What have you given to the Lord?
My father once narrated the story of Krishna and Sudama. I write this only for the moral of the story as he told it to us.
When Sudama goes to meet him, Sri Krishna is overjoyed rushes out to meet Sudama. He embraces his friend lovingly and receives him with great honour. Later he himself gives Sudama a royal bath. Now Sudama's wife had given him some paunva [flattened rice or rice flakes] in a tiny cloth bundle to offer to Lord Krishna, but seeing the opulence there, Sudama is unable to do it. He tries to hide the bundle under his armpit but Sri Krishna snatches it away. Opening it he takes a handful of paunva and eats it; then he eats a second. But as he is about to put a third handful in his mouth Queen Satyabhama holds his hand and stops him. She says, "Lord, with the first handful You turned his hut into a palace, with the second You gave him riddhi-siddhi [prosperity and attainments] ; if You take this one You Yourself will have to go to him."
The moral is that even if the Lord wants, until Sudama himself offers Him something, He cannot bestow anything. That is why in order to grant Sudama what He wanted to give him, the Lord has to snatch away his tiny bundle. Only when we surrender all to Him, does He abide eternally with us.
When our maternal cousins visited us on certain occasions, our parents gave us special instructions such as, "Do not say anything that might hurt their feelings. Behave nicely with them even if they do any mischief or are rude to you, and not only when they behave well. Then alone can we say, 'How generous are our children!' It will be a matter of pride for us."
Once my father rendered great help to a relative, financial and otherwise. Still that person's behaviour towards our family was disagreeable and this greatly angered my mother. My father then told her, "There is nothing unusual in treating someone well who behaves decently. To do so even when he mistreats you, would show the generosity and nobility of your nature." I remember very well how these words calmed my mother.
Whenever we were to visit somebody our mother would
instruct: "Remember, work is appreciated by everyone, so wherever you go do some useful work and do not keep playing or sit idle." In this regard our mother was very particular. She inculcated in us four brothers the habit of working and being useful to others. In those days, certain chores such as sweeping, fetching water and washing vessels were done only by girls. But it was not so in our house. We boys were made to do all these things. I recall my mother once asked my sister who had just swept the room, "Have you finished sweeping?" When she said yes, my mother pointed out the corners behind the doors: "Have you cleaned here?" My father told us that whatever the work, if one does it methodically and with an attitude to do better, we learn more and more things.
In my work with the Mother all that my parents taught me about work proved very useful. Mother was always happy with my work, and often expressed her happiness in words.
Nowadays, when I read letters sent to me, I recall my father's remarks regarding handwriting. He often told to me, "Your writing resembles brambles. You should form the habit of writing in fine curved letters. In the beginning the letters may not be well formed but if you write slowly, patiently and attentively, they are bound to improve." Then pointing to certain letters in my writing he said, "See these? How nicely they are shaped. There are others like them. So, if you decide to write beautifully, and remember your decision, you will be able to do it."
Along with such encouragement he would also give specific hints. One must always re-read what one has written so as to correct mistakes and make certain that the reader will not mistake one word for another. Sometimes letters are illegible and the reader is put to much trouble. This should not happen. He would stress the point about legibility and ask me never to forget it. My father's handwriting was remarkably beautiful; while our letters largely depended on the kind of pen or nib we used, his came out the same, whatever he wrote with.
"When you write a letter," he would say, "pay great attention to the words as well as the numbers in the address on the envelope. Practice makes one a good scribe, so form the good habit from now and your handwriting will become beautiful."
Recently, a man came to me with a family problem. "My wife is simple, kind-hearted and innocent, but the behaviour of other family members towards her is not good. They constantly insult her and are often unjust to her, treating her as if she were insane. I am unable to say anything to my elders. As yet I am neutral, but what should I do?" Then by Mother's grace I was reminded of an incident my father told me in my childhood. I recount it here because it may help some in their own progress and in their behaviour with others.
My father had a lawyer friend whose wife was mad but he took extremely good care of her. Sometimes for this he had to disregard others in the family, yet he always favoured her. His family complained about this to my father who also saw for himself that his friend did take excessive care of his mad wife.
One day my father asked him, "Don't you think you are doing too much for your wife?" (My father had many admirers and devotees but only one friend, this lawyer.) He replied, "I understand all this. Don't I know that my wife is mad? But do you know what her plight would be if I were not partial to her — how my relatives would treat her in my absence? Now, in order not to displease me, they behave nicely with her. If she had not been mad, if she had even a little understanding of things, I would certainly not act like this. But since she is not sane, unless I behave as I am doing, my wife would be totally neglected by all, I know that too. It is only sometimes that they have to suffer some inconveniences. But I do consider their needs and am careful not to neglect or disregard them; I am always conscious of that. Now do you have anything to say? The others have someone or the other to support and console them, but who is for her? Because I take care of this mad woman others behave properly with her. That is human nature. In a family, we have to sacrifice something for every individual. I am not as blind to my wife's shortcomings as they think, I can see very well who is at fault and who is not. Tell me, do you want me to prove it? If I change my behaviour towards her, in just two days the behaviour of the rest towards her will change and then you will see the pitiable fate that will befall her."