How Do Saints Help Others?
Question: The Indian culture, like most traditional cultures, recommends associating with saints. How does such association practically help us?
Answer: The German poet Goethe said, “Treat a man as he is and he will remain as he is. Treat a man as he can and should be and he will become as he can and should be.” Most of us have a tendency to focus on people’s faults and stick labels like “lazy”, “short-tempered” and “immoral” on them. When we harp on people’s faults, we force them into a defensive, justifying mode. This distracts them from doing the deep internal work that can bring out their divine potential.
In marked contrast, saints help bring out the good in others, for they know everyone to be potentially divine. Let’s see two saints in action.
Once, the great saint Ramanujacharya (ca. 1017 to 1137), while in the sacred town of Srirangam, came across a young man Dhanur das, who was completely infatuated by a society girl and was fanning her in public. In those days, such behavior was scandalous, and people were condemning him for his shamelessness, but he was oblivious to their criticisms. Seeing him as a pure soul temporarily covered by illusion, Ramanujacharya politely asked him why he was so attracted to that woman. Dhanur das replied passionately, “I have never seen eyes as beautiful as hers.” Appreciating his earnest love for beauty, Ramanujacharya challenged him, “What would you do if I showed you eyes far more beautiful than these?” Dhanur das promptly replied, “I would devote myself to the person with those eyes.” Ramanujacharya took him to the magnificent temple of Lord Ranganath and showed him the beautiful deity form there. By Ramanujacharya’s sincerer prayers, the Lord revealed the supreme beauty of his eyes to Dhanur das. Mesmerized by that divine beauty, Dhanur das fell in love with the Lord and went on to become a saintly devotee.
Srila Prabhupada went to America during the 1960s, the period of the counterculture. At that time, thousands of youths were becoming “hippies”, seeking “to go high”, to have spiritual experiences, by taking drugs. Srila Prabhupada did not decry them for being useless addicts as the American mainstream was doing, but he compassionately fanned the spark of spiritual interest that they had. He lovingly explained to them how mantra chanting – and not drugs – would enable them to “stay high forever”, to rise to a high, fulfilling, lasting state of constant spiritual experiences. Encouraged and guided by him, many of his students have become internationally respected spiritual leaders, selflessly sharing God’s love with one and all.
Thus, saints help bring out our latent divine qualities and so their association should be cherished as a precious blessing and a glorious opportunity.