen window."

   Much of the dissension and disunity that we find in our relationship with others, is nothing more than the dirty kitchen windows that we see out of. We look at the neighbor's wash and point a finger. But Swami says, when you point your finger at another, the other three fingers of your hand will be pointing back at you. He says that there are two things which we need to forget. The first is the good that we have done to others, and the second is the harm that others have done to us. "Love all, no matter who, no matter what," he teaches.

6  Be Thankful to Your Sweepers

   When there are difficulties with others we should see it as an opportunity to critically examine ourselves. If we do so sincerely, we will be doing a most useful spiritual practice. For, those difficult others have no doubt been placed in our path by Swami to teach us forbearance under difficult circumstances. They are the sweepers that help us to sweep ourselves clean. Do you know the story of the sweeper?

   There was a family man who, after having spent his adult years in a very active professional life, had reached the retirement age. He decided that from then on he wanted to withdraw from worldly life and intensely immerse himself in spiritual practice, so as to gain the highest spiritual wisdom. For that a guru's initiation is necessary. So, the man went to a guru and told him, "Swami, I'm ready to devote the rest of my life to achieving God-realization. Please give me your initation."

   The guru said, "It cannot be done so quickly. There must first be the proper preparations, otherwise the initiation will have no effect. Here is what I suggest you do. I am keeping a cabin down by the river. Go there and remain in seclusion for a year. Spend the year in meditation and inner inquiry. Just stay with yourself and go out only once a day to take your bath and beg for your food. Then when the year is out, take a special purification bath intoning some sacred verses that I will now give you and put on a new set of clothes. Then keep yourself spotlessly clean and come back to see me. If you spend the year as I instruct, you will be ready for the initiation and it will be effective. Otherwise, it will be of no use to you and you will just be frustrated."

   The man went to the cabin as directed by the guru. He avidly immersed himself in spiritual practice and progressed rapidly in gaining some inner peace. Every day he counted the days still left until the year was out and he would be able to receive the coveted initiation. On the day that he was to come out of the cabin, the guru called in the village sweeper and told the sweeper, "Go down to the river and sweep the bank in front of the cabin. The man staying there in that cabin will be going into the river for a bath. Wait until he comes out and he has put on his new clothes, then sweep the whole pile of rubbish in his face. If he gets angry let him do whatever he will; don't resist him. He will not really harm you."

   So the man came out of the river that day feeling so sacred and pure, having completed the whole year immersed in spiritual practice. Now at last he was to gain the inner mysteries of the highest spiritual teachings. After having his bath and putting on the new clothes that he kept by the river-bank, he recited the special purification verses the guru had given him in order to prepare himself to receive the initiation. At that moment, the sweeper came in his direction raising a cloud of dust and swept the whole pile of sweepings directly onto him, covering him with dirt. "O my God!" he thought, "After having waited a whole year for this sacred moment, this worthless outcast has now come along and spoiled everything." He became furious. In a trice he totally lost his serene composure and started abusing the poor sweeper mercilessly; then he grabbed the sweeper's broom and beat him on the head with it. But very quickly his anger abated and he went back into the river, took another bath, put on some other clothes and collected himself. He refound a little of the peace he previously had inside and went off to see the guru.

   The guru said, "Yes, you certainly have advanced very nicely. You are doing much better. But you know and I know that you are not yet quite ready for the initiation. Perhaps you had better go back and spend one more year in the cabin. At the end of that time, have your bath, put on some new clothes, recite these prayers and come back to me. I will give you your initiation and you will see what wonderfully deep spiritual experiences will follow after that." So again he spent a year in meditation, came out, took his bath, put on his new clothes down on the bank and recited the special purification verses.

   Of course, the guru had again sent the sweeper and he made sure that the sweeper would collect a very big pile of dirt, which he now picked up with a shovel and casually threw in the direction of the man, just as the man was coming up the river-bank, spic and span in his new clothes. Again he was covered with dirt from head to foot, and again he became furious. For a moment he was so disturbed that a whole train of invective rolled off his tongue. But then he collected himself, bit on his lips and restrained his hands so that he would not touch the sweeper. He just turned around and went back into the river, took another bath, put on some other clothes and returned to the guru.

   The guru said, "Oh, you are doing very much better. A true inner peace is beginning to take hold in you, but at the same time, you know and I know, that you are not yet fully ready. Go back for another year and then come to me." And so he went back to the cabin for a third year. And at the end of that year he again went down to the river, took his bath and put on his new clothes. Now this time the guru had instructed the sweeper to collect a barrel full of droppings. When the man came up from the river-bank the sweeper dumped the whole barrel-load of manure over him. This time the man ran up with tears in his eyes and hugged the dumbfounded sweeper, saying to him, "Oh brother, thank you, thank you so much for showing me how much impurity was still remaining in me. Please forgive me for everything I have done to you. I owe you a great debt of gratitude for helping me to see my failings. Thank you and bless you, sweet brother!" Once more he turned around and went into the river, this time fully composed and at peace within himself. He completed his bath and went to the guru. Now there was no question that he was fully ready. And so, he received the guru's initiation.

   We think of ourselves in the role of the aspiring devotee, but just as often we are in the role of each other's sweepers. We should be grateful to our sweepers. They are doing God's work.

7  Churning the Ego

   During certain functions it is very auspicious to break a coconut and pour the coconut water over the ritual articles. But when Swami does it, he takes two coconuts and slams them together, breaking both shells and releasing the sweet water inside. Whenever I get involved in confrontations with others, particularly at the ashram, I think of that and imagine the divinity bashing our two coconut egos together, hopefully, for the benefit of both. Or looking at it another way, our Sai Krishna has never been particularly fond of milk. He prefers butter. Around him there will always be lots of churning. So, as long as we still hold on to these egos with their vulnerable sensibilities, we will find ourselves on the roller-coaster of pleasure and pain. But, when the ego goes, the churning is complete, and then all that is left is the butter, the selfless love which is so pleasing to the Lord.

   All our difficulties with others are really divinely-given opportunities which will bring forth in us, what Swami has called the primary virtue that we must develop, namely, patience or forbearance. Swami spoke of this very emphatically in his Gita discourses. He said patience is the single, most important virtue. But this is not an ordinary kind of patience. It is a patience in which you give love in return for whatever is given to you. Whether it is a compliment or an insult, your unvarying response is always love.

   Swami gave three examples for this type of forbearance, the river, the tree and the cow. No matter how much you cut it, the tree will try with whatever branches it has left to give you shade and to give you its fruits. The cow will permit you to take the milk from its own calf. And no matter how much you pollute the river it still tries to bring you fresh water and it always has its eye on reaching the sea and merging with it. It is what Jesus meant when he said, "If you take my cloak I will give you my shirt. If you strike me on this cheek I will turn the other cheek." Give love for whatever is given. That is a most important spiritual practice that Swami teaches, for it strips away the veil that covers us, and reveals our own unchanging truth, which is love itself.

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