“There is in addition to a courage with which men die; a courage by which men must live.” These are the bold words of John F. Kennedy.
And indeed, staying afloat in the turbulent waters of life often requires us, to cultivate courage akin to that of a soldier in a battlefield. “Courage”, Mark Twain once said, “is the resistance to and mastery of fear – not the absence of fear.”
“Whether joy or sorrow,
Pain or pleasure,
Whatsoever may befall thee,
Accept it serenely with an unvanquished heart.”
Rabindranath Tagore quoting a verse from the Mahabharata, in a letter to his wife Mrinalini in 1898.
Source: Selected Letters of R. Tagore
We are not necessarily born courageous; but through life’s successive dips and depressions we slowly learn to acquire it.
A simple yet powerful lesson on the mastery of fear can be drawn from the life of Swami Vivekananda, one of India’s greatest spiritual teachers. The story, which appears in the book “God Lived With Them – The Life Stories of Sixteen Disciples of Sri Ramakrishna” (World, India) by Swami Chetanananda, goes as follows:
When Swami Vivekananda was just a youth in his mid-twenties, he traveled to the ancient and venerated city of Varanasi, located on the banks of the river Ganges. This was in the years after the passing of his guru Sri Ramakrishna and before he went to America in 1893. On his arrival in Varanasi the Swami visited many a holy places and met with many scholars of that time.
One day while visiting the Durga Temple, he was attacked by a troop of monkeys. While he was running away, a monk shouted to him, “Face the brutes.” Vivekananda stopped and looked defiantly at the beasts. They quickly disappeared.
The incident left a deep impression on Vivekananda, and later on in his lectures in the United States, he used it as an example to exhort people to face the dangers and vicissitudes of life bravely, and not run away from them.
“A few Alpine flowers, growing almost in the midst of eternal snow, I send you, praying that you may attain spiritual hardihood amidst all snows and ice of this life.”
Swami Vivekananda in a letter to Sister Christine in 1896.
“The ultimate aim”, he said, “is not to enjoy life, but to conquer it – to gain a supreme mastery over our own self.” This means gaining control over our fears and anxieties, so that no matter what situation we find ourselves in, our mental make up is so strong that we come through unshaken and victorious.
Therefore, said Vivekananda, “Be bold and fear not. It is fear that is the great cause of misery in this world. It is fear that is the greatest of all superstitions. It is fear that is the cause of our woes, and it is fearlessness alone that brings heaven even in a moment.”
“If there is one word that you find coming out like a bomb from the Upanishads, bursting like a bombshell upon masses of ignorance, it is the (Sanskrit) word “Abhih” meaning fearlessness. Be not afraid of anything. For the moment you fear you are nobody.”
“Stand then and be free. What can frighten you, what can hold you down? Only ignorance and delusion of your true nature! Nothing else can bind you. You are the One Being in the universe. If the suns come down, the moons crumble into dust, systems after systems are hurled into annihilation, what is that to you? Stand as a rock; you are a soul infinite and immortal, you are indestructible. Say to yourself: I have no fear because I am Existence Absolute, Bliss Absolute, Knowledge Absolute – I am He.”
Note to readers: Although Swami Vivekananda left behind a tremendous body of literature, there are unfortunately very few books on his guru Sri Ramakrishna, the divine force who worked behind Vivekananda and shaped his life and ideas. Of the few available, two books in particular stand out: The first being “God Lived With Them”(World, India) and the second, “They Lived With God”(World, India). Both books are full of spell-binding anecdotes and intense spiritual insights from the life of Sri Ramakrishna and his interactions with his disciples. Beautifully written by Swami Chetanananda they constitute a must read!
Acknowledgement: Many thanks to the philately website Indiapicks.com, for preserving the beautiful stamp of the Rani of Jhansi. This stamp was issued by the Government of India in 1957, to celebrate the centenary of the Indian Soldiers Mutiny which took place in 1857. The mutiny inspired many Indian princely states (including the Rani of Jhansi) to rebel against the British and marked the beginning of India’s long and arduous struggle for freedom, which culminated 90 years later, in 1947.
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