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‘My mother stayed at home with us. She picked us up from school, cooked all our meals and was our counsellor when times were hard. Her hair was always tightly tied in a bun, but her arms were always open for a hug. She made our education her top priority because she wanted us to live a better life.’ ‘Well, it seems like you’re living it now,’ I said.
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Hariprasad took no notice of my comment and continued, ‘I remember the stress of both getting into IIT Bombay and then performing well there. It was worth it though because the Harvard MBA programme accepted me immediately, given that I secured a gold medal at IIT.’ ‘Are you talking about Harvard?’ Lalita asked, while serving me two scoops of kulfi despite my protests. ‘That’s where we first met,’ she told me.
‘I was completing my medical studies there when we ran into each other at the Harvard India Student Group, and it was love at first sight. But I didn’t meet the South Indian Hariprasad then, I met “Harry”, as his American friends called him.’ ‘Well, I’ll call him Harry from now on!’ I laughed. As lunch came to a close, Harry spoke of the work he does as the director of a multinational consulting firm.
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Harry’s success at Harvard gave him a boost—thirty-five, he was already one of the youngest directors in the company’s history and he was responsible for the firm’s Asia operations. ‘We both are trying to help as many people as possible before we think about children. We want to empower people to be successful,’ Harry said, holding his wife’s hand. I was pleasantly surprised at how cultured and courteous this couple was.
Lalita’s world-class sambar also symbolized the warmth and love between them. ‘Thank you for a wonderful lunch!’ I said to them, signalling that I had to leave. ‘I would love to stay longer, but we have meetings at the ashram in an hour. Can you call me a cab?’ I requested. ‘A cab!’ Harry exclaimed as if offended. ‘Please let me drop you back. The ashram is only thirty minutes away.’ I thanked Lalita for the delicious meal.
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She thanked me back with a smile, but I noticed that she was holding her stomach as though she was not feeling well. I thought nothing of it and neither did Harry. We rushed to the elevator, which transported us from the clouds into the underground garage in moments. Harry frisked himself in a panic as the elevator doors opened. It was the same expression one has when they cannot feel their phone in their pocket.
‘I’ve forgotten my keys,’ he said, as he vigorously pressed the button for the elevator to take him back to the twenty-eighth floor. ‘I’ll be right back.’ He left me in what seemed like a deserted parking garage. What is the worst disease you can think of? For most people, it would be cancer. But they would not associate it with the young. Professor Peter Sasieni says, ‘Cancer is primarily a disease of old age, with more than 60 per cent of all cases diagnosed in people aged over sixty-five.’
It’s a disease of the old. However, this was not the experience of my friends whose four-and-a-half-year-old daughter, Gandharvika, was diagnosed with the fastest growing tumour in humans, Burkitt’s lymphoma. Gandharvika’s father, Mr Mukund Shanbag, a close friend, narrated the story to me: ‘“I can feel a lump in her stomach,” the doctor said to me. “And it feels pretty large.” The doctor paused and turned away to his computer screen, scribbling some notes. The Way of the Monk PDF Book
“I don’t want to worry you,” he continued. Those six words are enough to worry someone. I am a dentist by profession; sometimes we say this will hurt a little bit, but in reality, it may hurt a lot. “I don’t want to worry you, but as your daughter is also complaining of a stomach ache I think we should take her to the hospital.” ‘“That’s fine,” I said to the doctor, who was now dialling away on his phone making arrangements for something.
“Will your referral letter come by post? How long will it take?” I asked naively. ‘“No, what I mean to say is, we need to get her to the hospital right now!” he said. I looked at him in panic. We had plans as a family after the appointment, but the urgency on his face signalled to me that he thought it was serious and had be attended to right away. ‘After a short car ride we arrived at the hospital with the radiologist waiting there to meet us at the reception.
Our doctor had made some calls. The radiologist looked familiar; he was a member of our spiritual community too. He took my daughter and me upstairs to his clinic, making small talk on the way. I was nervous, but Gandharvika was having the time of her life. This was an adventure for her. I tried to make conversation with the radiologist, but oddly enough he was also nervous. Had our doctor told him something that we did not know? The Way of the Monk PDF Book
‘In his clinic, the radiologist performed sonography (ultrasound) on Gandharvika. The cold gel tickled her stomach; I remember her laugh. He did not say much, but he did perform a biopsy and said that he would call us with the results. I cannot speak a sentence long enough to describe how long those forty-eight hours were. I picked up the phone when it rang, but I immediately dropped it—the doctor said that Gandharvika had a rare form of cancer.
Just the word fills me with fear. ‘How can one be grateful knowing that this excruciating disease is going to affect someone that they love more than their own life? My wife, Pavitra, and I found it impossible at first, but the love we received from our community exemplified how much we had to be grateful for. ‘Our friends and family stepped in as soon as the treatment began. Yet the stress in the beginning was still overwhelming. Our whole family was suffering.
Not only was Gandharvika going through hell, our other two children Radhika and Rasika, aged seven and two at that time, were not seeing their parents for extended periods of time. They were too young to understand what was going on. It was hard for my wife and me to be strong for them, knowing that the three of them could soon only be the two of them. The Way of the Monk PDF Book
I was at the hospital for almost six months continuously as Gandharvika went through the vicious cycle of chemotherapy, her blood count dropping, infection and readmission. It was a constant loop of suffering; the toughest six months of my life! What kept me sane was partly my spiritual practice, but primarily the outpouring of love from our friends around us.
With car horns blaring around us and crows squawking above us, we were still stuck, but were also edging closer to our destination. We still did not know what was causing the traffic jam. I was about to begin speaking when a bumblebee flew into the car. Bees are usually harmless, but in such a confined space, Harry and I both threw our heads back against the head rests and remained completely still. Our yellow-and-black friend buzzed around the dashboard of the car.
Mesmerized by the jasmine-scented car fragrance flowing out of the vents, it was probably looking for flowers. When it realized there was no pollen in our vehicle, it flew away merrily, singing the song all bees sing. ‘That was close,’ Harry said, now visibly relieved. ‘That bee was huge!’ ‘I’m just thankful it was not its passionate and angry cousin,’ I said, referring to wasps. ‘The bee teaches us so much,’ I went on, as a thought came to my mind. The Way of the Monk PDF Book Download
‘They are always looking for the nectar that flowers possess and avoid lingering where there is dirt. We should be like the bee —always seeing the best in people and choosing to avoid their faults.’ ‘How is it possible to do that? It seems too tough to me, given how my relationships are,’ Harry replied. ‘It all depends on what we look for. I have learnt that there are five different ways we can perceive people in our relationships. Let me tell you a bit more about it.’
What Sita said was factually wrong, and it was insensitive of her to have made such accusations against her brother-in-law. However, if we look past the situation, that is, if we look past what was said, we might be able to understand why it was said. Sita was going through a personal turmoil. Her emotions were flying about as she speculated on the kind of pain her beloved husband might have been going through.
We have all been in situations where our intellect is clouded by our emotions. At those times, we say anything and everything for our own peace of mind. Although a moment of patience in a moment of anger can save us a thousand moments of regret in the future, usually when we are suffering intensely, we cannot help but let our minds run amok. For our own growth, we should maintain equipoise in testing times. The Way of the Monk PDF Book Download
When someone hurts us, we should try to look beyond the situation and think: ‘How are they suffering? What are they feeling, to say such a thing? Is there some deeper chaos that is occurring in their life for them to say these words to me?’ It’s not about supporting the hurtful comments made by others—it is about seeing what they are going through to be making them. This is empathy, an essential component of forgiveness.
Separate the Episode from the Person It is said, ‘Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.’ This could not be further from the truth. Physical violence is inflicted with weapons, but emotional violence is inflicted with words; words can leave invisible scars that can take years, or even lifetimes, to heal.
Let me take your mind back to Nepal, to the foothills of the Himalayas and to the story of my closest friend who had spoken harshly to me in front of our community members. What happened in my room thereafter is relevant here—I was able to move from anger to forgiveness because I remembered to separate the episode from the person. The Way of the Monk PDF Book Free
Of course, I must mention that this principle is not applicable in all situations—especially those of social justice, which I will discuss later—but in our personal interactions, for the most part, it works wonders. When I fail at something—whether it’s an exam or a relationship—I may think that I am a failure. But just because I failed one time or even more than once in my life, does that really make the whole of me a failure?
‘Wheel four?’ I said. I was totally surprised. I was not even thinking about the wheels of the car at that moment. It was not a time for speaking about the essence of life—this was a moment of emergency. It was a time for him to drive fast and act, and for me to support him with my friendship. In times of great calamity, sometimes the right thing to do is to just be there. I wished I had some herbal tea. But I spoke.
‘Wheel four has to do with being selfless, and making a social contribution. But let’s talk about that another time. Let’s focus on reaching your wife—who I am sure is doing perfectly fine.’ He nodded in agreement and focused on the road. We were already zooming past Kemps Corner, ignoring any signals that were telling us to stop and obey the laws of the road. All we needed was a siren on top of our car. The Way of the Monk PDF Book Free
Thoughts travel faster than words and they are not always in the right order. In the same vein, I will present this wheel on selflessness quickly here. In a matter of ten minutes from Kemps Corner to the hospital, as we travelled at lightning speed, I thought of all these things. My training as a monk implies that the practice of selflessness is meant to be somewhat natural to me, but like most of us, I still have a long way to go.
As Harry drove, I rested my hand on his shoulder in silent consolation and thought of how he at that moment was representing wheel four: to be selfless and to give back.