The way a Master deals with our strengths and weaknesses - a story and experience
Strengths and weaknesses
Everyone of us have our strengths and our weaknesses. The popular conviction among all the action-oriented people is that we have to intelligently make use of our strengths to cover up our weaknesses if not to overcome them completely. This phenomenon is seen everywhere from academics, where a student tries to score well in subjects of his/her liking so that the low marks in other subjects do not have too great a negative effect, to sports where an individual/team plays according to its strengths in an attempt to hide the weak points. However, at times, this ploy does not work. That happens when either the weakness if very big or when the strength is not that great. It also happens if the strength and corresponding weakness are not complementary to each other. How does one respond in such situations?
To make the above statement clear, let us consider an example. If I am a football player with a powerful kick which is highly inaccurate, a good way to use my strength to cover up my weakness would be this - to play as a defender in those matches where one needs to stall the opposition by wasting time. In that case my powerful kicks, which take the ball AWAY from my side of the field to either the other side or even outside the field, will be useful. But what if I don’t possess a leg? What do I do on field then? No strength of mine can ever cover that weakness right?
But that is what only humans do and inspire others to do - use strengths to cover weaknesses. A Master though, has different plans. The way a Master deals with a weakness is both simply magnificent and magnificently simple. Rather than give away in a sentence what the Master does with one’s weakness, I choose to tell a story and, along with that, narrate a powerful personal experience with my Master, Bhagawan Sri Sathya Sai Baba, an experience that spanned several years. That way, the message gets transmitted better I believe.
A martial artist’s woes
There was this lad, Wei Wong in China (no prizes for guessing that!) who was constantly teased and bullied by his friends. They told him that he was a loser and could never be as good as them in anything. And that was because the lad had only his left arm! He had been born without the right arm. No doubt his left arm and hand performed better than any of his friends’ left hands, but that was never compensation for having only a single hand.
“Wei Wong does everything ve(r)y w(r)ong”, jeered his friends.
They never understood how sad and hurt he was.
As part of the school curricula, the children joined martial arts classes. Wong also enlisted, but as expected, he was at the bottom of the class when it came to duels and performances. Life had been unfair to him and there was no way he walk arm-in-arm with his friends! Dejected and depressed, Wong pulled out of the martial arts. He was convinced that he had no future in Kung Fu. None of his teachers could tell him anything because what else could they do? It was a fact that Wong lacked the right arm and hand. That was when Wong met the Master.
The Master had an air of tranquility and great wisdom about him. He walked up to Wong as he was returning home without going for the Kung Fu classes.
“Hey boy! Do you want to learn real Kung Fu?”, asked Master Chang.
“Its clear that you don’t know me”, said Wong as he turned to face the stranger, allowing him to see that he had only one arm, “you definitely would not want to teach me Kung Fu.”
“Kung Fu is not about arms and legs you see. Its about you.”
Wong stopped in his tracks.
“What do you mean?”
“I mean, if you are sincere with me, you will collect the trophy for this year’s best martial artist in the annual competition.”
“You must be joking!”, muttered Wong.
“Pay attention boy. Many times what you consider as great truths in life, turn out to be jokes while what appears as a joke turns out to be the ultimate truth.”
Wong did not get completely the import of what Master Chang said.
“Ha! You are speaking like Master Oogway! But I am no Kung Fu Panda! These words are good in movies - in reel life - not in real life!”
“I am Chang and I see in you a potential Kung-Fu champion.Just shut up and come to me.”
The command in his voice was so compelling and the smile on his face was so spontaneous that Wong was soon with Master Chang.
Master Chang started Wong on an intense regimen to strengthen his left arm. He also had a detailed plan to strengthen Wong’s strategies for fighting with his left hand only. Wong, though sincere in his practice, always wondered how Master Chang would make him a champ. He was doing His best, but that would still not be enough.
My weakness woes
Wong’s story reminds me always of my own weakness too. Though I had never noticed it, I had always one weakness right from my childhood that caused me to often get distressed and depressed. If I state that weakness, it might not appear as one and, like Wong’s friends, the reader might laugh at me. But I am sure that anyone who has faced this same problem like me will empathise with me 100%. Now that that is out of the way, the weakness I am talking about is attachment!
I would (and sometimes do even now) get very attached to people. Family and friends were the primary substratum on which I would strongly nourish my attachment roots. What is wrong in that, one might ask.
Attachment is a terrible thing. It builds in the individual such heavy and strong expectations that the object of attachment is unable to fulfill them in a satisfactory manner. The non-fulfillment of expectations leads to a powerful hit to the ‘heart’ and I often felt that nobody ever knew how to take care of my heart even though I had gifted it to them with all goodness of intention.
The solution offered by those few that felt my pain was - “Don’t get attached to people. Let go of them. Then you won’t have expectations and thus no disappointments too!”
Though that solution seems foolproof, it is not easy to implement because attachment happened so naturally for me - and expectation too. Isn’t it the nature of the roots to cling on to the soil? How could somebody advise the root to stop clinging on? Now THAT, was my problem.
I have elaborated into a little more detail on this problem of mine in an article entitled, When God teaches you to walk - Footprints in the sand, and so, I shall not go deeper into it here. I always knew that Love is the ultimate. My Master, my Swami, always stresses that Love is God. But my weakness arose from my inability to know the difference between Infatuation and Love. And I was unable to help it.
Master Chang’s masterstroke
The day of the championship drew close and Wong had almost perfected the art of fighting with his left arm. His defence was perfect and he did not need the right hand at all to ward off any attack. But, he still had his doubts because nobody wins a Kung Fu championship just by defending. The knockout strikes had to be made and Wong had no clue as to how he would do that. He was quite nervous about the impending tournament.
Master Chang, on the other hand, was so serene as ever. Nothing seemed to ever disturb his calm.
“Don’t worry Wong”, he assured him,”one day before the tournament, I shall teach you a move which will win you the competition. All these days, I have just prepared you to be worthy to receive the move.”
“Why don’t you teach it to me now itself so that I can practice it?”
“You needn’t waste time and energy on that. Right now, focus on perfecting your left-arm defence more completely.”
That gave some courage to Wong but try as he might, he could not think of the move that Master Wong would be teaching him.
The day before the tournament, Master Chang called Wong to him. Wong had almost not slept the previous night in excitement to receive this master move. As Master Chang showed him the ‘master’ move and hold, Wong was really disappointed. It was one of the most basic moves and holds in Kung Fu! Everyone would surely know that and counter that! But Master Chang insisted on it and Wong learnt it out of respect to his mentor.
At the end of the tournament, it was Wong who stood on the winner’s podium and took the gold medal. It was a shock to everyone else except for the master-disciple duo of Chang and Wong! It was during his first fight that Wong realized the brilliance of his master. The basic hold he was taught turned out to be like the Wuxi finger hold or the touch of death of Kung-Fu Panda! How was that?
The basic move and hold that Master Chang taught had only ONE defence - holding and striking the right arm of the attacker - which was not possible against a right-armless Wong! In his masterstroke, Master Chang had converted Wong’s greatest weakness into his greatest strength!
My Master’s masterstroke
While everyone discouraged me from getting attached, Swami never did that to me. I was waiting for that one day when Swami would tell me to give up attachment. I felt that would give me the strength to do it also because of my faith that when God gives a task, he also gives the strength to accomplish it. But that never happened. Instead, in a subtle way, I felt that Swami encouraged me to ‘develop’ my ‘ability to attach’ myself!
I never understood His logic and methods till the day when He ‘chained’ me to Himself. Having always indicated to me that I should grow stronger attachment roots, He advised me to turn my attention and attachment towards God. Ah! What a masterstroke! Instead of telling me to chop my roots, He fostered them and then simply changed the soil!
My greatest weakness had turned into my greatest strength! Strong attachment to God automatically made all other attachments weak! I was now firmly tethered to God and I know for that His love is pure for sure - no more dejection; no more depression. Simply marvellous and marvellously simple isn’t it?
On the 9th of February 2003, Swami visited the students’ hostel in Prasanthi Nilayam. In the discourse there, He said,
“Your attachment to God is like a cheque on which you put your signature of love. That enables you to withdraw infinite cash reserves of God’s Grace. But for that, you have to make deposits of devotion and sadhana.”
God is the only bank who will offer infinite reserves for the deposits made. God is the only one who will not condemn or mock you for your weaknesses. While humans try to use strengths to cover up weaknesses, the Master converts our weaknesses into our strengths!
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© 2014 Aravind Balasubramanya