Test the waters – Lessons from my Dad

Buddhist meditation in Wat Khung Taphao,Ban Kh...

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“I think I’ll just study the scriptures, meditate and focus on things spiritual.” My dad must have been in his late thirties or mid-forties when he said this to his father-in-law. To the latter’s credit, he did not tumble out of his wheel chair nor sputter and scream at my dad. “That’s a very good aspiration, Kuppuswamy,” was his response.

My dad was recounting how he went through a phase, when he was just plain tired of the rat race— all the traveling, business headaches, dealing with debtors and I suspect a fair amount of family drama—given our joint family, truant nephews and nieces and all the financial responsibilities that came with it.

My grandfather continued, “I’m happy to hear that you are thinking of studying the scriptures and focusing on matters spiritual. Let me help you. Why don’t I arrange a teacher to come to your house, early in the morning, so that before you leave for work you can begin studying the scriptures. Once you’ve done it for six months, you can quit your job and do this full time.”

My dad was greatly overjoyed. I’m not sure if he expected his father-in-law to accept what he was contemplating, let alone to actually help him with it. So indeed as my grandfather had promised, the purohit, a Brahmin teacher complete with shaved head and bare upper body showed up at 5AM the following Monday at my father’s place.

That first day they began with a simple recital of the sloka to the guru (hymn to the teacher). The following day they started with the Purusha Suktam, from the Rig Veda which seeks to explain the origin of the Universe. And on to the third morning. On the fourth morning my father had to leave for Nagpur on an unplanned business trip for several days. The following week, I think he managed to squeeze in two classes before another trip to Delhi. The week after he had to head out on a week long trip overseas. So the classes got fewer and farther. The purohit was persistent but polite. By month two my dad’s travel schedule pretty much precluded any classes. At the beginning of month three, my grandfather let my father know that when his schedule permitted more time, the purohit would return. Nothing further was said and my father never raised the matter of giving up things material and focusing on the spiritual!

For both my dad and me, there were two lessons packed into this one story. When he first approached my grandfather, he was clear in his mind what he wanted to do and was convinced that he should do it immediately and wholeheartedly. My grandfather of course convinced him to test the waters first – which obviously was a good thing. It was not my dad’s travel schedule that kept him from the lessons and his onward spiritual journey – it was that his desire to give up on everything was a passing fancy, a possible reaction to a stressful period, rather than a deeply felt life goal. And thanks to my grandfather he had neither burnt his bridges by resigning his job or caused immense worry to his family by seemingly losing interest in matters of the world.

The more useful lesson, particularly as a parent, was not to react to anything, however insane sounding, with visceral opposition as sometimes my wife and I do with our teen daughters, but to listen, even agree and demonstrate through action that what’s contemplated might not be the best course of action.

My grandfather despite being wheelchair-bound was a jujitsu master par excellence, pulling when pushed and pushing when pulled.

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