What is God’s work?
… and other inspiring stories
— Acharya Ratnananda
Once a proud but benevolent king sent for his prime minister and said, “All of us have some definite work or assignment to perform. A king rules, a soldier fights, a trader trades, a teacher teaches and a preacher preaches, though as individuals they do other things also. Then what is the primary function of the Creator? Can you answer my question?”
The minister was puzzled. No one knew, and no book ever explained what God’s work was. After some thought, he said, “I too, have often wondered about this like you. But my duty here is to advice and assists you on worldly affairs. This involves spiritual matters and the right person to answer you is our bishop.”
When the king repeated his question to the bishop, the bishop asked for a week’s time to reply. At the end of the week, the bishop was sitting under a tree on the outskirts of the town, thinking whether to face the king’s wrath the next morning, or to run away from the kingdom. A shepherd boy who was passing by enquired about the cause for his worry.
The bishop brushed him aside, saying he was deeply worried about a spiritual matter. The boy was quite insistent, and so the bishop related his trouble, without any hope of solution or solace from the boy. “My dear master,” said the boy, “is that all that worries you so much? Please go in peace to the king. Tell him that the shepherd boy knows the answer.”
The surprised bishop begged the boy to give him the answer, but the boy preferred to meet the king in person. So the bishop went home, and the next morning he was at the court, when the king eagerly asked for a reply.
“My dear king!” said the bishop, “I need not have taken so much time or trouble to give you a reply. However, I would request you to call for my shepherd boy who will give you a satisfactory answer.”
The surprised king immediately sent for the boy, who promptly presented himself before the king. His appearance was repulsive to everyone, but the court awaited his words with interest. “You, shepherd boy,” said the king, “do you know the answer to my question which even learned scholars are not aware of?”
The boy paused for a while and said, “My dear Sir, before I answer your query, may I request that proper protocol is observed. You are a student, as far as this question is concerned, since you want to learn. I am a master as I am to give you the knowledge. Normally the master occupies a higher seat than the student.”
After some hesitation the king slowly came down from his throne and let the boy sit on it. So eager was he to know the answer! But the boy, after ascending the throne, was calmly enjoying the new found dignity and did not speak for a while.
Impatient, the king shouted at the boy, “You fellow! Where is my answer? What is God’s work?”
The boy calmly replied, “Here’s the answer, to push down the haughty and to push up the humble – that is God’s work!”
This is one of the one hundred and fifty thousand stories found in the ancient puranas, which have relevance even in modern times.
Surrendering to Puri Jagannatha
Lord Jagannath resides in Puri on the shores of the turbulent Bay of Bengal. Once a year he comes out of the temple and devotees vie with one another, trying to pull the cord of his commanding chariot. The rest of the year, a restricted crowd gets a glimpse of him inside the distinctive temple, the only one in the world devoted to siblings: the reigning deity at all other places of worship are consorts or mother and child.
Many moons ago, a senior journalist from Hyderabad was in Bhuvaneswar. When she expressed a desire to visit the Lord in Puri, she was informed that she could not gain entry for only Hindus were allowed.
“Let me see the outside then,” she said, and made her way to the temple. Walking around, admiring the architecture, her eyes fell on a man beckon to her. “Want to go in?” She nodded and followed him silently as he led her through a maze of doors and courtyards. Not a word was exchanged, not even when the lights went out without warning. When the bulbs came alive just as suddenly, she found herself in the garbha griha, face-to-face with the main idol whose magnificence overwhelmed her. “Ya Allah!” she exclaimed in sheer admiration as the experience could not be described in words.
What is so special about this image of Krishna at Puri? Why was Sri Chaitanya of Nadia – considered an avatar of Vishnu, no less — willing to give up everything for a darshan of Jagannath? Why do crowds throng the temple despite the heat and dust, the confined space, and the exploits of pandas? Doubtless, it is the allure of the icons of Jagannath, Subhadra and Balaram. The figures are crafted in wood that comes from an uncontaminated tree with distinctive marks. What is less known is that periodically the idol ‘dies’, like any human.
But what prompted the craftsman to create an ‘imperfect’ God? A damaged idol is normally immersed in water. The Puri idols have very large, round eyes without eyelashes, and stubs for hands without fingers. One story says that an Orissa king asked an artisan to make an idol of Krishna that no one in the universe had ever seen. He agreed, on one condition: he would not be disturbed by anyone as long as he worked on the image. “Granted,” said the king. But when days lapsed into weeks and months, the queen could not contain her curiosity.
One day she forced open the door and entered the room. Immediately the craftsman left, leaving the icons incomplete, never to return. “Think,” said my guide. “Who are the people who have no eyelashes, or have mere stubs for fingers?” In a flash I was reminded of Shamba, Krishna’s son who had travelled to Konark because he had contracted leprosy. “Those days, there was no cure for leprosy. Only those who could take a dip in the holy waters of the Chandrabhaga during a solar eclipse benefited from certain properties in the refracted rays of the sun at that position.