These days I hear all my young birdies talking about their exams. They are so frightened of failure, so nervous for success. These student years are ones which are meant to be full of learning, full of enrichment, full of new horizons. They come to me and they say, “Please Swamiji, say a prayer for me so I can pass my exams.”
Of course, my young birdies are always in my prayers; however, being a student is not simply about passing your tests. To me, your student years are a time of: Seriousness, Trial & error, Understanding, Devotion, Encouragement, Nav Jivan and Tenacity.
Your educational years should be enjoyable and full of rich, new experiences. However, this is not a time to just sit back, relax and wait for the world to carry you along. It is a time in which you must be serious about your studies, serious about your goals and serious about your future. If you become lax about your schoolwork, it will be easy to slip behind. Then, it becomes like quicksand. Once you are behind, it is so difficult to catch up that the task becomes daunting and one is tempted to just say, “forget it.”
Therefore, it is crucial to stay on top of things from the beginning.
Most importantly, don’t miss a class. In university, especially, it is very tempting to just “sleep in” one day or to skip one class in order to catch up on work for another. However, going to class, paying attention and taking notes is the single most important thing you can do. No amount of catch-up reading at home or copying from a friend’s notes will make up for what was missed in class.
Be serious about your studies. Make them your priority. Be serious about your classes and your work.
T- Trial and Error:
The time of youth and student-life, especially when you live away from home in the dorms, is a time of trial and error. You are just discovering who you are, what your priorities are, what your dreams are, what your values are. When you live under your parents’ roof, you live (mostly…) according to their rules and their set of values. But, once you are on your own you must figure this out for yourself. You must weigh that which you learned at home against that which you are seeing amongst your peers and in the outside world.
You will make mistakes. Of course you will. Don’t worry. Don’t be afraid of making them. It is our mistakes that teach us, our mistakes that make us strong, our mistakes that give us the resolve and the fortitude to say, “never again.” It is only through making mistakes that we can ever really know, “Oh that was a mistake.” Just as the word “light” would be meaningless without a “dark” to compare it to, so we can not be sure of that which is right, unless we can contrast it to that which is wrong.
This is not a license to go out and engage in reckless, hedonistic, decadent behavior. This is not a go-ahead to make mistakes on purpose or to do things which you know are wrong. You don’t have to put your hand in fire just to “make sure” that it really burns, or to put your finger in a light socket just to “see what happens.” You already know fire burns and you have already been taught not to put your fingers in light-sockets.
So, please, my little birdies, be careful. Take what you’ve been taught into consideration. However, you will still have to find your own way. Your parents can not hold your hand through life, and in these years you will have to make your own choices. You will have to experiment and decide what is right for you and what is wrong.
However, before you make any decision, before you jump into any situation, just stop for a moment, pause and ask yourself, “how will I feel tomorrow if I do this? How will I feel about myself when I look in the mirror? How will I feel when I close my eyes and talk to God?” If you know in advance that you will regret it, if you know that you will repent, then, please, don’t do it.
This is the time in your life in which you must cultivate understanding in your hearts. If you don’t cultivate it now, it will be very hard later to embrace all peoples later.
Try always to walk in other peoples’ shoes. Before you criticize or condemn anyone else, ask yourself what it would be like to be in their situation.
Although your time in these student years will mostly be taken with your academic work, you must always remember that a rich spiritual life and a deep connection to God are the greatest education, the greatest wealth and the greatest success anyone can obtain. You may get the best marks, the most prestigious degree, the top job and the highest salary, but without a connection to God in your life, all else is in vain.
There was once a man who was selling a horse. He told the prospective buyer, “My horse is the most beautiful horse you’ve ever seen. His skin is the shiniest, his coat is the brightest, his mane is the softest, his legs are the longest. He is large and strong and regal looking. He won all the contests of beauty and speed.” The prospective buyer asked the man, “Tell me, is there anything wrong with the horse? He sounds perfect.”
“Well,” the horse-owner said. “There is one small defect. The horse is dead.”
Without a spiritual connection, without a deeper meaning, without the presence of God in our lives, we become like the dead horse – beautiful on the outside, prosperous, successful, but missing that divine heart beat which keeps us going.
If you put two zeros together, you get 00. This is nothing. But if you add a 1 in front of them, you get 100. If you have four zeros, you still only have zero. Even if you have a hundred zeros, it is still equal only to zero. But, if you add that 1 in front of them, then the number multiplies and grows. 0000 is nothing. But add a 1 and you get 10,000!
That “1” is God. We may accumulate and acquire all the zeros in the whole world, but if we don’t have a “1” then we are still only equal to zero.
So, be Number 1 in school, be Number 1 in your extracurricular activities, be Number 1 in all your endeavors. However, don’t forget the real Number 1. The real Number 1 is God. It is only He who can turn 0000 into 10,000! If you keep Him as your Number 1, your life will be magic.
E stands for “encourage.” Encourage whom? Encourage yourselves. These years are times in which it is easy to become discouraged; so frequently I hear my youth bemoaning, “But, Swamiji, I can’t do it. I’m just not smart enough.” Or, “Swamiji, maybe I’m not meant to be successful.” Or, “Swamiji, I’m so afraid of letting my parents down.”
You must keep your spirits high. You must remember that you are divine and wonderful. You CAN do it! Whatever you want to do, you can do!
Look at Hanumanji. He was able to jump across the entire ocean. He was able to carry an entire mountain in his hands. Why? Because of his faith in Bhagwan Rama. You, too, must cultivate that faith. It doesn’t have to be Bhagwan Rama. That’s no problem. Whatever name or form of God you pray to is fine. But, have faith. If a small monkey can fly across oceans and carry mountains through faith in God, then you, too, can succeed beautifully if you keep Him in your heart.
N- Nav Jivan (New Life)
The time when you go from being a child at home to being a student off at university is a time in which you are born into a new life. One moment you are a child, and all your needs are taken care of by your parents. They are always there — 24 hours a day — watching out for you. They are there to help you, to care for you, to make sure you eat properly and sleep on time. They are there to guide you and to provide a structured, balanced life.
However, once you leave home and move into the dorms or into an apartment, the responsibility becomes yours. There is no one there to tell you to eat your breakfast, or to tell you to go to sleep. There is no one there to prevent you from watching TV all night or from talking on the phone with friends until the wee hours of the morning. There is no one sitting up until you come home safely from your evening out.
When you live at home, under your parents’ supervision, a part of you knows that you will always be “caught” and will never be able to go too far astray. Therefore, you may rebel, you may disobey the rules, you may push their boundaries. The deeper you knows that they will always be there looking out for you.
However, once you have moved out of the house, that is no longer the case. Now you are on your own. The responsibility of caring for you is now yours alone.
You are now traversing the threshold from child to adult. This Nav Jivan (New Life) can be whatever you make it. The choice is now yours. When I was young, doing sadhana in the Himalayas, a great saint told me, “Bolo Jivan kaisa hai? Jaisa banalo vaisa hai. Chaihe is ko narak banalo, chaihe is ko swarg banalo. Bolo jivan kaisa hai? Jaisa banalo vaisa hai.” It means, “What is life? Life is what you make it. You can make it Hell, or you can make it Heaven. The choice is yours. What is life? Life is whatever you make it.”
So, take a pledge that you will make your new life Heaven, not only for yourself, but for all of humanity. It is said that one of the greatest gifts from God is the gift of human birth. Through this human birth you can do wonders. Do not limit yourselves. Do not underestimate yourselves.
Nothing in life comes easily other than love for God! That which we want we have to work for. Your studies will be difficult at times. Sometimes they will seem to require more of you than you are able to give. At other times during these years, your life may seem to fall apart — that is part and parcel of being an adolescent. Our lives are torn down, then rebuilt again, each time with the pieces more firmly in place, each time with the foundation a little more solid. You must not lose hope; you must never give up.
There is a current, tragic epidemic of teenage depression, drug abuse and suicide. These youth don’t know how to hold on through the difficult times. In the limited vision of adolescence, they are unable to see the light at the end of the darkness.
My birdies, you must hold on. Whether it is a difficult class, a difficult project, a difficult relationship, or a difficult time, just hold on with faith that God will pull you through. There is a beautiful saying, simple and yet profound. Keep it as your mantra during those times which may seem to be unbearable. The mantra is “this too shall pass.”
We move through life, shedding layer after layer of the old, as we don newer and newer layers of maturity, wisdom and experience. That which today seems unbearable will be but a memory tomorrow. Feel it, experience it, learn from it, but never let anything leave you dejected or hopeless. There is always a brighter tomorrow, as we move — day by day — closer to God.
There is a beautiful line in one of our prayers which says, “Tu akela nahin pyare; Ram tere sath mein.” It means, you are never alone. The Lord is always with you. Never feel lonely. Never feel scared. Never feel hopeless. Just close your eyes and realize that God is walking by your side, holding your hand in His.
So, remain tenacious. Remain strong. Keep doing that which is right — study hard, be honest and kind, live a life of purity and integrity. Never give up.