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Thursday, November 24, 2005

Imprisoned Body, Liberated Soul

Here's another excerpt from "The Speaking Tree" from the Times of India, and I thought that it was a rather nice story. The usual formats seem to be the straightforward articles, or beginning with a question, or even a straightforward article with a bit of a story...but this was all story. And it was a pretty good story too, I thought. Some of the best lessons in life have been taught through the use of stories...and having said that, the Parables come to mind. But here's one that I thought was nice. It may sound a bit like something from Amar Chitra Katha, but that's the kind of thing that I grew up on...so it's all good, is what I was trying to say.

How Imprisonment Became A Revealing Experience
By Devendra Uppal

A hermit in contemplation, unaware of the arrival of the king, did not stand up in his honour. The king was angry and upset. How could the hermit insult the king? As punishment he ordered indefinite confinement for the hermit. The hermit tried in vain to explain that he was in deep introspection and so he could not notice the entry of the king. But the haughty ruler remained unconvinced.

After a few days in jail the hermit was summoned by the king. The king asked him, "Do you realise the might of the state now?"

The calm and happy hermit replied: "I am better off here in gaol as I am able to concentrate on my goal undisturbed."

The emperor was taken aback. He was mystified by the happiness of the hermit. The mendicant was sent back to prison. Again, after an interval of a few days the king called for him and asked: "Haven't you learnt something about the honour of the king by now?"

"Sir, please keep me here for some time more, I am closer to my destination," replied the hermit.

Surprised, the king asked, "What is the mystery behind your mirth?"

The sage said, "I am grateful to you because in the wordly circumstances around me I wasfinding it difficult to travel within. In this world, there are two types of actions or karmas: Shreya and preya. Shreya is what we should do for attaining liberation and preya leads us to worldly pleasures of a transitory nature. You have given me ample opportunity here to shun preya and adapt shreya in the loneliness of the cell."

The king asked the hermit to elaborate. The hermit said, "In confinement I am getting everything which otherwise was a bit difficult to achieve. The circumstances in prison are conducive to my search. I have seen a universe within. On the first day of my imprisonment I observed the branch of a green plant hanging inside a slit in the cell. It revealed the truth of creation to me through the cycle of seed, germination, growth, flowering and decay. Teh guard noticed my love for the plant and closed the window. The next morning I turned the direction of my gaze and found vigour and link with the cosmos through the rays coming from a hole in the cell. Even this was denied to me by the guard. Then I sang songs in His praise. The gaoler disallowed the singing of psalms. In the continual silence I went deep into my soul and found eternal light, unending space and the truth and mystery of existence. My mortal body was in gaol, but my soul was identifying itself with every atom of the universe. O king, I bow to thee, you have opened the path of my salvation. I owe this emanciapation to you."

The king, begging pardon, fell at the feet of the hermit and released him. Transformed, the king became the follower of the hermit. He requested the enlightened sage to spread his message to the people and opened the state coffers to spread the spiritual message to every nook and corner of his kingdom.

I found the whole concept of being imprisoned and using that time to 'rehabilitate' oneself was being misinterpreted in the world today. I don't know, and I've never been to jail/gaol, but the idea of putting someone behind bars is to allow them the time to think about their actions...or the wrongness of their actions, as it were. But for those of us who've seen movies like Shawshank Redemption, which is a brilliant movie, by the way, we know that things are not really this way. Sure, there have been plenty of movies about despotic prison wardens, and still more movies about life in jail and all that. And then there's the whole bit about executions and capital punishment...The Green Mile...damn, what a movie! Anyway, the point I'm trying to make is, it's either that the people in prison don't know how to 'rehabilitate' themselves, or the jailers/wardens don't want them to know how to do this because then it would mean less business for them, or something. But even this is institutionalized, if you care to remember scenes of Morgan Freeman from Shawshank Redemption appearing before the parole board and getting rejcted several times before making his speech about being 'rehabilitated'. It's quite a classic, so please check it out.

But the fact remains, and it seems to be a conundrum of sorts. Jails get fuller every day, people get executed in various ways, shapes, and forms ("Six million ways to die. Choose one."), there are prison breakouts and riots every now and again... So what about all the people in prisons around the world realizing the error of their ways? I don't know...seems like they're still working on it, eh?
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