Divine Qualities (Part 24)

Forbearance (Continued)

Forbearance in Practice

Forbearance is a divine quality that is related to the will. Our capacity to bear the inevitable ups and downs of life is proportional to the strength and purity of our will. The will is usually held captive by desires in the mind. To make it free to grow strong and pure, we need to be regular with our spiritual practices, stop identifying with the mind, and assert our independence as the Atman. We should practice this always, not just at the time of meditation.

Challenges for Forbearance

There are many situations in life that call for forbearance. We shall examine some of them.

Physical afflictions

Sri Krishna teaches in the Bhagavad Gita (2.14): "Notions of heat and cold, of pain and pleasure, arise, O son of Kunti, only from contact of the senses with their objects. They come and go; they are impermanent. Endure them."

While braving heat and cold is a challenge, it is more difficult to bear the sufferings of the body. Usually people pray to God to be rid of their diseases. The prayer is not bad in itself, since it gives them a chance to think of God, albeit momentarily. Vedanta teaches that all bodies without exception pass through six stages: birth, objective existence, growth, transformation, decay, and, finally, death. Diseases, which are inevitable, signal the decay of the body.

Toward the end of his life, when one day Sri Ramakrishna was lying in bed, suffering from throat cancer, his disciple Hari (later Swami Turiyananda) approached him and asked, "Sir, how are you?" Sri Ramakrishna replied, "Oh, I am in great pain. I cannot eat anything, and there is unbearable burning in my throat." But Hari was not fooled. The more Sri Ramakrishna complained, the clearer it became to Hari that his teacher was testing him. Finally, no longer able to control himself, he burst out: "Sir, whatever you may say, I see you as an infinite ocean of bliss." At this, Sri Ramakrishna said to himself with a smile, "This rascal has found me out!" Sri Ramakrishna taught by his life: "Let the body be preoccupied with illness, but, O mind, dwell forever in God's bliss." When someone asked Sri Ramakrishna to pray to the Divine Mother to be cured of cancer, he said that he could never utter such a prayer: the mind that had been given to God could not be made to dwell on the body.

Doctors treating Sri Ramakrishna had forbidden him to speak since that would aggravate his cancer. Yet until the very end Sri Ramakrishna continued to teach people how to live a God-centered life and how to realize Him in this very life. He said, "Let me be born over and over again if I can be of help to a single soul."

Disease being inevitable, it is much wiser to pray to God for devotion and strength of mind than for alleviation of suffering. Referring to his master's teaching, Swami Turiyananda would urge his students to be regular with spiritual practices whether the body was well or ill.

"In old age one's physical and mental strength are weakened," says Holy Mother. "Is that the time for any struggle? Look at our boys here now; they have turned their minds to God in their youth. This is right, this is the proper time. My son, your prayers and meditations must be accomplished now, in your youth. Do you think you will be able to do anything later?"

Part 25

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