Aspiration, Grace, and Life – 3


Author: Suhas Mehra (2019). Published in Sraddha, Vol. 11 (1), August 2019, pp. 140-152

We find several stories in Indian tradition which remind us of the various ways of the working of the Divine Grace. For example, Tulsidas who was madly in love with his wife, Ratnavali, became the Sant Tulsidas, the famous bhakt-poet of Ramacharitmanas, because of one particular instance in his life.

Once while he was away from his home, Ratnavali went to her father’s home with her brother. Not finding his wife at home upon his return, Tulsidas became very dejected and decided to go after her to her parents’ home. He swam across the river in the middle of the night to meet her. Ratnavali felt embarrassed and chided Tulsidas for this behaviour, and remarked that if Tulsidas was even half as devoted to the Divine as he was to her, he would have realised the Divine by now.  These words from his wife became the trigger for Tulsidas’ renunciation of the householder’s life and go in search of the Divine as a sanyāsi. He would later go on to write Ramacharitmanas (also known as Tulsi Ramayana) and many other great books in Awadhi. All of his poetry was in service of his Ishta Deva, his Beloved, Lord Rama. That one seemingly harsh word from his wife was, in fact, the Grace working for him, which transformed him into a true bhakta and lover of Lord Rama, and helped him realise the true purpose of his life.

Here is a story that illustrates the words of the Mother that sometimes the consequence of the Grace might seem unpleasant or even feel like a mighty blow from an external viewpoint, but the deeper results are always for an individual’s progress. Jason D. Padgett was a struggling futon salesman. In 2002, two men savagely attacked him outside a karaoke bar, leaving him with a severe concussion and post-traumatic stress disorder. This traumatic event changed the path of his life forever.

Prior to this incident Padgett had no interest in academics, but after this event he was graced with the ability to visualize intuitively complex mathematical objects and physics concepts. The injury, while devastating, seemed to have unlocked some part of his brain that made everything in his world appear to have a mathematical structure. While it is not known what Padgett did afterwards, what is significant to note here is the hidden way of the working of the Divine Grace. This also compels us to contemplate on the role of the individual’s aspiration, effort and tenacity for self-development once a new possibility has been unlocked by the grace of the higher forces.

At times, an ordinary chance event can change the meaning and direction of life; this is best illustrated by the story of K.D. Sethna.

“One day I noticed that my shoes looked rather shabby. I bought the shoes I had wanted and the shop man wrapped the box up in a newspaper sheet. When, at home, I unwrapped it, the part of the sheet that fell over right in front of me bore the headline in bold type, “The Ashram of Sri Aurobindo Ghose.” It was like a sunburst. A visitor had written a long article. I devoured it and when I got to the end and understood how the Ashram of Sri Aurobindo’s Yoga stood for a new life not rejecting but transforming the main activities of man (including perhaps even the market-place), I rose up with the conviction that I had found what I had been seeking. Soon after, I wrote to the Ashram asking for permission to come. I got the permission and some months later—in December 1927—I reached Pondicherry. The shoes I had gone to buy were meant by Sri Aurobindo to be those of a Pilgrim!

“Grace in the next ten and a half years during which I was an Ashramite—with the name ‘Amal Kiran’ given by Sri Aurobindo and explained by him as ‘The Clear Ray—is a story apart. (K.D. Sethna, 1992, The Vision and Work of Sri Aurobindo, p. 136)

Sethna had been on a quest before this event. Divine’s Grace came to him in the form of newspaper article in the right times in his life and put him on the path of realizing true purpose of life.

Aspiration and Grace are not just limited for spiritual goals, as shown in several of the above-mentioned examples. Let us recall the Mother’s words that the Grace may not always be meant for “making everything smooth for all your life… The Grace works for the realisation of your aspiration and everything is arranged to gain the most prompt, the quickest realization.We find this to be true in the life of Scottish biologist Alexander Fleming.

Fleming had been investigating staphylococci, commonly known as staph. Tired from work he went on a vacation. Upon his return, he found a strange fungus on a culture he had left in the lab. Fleming was very irritated and angry at his lab assistant who had left the window open. As he was about to throw away the petri dish, he noticed some blue and green mold. Out of curiosity he examined that mold under the microscope and discovered a fungus which had killed off all the surrounding bacteria in the culture. Modern medicine would never be the same after this chance discovery.

Though Fleming was frustrated by the failure of his initially planned experiment, it was the chance discovery of Penicillin that gave him an aspiration for life to perfect the technique for commercial production of Penicillin. Innumerous lives have been saved as a result of this discovery.

“So what if you cannot see the world? Do something so that the World will see you.” This was the advice given to Bhavesh Bhatia, the visually impaired founder and CEO of Sunrise Candles. Instead of wallowing in self-pity and depression, Bhavesh set off in search of that elusive ‘something’ which would make the world see him. At school, he was bullied by classmates because of his impaired eye sight. In an interview he has said, “since childhood I was interested in creating things with my hands. I used to make kites, experiment with clay, shape toys and figurines, etc.” After he went completely blind, he lost his job. His mother had also passed away by then.

Looking for a way to earn enough to sustain himself, Bhatia decided to try candle making. He thought this work would allow him to harness his sense of shape and smell. But the main reason for making candles according to him was “mostly because I am, and always have been, attracted towards Light.” So he learnt the art of candle making at National Association for the Blind (Mumbai) and began making candles. Thus began his business, humble and small to begin with.

Bhatia would make candles all night long and sell them from a cart, standing at a corner of a local market in Mahabaleshwar.  He would set aside twenty-five rupees to buy supplies for the next day’s material. It was a lonely and backbreaking way to survive. At times miscreants would dump his candles in the gutter. But still he kept the aspiration aflame.

The Grace smiled and one day a kind woman, Neeta, came to his cart shopping for candles. They connected and decided to get married. Her family was against her wish to marry a penniless blind, but she held on to her convictions. They were soon married. Together they created Sunrise Candles, which today employs 2,280 blind individuals and has a turnover of over Rs. 25 crores. Apart from being a successful entrepreneur, Bhatia is also a great sportsman as is evidenced by his rich haul of 114 medals in various events at Paralympics.

A Few Final Words

“There is certainly a state of consciousness and a vision of things which make you refer everything back to the Grace and finish by discovering that it alone exists, and that it alone does everything. But unless one goes to this extreme, before this, one can very well imagine that there is an element of personal aspiration in the being and that the Grace answers. That’s a way of speaking. The other one also is a way of speaking. The thing is more subtle than that, more unseizable. It is very difficult to express these things in words, because, necessarily, it takes on a mental rigidity and there is a whole part of reality which disappears. But if one has the experience, one understands very well. The conclusion: one must have the experience.” (The Mother, CWM 6: 285-286)

One finds the above quote of the Mother very relevant in the context of the life of Ramanujan. As mentioned earlier, he was in contact with the higher domain which would not only reveal to him some deep mathematical truths, but in fact also made it possible for him to work with Dr. Hardy at Cambridge. Dr. Hardy was not only a genius mathematician of his time, but also adept in the academic practice of expressing complex and abstract mathematical truths in a way that was acceptable to the larger academic community of mathematicians. Ramanujan, on the other hand, didn’t have any expertise in such mentalized mathematical expression. So this worked out to be a good symbiotic relationship between two great minds.

Perhaps Ramanujan’s lack of training in the rigid mathematical expression was a blessing as he was not constrained by rigid mental or conventional thinking, but instead proceeded in his mathematical quest with a complete faith in his Goddess and her revelations, and a deep aspiration to uncover the mathematical secrets of the universe. Today, some of his theorems are being applied in diverse areas — polymer chemistry, computers, and as has been recently suggested, even research for the cure of cancer — all this scarcely imaginable during his lifetime.

It is now close to a century since Ramanujan passed away, but even today mathematicians are struggling to completely understand the truth-value of his complex theorems and to express them in forms that are acceptable to the mathematical mind of today. As the Mother says, the subtle ways of the working of the Grace in response to Aspiration are unseizable. Only through experience one may be able to perceive how things happen. Perhaps one day when the mathematical mind has evolved to a height from where the truth was revealed to Ramanujan, humanity will be able to completely understand the significance of his work.


Read previous parts: PART 1    PART 2

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