God’s in the Details
The saints tell us that to be given the human form is a blessing, and to be initiated by a true Master is an even greater blessing, for only then can we learn the meditation practice that will take us back to our Creator. In earlier days, however, disciples often had to pass through various preliminary tests before they were granted initiation. The sixteenth-century Indian saint Eknath was one such disciple.
Eknath sought spiritual enlightenment from his teacher, Janardan. Being humble of spirit, Eknath never asked for initiation, nor did his teacher offer it. Eknath was content just to be in the company of a sage. He was, therefore, eager to engage in what some would call menial tasks. He cooked meals for his guru, cleaned his home, and washed his clothes.
During the time Eknath performed these duties, he watched other young men seeking to become disciples come and go. After several days of chopping vegetables, these individuals saw the work they were doing as pointless. They had come to the guru to receive the sacred teachings and attain spiritual liberation. Commonplace tasks such as the ones they were assigned seemed to have little to do with the loftier goals to which they aspired. Eknath, on the other hand, remained steadfast, performing whatever Janardan asked him to do.
One day, Janardan told Eknath that the key to success in one’s search for God was a concentrated mind. He told Eknath that if a disciple found it difficult to focus on small tasks, the aspirant would find it even more daunting to focus the mind during meditation.
Eventually Janardan decided to give Eknath greater responsibilities and asked him to keep track of the king’s accounts, reconciling them every evening. Tallying the entries was a meticulous task requiring great patience.
One evening, as Eknath was busy with his work, he discovered a discrepancy of one rupee in his calculations. Again and again, he retraced his steps only to encounter the same error. Determined to maintain complete accuracy, he worked through the night. Before he knew it, morning arrived. Much to his elation, he had finally found the mistake in his calculations and was able to balance the accounts. Meanwhile, Janardan appeared and heard Eknath’s story. Eknath had been rechecking his calculations for twelve hours before he found the missing rupee.
Janardan was extremely pleased to discover the effort and meticulous attention to detail that Eknath had shown. Janardan then commented that Eknath would make a good disciple. Eknath was surprised by his teacher’s remarks; after all, he had only been reconciling account books.
Janardan then explained that one’s character is revealed in how one performs even the smallest tasks. The patience and singlemindedness with which one does such work indicate similar attention to detail in greater endeavours. As a result of Eknath’s work, Janardan found him fit for initiation. He told Eknath: “If you meditate with the same intensity with which you kept your mind on this ledger, you will quickly reach God.”
This story illustrates that the diligence and care with which we tackle our daily tasks, no matter how mundane, can help strengthen the focus and determination we need to do our meditation. Anyone who has tried to meditate knows that concentration and perseverance are required to rein in the mind. Refocusing the mind to the task at hand, whether in our worldly work or during our spiritual practice, allows us to persist till we reach our goal.
The story also shows how humility and surrender to the will of the Master are essential for any disciple. If we can patiently chop vegetables simply because our Master has asked us to, we can train our mind to put aside its desires and instead follow the path our Master has set out for us.
Story adapted from Wisdom’s Blossoms: Tales of the Saints of India