Reflections...              G Venkataraman
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Recently in a BBC Radio Programme, there was the news that within a few months China was going to send a man into space. The broadcaster then contacted on the phone a leading official in China [rich radio stations can do such things!] and asked that official many questions about China's plans to send a man into space. In the process the broadcaster asked a question, a provocative one of course, because that is the way broadcasting is these days [except of course on Radio Sai!]. He said, "Sir, it is going to cost a lot of money to send a man into space. Is it really necessary when this is not going to be the first time? What will be gained from it, and why spend money on this venture when China needs to do so much for the rural poor? Why not spend this money on poverty alleviation?"

On the face of it, one cannot take exception to this question, except that the Western media persons do not ask such questions of their own politicians and planners. In this connection, I recall what late Prof. Sampath used to say about the First Gulf War. [For those of you who do not know, Prof. Sampath was the Third Vice Chancellor of Swami's University. But more important, he was a most lovable man, a great devotee of the Lord, most witty and ever full of humorous stories.]. Prof. Sampath often used to point out that with the money spent in that war fought in the early nineties, THREE HUNDRED Super Speciality Hospitals of the type founded by Bhagavan Baba in Puttaparthi could be set up.

Yes, today money is not only misused but also often used for atrocious purposes. Recently, there was an Arms Bazaar in London at which leading arms peddlers gathered to exhibit and sell their wares. On the one hand, there is a lot of hue and cry about weapons of mass destruction and on the other, the very same countries that cry hoarse on such matters put up an exhibition enticing all and sundry, including people from the impoverished countries of Africa to shop for arms. I mean, will people buy arms and then go for a picnic? Arms promote conflict; conflict in turn leads to brutality, death, massacre, and millions of innocent people suffering.

My intention is not to point an accusing finger at others. Rather, I would like to use this opening so that we do some introspection ourselves. All of us spend money. Some of it is for absolutely necessary purposes while at other times it is for pleasure and enjoyment. One cannot complain against having some fun occasionally. But, if the money spent on it can be set apart for something else, why not?

Here I am reminded of a touching incident that happened more than ten years ago. The Puttaparthi Super Speciality Hospital was just coming up, and in those days, Swami was deeply involved day in and day out on the Project. In the afternoons, after Darshan, Swami would be in the Interview Room, conferring with people involved in the Project. For students, this was very difficult to bear because earlier, Baba would spend so much time in the veranda, talking to them. But the boys understood the reason behind the change. And whatever they wanted to tell Swami, they now put it into letters, which Bhagavan received at Darshan time.

One afternoon, Swami came for Darshan, received letters from the public and the students, and then went into His room. A while later, the door opened and Swami came out holding a letter in His hand saying, "Who wrote this letter? Which boy wrote it?" The boy who had given the letter recognised it to be his. He was scared but slowly got up. Swami asked, "You wrote this letter?" Fearing the worst, the boy just nodded. Swami then said, "Come here." Legs shaking and body trembling, the boy went to Swami. Swami then said to the people on the veranda, "You know what this boy has written and done? He says, 'Swami, I am very anxious to do something for the Hospital Project. If I were a rich man, I could have written a cheque. If I were a contractor, I could have contributed building materials. If I were an engineer, I could have helped with the construction. If I were a doctor, I could have opted to serve here. I cannot do any of these things because I am still a student here. Yet I want to do something. So Bhagavan, out of Love for You, I decided to save money, money that I would otherwise have spent on soft drinks, snacks and various personal conveniences. For example, I now wash my clothes instead of giving it to the Dhobi [washerman]. This way, I have been able to save a hundred rupees. Please allow me to offer this with Love at Your Lotus Feet. If this money could get even a litte brick for the Hospital, I would consider myself Blessed!'" After saying all this, Swami held opened the envelope and held up a hundred rupee currency note for all to see. Bhagavan then slowly said, "For Me, this hundred rupee note is more valuable than the biggest of cheques". Yes, that was the same God who [as Krishna] accepted puff rice, speaking!

So what is the point? The point is just that we gain so much more by giving to others than in giving to ourselves [in the form of pleasure that is]. One is not compelled to give to others. But it makes one's life so much better and sweeter.

I shall end with another story that came out in one of my classes while we were discussing spiritual matters. Some months ago when it was a bit rainy and slightly cold here, one afternoon, as the boys were coming for Darshan, one boy noticed an old woman sitting near the wall of the Primary School and crying. He saw her dress was wet and that she was shivering. Without a second thought, this boy just quietly peeled off from the line, and ran back to his room in the hostel while the others marched to the Mandir. Once in his room, this boy picked up a thick bed-sheet of his, rolled it, packed it, and started walking back towards the Mandir. When he came to the old woman, he quickly opened the package and wrapped the sheet around the shivering woman. The old lady was taken aback. The boy then said, "Amma, don't worry. This is for you." The lady could not speak. She looked into the eyes of the boy, with tears in her eyes. Tears they were but they were tears of joy and gratitude. For this boy, his day was made. He had come face to face with Love. With God.

Next time we want to have a ball, why don't we stop for a moment and think of some old woman somewhere, who could be helped with that money? Gandhi put it nicely and told Government officers, "When you want to spend money, think of the face of the poorest person you know and ask, 'Will this expenditure benefit that person?'" Remember a Bhajan that starts with a line about the serving the poor? Can you recall that Bhajan? If you do, write to us, and we shall announce the names of all who got it right! Write to [email protected] When you write, don't forget to write your full name, and the name of the place and the country from where you are writing.

Good luck!



Volume 01: PDS / 03 Date : OCT 01 2003