At the end of the great Kurukshetra war, Ashwatthama was grieved to see his father, Drona, lying dead on the battlefield. In anger, he killed the five sons of the Pandavas as well as Draupadi's brothers. When Arjuna, one of the Pandava princes, came to know what had happened, he decided to avenge Ashwatthama's terrible deed. He rushed to kill Ashwatthama. Seeing this, the latter became frightened and in desperation, invoked the Brahmashirsha astra (a celestial weapon) uttering the words, "Let the world be Pandava-less," and hurled it towards Arjuna.

It was Arjuna's good grace that the Lord Himself, Sri Krishna, was his Charioteer and Guide, and was able to save Arjuna. As Ashwatthama did not know how to withdraw the astra, he re-aimed it at all the unborn children of the Pandavas.

When Arjuna's pregnant daughter-in-law, Uttara, heard about this, she rushed to Lord Krishna, and begged Him to protect her unborn child. In compassion, Krishna assured the disconsolate Uttara that He would certainly protect her and her unborn child against the lethal fire of the astra.

While in the womb, the unborn child saw a fiery form enter, its heat almost burning him. It was then that the child saw another form, that of a divine being. He was splendid: blue-hued, wearing a golden crown and silk robes, and adorned with brilliant jewelry. He held a mace in His hand, and started walking around the child. The mace, which was spitting fire like a lit-up torch, warded off the deadly rays of the astra, until it was completely quelled. It was Lord Krishna Himself who had entered Uttara's womb to fulfil His promise to her. He remained there until the child was born.

The child was named Vishnurata since the Lord Himself has protected him and made a gift of him to the Paurava throne. Lord Krishna called him Parikshit, because he used to behold the form of Vishnu, even while in the womb, and wonder, "Who is this glorious being who is always protecting me?” He had begun to ponder upon the Lord's form even before he was born! Om.

Not too long ago, there lived a man called Prasad. He was a rich businessman. But business was not his only passion. He also loved Polly, his pet parrot. But for Prasad, Polly was more than a pet; she was his companion. He took very good care of her, spoiling her with nuts and juicy fruits. On her part Polly entertained Prasad with spot-on imitations of his speech and other sounds.

One day, Polly developed a cough. Her usually shrill sound became punctuated by hacking coughs. Prasad became concerned. He summoned an allopathic bird doctor. After checking her throat and lungs, the doctor said, "I'm afraid I'll have to operate. I can't promise that the surgery will be a success. But it's the best hope Polly has."

Prasad was aghast! Operate on his beloved Polly? What if something went wrong during the surgery? The prospect was more than he could bear. There must be some other way, he decided. Polly squawked hoarsely in seeming agreement.

Prasad called another friend, a homeopathic doctor. After examining Polly, she pronounced, "I have just what Polly needs. But I must warn you. The cough will get worse initially over a period of three months. After that, her situation will start improving, and within a year, the cough should disappear."

One year? Why did it have to take so long? Prasad just couldn't bear the idea of Polly's already nasty-sound squawks getting worse. He rang his Ayurvedic doctor.

The doctor came, checked Polly thoroughly and said, "The cough is only a symptom of a more deep-rooted ailment. We should treat the root cause. I would prescribe a course of herbal concoctions that she must take regularly for the next two years. After 24 months, I promise there won't be a trace of the cough left!"

That was two years, even longer! Wasn't there anyone in the world who could treat Polly more quickly and easily? Prasad called an old friend and trusted business associate. He told him about Polly and her ailment, and what the doctors had said. The friend patiently heard him out, and then said, "Prasad, maybe it's your smoking that's causing this cough. I know it's difficult for you to quit smoking. But why don't you try smoking away from her. Some fresh air will get rid of her cough in no time at all."

Prasad saw a ray of hope. His friend's suggestion sounded so sensible that he wondered why he hadn't thought of it before. Over the next few days, Prasad saw to it that he never smoked in the house. But even after a week, Polly's cough sounded as severe as ever. He was at his wit's end. It seemed to him that he had tried everything, to no avail. In desperation, he started praying. "O Lord, please help me. Polly is my very life. Please save her. Please! "

For the first time in his life, Prasad began to contemplate the prospect of a life without Polly. It was more than he could take. He decided to go for a walk. In the park, he saw a familiar-looking woman. After some time, he realized that she was his teacher from kindergarten! He walked up to her and introduced himself. To his surprise, he found that she could actually remember him, even though they had last seen each other so many years ago. Prasad felt gratified. This teacher looked so motherly and her beam so genuine that he felt some relief in his heart. They sat down on a bench and started talking. Prasad told her about Polly and about how sad he was feeling. "I am a successful businessman. But if something happens to Polly, no money will be able to buy me the joy that Polly gives me."

The teacher listened sympathetically. When Prasad had finished speaking, she said, "Why don't you stop smoking? "

Prasad was taken aback. He didn't expect such a response. Not only that, he didn't see any connection between his smoking and Polly's cough. Hadn't he tried smoking outside the house recently? That hadn't helped Polly at all. Prasad expressed his reservations candidly.

"Do you want Polly to stop coughing?" the teacher asked.

"Of course," Prasad replied.

"Then do as I say. If you really love her, no sacrifice can be too great." The teacher's words struck a chord in Prasad's heart. After noting down her phone number, he bid her farewell and started walking home. Something about what the teacher said had touched his heart. "If you really love her, no sacrifice can be too great"—these words echoed again and again in his mind.

By the time he reached home, he had already decided to quit smoking. To his surprise, he was able to do it. But the greater surprise was that Polly stopped coughing after just a week. Prasad was overjoyed! He was so happy to hear her shrill voice resounding throughout the house. To him, it was the sweetest music! All the same, he felt puzzled. How had his not smoking helped to heal her cough? He called up his teacher.

"You know what?" she said. "Polly never had a cough. She was only imitating your cough. She was parroting your smoker's cough. When you stopped smoking, you stopped coughing. And so did Polly!"

Prasad realized that his teacher, with her years of wisdom, had taught him a profound lesson. We are quick to notice the faults of others, never our own. We try to correct the mistakes of others, but never our own. We don't realize that the mistakes we see in others are often mirrors that reflect our own mistakes. Om

Nine-year-old Mahesh wants to become a master archer, but to achieve his goal, he must get a nail from a living bear's claw.

Mahesh, a nine-year-old lad, longed to be the best warrior in the land. But a warrior had to be an excellent archer. At night, Mahesh dreamed that he was the warrior whose arrows always found their targets. He was the hero of his dreams. But was he destined to just dream his life away?

The village wise man taught Mahesh and the other children in the hamlet whatever he knew in return for their services. Everyday, he taught them lessons in history, mathematics, music and martial arts, including archery.

Mahesh knew only too well that he had to excel in archery to be considered a true warrior. After six months of training, he still had not learned to aim well. He became sad.

Seeing him dejected, the teacher asked, "What's the matter, my son?" "Nothing," replied the boy. "Surely something is on your mind," prodded the teacher. Thus encouraged, Mahesh asked, "Sir, will I ever become a master archer?"

The wise man looked at the boy silently and then said, "I know a way you can. Bring me the nail of a living bear and I assure you, you will be the best archer in the hamlet."

A living bear's nail! He could never do that. Despondent, he saluted the wise man and took his leave.

As he walked through the woods, Mahesh consoled himself saying, "Well, at least my hamlet is in the bear country." True enough, the villagers spotted bears once in a while.

A few days passed, and on one of his treks through the hills, Mahesh stopped in his tracks when he spotted a big brown bear at a distance. At the same time, the bear saw him. Scared stiff, Mahesh placed his lunch on the ground and didn't move. The bear just looked at him. Hours passed. The sun went down. Finally, the boy gathered enough courage to move and trekked back home.

The next day, he returned to the same spot and guess who was there? The bear! Mahesh sat down without making any noise. Occasionally, the bear would look at him, but both were content to leave each other alone. Once again, the hours passed but Mahesh did not budge. In the evening, he slowly rose and went back home. This went on for nearly two months. With time, Mahesh grew bolder and started moving closer to the bear. The bear did not seem to mind his presence. After six months, the bear was literally eating out of his hands.

Mahesh realized that he now had a golden opportunity to cut the bear's nail. He gently took the bear's paw in his hands and sat caressing it. To his amazement, the bear didn't seem to mind. Gathering more courage, he gently cut the bear's nail.

When he left the bear that day, he ran all the way to his teacher's house to show him what he had gotten. The wise man, noticing the youngster's joy, took the nail from him and said, "Well done, Mahesh. Tell me how you managed to get the nail."

Almost breathless, the boy replied, "Sir, you won't believe this. I waited six months and then I was able to cut the bear's nail." Mahesh then narrated how he was able to get the nail.

"Ah, so you waited patiently for six months! You can leave now," said the teacher.

Mahesh, who had expected the wise man to perform a miracle and turn him into a master archer, was sorely disappointed. He blurted out, "Sir, aren't you going to do something?"
The wise man smiled and said, "Son, the patience that you showed in getting the bear's nail is what you need to help you master archery."

It was that simple! Mahesh had learned the secret and the magic formula to success. Yes, he realised finally that patience was the secret key that would unlock his dream.

Samartha Ramdas was a great devotee of Lord Rama, a saint, and the Guru of Shivaji, the famous warrior-king who ruled Maharashtra during the 17th century. Ramdas had many disciples who lived with him in his ashram.

Everyday, Ramdas would conduct classes on the scriptures. One day, a small boy came to the ashram and humbly asked Ramdas if he could join the ashram. Attracted to his sweet innocence, Ramdas consented. He called the boy 'Bola.'

The next day, Ramdas noticed that Bola had not turned up for the class. Later, Ramdas saw him sweeping the backyard. He asked him, "Why didn't you attend the class?"

Bola replied, "Holy one, I am not learned. I will not understand the scriptures. But I can sweep and clean the place and feed the cattle."

Ramdas was pleased to see his humility and service-mindedness. He said  "Alright. But you must attend the reading of the Ramayan every night. It is simple. Anyone can understand the story of Lord Rama, Sita, His consort, and Lakshmana, His brother."

Every night, Bola would listen attentively to Ramdas reading from the Ramayan. He was so engrossed that he never noticed the other disciples sniggering behind his bock. They looked down upon him, thinking him to be a mere servant who was unfit to imbibe the lofty principles of spirituality.

One day, when Bola did not turn up for the nightly reading, Ramdas waited. He did not start reading until Bola arrived. Ramdas had discerned in him the sincerity of a true seeker. The other disciples wondered what their Guru saw in Bola but refrained from commenting for fear of invoking Ramdas's wrath.

That night, after the reading, Ramdas told Bola to get ready for a trip to the royal palace the next day. Shivaji had invited Ramdas and his disciples to stay in his palace for a few months, and to enlighten the royal courtiers with enlightened talk.

Bola said "Guruji, why don't I stay behind? Someone has to keep the ashram clean, feed the animals and do the daily worship. In any case, I wouldn't be of any use in the palace as I am not learned."

Will you be able to do everything single-handedly?" Ramdas asked. Bola realized his Guru had a point: the ashram was huge and how indeed could he do everything alone.

Understanding his thoughts, Ramdas said, "Don't worry, Bola. If you find that you need help, just call Hanuman, and he will come to your help."

"Yes, Master," Bola replied, fully accepting Ramdas's words.

After Ramdas and the other disciples left for the palace, Bola started working. Even though there was a lot of work and he had to do it all alone, Bola cheerfully did the work. He considered himself blessed for having the opportunity to serve his Guru in this humble way. That day, after cleaning the ashram and feeding the cattle, he started making food for the deities in the puja [worship] room. After he had finished preparing the delicacies, he set them on a tray before the images of Rama, Sita and Lakshmana, and waited. Even after waiting for a long time, he didn't see any sign of the trio. He was wondering what to do, when he recalled Ramdas's words.

Without any hesitation, he called out, "Hanuman! O Hanuman!" He heard the rustle of wind blowing through the trees, and the very next second, Hanuman appeared before him. Bola said, "I've prepared the food for Your Lord, Sita and Lakshmana. It's starting to get cold. Can you please bring them here?"

Hanuman was astonished to see such innocence. But he decided to test Bola. "Why don't we eat some of the food now, and then I'll call them. I'm really hungry."

"Nothing doing," Bola replied sternly. "Go and call them. After they have eaten, I will serve you a sumptuous meal."

Bowing down before Bola's innocent faith and devotion, Hanuman set off at once, and came back with Lord Rama, Sita and Lakshmana. When he saw them, Bola prostrated before them and, with all reverence, ushered them into the puja room, where he served each one of them with great joy and humility. When they had finished, Bola told them, "Please come back again tomorrow. I will prepare your favorite dishes."

This episode repeated itself daily for the next few months. On the day before Ramdas and his disciples were due to return, Bola told Sita, "Dear Mother, my beloved Guru is returning tomorrow. I would like to get the ashram ready for him. Can you help me?"

"Of course, my child!" Sita replied "I will cook a feast for everyone. Lord Rama and Lakshmana will decorate the ashram for you, and Hanuman will get us the best flowers and fruits." With those words, Lord Rama, Sita, Lakshmana and Hanuman started working. Bola happily went to clean the ashram and feed the cattle.

The next day, when Ramdas and his disciples returned, they were pleasantly surprised to see the ashram looking so beautiful. There was an agreeable fragrance of flowers and food too. "What happened, Bola?" he asked.

"Like you said, Master, I asked Hanuman to help, and he brought Lord Rama, Sita and Lakshmana with him. They helped me prepare a reception to welcome you back,"

Hearing Bola's words, the disciples looked scornful. "He must be out of his mind," said one. "His imagination is running wild!" muttered another.

Ignoring them, Ramdas asked Bola, "Where are they?" Bola led him into the main ashram building. As soon as they reached the puja room, Ramdas saw the figures of Lord Rama, Sita, Lakshmana and Hanuman retreating into the puja room and disappearing! He was speechless. Embracing Bola, Ramdas said, "My dear child, I had to do so much tapas [intense spiritual practices] to get a vision of these divinities. But your innocence and total faith drew them to you so easily. You are truly blessed!"

A quiet and tranquil village - that was how one would have described it. But that was then. It had since become a place of conflict and intrigue. The village elders came together to discuss the state of affairs. One of them, who had seen the good old days, said, “Let's invite a wise man into our village. His very presence will exert a calming effect on the people here. We can also seek his guidance on how to co-exist peacefully with each other." The others thought this was a good idea. One of them went to an ashram in the neighboring town, and invited the Guru to visit the problem-filled village.

In due course, the Guru came to the village. All the villagers gathered in the square to see this sage. He had a look of such serenity that the villagers felt strangely calmed. One of the elders stepped up. With palms joined together prayerfully, he said, "O holy one, thank you for gracing this humble village with your hallowed presence. We were once a peaceful people. But over the last few years, we've seen problems increasing in this village: fighting among people, lawlessness, and a general sense of discontentment. Please help us regain our peace of mind. Tell us, O holy one, how we may live harmoniously with each other."

After the village elder had spoken, everyone looked expectantly at the Guru. He merely smiled. Then turning to his satchel, he took out what looked like dolls. There were four of them. One of them was made of stone, another of clay, the third of cotton, and the fourth of sugar candy. He then asked one of the villagers to bring four glass containers of water. When they brought the four glass containers, the Guru said, "Watch."

He took the stone doll and immersed it in water. The villagers watched. Nothing happened. The Guru smiled. He then picked up the clay doll and immersed it in the second container of water. The water became muddy at once. The doll dissolved into the water, turning it into a murky brown solution. The villagers looked up at the Guru, thinking they would get an explanation. But he said nothing.

He picked up the cotton doll and proceeded to submerge it into the third container of water In no time at all, the doll absorbed all the water in the container and become puffed up. It looked grotesque. Once again, the Guru offered no explanation but merely smiled.

He then picked up the last doll, the one made of sugar candy, and immersed it in the fourth container of water. Nothing happened at first. Then the villagers noticed that it was slowly melting until it dissolved totally in the water. After a while, all that remained was a clear solution that looked like water.

The Guru cleared his throat. The villagers looked at him. "What did you learn?" he asked.

There was pin-drop silence. No one knew what to say. The Guru spoke again, slowly. "Do you want to be like the stone doll?" He looked around at the villagers, making sure that he had their full attention. He continued. "The stone doll did not do anything to the water. It wasn't affected either. Some people are like that. They don't contribute to society in any way. They are totally selfish."

"The clay doll is like a person whose very presence pollutes the environment. The moment the doll was immersed in water, it turned the clear water into a dirty brown solution. Do you want to be like the clay doll?" There was a soft murmur of dissent.

"Or do you want to be like the cotton doll?" the Guru demanded. "It sucks in everything, like a sponge, and becomes all puffed up! All taking, and no giving!" The logic behind the demonstration was now becoming clear to the villagers.

Finally, pointing to the last container of water, the sage asked, "Look at this! The sugar-candy doll gave itself totally to the water, turning it into sweet water. It gave and never took. By sacrificing itself, it spread sweetness all around." The sage paused for a while, seemingly self absorbed. Gazing at the villagers, he asked, "Which kind of life do you think is noblest?"

"The life of the sugar-candy doll," replied the villagers in unison. The Guru had made his point marvelously—the village would regain its lost peace and harmony if the villagers learnt to be more giving and less selfish. As if to make his point clear, he called all the villagers and doled out to each villager a small serving of the sweet water. It was the prasad of love and self-sacrifice! Om.

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