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I Thought I Was Perfect

Stories of the Sages

As a young man I thought I had perfected myself and that I didn’t need any further teaching or study. I felt there was no swami in India as advanced as I because I seemed to be more intellectually knowledgeable than others, and I was myself teaching many swamis. When I conveyed to my master this inflated opinion of myself, he looked at me and asked, “Are you drugged?”

“What do you mean?” I said. “No, really. This is the way I feel.”

He returned to the subject a few days later. “You are still a child. You only know how to attend college. You have not mastered four things. Master them and then you will have attained something: Have a desire to meet and know God. But have no selfish desire to acquire things for yourself. Give up all anger, greed, and attachment. Practice meditation regularly. Only when you have done these four things will you become perfect.”

“If you become obstinate or aggressive, you will be deprived of their knowledge.”

Then he told me to visit certain sages. He said, “When you are with them you should be very humble. If you become obstinate or aggressive, you will be deprived of their knowledge. They will just close their eyes and sit in meditation.” He said this because he knew that I was very obstinate and impatient.

He gave me a list of sages of different orders. They were his friends who had known me from my young age because I had been with my master when he visited with them. I had been quite mischievous. I used to pester them and throw things so that they would know I was around. Whenever they came to visit my master they would ask, “Is he still with you?”

First I went to see a swami who was renowned for silence. He had withdrawn from worldly concerns. No matter what happened around him, he never looked up. On my way I talked with villagers nearby. They told me, “He doesn’t talk to anyone or look at anyone; he doesn’t even eat. This is the third month he has been in the same place without getting up. We have never seen such a man.” This state is called ajagar-vritti, which means “python’s tendency.” Just as a python remains in a dormant state for a long time, some sages do not move for many days, but remain in a deep state of meditation.

When I went to see him he was lying on a hillock under a banyan tree, smiling, with his eyes closed, as though he were a lord of the universe. He never wore anything, whether it was summer, winter, or the rainy season. His skin appeared weatherproof, like that of an elephant. He did not own a thing, but he was utterly content.

When I first saw him lying that way, I thought, “At least he should have a little decency.” Then I thought, “My master told me to visit him, and I know that my master would not waste my time. I am only seeing his body.” I touched his feet, as according to our custom, when we touch the feet of great men, they bless us.

He was not sensitive to external stimuli; he was somewhere else. Three or four times I said, “Hello, sir; how are you?” But he did not respond. There was no movement, no answer. Then I started massaging his feet. When our teachers are tired we often do that. I thought he would be pleased, but he kicked me.

I decided that perhaps my master sent me to him to teach him a lesson.

That kick was so strong that I was thrown backward all the way down the hill, which was quite steep, and into a lake below. I fell against many trees and rocks on the way down and ended up with many painful bruises. I was vindictive. “What reason has he to do this? I came to him in reverence, started massaging his feet—and he kicked me! He’s not a sage. I’ll teach him; I’ll break both his legs! I’ll give him double what he gave me!” I really wanted to retaliate. I decided that perhaps my master sent me to him to teach him a lesson.
When I returned to the hill to vent my anger, he was sitting up and smiling. He said, “How are you, son?”

I said, “How am l? After kicking me and knocking me down the hill, you’re asking how I am?”

He said, “Your master told you to master four things, and instead you have destroyed one. I kicked you to test your control of anger. Now you are so angry that you cannot learn anything here. You are not tranquil. You are still very immature. You don’t follow the spiritual teaching of your master, who is so selfless. What could you possibly learn from me? You are not prepared for my teachings. Go away!”

Nobody had ever talked to me like that. When I thought about what he said, I realized that it was true; I was completely possessed by my anger.

He asked, “Do you know why we touch the feet of a sage?” Then he recited something beautiful, a Persian belief: “A sage gives the best part of his life, surrendering it at the lotus feet of the Lord. People ordinarily recognize you only by your face—but the face of the sage is not here; it is with his Lord. People find only feet here, so they bow to the feet.”

He said, “You should have that humility when touching someone’s feet. Now you cannot stay here. You will have to go.” I wept and thought, “A few days ago I thought I was perfect, but surely I am not.” Then I said, “Sir, I will come back to you when I have really conquered my ego.” And I departed.

All the kicks and blows of life teach us something.

All the kicks and blows of life teach us something. No matter whence they come, they are blessings in disguise if we but learn their lesson. Buddha said, “For a wise man, there is nothing to be called bad. Any adversity of life provides a step for his growth, provided he knows how to utilize it.”

I visited another swami and determined that no matter what he did, I would not get angry. He had a beautiful farm. He said, “I’ll give you this farm. Would you like it?” I said, “Of course.”

He smiled. “Your master told you not to be attached, and yet you are very quick to tie yourself to a farm.” I felt very small. My mind seemed bent toward anger and attachment and not toward higher things.

Later I was sent to still another swami. He knew that I was coming. There was a small natural fountain on the way where we used to go and wash. He left some gold coins there. I stopped there and I found three of them. For a second I entertained the thought of picking them up. I did so and tucked them inside my loincloth. Then I reconsidered: “But these coins are not mine. Why do I need them? This is not good.” I put them back.

When I went to the swami, he was annoyed. I bowed before him and he said, “Why did you pick up the coins? Do you still have lust for gold? Get out. This is not the place for you.”

I protested, “But I left them there.”

He said, “You left them later on. The problem is that you were attracted to them and picked them up in the first place.”

From the experiences that these sages gave me I began to realize the difference between book knowledge and experiential knowledge. I began to see my many weaknesses, and I did not find it pleasant. Finally I returned to my master. He asked, “What have you learned?”

“I have learned that I have intellectual knowledge, but I do not behave in accord with that knowledge.”

He said, “This is the problem all intellectuals have. They become overly proud of their knowledge. Now I will teach you how to practice, so that you will know.”

Real knowledge is found not in knowing but rather in being.

The knowledge we have needs to be brought into daily life. If this is not done, the knowledge remains limited within the boundaries of knowing only. We all know what to do and what not to do, but it is very difficult to learn how to be. Real knowledge is found not in knowing but rather in being.

Source: Living with the Himalayan Masters by Swami Rama

Further Reading

Living with the Himalayan Masters

Swami Rama

“I will tell you how I grew up and how I was trained, about the great sages with whom I lived and what they taught me, not through lectures and books but through experiences.” —Swami Rama

About the Teacher

Swami Rama

One of the greatest adepts, teachers, writers, and humanitarians of the 20th century, Swami Rama (1925–1996) is the founder of the Himalayan Institute. Born in northern India, he was raised from early childhood by the Himalayan sage, Bengali Baba. Under the guidance of his master, he traveled from monastery to monastery and studied with a variety of Himalayan saints and sages, including his grandmaster, who was living in a remote region of Tibet. In addition to this intense spiritual training, Swami Rama received higher education in both India and Europe. From 1949 to 1952, he held the prestigious position of Shankaracharya of Karvirpitham in South India. Thereafter, he returned to his master to receive further training at his cave monastery, and finally, in 1969, came to the United States, where he founded the Himalayan Institute. His best-known work, Living with the Himalayan Masters, reveals the many facets of this singular adept and demonstrates his embodiment of the living tradition of the East.

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