(photo: Mahatma Gandhi)

If our aim is great, then our obstacles will also be very big. Always remember that without suffering we can never achieve anything great. That’s why I always say that the bigger the pain, the bigger the gain. No pain, no gain. Pain builds up a lot of strength in you. When you want to develop your bicep muscle, you use resistance training. As you bend the arm you also resist the movement, and the more you resist the stronger the muscle becomes. If you simply move the arm slowly and carefully, the muscle will never develop. It is exactly like that in our lives. Difficulties should come, to make you strong. That is nature’s way of doing things. If you dig a hole, place a seed and just leave it there, do you think it will grow? No. You have to cover it up with soil and only then will the seed put forth the energy to come up through the soil and germinate. We need some amount of resistance to bring our energy forward. If everything always goes smoothly, you become spoiled. Hardships are part and parcel of growing. Whether it is the case of an individual, a community, or a nation, the same truth applies. So never give up!

As long as your pursuit is the right one—honest and selfless—you will continue to have all the strength that you need because you are getting it from a different source, from a higher level. That higher source will also give you enough courage. If you depend only on your own strength, very soon you will feel that you can’t go on, can’t do anymore. That’s when you learn to communicate with the higher source.

It’s easy to say, “Oh yes, I have faith, I trust in a Higher Power.” But where is the proof? How are you going to prove it? To make you prove your conviction, obstacles should come. The only time you can prove your strength is when things are tough. Life is like that. And, even more tests will come when you call yourself a spiritual student or seeker. If you don’t claim to be a sincere spiritual aspirant, there is no need to prove it. If you read any story of any of the well-known spiritual teachers, saints and sages, their common experience is that they all have paid a big price and proved to the world that their faith is unshakeable.

There is a Tamil story about facing difficulties that inspired Mahatma Gandhi to take the lifelong vow of satya, or truthfulness. An argument between two sadhus (spiritual seekers) occurred when the king that they both served asked, “Is there any completely honest person in all the worlds? One of the sadhus responded, “Well as far as I know, there is a king like that by the name Harishchandra. He is completely honest. No one has ever made him tell a lie.” The other sadhu felt jealous that he did not come up with an answer and  thought to himself, I have to defeat him, make him wrong. So he said, “Stop that nonsense, I’m going to make you a liar by making Harishchandra tell a lie.”

This sadhu then disguised himself as a gambler because, in those days, all the kings loved to gamble. So he asked Harishchandra to come and gamble and was using all the tricks he could think of to make the king lose each game. One by one, Harishchandra lost absolutely everything he owned. Harishchandra said, “Well, I have lost everything and I don’t mind. The thing that is most precious to me is honesty. I’m not going to lose that. I cannot gamble with that.” There was a big list of every single thing he lost, but he refused to lose his honesty. The sadhu then proclaimed, “Get out of here! You no longer even have a country. Leave!” So, Harishchandra walked out and had to go and work for someone. His wife and young son had to also go somewhere to find work so they were all separated. Harishchandra found a job as a cremation ground caretaker and his wife ended up working for food and board for a rich family somewhere.

The sadhu still felt defeated because he had not made Harishchandra tell a lie. He decided to give Harishchandra even more hardship. Being a great sadhu with many siddhis (powers), he took the form of a snake and when the son was out collecting some firewood, the snake bit him and the boy died. The mother found the boy and after lamenting, realized she would have to bring him to the cremation ground herself. She had no money to pay for the cremation and so she collected her own firewood.

As she was about to set fire, the watchman came and said, “You can’t do that because this wood belongs to my boss. And I’m in charge. Whoever cremates has to pay one dollar for my boss and 25 cents to me.

She said, “Sorry, I have no money.”

He said, “I feel sorry for you so I will renounce my 25 cents but still you must give a dollar to my boss. Go get some money.”

(photo: from the story of Harishchandra at the cremation ground.)

She began pleading when he noticed something and said, “Oh, young lady, you say you have nothing, but I see a golden chain with a pendant around your neck. Why can’t you pawn that and get some money?”

She was shocked. Her husband, Harishchandra had been given a boon that when a special golden pendent was worn around his wife’s neck, nobody but he would be able to see it! She cried, “My gosh, what have I done? How can an ordinary fellow who is the cremation ground caretaker see this pendant? How can you see this?”

Then he asked, “Who are you?” She replied, “I am the wife of Harishchandra.” At that moment, they both realized the situation and cried.

But still, he said, “I must do my job. You have to get money somewhere.”

Because of the powers he possessed, the jealous sadhu was aware of all that was going on and appeared saying, “I will give everything back to you if you will just tell me one lie.”

“No sir, it’s impossible for me to lie. What more is there to lose ? I have lost everything and honesty is the only thing I still have.”

At that point, the sadhu said, “I give up, I’m sorry. There is nothing wrong with you. This is all because of my terrible  jealousy. I have to go back and acknowledge my defeat. I am returning everything that you lost. Go home with your wife and son.“

When Mahatma Gandhi heard his mother tell this story, right then and there he vowed to be just like Harishchandra. The story shows that when you take a vow, tests have to come. Whatever it is, if tests don’t come, it should make you doubtful. You should suspect that tough hardships will come and when they come, just say, “Yes, I expected that and I will face it.” That’s where you learn to become strong. Life is like that. I know that everyone has experienced a little bit of this because it is a common universal truth. Challenges will be there. People who dig gold bring truckloads of ore and after cleaning and crushing and filtering everything out of one big load, if they get one small grain of pure gold, they are happy. The person who knows the worth of all that work will do the work and never give up. That’s what God is trying to do with us. There is a little bit of gold in every one of us but there is also a lot of crude ore. God is working hard, rubbing and crushing, and wouldn’t do it if there is no gold. The fact that God is working so hard is because God knows that ultimately there will be a little gold. The fact that you are in trouble—crushed and crumbled—is because you seem to have a little gold and somebody is searching for it. That Self, that little pure image of God in you wants to be brought out.

The scriptures say “Blessed are those who suffer” because the kingdom of heaven belongs to them. Life is like that. Business is like that. Our one and only business is ultimately to reveal our true gold. But, you cannot do it by yourself and so you allow the unseen hand to provide some hardships. And when they come, smile at them. Think, Yes, I know, you are coming to help me; to clean me up.    

By Sri Swami Satchidananda