Good decision or good choice
lahv vohrohsoum – good decision
lahv uhndroutioun – good choice
A millionaire left a will. He had four sons. His will stipulated, “Each of my sons can choose one thing that he desires most of my estate. What remains shall be bequeathed to my personal slave who has served me faithfully.”
The court appointed administrator asked the sons to choose the one thing they wanted most. One chose the father’s mansion, another a costly jewel, the third vast farmland.
The fourth son chose to own his father’s personal slave. This seemed like a poor choice. But, on reflection it was the most astute one because by owning the slave, the fourth son became the owner of the entire estate remaining after his three brothers’ choices.
Life always presents us with choices. The decisions we make are between short-term or long-term gain. We desire gain and then safety to protect our profits in order to enjoy them. All four sons had a choice to make for their gain. The first three chose the one thing they desired the most out of their father’s estate. Their choices were valuable material things. The fourth son chose his father’s trustworthy servant who would inherit all the remaining estate of the father after his son’s choices. This was a very astute choice because the father apparently appreciated and trusted his servant who served him faithfully for many years.
This story has an important message. On one level, it conveys the message that becoming a faithful and competent servant can endear the master to the point that he may favor him over his own family members. A good servant can win the heart of his master. In Biblical history, we have examples of Abraham, Noah, and Jesus who all served God faithfully and were bestowed immortal blessings. Joseph served the Pharaoh of Egypt and was rewarded with royal status although he began as a slave.
The fourth son’s choice of the slave has a deeper meaning. The crucial choice in life is between material gain or spiritual enlightenment. I experienced this earlier in my life when I had to make an important decision between furthering my material achievements in life or pursuing a spiritual path by humbling myself to a genuine servant of God and learning how to also become a servant. A successful person in this world is one who gains mastery over material possessions and uses them to gain power and fame and eventually adoration. In spiritual life, however, one can gain mastery over oneself by becoming the humble servant of God’s faithful servant. It is said,
“Just try to learn the truth by approaching a spiritual master. Inquire from him submissively and render service unto him. The self-realized soul can impart knowledge unto you because he has seen the truth.”(BG 4.34) One must approach the true servant of God with a submissive attitude, ask important questions and offer service. Such behavior by the student creates a favorable atmosphere to ask questions and get the correct answers from a genuine seer of the truth or spiritual master. One learns to be a loyal servant of God by serving the genuine servant of God.
There is a proverb that says, “The mother teaches the new daughter-in-law by instructing her daughter.” Similarly, God instructs the world through the humble and dedicated behavior of His genuine servant, who acts as the spiritual master of aspirants to the truth. One who approaches the spiritual guide by submissiveness, inquiries and service will be blessed to understand the following: “Having obtained real knowledge from a self-realized soul, you will never fall again into such illusion, for by this knowledge you will see that all living beings are but part of the Supreme, or, in other words, that they are Mine.” (BG 4.35)
When one is enlightened by a bona fide teacher of spirituality, one learns to see all living beings as belonging to God’s eternal family. The sense of existence apart or separated from God is illusion. Just as in the family there is a mother and father, God is the original father of everyone and everything. He expands His infinite spiritual and material energies and manifests the spiritual world and the material world. Those eternal souls that are surrendered to God reside in the spiritual world. The material world is the place where rebellious living entities are placed to be gradually reformed like prisoners in a jail. The jail is the temporary material body and the shackles are the forces (or modes) of material nature (goodness, passion and ignorance) forcing the body to gradually grow and deteriorate all the while being subject to happiness and suffering.
The dualities of happiness and suffering, cold and heat, riches and poverty, love and hate keep the living entities bewildered. Only a very few living entities are able to take advantage of a genuine teacher and free themselves from reactive work by developing genuine love of God and all living entities. By such love and dedicated service to God such liberated souls are able to help others to enlightenment.
Everything that emanates from God is eternal. Only the activities of the living entities are not eternal. The material nature, time, the living entities and God are all eternal. When an eternal living entity decides to separate himself from God, he leaves the spiritual world and comes into the material world where he can attempt to imitate God by controlling and enjoying a part of the material energy. But such a futile attempt only leads to frustration after experiencing temporary success. The material body of the living entity is subject to birth, death, old age and disease and eventually it withers away and the living entity is forced to take another body to continue his escapade in the material world. It is only when he becomes self realized by associating with a genuine teacher or servant of God that he can liberate himself from such illusory entanglement and return to the eternal world.
There has always existed a contrast between what is permanent and impermanent, or permanence and change. Most people are concerned with the impermanent and hope desperately to make it permanent. This desire is impossible to achieve. Although the material energy is permanent, the transformations of it by man will always remain impermanent. No amount of intelligent adjustment can transform the material creations of man into something permanent.
In the ancient wisdom it is said, “Those who know the truth understand that of the impermanent (the material body and all things material) there is no endurance and of the permanent (the soul and all things spiritual) there is no change. They have concluded this by studying the nature of both.”
The ancient Greeks discussed permanence and change. The Greek philosopher Heraclites propounded the theory that everything in this world is in a state of flux or change, “”Ever-newer waters flow on those who step into the same rivers .” Plato interrupted Heraclites views as “Everything changes and nothing remains still.” In contrast the Greek philosopher Parmenides set forth the doctrine of permanence. He explained, “reality is one, change is impossible, and existence is timeless, uniform, and unchanging.” Parmenides considered the material world perceived through the senses as illusory appearances that deceive the common man.
Parmenides believed that the ultimate eternal reality is an unchanging, ungenerated, indestructible whole state of existence that may be described as an undifferentiated oneness. The world of appearances (the material world) in which there was movement, change and duality was an illusion and only the state of static eternal oneness was real.
Both Heraclites and Parmenides had significant partial realizations of the truth of existence. But, their understandings were incomplete. The following story illustrates this point.
Once there was a town that was connected to the railway line. The designated day arrived when the first train would pull into the town. Many villagers from surrounding villages excitedly dressed up in the their best clothes and came to town for the festive occasion. They had only heard of the train, but never seen it. They waited with excited anticipation at the train station.
From the distance of at least a half a mile the townsfolk heard the train whistle blow a shrill high pitched note that scared the wits out of everyone. All eyes turned toward the distant approach of the train. One group of spectators from a mountain village near the town heard the whistle and saw a black cloud of smoke.” They reported back to their family and friends in their village that didn’t come that the train was a dangerous black cloud like a tornado. It made a horrible noise that scared everyone.
The train continued its approach to the town. Just outside the limits of the town, the train spewed a thick black cloud of smoke from its boiler. Sparks and occasional flames jumped from its chimney. The engineer of the train continued to blow the train whistle without stop. The spectators could feel the ground vibrating like an earthquake. A second group of villagers became so frightened that they also hurriedly left in a state of panic just before the train pulled into a full stop. They were convinced it was a black, iron demon spitting flames and smoke and so heavy it was could cause an earthquake.
The remaining spectators were frightened by the spectacle of the arriving train. They didn’t know what to expect. Many stepped back as far as they could from the train station waiting to see if they should run away like the other villagers. When the train came to a full stop, they were amazed to see that there were many people like themselves waving to them from the train. They observed that the train was a series of different vehicles connected by metal hinges. There was an engine car with a furnace and a smiling engineer with black faced assistants. The other cars were filled with passengers, cargo and mail. The atmosphere became festive as the passengers poured out of the train cars. The townsfolk and remaining villagers mounted the train and looked in amazement at the metal and wood construction that seemed so frightening from a distance. They welcomed the passengers and questioned the engineer and his assistants. Their fears were dissipated and they realized that the train was a useful invention made by intelligent men.
The ancient Greek philosophers had realizations of the truth of the universe, but it was incomplete. They were like the villagers that observed the train from a distance. The limits of intellectualism are due to four fundamental defects every human being has. They are,
1- mistakes – due to imperfect hearing or seeing
2- illusion – accepting a mistake as the truth
3- imperfect and limited senses
4- tendency to cheat.
These four defects disqualify a human being from arriving at perfect knowledge either by intellectual or experimental means. The ancient Greeks depended entirely on observation and reasoning to arrive at knowledge. In the story of the train and the townsfolk, observation led to three levels of knowledge. The group of villagers that left first thought the train was a dangerous black cloud like a tornado. The second group of villagers that left thought the train was a black, iron demon spitting flames and smoke and so heavy it was could cause an earthquake. The third group observed that the train was a series of vehicles that were connected. There was an engine car and passenger cars, and cargo cars, etc. And there were many passengers or people like themselves.
The first group had an impersonal realization. The second group had a nebulous personal realization and the third group had a definite personal realization of the train. The impersonal realization remains blind to the fact that behind every manifestation there must be a person who is the prime mover or creator. A nebulous personal realization can discern someone behind the phenomenon but cannot see clearly who it is. The personal realization knows without a doubt that behind every movement or organized structure there are intelligent persons.
The third group had more knowledge of the train than the first two groups, but their knowledge was still incomplete. Although they knew more about the train, they still did not understand all the technology that produced the train. Such knowledge would require many years of training by expert teachers to fully understand the functioning of the train and the depth of organization by intelligent people required to create and manage the useful functioning of it.
The Vedic knowledge states that there are three levels of understanding God: impersonal, localized presence of God in the heart of every living being and the Supreme Personality of God who is the origin, controller and maintainer of everyone and everything. The impersonal understanding of God can be attained with personal endeavor. Just as we see sunlight that is the source of energy and potential in this world, we can understand that there is an all-pervading spiritual energy that supports and sustains all life. Beyond the impersonal realization, we may attain the awareness that there exists a localized presence of God in the heart of every living being and even in every atom of the universe. Beyond these two levels of understanding, it is impossible to access the understanding of God as the Supreme Person from whom everything emanates and yet He remains perfect and complete as the infinite source. His individuality and personality are always perfect and complete and everything that emanates from Him is also perfect and complete. Without help from an expert and perfect teacher it is impossible to understand the transcendental nature of the Supreme Person as the cause of all causes, omnipotent and possessing all fame, wealth, knowledge, power, beauty and renunciation. The name Krishna indicates in Sanskrit the person who possesses these aforementioned six opulences. Only one who is completely dedicated to God with love and devotion and pleases Him is such knowledge revealed. It is impossible to understand the transcendental nature of God by using the blunt senses or imperfect reasoning. Revealed knowledge is the ultimate mercy of God to his sincere devotee.
Returning to the story of the deceased millionaire and his four sons, the last son that chose his father’s servant and thus inherited all the remaining assets of his father was the wisest of the sons. Similarly, in life each of us chooses what he desires the most. Some choose wealth, others knowledge, or family, fame, etc. But the person that chooses the loyal servant of God and accepts to learn from him how to serve God purely is the wisest of all. Such a person will inherit the
greatest assets of the God the Father, namely eternal life in the spiritual world.
Choosing death – mahuh uhnduhrehl
Once the Indian court jokester Gopal Bhan went too far in ridiculing the king who flew into a rage. The monarch ordered that Gopal Bhan be killed for disrespect. The court jester begged the king to remember all the service he had rendered him in the past. He requested that the king permit him (Gopal) to choose the way he should die. The king agreed to grant him his wish.
Gopal Bhan said, “Your Majesty, let me die of old age.”
When he sees water he becomes a fish, and a hole he becomes a mouse
chouruh dehsneh tzoug guhlah, dzaguh dehsneh moug
This proverb describes a very shrewd, opportunist person who adapts his behavior according to the situation.
He’s got a thousand tongues in his mouth
Perneen metch hazar lezou gah
When a person craftily and even deceptively uses language to win an argument, they may be described as having a thousand tongues. They can say anything to win regardless if it is truthful or not.
The clever man cheated the devil
Jarbiguh sadanan khapets
While walking from one town to another a man encountered the devil that began to walk with him. The devil asks the traveler a question.
“Friend, don’t you think walking side by side like this is tiresome and boring?
The traveler replied, “Do you know another way to make this journey more pleasing?”
“Well tell me.”
“One of us can ride on the shoulders of the other. The rider can sing a song and when it is finished, they can change places, and so on. Do you agree?”
“Yes I do,” said the clever man to the devil. “But who should ride first?”
“Since I thought of the plan, I should go first,” said the devil.
“I agree,” said the clever man.
The devil got on the shoulders of the clever man and sand a song that lasted three minutes, and then got off the clever man’s back. The clever man got on the devil’s shoulders and began to sing,
“Der voghormyia der voghormyia” After a long time, the devil asks, “Friend, what kind of song are you singing, it doesn’t seem to end.”
“The name of the song is God have mercy on me, we can never stop singing this song,” replies the clever man and continues to sing while remaining on the shoulders of the devil until they arrive at their destination.
He can get water from a stone
Karhen chour hanetz
This expresses the idea of remarkable ingenuity as the previous proverb.
He makes good flutes out of the dead trunk of a tree
Chor dzaren duduk guh haneh
This saying applies to very industrious and cleaver persons who can make good flutes out of the dead trunk of a tree.
There was once a boy who was very poor. He had a rich uncle. He went to see his uncle to ask for a loan. When the uncle heard his plea he frowned. He asked the boy to step outside on the sidewalk.
The uncle picked up a dead rat on the street and said to the boy, “You want some capital to start a business? Well, here it is.” He flung the dead rat at the boy and went back into his house and shut the door. The boy ducked down and the rat flew over his head. He shouted thanks to his Uncle and picked up the rat. He walked to the municipal health department where a reward was given for every dead rat brought there. The boy was paid a few cents for the rat.
He took the small amount of money and purchased a small amount of grain from a wholesale grain merchant. He went door to door and sold the grain. With the profit and the capital he continued to purchase grain and sell it for many years until he was able to amass a large fortune.
He began a family tradition of placing a sum of money in the bank at the birth of a new family member and letting the money accrue interest until the child attained adulthood. The interest and capital were given to the young adult and not a penny more. It was up to the young man or woman to use the same ingenuity as the family elder to amass their fortune.
This proverb refers to such ingenious persons who can make good flutes out of dead trees or make profit from a seemingly hopeless situation.
Measure it a thousand times because you can only cut it once
Hazar unkam chapeh meg unkam gudereh
My father and Uncle Kevork were both tailors. This proverb is a typical tailor’s wisdom. “Measure it a thousand times because you can only cut it once.”
Before you embark on an adventure, carefully weigh or consider all the consequences because once you start, you may not be able to retrace your steps back to where you started. A cultured person will always carefully think about the consequences of his actions before doing anything. Desire, lust, greed, and intoxication can cloud a person’s mind and thwart their careful consideration of consequences.
Uncle Kevork was an example of such a person. He was very thrifty and tight-fisted about money. Many times he refused to loan money to his own family members. He refused my brothers when they proposed a plan to buy a hotel in Asbury Park, New Jersey. He told them “Khelkis chi bargeerah.” Yet, he consented to give me money for my university education.
His greatest long term investment was donating over $ 10,000 to have the community hall of St. Gregory’s Armenian Church of Philadelphia named after his family name, “Terhanian Hall.” This was his shrewdest investment that has perpetuated his family name. To make this donation he had to ignore the opposition of his wife. He had the foresight to see the long term good of such a donation.
There is another proverb in Armenian that says: “Ahchguht gehlleh, anounut chehleh – You can lose an eye, but your good name (or reputation) will always stay.” Uncle Kevork wisely chose to make the donation and perpetuate his family’s good name after weighing the consequences. He still left his wife and daughter most of his wealth, but the $ 10,000 donation has maintained his family’s good name.
It doesn’t sleep well in my mind.
Khelkis chi bargeerah
My Uncle Kevork would sometimes use this diplomatic phrase to free himself from an impending obligation like loaning money. He was once invited to dinner by an Armenian family, whose business was expanding. They were also on the brink of bankruptcy because of not being able to supply their customers. They invited Uncle Kevork for an old fashion Armenian dinner and honored him in many ways so that he would consent to loan them money. Uncle Kevork had worked hard and gradually built up a savings. After dinner, the hopeful business family proposed their plan for developing their growing business and asked Uncle Kevork if he could loan them money. He deftly said “Khelkis chi bargeerah” which means literally (what you are telling me) does not sleep well in (the bed of) my mind or, I don’t quite understand what you are telling me. The business men tried over and over again to explain their proposal so that all aspects of the business venture were clear. Uncle Kevork’s only reply was khelkis chi bargeerah, which amounts to a polite, yet frustrating way of saying no. He did not want to say no directly, so he kept insisting that his mind could not comprehend their proposal. Uncle Kevork was never invited again by that family for an old fashion Armenian dinner.
My mother once gave me her accumulated wisdom about how to deal with people who might approach me for borrowing money. She told me, if ever anyone asks you to borrow money, take out your handkerchief and begin to cry. Don’t stop crying until they go away. She asked, “Do you have a handkerchief?” I said no. “Immediately get one” she said. This was actually good advice.