Is There Space?
Having packed a large transparent glass jar with big stones, such that it was no longer possible to see through it, the teacher asked his students, “Is there any space left in the jar?” In unison, the students proclaimed, “No.” Smiling wryly, the teacher pulled out a bucket of small pebbles from under the table. Shaking the jar, he slowly emptied the bucket of pebbles into the apparently full jar. When he had finished, he looked up and again questioned his students, “Is there any space left in the jar?” Hesitant to fall into the same trap, they sheepishly replied, “Probably, yes.” Sensing their indecision, the teacher reached under the table and produced a bucket of sand. Once again, he shook the jar from side to side as he gradually emptied the sand into the jar. Then again, he posed the question, “Is there any space left in the jar?” Having learnt from their previous answers, the students confidently replied with one voice, “Yes.”
“Then, how can it be demonstrated?” the teacher challenged.
There was no reply. So the teacher once again reached under his table and withdrew a jug of water. Slowly, he started pouring water into the jar – already packed full of large stones, small pebbles and sand. He continued until the water began to overflow from the jug. He looked at the students and said, “The jar is now full, but what is the message of this demonstration?”
The students suggested many possibilities, but none correlated with the most important message that the teacher had in mind. So, after a while, he intervened, “Just think, if I had filled the jar with water first, how many big stones would I have been able to fit into the jar? And how many pebbles? And how much sand? Not a lot! So, the sequence I followed was important. Now imagine that the jar represents life. The big stones, pebbles, sand and water represent activities which fill our lives, with the big stones symbolising the most important and the water symbolising the least important. Now if I fill my life with big stones, that is, the most important tasks first, then there will be ample room for the less important activities. But if I fill my life with water, that is, the least important jobs, then not many of the more important tasks will fit in. So that is the message of this experiment. Always carry out the important activities first. Learn to prioritize your tasks. That way you’ll achieve more in life.”
The ABC Of Life
From the above analogy, it is clear that to make the most of life, one must learn to prioritise tasks.
In fact, many undertakings require that tasks be performed in a particular sequence for maximum benefit. For instance, when executing emergency life support procedures, the first task is to establish an open airway (A), then it is necessary to ensure that the patient is breathing (B) and finally, an adequate circulation (C) is established. If these three tasks are not performed within the first few minutes of cardio-pulmonary arrest, there may be grave consequences for the patient. So, before other injuries are treated, these priority procedures must be carried out first.
In any family, there is a huge pressure from many sources to take a share of the family income. Each individual member will have desires which they want satisfied. But with finance limited, the family budget has to be spent for the benefit of all. Priority is given to items necessary for daily living – food, clothing and shelter. Any extra money thereafter can be used for luxuries. But priority setting is a must.
Even in business, allocation of resources is determined by setting of priorities. A few years ago, Bill Gates, the founder of Microsoft, realised that the internet would be the medium of the future. So, he diverted the company’s enormous resources to focus on developing software for the internet. He realised that it was a priority need and set about accomplishing it. The result – Microsoft still has a stronghold on the software industry.
So we see that by meeting priority needs, long-term benefit is gained – even if sometimes there are short-term losses. And just as there are priorities to be set and achieved in worldly tasks, spiritual tasks also require priority settings.
God Is The Priority
All religions set the goal of life as God-realisation. In his discourses, Gunatitanand Swami has described this priority. He says, “We are born for two purposes. One is to become aksharrup... and the other is to worship God.”
To know God is the most important thing in life. Shriji Maharaj describes it as the ‘1’ of life. To explain: imagine you have written a whole string of zeros – whether you have written down only one zero, or two, or ten or a hundred zeros, on their own their value is still zero. But place a ‘1’ before the zeros and immediately each zero has value. Extending the analogy, Shriji Maharaj explains that all our worldly endeavours and even spiritual undertakings, such as, austerities, donations, service, devotion, etc., represent zeros, since, on their own, they have no value. But involve God in all your activities – that is, place the ‘1’ of God before the zeros of worldly and spiritual activities – and all your activities will have meaning and a lasting value.
So the priority of life is to know the ‘1’ – God. It is to conduct all one’s activities with God as the centrepoint.
Failure In Success
In today’s increasingly materialistic age, God is repeatedly kept in the background. This reflects the lack of understanding which is prevalent in man. As highlighted by Shriji Maharaj in Vachanamrut Panchala-1, a little thought will reveal that the bliss of God outstrips and outlasts any amount of material happiness. If one reflects on the fact that all material pleasures are ultimately perishable, whereas the bliss of God is eternal one can set the priorities in one’s life. Without this understanding one is aimlessly lost in the chase for worldly pleasures and fame, and God’s role is reduced to that of a spare wheel in life!
J. Robert Oppenheiner, director of the Manhattan Project at Los Alamos which developed America’s atomic bomb during the Second World War, when asked how he felt about his achievements, said, “They leave on the tongue only the taste of ashes.”
Michelangelo is renowned the world over as a sculptor, artist, philosopher, poet, architect and for his talents in many other areas. Among his other works of art, he sculpted the Pieta, David, Moses and painted the Last Judgement and the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. Yet on his deathbed at the age of 89, he sighed, “I regret that I have not done enough for the salvation of my soul.”
That is why Gunatitanand Swami has said, “Even by spoiling ten million tasks improve your moksha. In case ten million tasks are improved, but moksha is spoilt, what is achieved?” (Swamini Vato 1/14)
Once, a king asked his ministers to find the biggest fool in the kingdom and hang a board from his neck proclaiming him as the ‘King of Fools’. The ministers duly obeyed.
Some time later, the king contracted a terminal illness. Many people came to visit him. Among them was the King of Fools. He asked the king, “When you die how will you take your queen, your palace, your jewels and other wealth with you?” The king laughed at the question and said, “None of these things will come with me when I die.” Immediately, the King of Fools removed the board from his neck and placed it around the king’s, saying, “What’s the point in collecting all this if in the end none of it is to stay with you. You have spent a lifetime hoarding all these things which are ultimately of no use to you. So, you are, in fact, the King of Fools.”
Thus, when God is sidelined from one’s life, no amount of worldly success brings happiness or satisfaction. In fact, such success is the epitome of failure.
Focussing On God
The pivotal role that God plays has been accepted and advocated by many leading statesmen, thinkers and scientists.
When Abraham Lincoln was the President of the USA, the secretary of the Treasury was Salmon Portland Chase. Writing to the Director of the Mint, James Pollock, Chase noted, “No nation can be strong except in the strength of God, or safe except in His defense. The trust of our people in God should be declared on our national coins.” This suggestion was approved through the appropriate channels and in 1864, a 2-cent coin was minted bearing the inscription, ‘In God We Trust.’ When such understanding takes root, one is able to give value to one’s zeros of worldly and spiritual activities.
When Nachiketa went to Yama, the god of death, and asked for the knowledge of God, Yama tried to tempt him with material pleasures. However, Nachiketa, even though merely a young boy, had realised the futility of material enjoyments and remained firm in demanding the knowledge of God.
Even the ancient King Janak governed his kingdom of Mithila in North India with such profound understanding. He executed his duties while fully engrossed in God. As a result, the citizens of his kingdom revered him for his God-centred life.
Brahmanand Swami was a renowned royal poet in Rajasthan and Gujarat. But, once he had realised the glory of Bhagwan Swaminarayan and the worthless nature of worldly pleasures, he renounced his considerable wealth and property to become a paramhansa. Even after Brahmanand Swami had been initiated, the Gaekwad proposed a very tempting offer, but Brahmanand Swami’s focus was clear and he rejected the offer outright to continue his life of devotion to God.
Bhagatji Maharaj, in return for pleasing Gunatitanand Swami, was offered substantial wealth and material comforts. Yet, he, too, knew that the joy of such material pleasures was absolutely insignificant compared to the bliss of God. So, he declined the offer and focussed his energy on God.
Practice Makes Perfect
Despite one’s best intentions, it is not an easy task to remember God in every activity. In Vachanamrut Gadhada I-1, Shriji Maharaj says, “There is no spiritual endeavour more difficult than to continuously engage one’s mind on the form of God.” Although it is difficult, it is not impossible to reach this elevated spiritual state. With sincere practice, it is possible. Shriji Maharaj reveals in Vachanamrut Gadhada I-22, “If a person specifically attempts to engage himself in worship, he may be able to focus his mind on God; however, after completing those acts of worship, if he does not maintain his mind on God while engaged in other activities, then his mind will not become steadied on the form of God even when he attempts to engage in worship again. Therefore, one should practise maintaining one’s mind on the form of God while walking, eating, drinking – in fact, during all activities. If one does this, one’s mind becomes steadied on God when one engages in worship as well. Moreover, when one’s mind begins to remain on God, it remains so even during other work. If one is complacent, though, one’s mind will not remain on God even when one specifically attempts to engage oneself in worship. Therefore, a devotee of God should vigilantly practise maintaining his mind on the form of God.”
Shriji Maharaj emphasizes the importance of regular daily practice in Vachanamrut Gadhada I-23, “A person who at times worships God with a concentrated mind and, at other times, indulges in worldly thoughts does not develop such an elevated spiritual state. Consider, for example, a pot that is filled with water and emptied somewhere. If another pot of water is subsequently emptied at the same place on the following day or the day after that, a pool of water will not collect there. Why? Because the water poured on the first day dries up on that very day, and the water poured on the second day also dries up on that same day. On the other hand, if a trickle of water were to flow continuously, a large pool of water would soon be formed. Therefore, while eating, drinking, walking, engaging in any activity whatsoever – whether it be pure or impure – in fact, at all times, one should constantly keep one’s mind on God. While maintaining one’s mind constantly on God in this manner, one attains that abiding elevated spiritual state.”
So, God represents the big stones in the jar of life. And by concentrating one’s efforts to incorporate God in every aspect of one’s life, one will still have space to fulfil other duties. However, this is possible only when one makes a conscious decision to do so and then sincerely endeavours in the way Shriji Maharaj has described. In the end, the ultimate prize is definitely worth the effort.