During a discourse, Radhanath Swami was relating the story of a saint who gave benedictions to a prince, a butcher and a monk. I sat in the front row of the audience, listening.
The prince indulged in sinful ways of enjoyment, maddened by wealth. If he were to die, only the karma of suffering awaited him. So the saint blessed the prince, “May you live forever.”
The butcher lived a miserable life of killing innocent animals, and even after death miserable karma awaited him. So the saint blessed the butcher, “May you neither live nor die.”
And what about the monk?
At this juncture, Radhanath Swami glanced at me. “Monk’s life is full of austerity. Take him for an example.” He was referring to me!
“He is a graduate from IIT, which is considered at par with Ivy League schools. And yet, here in this ashram he sleeps on the floor and has a little closet to keep his belongings.”
He went on for another few minutes—which seemed a few hours to me—describing what I did and what an exemplary monk I was J. An audience of 2000 sat in rapt attention.
“Monk’s life is a pious life, so his next life will be glorious. His present life, nonetheless, is filled with austerity,” he concluded.
Now getting back to the benediction story, he said, “So the saint blessed that the monk die.” No sooner did he speak that, he turned to me again with an apologetic expression. “I don’t want you to die. I am just continuing with the story.”
It had all happened spontaneously. He had showered his appreciation and affection, but the ending was a bit sour. He thought my feelings were hurt, though that wasn’t the case.
In my years of association with Radhanath Swami, time and again I have observed how sensitive and careful he is in making sure he doesn’t hurt anybody’s feelings.
The next evening, I met Radhanath Swami in the ashram corridors. He called me closer and embraced me affectionately, an affection I will never forget. “May you live a long life as a monk,” he blessed me.
With an affectionate spiritual father like him, the austerity of monkhood seems insignificant. So, who wants to die?