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Wisdom from the son of Armenia.

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  • megh gah hazar gahrzeh - Hazar gah megh chahrzehr
    One is worth a thousand - a thousand is not worth one
    There is a story that illustrates this Armenian proverb.

    A guru who had many disciples was getting old. Due to his fame as an honest, humble and very merciful holy man, many persons flocked to him to become his disciple. He was concerned about teaching his disciples humility and the importance of cooperating amongst themselves to follow his instructions. He could see, however, that ambition for power was manifesting in some of his disciples who realized that the guru could die at any time. These prominent disciples began to ask him questions about the succession of his movement and the management structure of the future.

    The undercurrents of a power struggle were beginning to manifest. This caused the guru great discomfort. He devised a plan test the insincere disciples who were self- motivated by personal ambition rather than sincere obedience to his instructions. Human nature has the seeds of good and potential evil. Although by nature people are good, they have a tendency to be corrupted by bad association and eventually lose control of their better sense. Anyone that has been corrupted may be corrected if they submit to proper training and avoid bad company and influences. Progressive acts of evil that increase in horror may so corrupt a person that it may be impossible to correct in this life. The guru did not want an escalation of competition of his ambitious disciples that could end with envy or violence.

    The guru was prepared to lose most or even all his disciples if they did not pass his test.
    He wanted to only keep the genuinely sincere and dedicated ones. They didn’t know the guru was going to test their obedience and sincerity.

    One day he called his eight prominent disciples and revealed to them that he had a valuable jewel. He asked them to guess its worth. The disciples were all of the opinion that it was priceless. He handed it to the first disciple and ordered him to smash it to pieces. He refused claiming that he did not want to destroy the property of his guru. The guru handed it to the next. The first seven disciples refused to break the diamond to pieces. The guru praised each disciple and rewarded them with a gift. They all felt they made the right decision.

    The last disciple looked carefully at the guru who handed him the jewel and deeply considered his order to smash it. He remembered the guru’s words about following his instructions. He shrugged off the desire to follow the other leading disciples and didn’t consider the peer pressure of conforming to them. He immediately smashed the precious jewel to pieces. He held the guru’s order sacrosanct. As a disciple, he could not refuse his guru’s explicit order. Although the other disciples were rewarded by the guru, the last disciple was determined to follow the guru’s order. He didn’t try to imitate the others, but by remembering the guru’s previous instructions, he understood that the disciple must always carry out the guru’s order.

    The others were shocked by the violence he manifested in smashing the valuable jewel. The guru was not alarmed. He asked the others to leave the room. When they exited, he addressed the one that followed his order. He said,

    “My son, you have understood my teaching. Please remain loyal to me and do not waver in your determination to follow my instructions. Pleasing your teacher by obedient and thoughtful service will be to your eternal credit. Throughout life we receive theoretical knowledge. Life presents us with many challenging situations to apply that knowledge either correctly or wrongly. A disciple is not a robot. He must be able to correctly apply the knowledge to practical situations with outcomes that make people happy and satisfied to remain on the spiritual path. Personal ambition for accumulating power, prestige and material assets can destroy one’s ability to act correctly for the welfare of all. Always remain humble, respect the service of others, and strictly follow my instructions for spiritual advancement.”

    The disciple was overwhelmed by the powerful words of his guru. He fell at his feet and begged him to always correct his faults and guide him to act properly so that he could serve him in his mission.

    The guru called an assembly of all his disciples and announced that he would visit a large city that was a long distance from his ashram in the mountains. All the disciples were perplexed because the guru had spoken strongly about avoiding large cities which were places of sin. He had never left his mountain retreat which was so peaceful and spiritual.

    They left the next day on foot. The disciples carried the guru in a palanquin. It took them two weeks to reach the city. They stopped in villages on the way. The guru was honored and lodged in each village along with his disciples. When they reached the city, the guru asked top be taken to the red light district. He stopped in front of the house of the most famous courtesan of the city. He descended from the palanquin and proceed to knock on the door. A servant of the courtesan opened the door and asked what he wanted. The guru asked for the Madam. She came and fell at his feet with tears in her eyes. He walked past her into the house and asked that she close the door. Inside, he waited until she calmed down. She was the daughter of one of his disciples who had passed away. She was very fond of him, but was ashamed of her livelihood. She never expected that he would visit her. She cried and begged for his mercy. The guru asked her if he could stay the night in her house. He requested that she not conduct any activity in the house and retire early.

    She was not sure what to make of it. Then he requested that she fetch a bottle of wine and two glasses. When she came back with the wine, he walked toward the window looking out on the street where his disciples were waiting. He asked her to open the curtain and stand with him near the window in view of street so that his disciples could observe them. She was holding a plate with the glasses and the bottle. He held one side of the plate and motioned that she pour the wine into the two glasses. Then he closed the curtain. She was perplexed but dared not say anything. The guru asked her to show him his room. He thanked her for her hospitality and requested that she close all the lights of the house and retire for the night.

    Outside, the disciples were in complete disarray. They couldn’t understand the guru’s strange behavior. Some spoke openly that the guru had misled them to believe he was a genuine person. Now it was apparent that he was a fallen debauchee who was bereft of morals and shame. Arguments broke out and the disciples divided into groups of those who refused to hear criticism of the guru and those who were convinced he was a charlatan. The were many heated exchanges with each side trying to convince the other that they were wrong. But, as the night was long, the number of disciples who rejected the guru grew. By morning, all of the disciples except one left in disgust. They were convinced that a genuine guru would not stay in the house of a famous prostitute and drink her wine.

    Later, in the morning, the guru thanked the courtesan for her hospitality. She begged him for his mercy. He instructed her to immediately stop her sinful profession and take up spiritual life seriously. He gave her specific instructions how to live and at the same time perform spiritual practices to purify her heart and mind. Because she considered him like a loving father, she took his advice seriously and changed her life. She became a saintly woman. When the guru stepped out of the house, he noticed that only one disciple remained. He looked at him and asked, “Why did you not leave with the rest of them?”

    The disciple’s eyes were red with fatigue and wet. He began to cry and spoke softly. He said, “Dear Master, If I leave your shelter, I have no where to go. I have accepted you as my life’s guide. I love you like a father. You have instructed me to serve you and God rather than serve my own lust and greed. I have always been happy and satisfied following your instructions. You have never misled me nor in any way given me false information about spiritual life and practice. I may not understand the reasons why you stayed in this house last night. It is not my position to question your motives. There is some mystery that you will reveal to me when the time in right. For now, I am content to wait patiently and pray that you engage me always in your service. You are the representative of God in this world of illusion who has the grave responsibility to lead fallen souls like me back to God. My only prayer is that you never reject me and always keep me close to you so that I may render service to you. By serving you, I am sure that my offering is directed to pleasing God. Without you I have no connection to God. Therefore, I will always wait patiently for your instructions, without which I am completely lost in this world.”

    The guru was very pleased by the sincere words of his disciple. He said, “Come my son, we have many tasks to perform together in the service of God.”

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  • A family of poor farmers were blessed to have a baby boy. They had prayed together for three years to have such a blessing. God graced them with a wonderful child. The boy unexpectedly died while asleep in his crib. Early the next morning, the mother and father discovered the dead boy. They were overwhelmed with grief. They carried the child’s body to a field where the dead were buried. They sat together looking at the lifeless boy and cried their eyes out.

    A vulture that lived nearby approached them and said, “Everyone in this world has a share of happiness and distress. You should not consider your grief as unique. All of us are born with a mixed destiny that is a result of the choices and activities of our previous lives. We suffer or enjoy today due to our actions in past lives. There is not much we can do to change that. Man is the architect of his destiny. But, we can act now to secure and improve our future. What we do now determines who we will be in the future life. Don’t waste a minute lamenting for the dead. You cannot bring your dead child back to life. The child’s destiny was to die today. You cannot change it. Leave the child for burial and go home to work for a brighter future. Learn to forbear your present and future in this life. But, act in such a way as to construct a better destiny for your next life. No one can restore life for one who has died. Go home now and renounce your love for this dead child that you only knew for a very short time.”

    The grief of the poor couple abated with the sobering words of the vulture. They heeded the advice and left the child’s dead body in the field. As they walked toward their cottage a jackal appeared and began to speak.

    “God is all merciful. You are a poor family with an only son. Alas, he has died unexpectedly. Your love for him has no bounds. Stay with him and grieve. The tears of love will fall on the earth and purify it. God will hear your sincere pleas to bring him back to life. The sun is shining brilliantly and can heal even the worst of illnesses. Pray to God for mercy. Pray under the light of the healing sun. Your child may regain his life. The power of faith and prayer can move God to spare your child from cold death. God hears the prayers of His faithful servants.”

    The jackal’s words touched the hearts of the parents and gave them new hope to renew their faith and offer prayers for the child’s recovery from death by the intervention of a miracle from God.

    As the couple walked back to the burial ground, the vulture appeared again and spoke.
    “Why are you listening to this treacherous jackal. Learned persons with spiritual knowledge lament neither for the living or the dead. They know that the temporary body is destined to die, but the soul lives forever. Therefore, we should preoccupy ourselves during life to doing work for the benefit of God and all beings. Such meritorious work will help us to always remember God in our daily lives. We purify our life and thought by pious activities. We should live in such a way as to minimize our material needs and maximize our unselfish service to God. Go home now and engage in acts of goodness. At the same time, in your personal life, perform acts of penance because by voluntary self sacrifice one can attain all desirable things in life and at the time of death remember God. We suffer or enjoy because of our own actions either good or bad. We are all subject to the laws of karma that reward or punish us. Concentrate now on making a bright future by your present acts. Don’t waste a moment here lamenting.”

    As the couple turned to leave, the jackal spoke up with passion. “How can you leave your beloved son when hope is not exhausted? God can reverse the destiny of anyone. His mercy and will are all powerful. Put your faith entirely in God and pray for His mercy. He can work a miracle by His will.”

    The vulture spoke again. “Don’t be misled by that dull-witted jackal! He has a hidden purpose behind his innocent sounding words. For all my years, I have never seen a person revive from death. Our lifespan is determined before our birth in this world by higher authorities such as the superintendent of death. You can not do anything to bring this child back to life. But you can act effectively to work for your salvation while you have heat and breathe in your bodies. This child’s fate is sealed but yours is still to be determined by your works.”

    The mother and father became convinced by the words of the vulture and turned to leave.

    The jackal spoke loud and clear again. “The vulture is purposely trying to dishearten you about the possibility of a miraculous revival of your son through faith and prayer. Don’t be fooled by him. Faith can move mountains. Faith in God is the foundation of holy life. Your love for your son and your faith in God should go hand in hand. Didn’t Jesus bring Lazarus back from the dead? Jesus is the one who gives life. We must put our faith in God’s love, even in the midst of adversity that we must endure by our sincere prayers and patience. Lord Krishna saved his friend Arjuna from certain death by helping him bring back from the dead the eight sons of the brahmana-priest. Never forsake your faith and hope in the mercy of God.”

    The mother held her dead child in her arms and prayed with ardent tears along with her husband. The jackal and the vulture continued expressing their contrary points of view. They both based their statements on scripture. The vulture resorted to trying to scare the parents by talking of the wild, carnivorous beasts that would infest the burial ground after the fall of darkness to feast on any dead bodies not yet buried.

    God heard the sincere prayers of the frightened mother and father. He took pity on them by bringing their son back from the dead and blessing him with long life. The parents were thrilled to see their boy open his eyes. They praised God and hurriedly left the burial ground.

    The jackal was one of the carnivorous beasts who wanted to feast on the boy’s dead body after sunset. With the darkness of night the vulture would be obliged to leave. But as long as there was light, the vulture could feast on the dead body if the parents left. Both the vulture and the jackal were disappointed when the boy came back to life. They both spoke truthful words backed by scripture but for attaining their selfish purpose of eating the dead body of the boy. Sometimes good counsel is given with selfish motives. How can we know who is genuine and who is false?

    It is said that the “The devil can cite scripture for his own purpose! An evil soul producing holy witness is like a villain with a smiling cheek.” (Shakespeare) But there must be a way to know if someone is speaking the truth for a vested interest rather than the pure purpose of helping others? There is a Vedic aphorism that says, phalena paricyate - judge from the result. This is a full proof method but if we wait for the result the damage will be done. Can we discern before it is too late if someone is genuine or not when speaking truthful statements?

    The most trustworthy criterion for testing someone is the Vedic triangle of verification. There are three points of the Vedic triangle of verification: the sastra (scripture), previous recognized saints (Sadhu) and the present bona fide teacher (guru). Sastra refers to the original statements of God or His prophets in the holy scriptures. Sadhus refers to the recognized saints in the line of parampara or disciplic succession coming from Lord Krishna. Guru refers to the present teacher in the disciplic succession who repeats the words of sastra and sadhu without any change.

    If the present teacher such as the vulture or the jackal contradicts the statements of the previous authorities or the scriptures then they can be rejected. However, they may sometimes repeat the words correctly but for a vested interest like the vulture and the jackal. We must also consider the qualifications of the bona fide teacher that we may accept in the present. They are the following.

    The bona fide teacher simply repeats without any change to the original words of Lord Krishna spoken to Arjuna. His purpose as a teacher is to enlighten the disciple in the original words of Krishna so that the disciple can use the Vedic triangle of verification (statements of Guru, Sadhu and Sastras) to validate every point of knowledge.

    The bona fide teacher strictly follows the teaching himself. He cannot say “don’t smoke” and then smoke himself. Just as in Christianity there are the Ten Commandments that every good Christian must follow. In the Vedic path, there are four regulative principles: no intoxication, no meat eating, no gambling or philosophical speculation and no illicit sex. Every teacher of the Vedas must follow these basic rules in order to have the purity to teach properly. Beside the four things one should not do, there are four things one should do which are also regulative principles for daily practice. They are: chant and meditate a prescribed number of names of God, read and discuss the revealed word of God in the holy scriptures, eat only sanctified food that has first been offered to God and visit a temple of worship and offer unselfish prayer and service in the company of other rightfully striving devotees.

    Using the above criterion we can understand that the vulture and jackal were meat eaters. They spoke the truth, but did not visibly practice the truth as described above. Therefore, they did not back their words up with genuine practice of the teaching, nor did they have sincere and unmotivated faith in the teaching. They were adept at using the teaching to achieve a selfish purpose.

    What is interesting in this story is that the mother and father listened carefully to the words of the vulture and jackal with faith. They became convinced that they should pray ardently for their son. Their sincere prayers were heard by God and by a miraculous intervention the son came back to life. Although the vulture and jackal were impure in their motives, they still were instrumental in helping the parents. By accepting the words of scripture with faith and sincerely praying, the parents were blessed by God. The vulture and jackal, however, were disappointed in achieving their selfish purpose. Therefore, faith in God’s words and working with the unique intent to please God is the best course for the genuine seeker. Even if one is surrounded by insincere individuals like the vulture and the jackal, God will protect and deliver his sincere devotee.

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