Ten thousand athletes. 200 nations. 300 events. 21,000 journalists. And over a billion viewers.
This is, of course, the Olympic Games - the most celebrated sporting event in the world.
But what can it teach us?
Today's Olympic Games are a far cry from the games of ancient times when robust Greeks contended against each other atop Mount Olympus. But amid all the razzmatazz of the dance formations and pyrotechnics of the opening ceremony, the Nike sponsorships and the Coca Cola ads. there is a deep, underlying philosophy behind it all. The Olympic credo is encapsulated in three Latin words: Altius Fortius Citius - meaning Higher Stronger Faster.
Interestingly, and rather surprisingly, the motto has no mention of winning or 'going for gold.' It doesn't read 'Highest, Strongest, Fastest.' It necessarily follows that the creed that breeds the winning spirit is not about being the best at all. But simply being better.
Being the best is about beating the rest.
Being better is about beating yourself.
And beating yourself is what progress is all about.
What is Progress?
Progress is derived from the Latin word gradius meaning 'step' and the prefix pro which means 'forward'. Progress is thus simply stepping forward, moving on from wherever you start - whether it be by a major leap or a minute step. The message is to keep moving forward, being better.
Once Shriji Maharaj asked Nishkulanand Swami, "Who is the greater of the two: Santdasji or Muktanand Swami?"
"Santdasji, of course," replied Nishkulanand Swami confidently. "Santdasji has attained an elevated state!"
Shriji Maharaj refined the answer by explaining, "Santdasji is indeed great, but his greatness has ceased to advance whereas Muktanand Swami's greatness is continuously advancing."
Shriji Maharaj went on to clarify with an analogy, comparing an ordinary house to the British Military camp set up in the Kheda District. A house, no matter how lavish, would cost not more than Rs.200,000 to build. But the military camp, by its exclusive intrinsic worth, was steadily appreciating in value - from Rs.1,000,000 upwards. Maharaj equated Santdasji to the house, and Muktanand Swami to the camp.
The analogy implies the significance of continuously progressing rather than becoming stagnant - albeit at the top.
Take for example, a river! Stagnant, it smells and becomes a breeding ground for disease. No better than an elongated puddle, really. But flowing, it has potential; the water is fresh and full of life. Similarly, when one becomes stagnant in Satsang, spiritual assemblies become boring, puja becomes a drag, and even worse, it breeds contempt. On the other hand, a person progressing in Satsang can be seen to be full of energy. He has an inexhaustible reservoir of enthusiasm that propels him/her forward further and further, faster and faster. Most importantly, he/she enjoys Satsang. It feels fresh and alive. Divine.
Hurdles On Way To Progress
Probably the single biggest hurdle to progress is satisfaction. When we become 'satisfied' with our spiritual development, there's no chance of excelling further. In effect, we're telling ourselves not that 'I don't want to be better' or 'I can't be better' but more dangerously 'I don't need to be better'!
It is a self-evident truth: You can only improve something if you realize that it's still not quite good enough; that it still could, and should, be better.
What if early humans had been satisfied by living in caves, hunting for food, and walking around wearing bearskins? Would we have skyscrapers, microwave ovens, designer clothes and a space program today? Civilization is by its very nature progressive. Advancements through the ages - the Stone Age, the Ice Age, the Bronze Age - have brought us to our present world order. Even in this present day and age, we are witnessing progress on a phenomenal scale and at a phenomenal rate in every aspect of our lives: travel, communication, medicine, home appliances and many others.
Personally, too, are we ever satisfied with our wage packet? Our looks? Our popularity?
We strive for progress in every respect:
* Vocationally, we look for promotion, to climb up the corporate ladder.
* Academically, we proceed from one grade to the next; from school to college to university.
* Physically, we grow from an embryo to a developed child to an adolescent to an adult.
* Emotionally, as well, our thoughts, opinions, perspectives, nature change.
* So spiritually?
Can daily puja and attending weekly assemblies really bring a fullstop to our spiritual endeavors and development?
Why would Bhagatji Maharaj ask Gunatitanand Swami, "Bless my soul with satsang!"
Why would Shriji Maharaj explicitly tell senior paramhansas like Muktanand Swami and Brahmanand Swami, "You are still novices in Satsang."
Why would Gunatitanand Swami starkly reveal to the devout Shivalal Sheth of Botad, "I see only half your heart dedicated to Satsang."
Why would the leading Sadguru Paramchaitanyanand Swami have to admit after 24 years, "For 12 years I have been a sadguru, for 12 years I have been a guru, but only today have I become a satsangi."
Perhaps our definition of satsangi requires a little refining.
The Impetus To Progress
The Best Keep Getting Better
Consider three very famous Michaels who share more than similarity of name: Michael Jackson, Michael Jordon and Michael Johnson. Each could have been forgiven for stopping at what everyone else felt was their career best. But they went one step further, and got better than the best!
After Jackson's all-time best-selling album 'Thriller' (more than 45 million copies sold globally), he got even better by getting 'Bad.' The rest is 'History.'
Jordan had already slam-dunked his way to basketball don's Hall of Fame. But then the legendary Chicago Bulls hero worked as a lord on his defense to add a deadly fallaway jump to his arsenal of skills.
Johnson already had an illustrious track record before the 1996 Atlanta Games. But he went on to become the only man in history to win both the men's 200m and 400m gold. Two medals to match his famous golden shoes.
Being just good is not good enough.
Being the best is better.
But being better is best of all.
Taking the sporting and talent theme further, let's reflect upon what Dan O'Brien shared in an interview during the last Olympic Games. Still considered by many as the world's greatest all-round athlete, the three-times world champion, world record-holder, and decathlon gold medallist said: "You run until you almost want to throw up, but you're out there, competing.... And you get this feeling you could just run on forever... I realize there is nothing for me to do but keep competing until my body betrays me." When asked: "Compete against who?" He replied explicitly, "Dan O'Brien!"
Even at the frail age of 95, Pablo Cassals - probably the best cello player ever to have lived - practised six hours a day. When asked why, he replied, "Because I think I'm still improving."
Piano virtuoso (and one-time Prime Minister of Poland) Paderewski was accredited to have said, "I've rarely been free from the realisation that my playing might be better."
This restless and endless drive for excellence has been termed by the Japanese as Kaizen - which loosely translates to 'constant and never-ending improvement'. It is a principle thoroughly implemented throughout Japan's industries, infrastructure and social matrix. Toyota engineers are notoriously renowned for pushing a perfectly good assembly line until it breaks down. Then they'll find the flaw, fix it and push the system to its new limits.
This line of action was not unaccustomed to the paramhansas either. A brief study of some of the questions asked by these spiritual masters in the Vachanamrut will prove the point.
Muktanand SwamiMuktanand Swami: Poet, singer, dancer, instrumentalist, author, painter, scholar, doctor, 'Mother of Satsang', leading sadguru, and certified by Shriji Maharaj in Kariyani-3 as having 'forever-increasing enthusiasm.'
Yet in each of his 91 questions, his desire to excel is more than transparent. Particularly so in Gadhada II-27. When Shriji Maharaj praises Muktanand Swami's powerful thoughts, 'Which can repel the forces of lust, anger, etc. and break any worldly bondage?', Muktanand Swami inquires further, "Why does the deficiency of still becoming influenced (by these forces) remain?"
Satchitanand Swami: Renowned in Satsang as the personified form of love, would faint and bleed upon departing from Maharaj...
Yet in Kariyani-11, he asks, "What are the characteristics of pure love?"
Atmanand Swami: True to his name, he had realized his atma...
Yet for further elaboration and verification, he asks in Gadhada. I-38 regarding the characteristics of the jivatma.
Brahmanand SwamiBrahmanand Swami: Praised in Jetalpur-1 as being a yati (perfect celibate), and known to have suppressed the lust of a wild horse by a mere whisper...
Yet in Loya-10 asks regarding the highest level of brahmacharya.
Nishkulanand Swami: Famous among the paramhansas as the embodiment of vairagya, and praised in Gadhada III-26 as being unshakeable even in the company of women...
Yet in Kariyani-3 he asks a question (in fact his only question throughout the Vachanamrut) concerning vairagya.
The paramhansas, spiritual giants in themselves, were never satisfied with their spiritual status. They kept working to improve and kept striving in their development. As Michael Jordan once told his golfing friend, Tiger Woods, "No matter how good they say you are, keep working on your game."
In the past few years, Tiger Woods has become a household hero - even for non-golf players. At 24, he has already bagged 21 Tour wins and accomplished the career grandslam of pro golf's four major tournaments. But just when we thought he was dominating the greens, look back to what Woods was doing after his win in the 1997 Masters. For hours on end he meticulously studied videotapes of his performance: blasting 300-yard drives, hitting crisp iron shots right at the pins, downing putts from everywhere. He observed, "My swing really sucks."
Tiger Woods, already hailed by peers as the best golfer in history, wanted to get better, and better. And for that he undertook a major project in self-evaluation.
This really is the key to any form of progress. Assessing where one stands is the first and best step towards moving forward in the right direction.
Time then for a time-out. Time to check the game plan to realign. And to refuel for the road ahead. Time to collect, reflect and project.
Very often, though, such antardrashti (introspection) as it is better known as - is mistakenly taken to be a metaphysical and complicated process. Nothing could be farther from the truth.
Although such self-assessment can take many forms, the easiest and most tangible method seems to simply be a series of questions. Rather than touch on the subtleties of spirituality initially, one can begin by observing the more obvious aspects of life. For example:
* How is my puja? Has it improved since I first began? How is it compared to last year/month/week?
* Have I been regularly attending weekly satsang assemblies? If I do go, am I on time? Do I stay on till the end?
* Do I gossip? Think or speak ill of others?
* How well can I work with others?
* Can I take pride in the progress of others?
* How humble am I?
* How often do I remember Swamiji in the day?
This is the process Shriji Maharaj talks about in Gadhada I-38 and Sarangpur-18 - taking stock of vices and virtues.
Many Vachanamruts detail the salient characteristics of a person progressing or regressing in Satsang. (Gadhada I-6, 16, 28, 53 - to name just a few.) Answers to our self-assessment questions when tallied with these characteristics can serve as a useful yardstick - as well as an eye-opener.
Almost inevitably, such inner-probing will lead on to prayer. Asking help from God and Guru to help yourself can be the surest way to progress.
A short wake-up prayer in the morning such as, 'O Swami! Help me be better today than I was yesterday,' and a bed-time prayer at night, 'O Swami! Help me be better tomorrow than I was today,' can be an inspiring way to bracket the day.
This can also be the perfect time to go one-to-one with Swamiji - just you and Swami Bapa, alone in the warmth and privacy of your own heart. It becomes a personal meeting with your beloved Guru - your guide and guard on the spiritual path - to converse about the ups and downs of the day.
Bond With Guru
Conveniently, this leads to the conclusion. The real powerhouse of progress is, of course, our bond or attachment with our Guru Pramukh Swami Maharaj. This is something that has to be consolidated day after day after day. Our faith in him, our love for him, our understanding of his glory and greatness will outlast everything else and endure as the perfect mechanism to propel us towards God. Shriji Maharaj explains this very concept in Vartal-12 by applying a very apt analogy: The progressive phases of the moon. Just as a new moon gradually progresses to become a full moon, we too can advance from being absolutely insignificant to being absolutely perfect.
Perfection? Seems relatively impossible?
But remember: Perfection is only one step away. The next one!
May our satsang climb ever Higher.
May our love for God and Guru grow ever Stronger.
And may we progress ever Faster.