Character Protects Life Essay

A talk given by Shri Parthasarathi Rajagopalachari
on 7th January, 2004 at the Youth Meeting in Babuji Memorial Ashram, Manapakkam INDIA

Master: So what do you want to hear from me?

Abhyasi: What you expect the youth to do…

Master: I don't expect the youth to do anything. I can only say what youth should be doing. Youth should not be doing what they think they should be doing (laughter)-Number One. You know people think that youth is a time for enjoyment.

(A few abhyasis request Master to speak in Tamil.)

Master: Most people understand English. I have to speak for the majority.

That is, in our youth, we should not be doing what we want to do. "No sir, I am still young. It's time for me to enjoy..."-that is incorrect. Suppose you plant brinjals or plantains in your garden, and they stay unripened, what would you do? Or if they rot before ripening? It would be of no use. So only when it ripens into a vegetable can we eat it, isn't it? Therefore, youth is a time for preparation.

Preparation-in what way? First is, education in the family, which is natural. Listen to your parents, honour them, respect them, most of all, love them. Of course, I hope your parents are all good parents, who will give you the proper guidance, because sadly, in modern life, parental guidance is lacking. And when they do guide you, they guide you in the wrong direction of ambition rather than aspiration.

You know the difference between ambition and aspiration? Ambition is perasai [greed], aspiration means munnetratukku oru abhilasai, oru asai [a desire for progress, a wish]-progress, not in your profession, but in education, in spirituality. Ranking first does not imply growth in education, because in any class, there can be only one top ranker. To say that he is the only one to have progressed is not correct. Success is about maximizing my learning in one field and mastering it to the extent possible-that is my goal. Not to come first-to educate myself is the goal. There are lots of people who were top rankers but are now nowhere to be found.

Successful people are people who never went to the top of the ladder, but learnt enough to manage. If you fall in water, you should know how to swim. You needn't be an Olympic swimmer.

"No, no sir, I want to get the Olympic gold medal."

"Why?"

"So that if I fall in water, I should be able to get out."

You don't need an Olympic gold for that; it's enough to know how to swim.

So, one must pay attention to academics; one must also pay attention to physical exercise. Both are essential. If one has a developed mind but an under-developed body, and is bed-ridden, what is the use? We are not philosophers, are we? We have many duties to fulfill-earn a living, get married, have children, take care of the family etc. So development of the body and mind are basic essentials.

The third aspect is spiritual development. There's training for this too, right from childhood. How? The Mission prayer has to be said in the morning and at night. It should be offered only once in the morning. Only once. One should not shout it out. (Gestures remembering the prayer with eyes closed.) Over. Before going to bed -last activity, after the movie, after the tiff with the parents, (laughter), after drinking milk, sit and recite the prayer once and go to sleep with that thought, in that remembrance. So this is the main thing.

Development of body, mind and character-if we lose any of these three, we are incomplete. So we should give enough time for sports…not for watching them on television. Playing cricket is far better than watching it on television. What is the use of him (the cricketer) scoring a century? Whenever I wield the bat, I sprain my back, I sprain my wrist, and then I need to visit the doctor. Therefore my participation is essential, not by looking but by doing. Understand? So, half an hour daily-going out in the open, and playing football or hockey or catch for ten to fifteen minutes refreshes the mind too. And one also goes back to study with a rejuvenated interest. If you remain seated at the desk all the time, what would you be called? A bookworm. Even that is of no use. Neither should we neglect the former, nor the latter.

Two wings of a bird-that is what Sahaj Marg philosophy says. Body, mind-both benefit the soul, isn't it? There is a proverb which says, only a healthy mind can sustain a healthy body. If one's mind is riddled with worries and tension, health is gradually lost-depression, as they say these days; promptly, medicine and a five hundred rupee bill. A person who is preoccupied can never be depressed. Only an idle man can get depressed, isn't it? When you are always busy, how can you be depressed?

So, growth of body, mind and soul must occur simultaneously. And there is an opportunity and a method for spiritual training, right in childhood. What is that? Reading the Puranas for half an hour, studying the life history of great personalities like Ramakrishna Paramhamsa, Vivekananda, Babuji Maharaj, Lalaji, always speaking the truth.

"Did you study today?"

"No, Dad, I did not."

"Why not?"

"I didn't feel like it."

"So will you study from tomorrow?"

"Yes I will."

So what should you do the next day? You must study, because you have promised to study. I am the beneficiary in a promise. There is no point in making a promise to please your father. I can bring peace, happiness and bliss to my parents only if my behaviour, my character, my activities at school and college, lead to my individual growth.

"Look at my son, sir. He goes to Mahabalipuram under the pretext of going to school. He gets phone calls from strange places. Teachers at school ask why he hasn't come for seven days. But he says he goes to school." Because lots of students have told me this, especially girls, which is something really sad. They go to college, keep their books, and go off to Mahabalipuram with their boyfriends. And they return at five in the evening, pick up their books and get back home with such an innocent look, as if nothing has happened.

"Lakshmi…"

"I am very tired, Mom."

Of course she would be tired. Who knows what she would have done at Mahabalipuram? All this has to be given up. It feels good to have boyfriends now. A girl once told me, "I like lovers' quarrels." I said, "As a girl, you get involved in lovers' quarrels, and what is the end result?" Unwanted pregnancy, isn't it? Don't feel bad that I am talking very frankly. I am here only because you called me here to talk.

"Pen kettaa kulame kettu pochu" [If the girl goes astray, the repute of the family is lost.] The Bhagavad Gita says, the character of a nation lies in the hands of its women. "Sthrishu dushtashu varshneya jayate varnasankaraha," [If women get corrupted, society gets corrupted] said Lord Krishna. Women are the protectors of our culture, of our morality, of our tradition. If they go astray, there is no hope for society. So especially for girls, all this is addressed. You will have all the boyfriends you want when you marry a good man. He will be your boyfriend, he will be your lover, he will be your romance, he will be your protector, he will be your provider, he will be the father of your children-legitimate, legal, religious.

Nowadays you see advertisements on buses-it is extremely embarrassing. The fact that all this is required in a country must make us realize how degraded this nation has become. Because unless it is necessary, why would they display it? I am not very proficient in Tamil…there were a couple of Tamil speaking girls with me. When I asked them about an advertisement on the bus, they turned red with embarrassment. How would they say it openly? Only when I saw them blushing, I understood what it was.

This is the state of affairs in our society today. We should not get lured by all this, because all these are temptations. You see the movies, you see half naked dances, songs have double meaning lyrics. Isn't it? Why do we need to see them? I was really glad when an eighteen-year-old girl informed me, when I asked her, that she hadn't watched any movies for the past ten years. I asked her the reason. She replied, "They are not worth watching. You would only get corrupted if you watch them."

Stop going to the movies. Stop watching serials on televisions. Utilize that time in studies, or playing carom, or even fighting with your father-even that is fine, but don't indulge in unwarranted activities.

In India, the ancient culture, the ancient tradition, says that the character of a nation is in the hands of its women. Where the women go astray, that society goes astray. It is degraded; it falls. And in no time at all, there is no society left. I don't say it; Lord Krishna said it in the Bhagavad Gita. So women must be protectors, cherishers, guardians of the real values of life. That is why in the Veda it says, "Matru devo bhava"-first. Not pita [father], not acharya [teacher], not guru, nobody. "Matru devo bhava"-think of your mother as a goddess. Because she protected herself, she saved her character, she saved her chastity, her morality, until she found the right man to whom to give herself. Therefore you are a legitimate child. Don't you owe it to your mother to preserve that culture and tradition, and go pure, unsullied, uncorrupted in body and mind to your husband? Shouldn't you do it? If your father gives you a Ganesh vigraham [idol] of mud, worth eight annas [half a rupee], don't you protect it, and take it to your married home and say, "My mother gave it to me when I was five years old." We are able to protect a mud toy and carry it from age six to age seventy-two, until you die, because your mother gave it. But all the lessons your mother gave, the teachings that your mother gave, about the need to preserve your character, not to go flirting with boys, not to watch lewd television programs or cinemas, go to school and come back...are we doing it? "No, no sir, my mother is old-fashioned."

So what does old-fashioned mean? That she only had one man in her life, but you must have three? So you are modern. And this modern danger you know, which is a craze-of the Internet. Girls chatting with boys they have never met, going to meet boys they don't know anything about, probably getting raped. It has happened two or three times. A girl who knows nothing about life, too innocent to know what a boy can do to her, starts chatting on the Internet, becomes friends. One day he says, "Honey, why don't we meet?" Hne, y u & I meet…? (spells it out). "Where?" she replies. And an address is given, she goes. Probably she comes back safe, chances are she will not come back as she went. So you see, all these things, boys must avoid, girls also must avoid-girls must avoid like poison.

There is no use coming to Youth Meetings to talk about, you know, Schwarzenegger, and how wonderful Sripriya acted, or how wonderful Srilaksmi looks, or how beautiful Sridevi is. You must come prepared to listen to bitter truths, necessary truths, truths which you must practice in your life, under penalty of losing your character, and your life. Remember, character lost, is not easily regained. Reputation lost is never regained. Once you have got a name attached… "That girl…?" If someone points you out like that, your character is sealed. "Oh, you can see her at all sorts of places." It's very tempting when you are young. "You are beyond compare. Your eyes are like Sridevi's, your nose is like Srilakshmi's…" "Really? Uh-huh?"

So what else do you want to hear? I think I have said enough, isn't it? Have I not said enough or you want to listen to some more?

Abhyasis: Some more…

Master: You know, I find one very funny thing-our girls who go abroad to study, are more careful than our girls who remain in India. Because when they go abroad, they know that in foreign countries, there is going to be temptation, there's going to be this that and the other; they are very self- protective. Here they think because it's our own land…A Telugu girl, approached by a Telugu boy, says,

"Mana vaallu. yemi baadhaka ledandi" [our people only, so no problem.]

"Yemi baadha ledante yenti?" [How can it be okay?]

Just because he belongs to your own culture and your own language, you know…it makes it easier. So always behave as if you are in a foreign land. We are in a foreign land, this world is not our original home; it is somewhere else. This is a foreign country. We are all foreigners. We must behave with respect and, much more, with self- respect. I am what I am. I shall remain what I am, under any circumstance. This promise, you must make to yourself. There is no use making this promise to your father, or your teacher, or to me. You are the person who is most concerned with keeping your promise to yourself. If you don't do it, you will regret it. Father and mother may weep for three days, four days.

I remember seeing a movie, Arangetram, long ago, where there is probably a purohit [priest] family, father and mother with six or seven daughters, one son. Purohits don't earn enough. This girl went to Hyderabad, tempted by an offer of job, and she became a prostitute. She didn't know what it was. She was trapped into becoming one. Once she got into it, there was no escape. But she started sending money home. Cycle for the eldest sister, saree for Deepavali, until one day, the mother began to suspect, "How can my daughter earn so much?" She then goes to Hyderabad, and finds this is what her daughter is doing. And you know what they did? They were not grateful to that girl who sold herself to keep her family alive. They cut her off. "Damn you..." They sent her out.

So you see how and why girls have to be absolutely on the straight and narrow path all the time. There is no question of holiday for one day.

There was this boy in my office whom I sent abroad to Korea for a month and a half. He was an abhyasi. On returning he said, "Can I have six months of leave from Sahaj Marg?" I asked, "Why?" "Sir, these South Korean girls are extremely beautiful." Why would you need leave from Sahaj Marg? Because you cannot indulge in all this when we are in Sahaj Marg.

So Sahaj Marg is a protection. It is like building a compound wall around your house. Character is a protection around your life. Lose the character, life is lost. It is open to anybody to shoot at you, to destroy you. Understood?

I have told you very specifically, very exactly, without pulling any punches, what youth has to face in today's world.

Temptation for money, for position, for wealth-this is how it all starts. Avoid all temptations, and you will be good, you will grow, you will be respectable and you will be happy. Thank you.

The following Graduation Writing Proficiency Examination essays were written by HSU students during a regularly scheduled GWPE.  Except for the elimination of cross-outs, the essays are reproduced here exactly as written.  Insofar as possible, the essays were chosen to represent the entire range of possible scores.  (No essay received a score of One on Essay Topic I.)  The majors represented by the authors of these essays are, in alphabetical order, Art, Biology, Business Administration, Environmental Resources Engineering, Fisheries, Geography, Geology, Industrial Arts, and Resource Planning and Interpretation.

Personal-Experience Essay Prompt

You have 45 minutes to write on the following topic.

A distinguished essayist once wrote: "Some books are to be tasted, others to be swallowed, and some few to be chewed and digested."

Write an essay in which you:

  1. Describe a book that has strongly affected you.
  2. Explain how your reading of this book changed your outlook.
  3. Tell why you think this book had such a profound effect on you.
Sample Essay Score:  Six

During my third year of college I became acutely aware of the Womens Rights Issue.  I made an attempt to re-examine many of the cultural norms that I had previously accepted as just being "the natural order of things."  One of the paths I took to expand my awareness of the female psyche involved women's literature.  That is why I spent one weekend of my life in bed--crying, laughing, feeling sometimes confused, and often, incredibly angry and distraught.  On that rainy Humboldt Friday night I had decided to read "The Women's Room."

The author, Marilyn Fridey, describes the lives of several women from the 1950's to present.  These women are nothing out of the ordinary.  They either go to college and then get married, or they get married without bothering about the pretense of college--after all, they know that college is only a way to find more economically promising husbands.  Myra, the main character whose life is traced throughout the book vaguely wonders why she is not content cooking pot roast, scraping shit from the baby's diapers, and picking up her husband's dry cleaning.  Her only solace is the neighborhood of women who share concerns over coffee in the afternoons.

They wonder why Katherine, a Catholic woman who has 9 children and an alcoholic husband, committed suicide.  "She had a normal life, they thought, she just should have talked her husband into using birth control."  As for the rest of the women, including Myra, their lives, fears, disappointments and yearnings, were much more subtle, yet equally suicidal in their quiet desperation.

Many years down the road, Myra's life finally changes. Her husband has "made it", the kids have grown, and life is easy economically.  Myra has a nervous breakdown.  Once recovered, she divorces, and becomes a graduate student at Yale.  Though painful and difficult, it is here that she comes to terms with herself, realizes her potential, and learns to live with herself--not necessarily happily--but at least honestly.

After I finished the story of Myras world that Sunday evening, I woke up in the middle of the night sobbing uncontrollably from a terrible nightmare.  Though I couldn't remember the dream, I came to a profound realization. Myra's life was my mothers.

Most of my life I had revered, respected and admired my father for going to college, being intelligent and worldly, having power and control.  In short for being a man.

My mother always seemed too "wishy-washy", easily trodden upon, overly dependent because she had chosen the role of HOUSEWIFE, MOTHER.  I rebelled against the tradition, and feared wearing those chains someday.  Consequently, I strove to be like my father.

Until this book, I never realized how much more courage it took for a person to live within a stifled role, and find contentment by living through other people.  During that night of crying I understood my mother for the first time--I respected her inner strength, compassion, gentleness.

Ever since then, my relationship with my mother has evolved, and we are very close.  I will probably never adopt the role in life that she chose to take, but I now respect her for her life, and understand the reasons why she made those choices.  Reading of Myra's evolution as a female changed the way I feel towards myself, my feelings and compassion for my mother, and provided me with a much more sensitive view towards the lives of many women in our society today.

Comment:Clearly a well-written, superior essay.  Each of the three parts of the topic is covered and well developed, with considerable detail provided.  Despite an occasional lapse in the use of the possessive and a few other matters, the paper is strong in mechanics.  Sentence structure is sophisticated and effective.

Sample Essay Score:  5

Through the ages of 8-15 I was an avid reader of pleasure books.  The majority of the books were mysteries such as Nancy Drew or the Hardy Boys.  Books about animals were avoided because they usually had a very sentimental theme, and I was very emotional when it came to animal suffering.

When I was approximately 10 years old I read a book titled Misty & Chatlenaque.  This book was about a young horse that was stranded on an island.  It had been on a horse-trading ship when the ship wrecked on the rocks.  Misty went through several adventures where wild dogs tried to kill her, horse traders tried to capture her (and beat her in the process), and the sea tried to swallow her.

A little girl who lived on the Island found Misty and tried to protect her from the wild dogs and horse traders.  The story was told from the horse's point view, and the agony and terror Misty went through passed on to me.  I felt as if it were me who was being chased and beat.

A girl at the age of ten is influenced by the things she sees and reads.  Years after reading the book I had the notion that horse ranches were terrible to horses.  I also felt that horses were very human in the sense that they could think, feel, understand, and have emotions.

Whenever I passed by a horse who was behind a fence I had to stop and feed it, talk to it, pet it, and feel sorry for it.  Every horse had that "Misty" look in its eyes, and I felt it was "crying out to me".

After reading Misty and Chatlenaque, horses became more than just an animal to me.  They became something I could relate to and sympathize with.  I myself was a lonely child who felt neglected (even though I wasn't) and "penned".  While reading the book I felt the horse and I were one.  Years later I felt like horses and I had something in common and could relate to each other.

Now, I know horses do not understand what I say to them, but I still stop and talk to them as if they were human.  I feel that if I had not read that book eleven years ago I wouldn't feel as attached to horses as I do now.  To this day, I refuse to read another horse book or watch a horse movie that looks like it might be "emotional" or "sentimental".

Misty & Chatlenaque is still a very prominent book in my mind, and details of it are remembered frequently.  It has had the profound effect of altering my view of horses and will probably remain in my memory for life.  The book also had the effect of making me not want to read those kinds of books again.  Their emotional impact was too great on me so I only read mysteries and school books.  To this day I have my reservations about reading an emotional book, especially if it pertains to animals.

Comment:A very competent paper, nearly free of mechanical errors but lacking the coherent development of the superior essay.  It is also occasionally repetitious and a bit unfocused at times.  (The correct title of this book is Misty of Chincoteaque.)

Sample Essay Score:  4

In the summer of 1981 I worked for the Army Corps of Engineers on the Warm Springs Dam Project.  Much to my objections I was to spend the entire summer living alone, without my wife, since she had obligations to keep in Eureka, California.

The project was located 7 miles southwest of Cloverdale, Ca., in an area which is essentially agricultural.  Housing in the area was very scarce and the lodging which could be found was either too expensive or unsuitable.  By my own preference, I decided it would be nice to camp out in the woods for the entire duration of the summer.

At first the evenings after work were hot but beautifully peaceful.  It didn't take long though until I found my self bored to death looking for something to do besides play solitare.  How did the people in the early days of our world stand life without television.  I was forced to find some other means of entertainment which just happened to be reading.

The only reading material which was at my camp was a book left there by my wife on her last visit entitled "The Stix Complex."  This book to most of the world I'm sure has no great literary value, but to me, it was the greatest entertainment I had ever found.  I realized that in the reading of a book, ones own imagination can bring out much more detail in a story than television ever could.

I don't feel that it was the specific book that struck me so much that summer, and it probably could have been any book.  I realized that we expect to be entertained by television and movies so much that we forget that we can entertain ourselves to a much higher degree.  I still watch television, but I now read much more for enjoyment.

Comment:Although this essay addresses all three aspects of the topic, development of them is thin.  The writer devotes most of the essay to describing his situation and passes rather quickly over the book itself and its effects on him.  Still, despite a few mechanical flaws, this is clearly a competent piece of writing.

Sample Essay Score:  3

I was strongly affected by a book I read called Never Cry Wolf.  The book discribes a remote animal behavor study, located in a mountainous region of northern Canada.  The purpose of the study was to observe the animal behavior of wolfs in there natural environment. The study was conducted by a wildlife biologist, working for the Canadian goverment.

Up until the time I read the book, I had the impression that wolfs where among the meanest creatures on the planet.  I may have received this impression from childhood fairy tales that were told to me.  After reading the book severl times, my impression of wolfs had changed.  I no longer viewed wolfs as mean creatues, but instead viewed them as primarly passive creatures.  Their intent was not to harm, but to survive.

Animal behavior became a primary interest of mine after reading the book, Never Cry Wolf.  Although, I am not a wildlife major, I have assisted in a wildlife study on wolfs.  I would have never gained this experience if I had not read Never Cry wolf.  The knowledge I gained from the book has opened my eyes to nature.

Comment:While no parts of the topic are omitted, treatment of them tends to be superficial.  The writer provides very little supporting detail.  Considerable repetition is present because of the predominantly simple sentences used.  (Note, for example, how the three opening sentences can easily be combined into one: I was strongly affected by a book I read called Never Cry Wolf, which describes the behavior of wolves living in their natural environment in the mountains of northern Canada.)  Spelling is also weak.

Sample Essay Score:  2

The purpose of this essay is to describe my personal experience; that of a particular book which has greatly affected me.  This book is Sweet Thursday by John Stienbeck.  This book has greatly affected my over all outlook on life in general.  Sweet Thursdaychanged the way I think about myself and others.  Also, it has changed the way I feel about my own career.

The main character of the book was Doc.  Doc had a very profound outlook on twards life, which I found quite interesting.  He gave his career all of his attention yet still felt an emptyness inside.  This was because he was without a meaningful relationship with a women.  I too feel this emptyness, but because of Sweet Thursday I am able to understand what it is.  This understanding gives me hope when career goals are overwelming.

Comment:Although this essay does not ignore the question, it treats it very poorly.  The essay is both thin in content and lacking in development.  The writer uses repetitious simple sentences rather than more sophisticated sentence structures which would combine and properly subordinate thoughts and eliminate the repetitions.


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