Ideals and Values/Straightforwardness & simplicity
What is Straightforwardness?
Straightforwardness means that we should be simple in our behavior towards others. We should not try to behave with others in a crooked and deceitful manner. Rather, we should be honest. We should be open about our weaknesses and avoid being pretentious.
Lord Śiva said to Devi Pārvati, "Straightforwardness is Dharma and crookedness is Adharma. Only that person who has a straightforward nature gets the fruit of Dharma.
Lord Kṛṣṇa said, "Crookedness is the abode of death, whereas straightforwardness leads to the Supreme Being. This understanding alone is true knowledge, so why should one teach any other nonsense?
In the case of great men, their actions are consistent with their speech and the speech is consistent with their thoughts. But in case of evil men, their actions are inconsistent with their words and their words do not reflect what they actually think.
Is a Straightforward Person Naïve? Be Tactful
Being a straightforward person does not mean that we should be completely naïve and foolish. We must not let others take advantage of us or take us for a ride. All it means is that we should not be crooked, and should not take advantage of others. A Sanskrit poet says it very beautifully, "It is not advisable to be completely straightforward to the extent of being naïve. When the forest is cut down, the erect and straight trees get hacked down immediately but the curved creepers get saved from destruction."
Also, being straightforward does not mean that we are blunt to the extent of being rough and insensitive. This is illustrated with the help of a story from the life of Rājā Birbal, a clever Hindu who served under Emperor Akbar. Birbal teaches an astrologer to be tactful, i.e., be diplomatic and skillful in dealing with people, and speak the truth accurately, but in a way that does not hurt others.
Story: Birbal teaches the Astrologer how to Package his predictions One day, an astrologer came to Birbal to seek his advice. He had gone to the home of a rich man who requested him to read the lines on his palm and predict his future. The astrologer examined the palm and said, "You will see all your relatives die in front of your own eyes."
The rich man had become so infuriated with the astrologer, that he had him beaten up and had him thrown out of his home. The astrologer then came to Birbal to understand why he had suffered for merely speaking the truth. Birbal said to him, "No one wants to see his loved ones die in front of him. That was obviously a wrong thing to say, even though it was factually a correct prediction. Why don't you go back to him after a few months and give the following prediction to him that You will really live long and will be the longest lived person in your social circles."
The astrologer did as he was told and was surprised that the rich man was now very pleased with him and even rewarded him with a few gold coins. The astrologer understood the advice of Birbal. He had said essentially the same thing to the rich man both the times, but the second time on, he had said it more gently and in a more acceptable manner. This story illustrates that while we must speak the truth and ought to be straightforward, at the same time, we should have the necessary wisdom and tact to say it correctly and in a way that does not offend anyone.
Stories on the Virtue of Straightforwardness
Story: Mahatma Gandhi sleeps peacefully before a Press Conference Before 1947, India was ruled by the British government. Once, Mahatma Gandhi visited London to negotiate India's independence. He was to have a press conference the following day. As usual, it was expected that the news persons would try to corner him with their trick questions and embarrass him. The news persons reached the place where he was residing the previous night. They were surprised to find that Mahatma Gandhi was sleeping peacefully.
One of the news persons asked Gandhi's secretary, "Is Gandhi not tense or stressed about the press conference tomorrow? Any normal person would not be able to even sleep the preceeding night." The secretary replied, "Mahatma Gandhi is not afraid of your questions and is not scared of preparing for the answers. His mind is very clear and he does not say one thing and mean another. When you ask him any question, he will answer with exactly what is in his mind. So why should he get worried and lose his sleep?"
Story: The Straightforwardness of Queen Mandodari Rāvaṇa, the evil King of Lanka was blessed to have Mandodari as his queen. Mandodari dutifully served her husband. She always spoke the truth and said what she thought was in the best interests of her husband. Many a times, she knew that her advice could make Rāvana angry because she said what he did not want to hear. But in his heart, he knew that Mandodari was a very straightforward and a truthful woman who had only her husband's best interests in his heart. And therefore, he always had a deep seated respect for her in his heart and never became annoyed with her, even though he ignored her advice.
When Rāvana kidnapped Sitā and imprisoned her in the Ashoka Vatika forest, Mandodari counseled him and said, "It is not right to kidnap someone else's wife and imprison her against her own will. Bad karma always recoils on us and we will all suffer the consequences." But Rāvana just ignored her. When Hanuman came to Lanka in search of Sitā and put the city to fire with his burning tale, she again said to him, "If a mere monkey belonging to your enemy can cause so much harm to the kingdom, don't you think that your enemy Rāma himself would be extremely powerful to defeat you in no time? Therefore, in your own interests, I urge you to release Sitā and send her back to her husband Rāma with full honors." But Rāvana was too egotistic to listen to her and just brushed her aside. When Rāvana's own brother Vibhīshana fled Lanka and joined the side of Rāma, she again pleaded with Rāvana to release Sitā, so that the lives of the people of Lanka are not endangered.
When Rāma prepared to invade Lanka, she again pleaded with him to release Sitā, saying, "It is wrong to imprison someone else's wife. Please let her go." But Rāvana did not listen. And when her husband finally died on the battlefield, she sat by the side of his corpse, but also realized that no one but her own husband was responsible for his own downfall. Rama was very impressed by her truthfulness and straightforwardness. He blessed her after entering the palace of Lanka. Mandodari is considered one of the five most virtuous women in the Hindu tradition.
Story on Straightforwardness: The Berries of Simple Tribal-woman Śabari Lord Rāma and his brother Lakṣmana were travelling through the forests of Southern India in search of Devi Sitā, the wife of Lord Rama, who had been kidnapped. They happened to pass by the āshrama of Sage Mātanga. In that hermitage, lived a humble, unintelligent and illiterate tribal woman named Śabari. Everyone thought that she was foolish and they made fun of her because she was ugly and simple minded. But Śabari always did her work diligently in the āshrama, served her Guru and remembered the Lord in her heart. On his death bed, the Sage told Śabari that her devotion will be rewarded and Lord Rāma would come Himself to her.
Many years later, when she heard that the Lord was coming in the direction of the āshrama, her joy knew no bounds! She wanted to feed the most delicious fruits and berries to Lord Rāma to satiate his hunger. So she went around from one bush of berries to another, plucking berries in a plate. She chewed one-half of each berry. Whenever she tasted a delicious and sweet berry, she would store the non-chewed half in a bowl. When she came across a bitter one, she would throw the whole berry away. When the Lord arrived, she offered Him a seat and water and then gave him the bowl of half-chewed sweet berries. In her excitement, she had forgotten that we must never give dirty food to our guests.
Lakṣmana felt disgusted that Śabari should have offered her half-chewed berries to Lord Rāma. But the Lord was so touched by the simple devotion and love of the tribal woman, that he ate the berries offered by her with great delight. After He had finished the berries, Śabari folded her hands in Namaste and asked the Lord with great devotion, "O Lord! I do not know the correct procedure for worshiping you because I am a very lowly and ugly, illiterate woman born in a very degraded tribe. On top of that, I am not very intelligent or wise. Please tell me how I should worship you and forgive me if I have offended you in any way."
Lord Rāma replied, "O beautiful lady! Listen to me. One should give up all pride due to one's wealth, strength, good qualities, intelligence or due to belonging to good families or caste. Instead of seeking for praise from others, we should simply take refuge in Bhakti and should praise Him alone. Because a person who lacks devotion and faith is like that useless cloud that soars high up in the sky but does not shower any life giving rain. Now I shall explain to you the nine paths of Bhakti. Pay attention and listen to what I say:
- First, seek always the company of saintly and virtuous people.
- Second, instead of paying attention to useless talk, spend time in listening to the biographies of Lord and Saints.
- Third, serve your Guru with humility.
- Fourth, give up all crookedness of heart and sing the praises of the great qualities of God.
- Fifth, chant the holy Vedas and recite the sacred mantras, sing bhajans and pray whenever you can.
- Sixth, follow what the good people do, keep your senses under control and do a lot of good deeds.
- Seventh, treat everyone as equal and see Me in everyone.
- Eighth, do not be greedy and be satisfied with what you get as a result of your labor. Also, do not see faults in others even in your dream but always see their good side and encourage them.
- Ninth, be straightforward, do not show any cunningness and have faith in Me alone with all your heart.
"Rare is that man or woman in which you can see even one of these nine types of devotion. Dear Śabari, everyone makes fun of you. But I can see that in reality, you are the most beautiful woman because all these nine forms of devotion are practiced by you with great humility. Today, I will give you that reward that even Yogis and Saints do not get easily. I shall reveal my Divine form to you." And then Lord Rāma showed his form as Lord Viṣṇu to her. Śabari's soul then left her body and merged with Lord Rāma. She attained Mokṣa as a result of her simplicity and simple devotion towards the Lord.
Discuss why this behavior is crooked and not straightforward.
- You have just completed your HW and are now ready to play some video games. Suddenly, your mother shouts from the kitchen that she needs your help in cleaning dirty dishes. You reply that you are still doing your homework and then return to your bedroom, leaving the video game behind.
- Your sister is very good at her studies and gets good grades in all her class tests. This makes you a bit jealous. Everyone in the house loves her. One day, she accidentally spills a glass of milk in her room. You immediately rush out and say loudly, "Sister has spilled her milk and now there is a big mess on the carpet!"
Notes & References
- Mahābhārata 13.142.30
- Mahābhārata 14.11.4
- Sanskrit proverb
- Vṛddha Chānakya 7.12
- He lived in 1556 - 1605 CE.
- It means hermitage.