These twenty-five beautifully illustrated tales capture the mystery, the enchantment, and the profound spiritual learning that is India. Drawn from the great Indian epics-the Puranas, the Upanishads, and the Mahabharata-as well as from the author's own remarkable life, these tales put ageless Indian wisdom into the form of stories that will delight young and old alike.
Storytelling has always been the way that India's holy men taught their students the vital lessons of life. Stories provide a living environment for the lessons they impart, and they can convey sophisticated concepts in simple language. Abounding with powerful kings, scheming gods, and wise mystics, The Monkeys and the Mango Tree can be read as an exotic Aesop's Fables, as a source of classic wisdom, or as a simple and memorable introduction to the stories of the most spiritual civilization on earth.
Harish Johari is a scholar, artist, and composer who has studied with many of the great saints of India and has been one of the lead-ing figures responsible for introducing the culture of his homeland to the West. He is the author of many books, including Chakras, Ayurvedic Massage, The Healing Cuisine, Breath, Mind, and Consciousness, and The Birth of the Ganga.
storytelling is as old as the story of humanity itself. Every life is a story, and every story has a hidden message-a teaching. The saints, sadhus, and spiri-tual teachers of India have always used stories to explain concepts that words alone could not adequately convey. Stories captivate the lis-tener emotionally as well as intellectually, providing a vivid environment in which teachings can come to life. Many of the stories in this collection were told to me by saints dur-ing the past half-century. Others are from the classic Hindu religious texts-the Puranas, Upanishads, and the famous scripture called the Mahabharata. These stories are ancient, but never become old. They reappear in different times and places-even different cultures-and in different forms, but their essence always remains the same. No one person can claim their authorship and so I do not say that these are my stories; they are eternal wisdom in story form, and I am their vessel.
To understand the wisdom within these stories it helps to understand the place of saints in Hindu life. The English word "saint" is derived from the Sanskrit word "sant," a combination of three sounds: sa, na, and ta. Sa stands for "santosh," which means contentment; na implies "namrita," meaning humility; and ta refers to "tyaga," renunciation. Thus, a saint is one who is content and humble and has renounced the world of physical pleasures. Renunciation occurs because the saint has learned that the purpose of life is to attain enlightenment, to have a face-to-face realization of Truth. He no longer has an interest in the illusory material world because total personal freedom can only be obtained by freeing oneself from the chains of earthly desires, thereby achieving unity of thought and action. Saints use many tools to help them achieve this freedom. Fasting, observing vows of silence or celibacy, sleeping less, chanting mantras, and performing breathing exercises all serve to disconnect the aspirant from the outer world, allowing more time to be devoted to the treasure inside. Saints who have renounced all material attachments, including that of a home, and wander the countryside, surviving on alms, are known as sadhus.
Detachment from the world of desires gives saints a unique role in Hindu culture. They exist outside the social hierarchy of the caste system. In fact, when an individual is initiated as a saint his family must perform funerary rites and rituals, as if he had died. A saint does not discriminate between high and low, rich and poor, pure and impure-everything is part of the same divine energy. This has allowed saints to exist as the traditional spiritual advisers of kings.
While saints take no interest in the world itself, they are quite interested in helping others to find the right path.
This, in fact, is their reason for being. Just as sympathetic vibration can carry over from one musical instrument to another, the inner peace and clarity of a saint can affect other beings, helping them to realize their own divine nature. Attachment to our senses keeps us from realizing this, and we become stuck in a cycle of reincarnation that continues life after life in a futile attempt to fulfill never-ending desires, until ego is finally destroyed. We are all moving toward enlightenment, and every lifetime holds the promise that some extraordinary event or effort will allow us to reach it. Saints, who have found the way and no longer labor on the path, help point the rest of us in the right direction.
Guiding others, however, is not always an easy task, as you will see in this collection. It is extremely difficult to destroy the ego and achieve inner stillness. I myself was an atheist and an empiricist, trusting only the truth that I could verify through my senses. The product of a well-reputed university, I was armed with many facts about the modern world. I had no respect for uneducated saints, who knew nothing of the modern world. I viewed them as parasites who did not contribute to society.
Bolstered by my master's degree in philosophy, I visited a saint to test my knowledge against his. In no time at all he made clear what I had not learned during my entire university experience-that everything I thought I knew and could explain with "real-world" examples I did not truly know. All I had done was memorize information and manipulate it in my head. Deep inside I had known I was a hypocrite all along. This encounter changed my life, and I decided to devote myself to achieving true awareness. In the good company of saints I learned to be humble, patient, and true in word, deed, and thought. I came to understand that the best way to educate is to become an embodiment of the living teachings.
And the next best way is to embody the living teachings in stories.
As ship captains need lighthouses to find safe channels and harbors at night, so we need saints and their teaching stories to serve as beacons in the darkness, guiding us along paths that are far from clear. Humans are quite complex beings: born free, but everywhere in chains. We need models who have tamed the tiger of the mind and who, by living, teach. This is why India has always accepted the institution of saints. Living models of purity, service, devotion, harmony, and faith, they do not contribute to society in material ways but work on a higher level for humanity at large.
Every Indian knows that not everyone who dresses in saffron robes is a saint, not every person who embraces hardships is wise. Many criminals and beggars disguise themselves as saints to gain the goodwill of the populace, as do others who think they can survive on handouts by using such disguises. This has always been a drain on the social and economic health of India. But anyone whose eyes are truly open can easily distinguish a true saint from an impostor, for real saints have a calming effect on all beings, birds and beasts as well as humans. As it is said in a famous scripture, in the dwelling place of a saint the lions and goats drink water on the same beach.
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