by Swami Krishnananda
It is taken for granted that I am speaking to those who are a hundred percent concerned and dedicated to what should be regarded as the ultimate purpose of life. We are not discussing what usually goes by the name of an ordinary good life or a virtuous life of the public attitude, or a so-called righteousness that keeps us going in the world. This is a very serious subject that we are discussing. It is almost a kind of life-and-death matter for those who can realise its importance.
But, it is difficult to bring into one’s mind its seriousness on account of the inveterate sluggishness of human thinking. The sheep that are being driven to the butcher shop have no idea as to what is going to happen to them. They eat well, become fat, and bleat in the usual manner, not knowing that they are heading towards their doom. Such is the fate of the majority of mankind. But, some sheep may be awakened: “My fate is terrible!” And then it is that one begins to do whatever is possible under the circumstances. We have to be very, very cautious, and forethought should be our watchword.
There is an old, humorous story about forethought – how we have to connect one event with another event and realise that something is going to happen in the future; it may be in the far-off future. It appears that an ancient king was fond of rearing monkeys. That was his hobby, his diversion. He used to collect all varieties of monkeys, and feed and maintain them in his palace. They were huge monkeys. In the palace, there was also a flock of sheep; and it appeared that one sheep used to run into the palace kitchen every day and try to snatch some eatable. The cook would drive it away by giving it a clout on the head. Every day this sheep would rush into the kitchen, and the cook would beat it with a stick whenever it entered.
The leader of those monkeys in the palace observed this phenomenon. It summoned all its brethren and said, “My dear brethren, we are in danger! We have to quit this palace immediately. Our life itself is perhaps going to be in serious danger.”
All the monkeys asked, “What is this danger? We are taken care of so nicely, fed so beautifully; we have no botheration or worry about food – which we may have if we are in the forest. What trouble? What danger?”
The leader monkey said, “I cannot explain to you all this, but we are in serious danger. We must leave this place immediately. We should not live in this palace any more.”
The other monkeys asked, “What is the matter? Why do you say that we are in danger?”
Then the leader said, “Listen to me. There is a sheep here which runs into the kitchen of the king every day and gets a beating from the cook; and it is so foolish that in spite of the beating, it goes every day. Now, one day the cook will get so angry with it, he will beat it with a piece of burning firewood. In his anger, he will not know what he is beating it with; he will simply strike it with a firebrand. Then, what will happen? The wool of the sheep will catch fire. In panic it will run hither-thither and enter the stable where the king’s horses are tied. And there is dry grass in the stable, which will catch fire. The fire will burn the horses, which are so dear to the king. They will be scalded, burnt because of the fire. Then, a report will go to the king: “Oh, Lord! Your horses are all half dead. Their skin is all burnt off.”
“Oh, God!” he will say, “They are very costly horses, and they are so necessary for me. Now, what is this? All the skin is burnt like this! What is the remedy?”
“My dear children,” the leader monkey said, “There is only one remedy – the fat of monkeys. Now you know the danger.”
“Oh! Old man!” these monkeys said, “You have no brain or anything. Foolishly you are thinking something, connecting something out of nothing. All this is vain thought in your head. We are well taken care here of by the king. We shall not leave this place. If you want to go, you go.”
The leader said, “All right. I have given my advice. I am quitting.” That very day the leader monkey left, and whatever was predicted by this monkey happened. All the monkeys were boiled, and their essence was taken and smeared over the burnt bodies of the horses. Well, the story goes on further. We are not concerned with the end of the tale, as it is a different subject.
This is a story given in our fables for illustrating forethought. Apparently, it has no meaning – from one thing we are connecting another thing. But forethought is also the capacity to connect causes with effects, and effects with causes. Pigheadedness cannot be regarded as wisdom. Seekers of truth though we may be, our sympathy for living the life of truth may be only in the lips, because we are well fed in the palace of the king. What is the trouble? We have got our daily meal. We have got our clothes. We have got our house. We have got our friends. We have got every sort of comfort. Where comes the need for living a life of truth in a peculiar, far-fetched manner, in the Upanishadic sense? This is what these small monkeys told the leader monkey: “Why are you blabbering all these things, while everything is wonderful in this world?”
But, you do not know; the day will come when you will be boiled, cooked by the fire of time, and the same fate of the monkeys will be the fate of mankind. Before that happens, would it not be wisdom on the part of farsighted persons to look into aspects which would be practicable in freeing ourselves from this possible danger? Danger is everywhere. We are living in a world of danger, from every side. That we are not harassed with the thought of death or destruction every moment does not mean that it is far off or away from us.
Maranam prakritih saririnam vikritir jivitam uchyate budhaih. When the queen of King Aja – a great emperor of the solar race in India – died of an accident, the king wept and beat his breast and went to his preceptor, Vasishtha: “Oh! My queen is dead. I am feeling that life itself is worthless. What is your advice?”
Vasishtha gave a very short reply, “Your highness! That you are subject to death is no wonder. That you are living is a wonder.” Maranam prakrtih saririnam vikrtir jivitam uchyate budhaih. This is all he said. This is a sloka from Raghuvamsa of Kalidasa. This is what Buddha also said – that the apparent security of life is an illusion. Everything is insecure in this world; that is the truth of the matter. This is not merely Buddha’s statement or discovery, or the wisdom of Vasishtha, but also the conclusion of great stalwarts in modern science. We do not know science, we do not know philosophy, we do not know anything – nor do we want them, because we are happy.
But, this happiness is itself going to be our foe. The comfort and the joy which is apparently around us is going to be the cause of our own ruin, because this joy is not real. The circumstances of life, which make us feel that everything is all right for the time being, are subject to dissection, disunion and disintegration. Whatever experience we have in life is the outcome of our personal relationship with certain conditions prevailing in the world outside. These conditions are not permanent, and they cannot be permanent. Every cell of the body changes; every moment, we are subject to transformation in the entire structure of our body. There is a perpetual vehement movement of every atom of this body, as it is the case with every object in this world outside. Everything revolves, rotates, vehemently moves, for a purpose which no one can understand. Even an inorganic stone is supposed to be constituted of minute particles which are vehemently active – even inside an apparently static stone. There is no such thing as a static object in this world. Everything is moving – and very ferociously moving, for some purpose which you or I cannot understand.