What Men Should Be?

Posted on January 13, 2010 in Society

Last night, I happened to read a masterpiece short story by Leo Tolstoy- ‘What men live by’. Let me paraphrase it here: An angel refused to take the spirit of a mother, convinced that no-one else could take care of her children better than her. God, punishing him for his disobedience; condemned him to learn 3 lessons- what dwells in man, what is not given to man and; what do men live by. A poor shoe-maker ‘Simon’, rescued angel (now Michael) from a chilling cold, clothed him and; took him to his house. There, his wife sympathized with him and gave him bread to eat: At that moment, Micheal learnt the first lesson- what dwells in man is ‘love’.

The shoe-maker employed him and; his craftsmanship spread like a wild fire around the region. After some years, a rich nobleman came to Michael; demanding him to mend a pair of shoes that would last for a year, while the nobleman knew not he had only few more hours to live. That day Michael realized, what is not given to man is ‘to know his own needs’.

Few years later, a woman with two little girls, one was crippled, came to order shoes for them. When asked by Simon why the poor girl was crippled, the women explained how their mother (whose spirit Michael had refused to take), accidentally crushed the leg of the crippled girl, on her death bed. The women told them she adopted these poor souls and; raised them as her own kids for she didn’t have the heart to leave them in an orphanage. Thus Michael got the answer to his final question: regardless of blood relation or kinship, men live by because ‘love exists in man’.

Such tales often force us mortals, to introspect and; appreciate the moral values which separate humanity from animalism, making us feel proud amidst callousness. After-all we can love! A feeling so immaculate, so pious, so pure and; so divine that even infinity seems feeble in comparison. If this is so, then why do we cut throats of each other in the name of religion? While seeking an answer, a thought sprang up in my mind: a question which is being debated since ages; a question which is being flexed, throughout history, by and; for the interests of so-called prophets- “what men should be- religious or spiritual”.

Idealisms of all religions provide the basic concepts and imageries through which the essence of spirituality is being preached. Religions have always acted as the containers in which the wine of spirituality have been preserved and spread. Spirituality, in a deeper sense, is a realization that all people are equal; irrespective of which container they drink wine from; it is a serene tranquility of heart to forgive and sacrifice for a reason. But the proponents of religions claim that there can be no peace when man’s heart is always at war and there can be no love when man’s heart is full of hatred.

So, to transform the existing world into a world of universal harmony and to spread the love of brotherhood; transformation of non-believers is necessary. Serving to the fulfillment of this cause is what is destined by the supreme power to those who are close to him. Only following, believing and respecting your religion and its religious peers will shed all sins and pave the way to enter the kingdom of heaven.

Such radicalization of thoughts that one must become ardently religious, leads to extreme fanaticism. It is as if preserving and possessing those containers; forgetting, that it is the wine inside which purifies and liberates the soul. Just like the quality of wine enhances with the passage of time; analogously in the long run, the spiritual ingredients take one close to spiritual infinity through rigorous discipline and dedication. What needs to be remembered is- religion is a reason, not the purpose; it is like a circle- various circumferential points are religions; path to the center may differ but the center is common and distance to the center always remains the same!

The essence of being spiritual without being religious or being religious to be spiritual is – Be a teacher rather than a preacher of religion. Teaching is actualization, an ability to evoke reasoning; whereas preaching is dogmatic, a blind faith devoid of soul of humanity.

An atheist can also be spiritual; even he can evoke the god within him without believing in God- if he nurtures the seeds of love and empathy for the mankind. For God is nothing but the love in thy heart. Love dwells in man so that he can pacify himself through the art of giving. Man is not given what he needs so that he lives by the virtue of brotherhood. Men live by love in their hearts, which is full of kindness irrespective of origin, cast, creed or color. Then why to disturb this nature’s cord by infusing in our minds possessiveness of religion rather than the detachment of spirituality? Who are we to dictate the terms to be religious when spirituality is nothing but reaching infinity by loving destitute souls?

It is up to us to decide what we should be- religious or spiritual.

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The writer is the Special Correspondent at Youth Ki Awaaz and also the author of “On The Ninth Cloud

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I enjoyed reading this piece Lewitt. Especially the story by Leo Tolstoy that you have paraphrased here. Being one who was an ardent follower of religion and who then became spiritual but not religious, I can say that it is indeed not important at all to be religious. In fact, I feel that always blindly accepting what religion preaches leads to a stunted spiritual growth or sometimes none at all. And what goos is religion if it does not make us grow inwards, as a person, as a spirit?

Great piece!


And what good is religion if it does not make us grow inwards…

    Anirudh G

    True statement!

Anirudh G

Nice article! Leo Tolstoy was a great soul… Relating this story to the concept of spirituality shows your sensitive understanding to literature; the way it is supposed to be!

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