The challenge of remaking ourselves is a complex, painstaking process. Circumstances mould us, tragedies and victories reshape our perceptions and spirituality transforms our hardened attitudes and prejudices. For a permanent experience of joy we have to allow and prepare ourselves for a drastic change in our lives. Every challenge for survival and success requires adapting and improving to the external environment and culture. One sometimes has to give up habits and attitudes rooted for generations in order to conform to or reach higher standards or goals. So giving up and restructuring for the better is no ordinary feat!
Adapting to Nature
Every animal species learns to adapt to its environment. Whenever the physical conditions change, the animal must learn to change itself or rediscover the conditions that enable it to survive. If it does not change then it will perish.
It is amazing how animals change and adapt to their harsh and challenging surroundings.
To live on high mountains, animals require large lungs to breathe the thin air. They must be equipped to withstand extremes of cold, drought and the burning sun. Their feet must be developed in such a manner as to grip ice and rock. The chamois and mountain goats are comfortable in these terrains.
In the polar regions, the animals must have bulky bodies to retain body heat. They require a sharp sense of smell and night eyes for the long, dark winter. They must be rugged and be able to hunt for days for the scarce prey. The polar bear and arctic fox fit these requirements.
Camels have broad feet to walk the soft desert sands and can tolerate dehydration for days on end.
During the day the sloth and python have the habit of remaining motionless in the hot, humid rain forests till coolness returns.
The ocean presents harsh situations for life to adapt to, like the crowding of too many creatures in agreeable places, or great water pressure, or inky darkness. Hence, many denizens of the sea develop camouflage or swiftness to escape and avoid enemies, others produce phosphorescence to illuminate the darkness and special bladders and blubber to resist the high pressures.
Though the restructuring takes place over a period of generations, there is no alternative to adaptation except extinction. It is amazing how animals have adapted for survival and success.
The recent arrival of the Ford company in India, with aspirations of success in a highly competitive and lucrative automobile market, had required them to conform to the Indian roads. Before launching the car, they ran a fleet of Ford Escorts on Indian highways and dirt roads. Then they took them apart to see how they could be improved. The cars were then re-engineered. They made four basic improvements:
(1) The suspension and shock absorbers were strengthened.
(2) The pistons were redesigned to be fuel efficient on Indian fuel.
(3) A CFC-free air conditioning system that would be effective at temperatures of 48°C was developed.
(4) To avoid the monsoon flooding the air inlets were placed higher.
The adaptations or changes made for the factor of Indian roads, fuel, blistering summers and monsoon rains were justified and indispensable for survival.
Some revamping or restructuring is necessary in order to succeed and live with the new environment. When people migrate from one country to another they face a cultural shock and several other barriers. But within a short period of time they pick up the language, abide by the new laws, change their habits and adjust to the climate and culture. But when it comes to fulfilling higher levels and greater responsibilities than the run-of-the-mill life, the task of changing and preparing oneself is testing and very challenging.
The basic, preliminary infantry training for the US Army is not a bed of roses as novices initially think. The first four months are arduous and nerve wrecking. A recruit who had gone through the training summarised, "The training is 95% mental and 5% physical. First they break you and then they re-make you." The fundamental purpose is to instil discipline and uniformity. To arrive at the required common standard, each recruit has to adjust and conform by giving up his resolves, habits and nature. To do this they are first 'broken' mentally and pushed to the limits of physical endurance. Every new batch of 150 recruits has a Sergeant Drill who handles them. There are strict eating rules, sleeping rules and recreational restraints.
Each cadet has to compulsorily drink four glasses of water before beginning breakfast, lunch and dinner. They are only allowed to eat the salty, uncooked food served on their plate and not get enticed by the cookies, cakes and other sumptuous foods displayed on their table. Conversation is strictly prohibited while eating and they must finish eating in five minutes. Any lapse is punished.
Once, someone from the table of seven could not resist an item on the table. When the Sergeant Drill found out he came and asked but no one confessed. So he told everyone to finish off the cakes, cookies and soft drinks. After the group had entertained themselves they were told to go outside. The Sergeant Drill made them run till they had vomitted everything!
A recruit described what happened when a sentinel outside their dormitory was caught sleeping, "It was 3.00 a.m. and the Sergeant was mad on finding the guard asleep. The rule was, 'If one guy fails the whole platoon fails.' As a penalty the Sergeant switched the lights on, cursed everyone, dumped a trash can in the middle of the dormitory and screamed. 'Now, everyone get up! I want the hallways cleaned, the toilets and bathrooms scrubbed.' It was 3.00 a.m. and we were bleary eyed and groggy. You just couldn't argue. You had to do it. It was an order. And we scrubbed from early morning till evening."
Absolute obedience to the orders of the Sergeant Drill was Rule No. 1. There were no compromises to what he commanded. It simply had to be done whether one liked it or not.
Once a few of the recruits were sick. The Sergeant declared that they had flu and he ordered everyone to transport their cupboards and beds from the third floor to the first floor and clean up the entire hall. No one could argue with him that there was little chance of catching the flu at all. And to make things more cumbersome and irritating, they were ordered to do the cleaning up in their chemical war suits. It was hot and suffocating. Everyone scrubbed the floors, ceilings, windows, and polished the faucets and every single screw and hinge. It was all an exercise in teamwork and getting meticulous.
During the four months training there were no newspapers and television. The infantry program basically grilled the recruits and equipped them to meet the challenges and pressures of combat. So the disciplines and trials remolded them for a greater responsibility and duty.
The Ultimate Remaking
Spirituality also has a similar role of restructuring or remolding the individual. The only fundamental exception is that it ultimately elevates the individual to the state of eternal joy. The journey to the pinnacle involves the dissolving of the ego and body consciousness at the word of the guru. The same universal principles of obedience, undoubting faith, trust, and perseverance apply to the aspirant.
The Chhandogya Upanishad eloquently narrates the story of how the guru, Haridrumata Gautama, instructs Satyakam Jabali, who had come for spiritual knowledge, to rear four hundred cows until they numbered one thousand. Even though the guru's command seemed disconnected to the purpose he had come for, Satyakam did not argue or debate with him and abided by his wish. After a number of years of sheer drudgery he fulfilled the Guru's command and was blessed with the immortal knowledge. Only by obeying the Guru's word implicitly, was Satyakam transformed and elevated to the sublime heights of spiritual realisation.
The Mahabharat also chronicles Upamanyu's absolute dedication to his Guru, Sage Dhaumya. The Guru decided to redeem Upamanyu of his excessive desire for food. He told the disciple to first offer all the food he received in alms to him. On so doing Sage Dhaumya did not share any food with him. Then Upamanyu went to beg for alms a second time and ate whatever he got. When the sage found out he forbade him to beg alms for a second time. The next day, while Upamanyu was tending the Guru's cows he could not restrain his hunger, so he milked the cows and satisfied his hunger with milk. When the Guru came to know of this he prohibited him from doing this also and told him that the milk was for the calves. So on the third day, while the calves sucked milk from their mothers' udders, Upamanyu nourished himself on the milky froth that formed on their mouth. The Guru, on enquiring, also told him to abstain from that as well. The next day, with no means to satisfy his hunger, Upamanyu remained hungry all day and while returning back to the hermitage in the evening he saw lush cactus plants by the wayside. With the motive to eat, he plucked a few flowers and the poisonous white milk splashed into his eyes. Upamanyu became instantly blind. Soon, he fell into a well and repented for his lack of control in his desire to eat.
When the cows returned alone, Sage Dhaumya became anxious about Upamanyu's safety. Immediately, he and his disciples went in search for him. On finding him in a well the Guru was further saddened to hear that he had become blind. However, by the Guru's words, Upamanyu invoked the Ashwinikumars, the physicians of the gods. They offered him some medicine but Upamanyu refused to take it without first offering it to his Guru. When Sage Dhaumya told him to take it, he recovered his sight and was reunited with his Guru. The sheer depth and extent of obedience and faith in the Guru earned him the final grace of Sage Dhaumya and Upamanyu became a realized soul.
Bhagwan Swaminarayan had also groomed and put His paramhansas to the ultimate test through 114 trials. Some of those challenging trials were: eating only a single ball of tasteless food each day, sitting in cold water during winter, abstaining from all forms of food tastes (khatras), to walk barefoot, to refrain from using any means of transport, like bullock cart, etc., to abstain from talking while eating, to engage in doing bhajan, to abstain from further sleep once one has got up, to be fearless on seeing ghosts, thieves or a lion, to eat raw, uncooked grains, etc. Some of these trials lasted for months and still the paramhansas did not flinch or resign from the Lord's word.
The glowing example of Pragji Bhakta's endeavors is an ideal for all spiritual aspirants. From the day Gunatitanand Swami promised him with the spiritual knowledge, providing he restrained and punished his body and senses and surrendered himself totally to him, Pragji Bhakta resolved to become worthy and eligible of Swami's blessings. Gunatitanand Swami told him, "Pragji I want to mold you in such a way that no affliction or insult can penetrate and disturb you." And so he pledged to do whatever the Guru commanded.
Without any fear of blindness Pragji mixed the lime and water with his bare feet to make mortar. Many warned him that he would turn blind but Pragji said, "No matter what may happen I have sacrificed and surrendered myself to Gunatitanand Swami and I want to please him."
At the word of Gunatitanand Swami he laboured incredibly, day and night, for the construction of the new mansion on the mandir premises. Once, Gunatitanand Swami told him that he had engaged himself in hard physical labor but he needed to fast to tame his senses. The Swami told him to fast for two consecutive days and then eat only once on the third day. Pragji agreed. He labored during the day and at night listened to Gunatitanand Swami's discourses and slept for an hour only. He served in such a manner for 3½ years!
On one occasion Gunatitanand Swami told him to fetch 200 spades and 500 baskets. Though Pragji knew there weren't that many in the mandir, he did not argue but brought as many as he could find and fulfilled the wish of the Guru. On another occasion, Swami told him to call Mt. Girnar. Pragji rushed to call the mountain. People criticized him for not using discretion in following the Guru's command. They remarked, "How could a mountain come?" Pragji replied, "I will obey Swami's command and call Girnar. If he doesn't come then its up to him, but I don't want to fail in obeying Swami's word."
It was Pragji Bhakta's determination, resolute obedience, and undoubting faith in the Guru's words that eventually earned him the grace of Gunatitanand Swami. This ideal Guru-disciple relationship demonstrates the process of molding and ultimate elevation.
In 1956, when Yogiji Maharaj was travelling by train from Gondal to Bochasan, he was welcomed by a throng of devotees at each station.
A youth, in the next compartment, was simply amazed by this. He asked Yogiji Maharaj why so many people were attracted to him and how he had attained such greatness.
Yogiji Maharaj humbly replied, "By cleaning utensils I have attained this. It is all due to the grace of our Guru, Shastriji Maharaj."
For 40 years Yogiji Maharaj had unflaggingly served the Guru's every command and wish and so he was blessed by the Guru.
Pramukh Swami Maharaj, through his absolute dedication and obedience, became the receipient of the grace and blessings of Shastriji Maharaj and Yogiji Maharaj. Pramukh Swami once said, "I have always abided by the wish of Shastriji Maharaj and Yogiji Maharaj and never failed in obeying their commands."
The Gunatit Gurus are born great and there is no process of molding for them, and their lives are a source of immense inspiration for all spiritual aspirants.
So the process of remaking ourselves depends entirely upon us. We have to change and remold ourselves in order to survive or become happier in life. This means adjusting to people of conflicting natures and temperaments, tolerating adverse circumstances or consequences and consolidating ourselves in times of failure and tragedy. These are the tough terrains of life we have to battle and journey through. And to reach the Ultimate, we have to lay down our intelligence, our ego and our mundane desires and do what the Guru instructs. Having absolute faith and divinity in him will transform and elevate us to the heights of eternal bliss.