December 6, 2020

Ardas

(c) J. Singh, 2017

Rajinder Kaur felt awkward as she stood up and walked to the front of the room. The few people who were assembled watched as she took a seat on the floor in front of the saint, who smiled warmly at her. There was a long silence, during which the saint simply looked into her eyes. At first, she felt vulnerable, embarrassed, and bashful. She lowered her eyes, staring at the intricate patterns on the carpet. But when she looked up again, the saint was still there, still gazing into her. Eventually, after several minutes, she felt comfortable enough to look back at him. Through his look, he comforted her and made her feel at ease, relaxed, peaceful. She breathed deeply, letting go of her anxiety and nervousness. She felt the tightness in her muscles loosen. She felt lighter, like she could almost float away.

Finally, the saint spoke. Very softly, almost a whisper.

"That's better, isn't it?" he queried.

She nodded. "Yes," she replied, "it feels better."

He smiled again. That warm, comforting smile. This time she smiled back, looking into his eyes. There seemed to be a depth there that few had ever fathomed.

This time, it was she who spoke first.

"I am trying— I'm struggling to come to terms with some things in my life," she confessed. The saint was unperturbed. She continued, "I got married, about a year ago."

"Yes, I can see," he motioned towards the red bangles she was wearing on both arms. "Congratulations."

She managed a feeble smile. And then she shook her head.

"It is not so blissful. I am in a lot of pain," she said, tears beginning to form in her eyes.

"Tell me," the saint said. "What is it that is causing you this pain?"

He already knew the answer. He wondered why so many people came to him to seek advice about their worldly problems, and no one came to ask him about God. He would help them, of course, but he could not give the answer to an unasked question. And so, even as he watched the same people thank him profusely for solving their worldly issues, he always felt a tinge of sadness for them. For many of them, this might well have been their only chance at making any real spiritual progress in their lives. It is extremely rare that one has the good fortune to meet a real saint. But because their focus was so centered on the material world, they had not even realized what they were missing.

"I got married about a year ago," Rajinder explained, "It was an arranged marriage. I accepted who my parents chose because they said he was well-educated and came from a good family."

The saint listened attentively, feeling every nuance of emotion that was coursing through Rajinder as she related her story.

"The family is joint, so my husband's parents live with us. It's a big house, and my husband has taken a lot of care to make sure they get their private space, and that all our needs are met. He really does a lot. He cares a lot. But—"

Rajinder paused.

"To speak the truth is not to speak ill of anyone or anything," the saint said gently. "Speak the truth."

"I'm having trouble adjusting to my new life," Rajinder blurted out, "it's difficult, so much more difficult than I could have imagined! The whole family thinks and behaves so differently than what I'm used to! I can understand that, my mother explained to me that I would have to be flexible and learn to adjust and to integrate well into my new family. And I have done as my mother advised. But I just feel that it's not working. I feel that they are intentionally trying to cause rifts between me and my husband. Especially his mother, and even his sisters. I feel like I can't do anything right! Any step I take, any action I take, it's all taken in the wrong way. They twist my every action to make it look negative! They are turning my husband against me. Now even he is questioning my motives and doubting me!"

Tears flowed freely down Rajinder's face as the words tumbled out of her.

"I can't take it anymore!" she cried, "I tried talking with my husband, but he doesn't understand. I tried talking with his sisters, but every effort I make is taken the wrong way, and then they make up stories, horrible stories, and they use them to make me feel hurt and to damage my relationship with my husband. They seem to be happy when they can cause a fight between me and my husband. And when they see me unhappy or miserable, then that brings a smile to their faces! They seem to enjoy watching me in emotional pain! It's like they never wanted him to marry me, and they judged me even before they met me! They don't know me, they never bothered to take the time to get to know me, to learn who I am. I wanted to be their friend, like their sister. I came into the marriage with hopes of being like a daughter to my mother-in-law and father-in-law. I had such great respect for them. But now, that is all gone, and all I have is bitterness. And sadness for myself and my future."

The saint looked at Rajinder with the same equanimous gaze.

"Are they 'bad' people?" he asked.

Rajinder wiped away her tears with her fingers. She thought for a moment, and then shook her head.

"I don't know," she replied, "they seem to be behaving in that way. They don't want to get to know me. They don't treat me with respect. They seem to enjoy causing me pain and watching me suffer. They intentionally cause fights between my husband and me. You tell me, is that a sign of a bad person?"

A faint smile hovered over the saint's lips.

"Good and bad are judgments. They tie us down and blind us. Let's just say, for the sake of simplicity, that they are ignorant."

Rajinder nodded. "Then they must be the most ignorant people on the planet," she said, "a girl gives up her entire life, her family, her friends, everything, to come and begin her new life with her husband. They don't seem to understand the sacrifice."

The saint nodded.

"What can I do to help?" he asked.

"I want to be free of this constant pain," Rajinder felt tears welling up again, "I can't sleep at night! I have never felt so much stress or tension in my entire life. I just can't deal with it anymore. I've started having thoughts of suicide, just to escape this pain and this horrible situation. And that's not me! I've never had these kinds of thoughts before."

The saint nodded again. "You are under a lot of pressure," he observed.

"Yes," Rajinder nodded, taking a deep breath. "I can't go on like this!"

The saint knew what was happening beneath the surface. In a sense, he didn't even have to ask her what the problem was. But he found that it was usually cathartic for people to express themselves and describe their issue before he gave them advice. And, it also saved him from having to give explanations of how he knew their problem — and the solution to it — before they even opened their mouths. So he would always ask them what was bothering them and give them time to explain, vent, or complain.

He meditated a great deal. Often, during his meditations, he would see visions. They never made sense at the time. But over the years, he had learned that he needed to pay attention. Because it always became relevant later. Just like now, with Rajinder sitting in front him, sobbing in emotional distress. He had seen her months ago in his visions. He didn't know who she was, but his visions had revealed to him some important facts about her life. So when she came to see him today, he already knew what was really happening in her life, even better than she did.

"Are you a spiritual person?" he asked, almost casually.

"I believe in God," Rajinder said, "I pray. Every day. I do my paaht. I am wondering why God put my in this terrible situation. I never hurt anyone, I always try to help people and be a good person."

"And do you believe God always answers your prayers?"

"I used to. But now, I'm not so sure. Why would God put me in such a terrible situation if I am doing my prayers daily and not hurting anyone?"

The saint smiled. "Interesting question, is it not?" he remarked. "I will tell you why. Would you like to know?"

Rajinder nodded.

"About four years ago, when you were still in college, you said a prayer, and Ardas. Very specifically, on your birthday. Do you remember that?"

Rajinder looked down, recalling the memory. Then she nodded slowly. "Yes, I remember. It was years ago."

"What was the prayer for? What did you ask for?"

"I don't have any siblings. I remember feeling very sad and worrying that my parents wouldn't have a son to care for them in their old age. And they are old fashioned, they wouldn't accept help from their daughter, especially after she was married. I remember that I pictured them struggling in their old age. And they have done everything for me, always worried about me, cared for me, taken care of me. I did Ardas on my birthday asking Vaheguroo to make me strong so that I would be able to handle the burden of caring for them, of doing everything that a son might have done for them. I didn't feel very self-confident in myself, in my abilities. I was self-conscious, insecure. I didn't feel like I could handle anything in my own life, forget about taking care of my parents. So I did Ardas, asking for strength and courage and mental toughness. Because I knew that it's going to be tough watching your parents grow old and infirm and eventually die."

"Yes," the saint nodded knowingly.

"But what does that have to do with my marriage and my in-laws?" she was still puzzled.

"Oftentimes, things happen in our lives and we just can't see them. We can't connect the dots. But there is always a reason," the saint explained. "There is a reason for everything."

He leaned forward, looking at her intently.

"Do you think," he queried, "that if you asked God for courage, that he would just zap you full of courage just like that, and all of a sudden you would have courage? That if you asked for mental toughness, it would suddenly just appear out of the heavens?"

Rajinder's face still displayed her perplexed expression. But she was thinking, her mind was processing what the saint had just said.

"It doesn't work that way," the saint explained gently, "No. If God wants to give you courage, He will put you in a situation where you must exhibit courage, and you will then find the way to be courageous. And then you will have the courage you asked for. If God wants to give you mental toughness, He will create a situation for you where you must learn to develop your mental toughness. And then you will have the mental toughness you asked for. God, Vaheguroo, always answers your prayers. This, your current family situation, is the answer to your prayer from four years ago."

"But … ," Rajinder was at a loss for words.

"It's not the end of your life," the saint explained lovingly. "It's a transformation into a more evolved, stronger version of yourself. The one you wanted to be, the one you asked for."

\\