There are a few instances in our lives when we come across a book that we can both read and listen to. Tales told by Mystics is one of those reads. That is to say if you were born and bred in India, you must have come across these stories in some format, perhaps your parents narrated them to you as a cautionary tale, or your grandma put you to sleep whispering them into your ears. The book is published by Sahitya academy, so if you want, you can grab a copy in one of their stores. But, if you can’t find it in your vicinity: no worries, because we are going to absorb all the lessons the book has to offer.
This book is basically a collection of short stories that offer age-old lessons. However, they do not contain a list of “how people should behave in order to be moral”. In a perfectly Indian way, these tales show us lovingly what is possible for a human character. The author says that he gathered these stories as a child from pilgrims and mendicants. His mother used to provide shelter for these travellers. This makes the whole collection quite an interesting mix, for it gives us insights from the seekers of the ultimate truth.
In the first tale, the author starts with how we generally carry a perception towards the world. It is titled “Four travelers and a stranger”. The first three travellers suspect the stranger, who is quietly seated under a banyan tree, to be a theif, a spy and a drunkard respectively. In actuality, they saw a competition in the stranger, they were cautious and afraid of him, because they themselves were a thief, a spy and a drunkard in that order. The fourth traveler rightly recognizes the stranger to be a mendicant and pays him respects.
When we are at interface with the world, we often project our own ideas, insecurities, judgements and notions onto it. In fact, a lot of what we see is a mere projection. Therefore, the question we need to be asking is: “Is what I am thinking the 360 degree truth of the situation? What is it that I need to know more.”
My second favourite story from the book is “The riddle of the Brahman”. A dull, but hardworking boy, named Saran was taken into a Brahmin’s care. His father didn’t expect him to learn anything. Yet, the teacher taught him one sentence: “Aham Bramhasmi”, which loosely translated from Sanskrit means: “I am God”, “I am all there is” or “I am the absolute reality”. The brahmin didn’t give the meaning of the sentence to Saran and went away. Saran wanted to know. And the more people he asked, the more confused he became. Finally, he sat on the slab of stone and began repeating “Aham Brahmasmi” as if desperately asking what it means from the whole cosmos itself. Thus, Saran became a realized soul.
The burning desire to know is perhaps the most prized concept in Indic literature when it comes to knowing the absolute reality. And in order to know, we literally have to forget what we already understand. A seeker is also a beggar: accepting alms of knowledge as it comes to her. Whatever it is that we want to know or understand in our lives, we have to open ourselves to inspiration and learning through curiosity. We have to forget for a moment that we live in a competition or an audition of who has it all figured out, because no one does. Even with limited intellectual and material resources, human beings can always open themselves up to growth by the means of curiosity.
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