A Hundred Flowers

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Spiritual vanity and pride are the subtlest and the most dangerous of psychological defects for they are well concealed behind high and noble intentions, thoughts and actions. Even the best of us are vulnerable to these failings. There are many of us who feel a subtle sense of superiority when it comes to our spiritual practices and devotion. There is an interesting incident in the Mahabharat that illustrates this point.  

At a certain point in Arjuna’s life, he had got into a habit of very elaborate and prolonged prayers and offerings. He would pray to several gods and goddesses and would need to please all of them by his devotion. He would pray to Lord Shiva for hours, every day, and offer hundreds of flowers to him, that too, one by one. And, with each flower he would offer, he would utter Shiva’s name. He would thus spend long hours in such ritual. Over a period of time, a subtle sense of spiritual superiority entered him. 

In contrast, Arjuna’s brother, Bhima, a simple person, would not pray or offer any flowers. Most people thought he was not religious at all. Bhima loved to eat. So he would eat great quantities of food with great relish. But one thing Bhima would always do: just before commencing his meal, he would put his fingers on his forehead and concentrate for a couple of minutes. That is all he would do. A quiet and complete concentration for a minute or two, and then he would dive into the food. 

So while Arjuna would spend hours in his religious rituals, Bhima would seem unconcerned and interested only in the pleasure of eating. Sometimes Arjuna, as a brother perhaps, would look down on such an attitude and wish that Bhima would show some devotion to the gods. 

Sri Krishna being an intimate friend of Arjuna’s, knew of this subtle sense of superiority that had crept into Arjuna. So one fine day, he invited Arjuna to come for a walk with him. 

The two went for a long walk. As they were walking, they saw a man drawing a cart loaded with flowers, many kinds of flowers, hundreds of flowers! 

Arjuna became quite intrigued. He stopped the man and asked him what he was going to do with all those flowers. But the man did not stop, saying he was in a hurry and had no time for conversation. So Sri Krishna suggested that they follow him to find out where he was going with the flowers. 

After a few minutes of walking behind the man with the cart, they reached a market like place filled with several other similar carts laden with flowers. 

Arjuna was very curious now. “What are you going to do with so many flowers, my good man?” He asked. 

The man replied, “I cannot explain; I am very concentrated on my task right now. I can speak only to Bhima, your brother, and explain.”

“Why so? What is the mystery that you can explain only to Bhima and not to me?” Arjuna wanted to know. 

“Ah,” said the man, “It is strange, indeed! When Bhima concentrates for a minute or two before his meals on Lord Shiva, hundreds of flowers are offered to Shiva… what you see here are those offerings. Bhima’s sheer concentration causes all these flowers to materialize from the occult spheres. His meditation, though not visible to others, is most sincere and intense!”

Arjuna immediately understood and was deeply humbled. He also realized that this was an occult experience arranged by Krishna to reveal to him an important truth of spirituality — that the Divine responds to sincerity and genuineness; it does not matter how much or what one offers, what matters is how, with what consciousness, one offers. 

From the Bhagavad Gita:

पत्रं पुष्पं फलं तोयं यो मे भक्त्या प्रयच्छति । तदहं भक्त्युपहृतमश्नामि प्रयतात्मनः॥

He who offers to Me with devotion a leaf, a flower, a fruit, a cup of water, that offering of love from the striving soul, is acceptable to Me. (Bhagavad Gita, 9.26)

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