When I was walking today, on the Island Mali Losinj, I felt my mind reach out over the blue sea to an island shimmering in the distance. When my mind returned, it brought a story with it, a story of spiritual instruction. Strange are the ways of inspiration.
Here is the story:
When Mohan returned from his journey to Jagannatha Puri, he was a changed man. Those who had never met him were impressed with his character, but those who had known him before were suspicious. Why was Mohan so clear-minded and suddenly so happy? There seemed to be no good reason, because while Mohan was on his way to Puri, his spiritual master, Gurudeva, had left his body.
Mohan had become Gurudeva’s disciple while they were both in the Himalayas near Devaprayag. Mohan was a slow learner, and he had been too busy with his agricultural fields and his two cows to spend much time on spiritual practices. Still, he had a deep interest in the spiritual tradition of his fathers, so he had continued to go from time to time to learn from Gurudeva.
Then misfortune struck twice. First, Mohan’s wife died from tuberculosis. Second, the cows, who were as good as dependent children, as the couple had none, were killed by a tiger one day. Mohan was grief-stricken to have lost so much within one year.
Then Gurudeva asked Mohan to accompany him to Puri. While inviting Mohan, Gurudeva had looked long into Mohan’s eyes and said mysteriously, “There is an ocean at Puri. I feel that my ship will come and take me back to the land of my origin.“
Mohan could not understand what that meant. He knew that Gurudeva was from South India, but why would he want to return to South India from Puri by ship? There were more comfortable ways to travel.
As Gurudeva and Mohan were walking to Puri, Gurudeva continued on occasion to mention the ship that would take him to the land of his birth and Mohan continued to think that Gurudeva would probably find it more convenient to travel by train. But he did not suggest this to his master; he did not think his guru’s travel plans his business and did not want to be presumptuous.
When they finally reached the town of Puri, the aged guru showed Mohan many holy sites, but the most impressive among them was the Jagannatha temple, home of the Lord of the universe. They always entered the Lord’s home through the eastern gate, the lion gate.
Two weeks after their arrival, Gurudeva contracted a fever that wracked his aged frame. It was then that Mohan finally understood what Gurudeva had been trying to tell him. The day after Ratha-yatra, Gurudeva called Mohan to his side. His feverish eyes were filled with joy as he said in a tremulous voice, “My ship has come, my son. Sing our Lord’s names to create the wind that will carry me to my eternal home.“ Then Gurudeva himself lovingly called out “He Gopal!” and rode the receding wave back to the spiritual world.
Mohan helped carry his spiritual master’s body to the Svarga-dvara, where he was cremated and his ashes were thrown into the sacred ocean. Then he returned to his home village near Devaprayaga.
People had heard the news of Gurudeva’s departure, of course, and that’s why they now suspected Mohan’s happiness. Mohan had lost his wife, his two cows, and now his guru within one year. He had also lost his home; the land he had been working had not been his own, and he had only been able to pay the rent on it by selling the milk from his two cows.
Rumors began to circulate. The worst accused Mohan of poisoning his guru to take his money. Finally, two of the villagers confronted Mohan: “There is something you have not told us. The villagers have sent us to discover how you can be so happy in the face of so much traumatic loss.”
Mohan was grateful to have the opportunity to talk about what was inspiring him. His life had changed because of a lesson Gurudeva had given him just a week before his departure. Actually, Gurudeva had given him more than verbal instruction—he had given him a pencil.
The sun was beginning to set and the temperature was dropping. Mohan invited the two men into his cottage. With uncertainty, they followed him into his hut and took the seats he proffered them next to the fire. Then he began.
“Please listen carefully to what Gurudeva taught me. It has changed my life. I thank you for allowing me to speak about it. After you have had the chance to hear and think about what I am about to tell you, please explain it to the other villagers. The gift of a pencil can change everyone’s life here.
“Gurudeva noticed quite early in our relationship that I was a slow learner. Although the Lord had taken everything from me, I remained attached to my material plans. Only when Gurudeva invited me to accompany him to Puri, where he said a ship awaited him, was I prepared to leave our village and experience something new. I felt he needed help on his journey, and since I had nothing left here, I thought, ’Why shouldn’t I carry his bag?’
“But he became ill in Puri. He was preparing for his ’ship journey’ home. Not long before he died he gave me an envelope and said, ’Open this only after I have boarded my ship.’
“After his death I opened the envelope and found a pencil and a handwritten message. I will read this message to you; Gurudeva wrote it with his own hand and probably with this pencil: ‘My dear disciple, I feel I can best tell you what you need to know in life by way of an analogy. You have not been the quickest of my students, but you have a good heart and I feel you will learn what you need to learn if you think deeply about this pencil.
“‘The pencil teaches you to stop from time to time to sharpen your tools, meaning your mind, body, and spirit. Just as a pencil needs to be sharpened, so we need to sharpen ourselves by spiritual practice. Only then can we become one-pointed enough to give full attention to the Lord.
“‘Second lesson: Don’t be afraid to be yourself. Learn to make your own contribution in life with joy. Each pencil has its particular line to draw. This line will become words—specific words—and these words form a unique mission, your own life story. Never be afraid to draw your specific line, live your life.
“’Third: The pencil teaches you that what is inside is more important than what is outside—in other words, that the soul is more important than the body. When we have a pencil we value the graphite at its center more than the dead wood that surrounds it. Never forget that you are an eternal soul inhabiting a temporary body, just as the graphite and the message it can create inhabit the wood.
“‘Fourth: Whenever you make a mistake, correct it immediately. Every good pencil —and this one is no exception—has an eraser at the end. Whenever one makes a mistake with one end of the pencil, one can immediately erase it with the other end. Learn from the pencil that it is not dishonorable to correct mistakes. No, correcting your mistakes is actually your duty. It should be done as soon as you notice the mistake. Truthfully, it is not only a duty to correct mistakes but an honor.
“’Fifth: You may do big things in life, but never forget the hand that guides you. Just as the pencil is never proud, thinking how it has written a book, so we should always give credit to God and strive to become humble and willing instruments by surrendering to His plan.
“’My dear disciple, think daily about my gift to you—the five lessons of the pencil. As you apply these teachings, you will see their wisdom unfolding more and more. Ultimately, you will be guided to much greater teachings than the ones the pencil can give you. At that time you might like to make a gift of the pencil to another spiritual learner who is slow but who has a good heart.
“’Always your well-wisher,
Jagannatha-nandana Swami, whom you know as Gurudeva.’”
Mohan looked up from the piece of paper on which Gurudeva had written his simple message. “Now you know why I am so happy,” he said in a voice trembling with emotion. “I am practicing Gurudeva’s teachings and am making new discoveries every day. If the villagers have questions, they are welcome to ask me.”
From that day on several villagers a day came to Mohan’s cottage and asked for spiritual advice. Somehow, Mohan was able to give them realized answers. He had made it a point to sharpen his tools of body, mind, and spirit by regularly chanting God’s holy names and reading holy books. But the simple lessons of the pencil worked wonders for everyone in the village.
Soon, one of the mountain people wrote down these five lessons, showed his work to Mohan, and asked him to make any necessary corrections. On his next visit to Haridwar, this man asked a friend who owned a simple hand-printing shop to print them.
These five lessons contain nothing less than the profound wisdom of the ancient Vedic culture, offered in a format that is simple to apply and that gives immediate benefits. Therefore, these quaint slips of paper were copied and recopied, and those who applied them saw their lives miraculously uplifted.
Here are the five lessons of the pencil for you:
· Lesson 1: Regenerate regularly—physically, mentally and spiritually. Live in sattva.
· Lesson 2: Discover and execute your unique mission and purpose. Live your dharma.
· Lesson 3: Always remain connected with your deepest self, the soul. Live in the atma.
· Lesson 4: Listen to your conscience and correct mistakes. Stay with the higher connection, guided by the paramatma.
· Lesson 5: Develop your love for God. Live in bhakti.
My own spiritual master, Srila Prabhupada, gave me a “pencil”—simple instructions by which I could change my life. Three years before he passed away, he called me into his room and gave me the opportunity to serve him in a menial way. At that time he told me, “You should be a good disciple, a good teacher, a servant who helps others in their spiritual development, and you should be autonomous in your spiritual life—fully dependent on Krsna.”
I pray these instructions form my life forever.
Under the Banyan Tree is a regular column featuring the writing of Sacinandana Swami.