Wisdom's Blossoms: Tales of the Saints of India

Wisdom's Blossoms: Tales of the Saints of India

by Doug Glener, Sarat Komaragiri

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Here is a timeless collection of traditional stories that recount the personal spiritual journeys and true acts of selflessness by saints from various religious traditions indigenous to India, including Buddhism, Hinduism,
Jainism, Sikhism, and Sufism. The authors present a diverse selection of these inspirational tales—about both men and women saints,


Here is a timeless collection of traditional stories that recount the personal spiritual journeys and true acts of selflessness by saints from various religious traditions indigenous to India, including Buddhism, Hinduism,
Jainism, Sikhism, and Sufism. The authors present a diverse selection of these inspirational tales—about both men and women saints, from a variety of time periods, and from all over India—and make them relevant for a modern audience.
The stories reveal that, despite their perceived differences, the same spiritual principles underlie all the great religious traditions.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Glener and Komaragiri present 26 tales of Indian saints, martyrs and other figures of religious inspiration. Affiliated with the transnational Hindu movement known as the Self-Realization Fellowship, both authors have selected broadly appealing stories that include varieties of Hindu, Muslim, Buddhist, Sikh and Jain heroes and heroines. The authors admit that they have scripted traditional stories for dramatic and didactic effect, underscoring the universal values within each tradition. Each tale fits neatly within a short-story model that reads like a fable, culminating in a moral or inspirational insight, and followed by a lovely drawing of an Indian devotional figure. "Tegh Bahadur Helps his Hindu Brothers" describes how the ninth Sikh guru chose death over forcible conversion to Islam, and how his brave beheading at the hands of Aurangzeb inspires "all of India with the courage to resist evil." Bahadur's martyrdom is no less saintly than that depicted in the Jain tale, "The Wedding Feast that Never Was," the story of Prince Arishtanemi's abandonment of his bride and kingdom for the sake of the creatures that were to be slaughtered for the wedding rite. Throughout, themes of nonviolence and individual renunciation underlie the stories. The advantage of this presentation is its accessibility and coherence of style. Yet each story, written in much the same voice, loses something of the great variety of Indian religious traditions, in which tales of saints are sung, chanted, and recounted in many colorful and cacophonous voices. (Nov.) Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
Boston-based Glener and Komaragiri, both members of the Self-Realization Fellowship, have produced an intriguing array of retellings of famous or instructive stories from Indian tradition, dealing with Hindu, Buddhist, and Sufi traditions. Between the stories there are short entries on Indian monuments and deities. While the manner of storytelling is occasionally stilted, many of these tales are not well known in the West and they should be a welcome addition to many libraries. Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
From the Publisher
"This exquisite, poignant, superbly written book will enchant all those who read it into the depths of India's devotional traditions, and bathe them there in the fire of that sacred passion for God that transforms and redeems."—Andrew Harvey, author of The Direct Path

"The stories in Wisdom's Blossoms have been chosen with great love and insight. They will inspire the Western and Eastern reader alike to explore the world of Indian wisdom and spirituality."—Subhash Kak, author of The Astronomical Code of the Rigveda and The Wishing Tree

"Wisdom's Blossoms is a rich and varied collection of inspiring stories from India's oral tradition. Because this book is timeless, universal, and rich with wisdom, every reader will find just the right story to fulfill that special need. A great gift for teachers and students, or a wonderful way to inspire a friend."—Robert Arnett, author of India Unveiled

Product Details

Shambhala Publications, Inc.
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Read an Excerpt


Hindu sages declare that our real nature is
ever-conscious, ever-new bliss—but our lives often seem anything but that. We are beset with challenges uniquely our own, confronted with problems particular to our age, and swept up by events far larger than ourselves. And yet we must still fight the daily battle of life.

Though the promise of perfect happiness eludes us, we still believe it to be our true state and, knowingly or unknowingly, direct all our actions to its attainment.

Throughout the centuries, men and women of God have wrestled with the riddle of finding lasting joy in an unpredictable world and have discovered perennially useful answers that transcend culture and custom. Having overcome tests and desires common to all, the saints serve as living scriptures that encourage and uplift us.

For those who seek such inspiration, they will find in
twenty-six true stories about individuals who transformed themselves. Buddhists, Hindus,
Jains, Sikhs, and Sufis, hermits and householders, the wealthy and the poor,
scholars and the illiterate—you will meet in this book a variety of men and women whose religious beliefs are indigenous to India. The diversity of their backgrounds reveals that truth is universal, that the same spiritual principles underlie all the great religious traditions, and that adherence to them sanctifies one's life.

Bhagavad-Gita, one of India's greatest scriptures, enumerates these eternal qualities. Arjuna, the ideal devotee, asks his guru Krishna, "What are the traits of the divinely inclined man?" This is Krishna's answer:

purity of heart, perseverance in acquiring wisdom and in practicing yoga,
charity, subjugation of the senses, performance of holy rites, study of the scriptures, self-discipline, straightforwardness;

truthfulness, freedom from wrath, renunciation, peacefulness,
non-slanderousness, compassion for all creatures, absence of greed, gentleness,
modesty, lack of restlessness;

Radiance of character, forgiveness, patience, cleanness, freedom from hate, absence of conceit—these qualities are the wealth of a divinely inclined person, O
Descendant of Bharata (best or most excellent descendant of the Bharata dynasty).

Talks with Arjuna: The Bhagavad-Gita,
Paramahansa Yogananda]

For each quality in the preceding Gita passage, there is in
a corresponding story of a saint who demonstrated, or struggled to demonstrate,
that quality. Perhaps the tales of the spiritual giants of India will more quickly help us find the peace and happiness we seek.

How and why this book came about is also worth a brief mention.

For hundreds of years in India, people in towns and villages would gather together at dusk to listen to
(devotional singers) narrate and sing stories of saints. I was privileged to attend many of these devotional festivals in my hometown of Rajahmundry. On those special occasions, our neighborhood took on a festive air. Colorful electric lights were strung up, streets were cordoned off, and temporary wooden stages were erected. My family and I would make our way to the banks of the Godavari River to an open-air auditorium and sit spellbound while we listened to some of
India's finest stage performers recount the lives of Sankara, Ramanuja,
Gopanna, Vemana, and others.

These tales were also passed down within families, as they were in mine, where my grandmother and parents told us many inspiring tales at bedtime. Over the years, I realized these were not mere stories but principles by which to live.
Like lamps in the dark, they lighted my way though gloom and confusion as I was growing up, revealing to me that the true purpose of life was to find God.

With the Westernization of India over the past few decades, the bhagavatars and their stories began to disappear. It became clear that it was important to record their tales before they were lost forever.

Following in the spirit of the bhagavatars and their method of storytelling, Doug and I
explored the motivations and milieu of the protagonists and have tried to present these seekers of truth not as rarefied beings but as sincere and courageous individuals who struggled to live by their convictions no matter the cost.

Sankara, the great eighth-century monist, wrote, "The company of a saint even for a second has the power to transport us across the ocean of delusion." May the stories of these saints hasten our crossing!

24: Upasena's Last Breath

"Lift up this body and carry it outside before it is scattered like a fistful of chaff!" The venerable Upasena's abrupt exclamation broke the meditative silence of his fellow monks in their forest grotto.

"What troubles you, my friend?" asked Sariputta, alarmed by the sudden cry.

sibilant sound caught the attention of Sariputta, and he froze in terror at the sight of a cobra slithering out of the cave. The other monks jumped up and began shouting and running about in fear and confusion. When they looked at
Upasena, they saw two trickles of blood on his ankle marking the place where the snake had left its fatal bite.

"Are you all right?"

"Somebody get some water! Get a bandage!"

"It is of no use," Upasena said. "The medicine man lives too far away to get an antidote."

"What a cruel fate for our great master to die by a vile reptile!" grieved a young monk as he picked up a stick with the intent of smashing the creature's head. For he, like all the other brothers, deeply revered the gentle and wise

"Let us kill the snake!" said another young monk, who thought of Upasena like a father.

"Forget your anger. Forget the creature!" Upasena cried again, his breath now labored from the spreading poison.

"How can you say that? It has robbed you of your life!" said Sariputta, weeping for the loss of a dear friend who had been with him since he had entered the order.

"Why would I hate the agent that caused the end of this form? Where there is no desire, there can be no attachment to the body. Where there is no attachment to the body, life and death are the same. I am not the eye, I am not the ear, I am not this nose, I am not the mind."

The monks looked at the dying man in admiration. They knew all along that Upasena was of great spiritual stature, but hearing him use his last breath to teach them about the impermanence of life and the true nature of things was proof that Upasena was no longer identified with the flesh and hence beyond hatred and all the other fetters that bind man.

The snake was allowed to go unharmed as the monks gently lifted up their teacher and brought him out into the cool night air. Sariputta put Upasena's head in his lap and held his friend. Upasena shuddered one last time and his body seemed to scatter like a fistful of chaff tossed into the wind.

Meet the Author

Doug Glener holds a B.A. in English from Vassar College. He has been studying Vedic thought for several years and is a member of the Self-Realization Fellowship.

Sarat Komaragiri was raised in Andhra Pradesh in southern India, and holds masters degrees in literature and education. Over the years, Komaragiri has spent considerable time in ashrams and has studied with monastics of the Self-Realization Fellowship, the religious order founded by Paramahansa Yogananda.

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