“How can we stay focused on our goal?” asked a disciple to his spiritual master.
The guru did not give a direct answer. Instead he said, “Go to the burning ghat* and offend the dead.”
The disciple didn’t understand the purpose of the strange instruction but went to the burning ghat and looked for a corpse about to be cremated.
“You wasted your life, foolish man,” he said. “Never did you spend your days remembering and praising Hari**. You are a complete failure, materially and spiritually. You are better dead.”
The disciple felt awkward addressing a dead man in this way. Ordinarily, it was considered disrespectful. When he returned to the monastery, his Guru asked him, “So what did the dead person say in response to your harsh words?”
Surprised, the disciple said, “Well, nothing Gurudev. The man was dead and could not answer.”
“Very good, now go back there and praise him.”
A little perplexed, the disciple did as he was told. He approached the same corpse and began another odd monologue.
“Actually, you are a wonderful person. You achieved significant things in your life that you should be proud of. You will be missed for all your amazing qualities.”
Returning to his home, the disciple went before his Guru who asked once more, “So, what did he say this time?”
“Nothing Gurudev, as you’d expect, he couldn’t respond to my praise because he was dead.”
“Do you see the answer to your original question, dear disciple?” the Guru said. “Just as the dead do not respond to your praise or offensive words, you should also remain calm and neutral when you are offered compliments or insults. Do not become either inflated with pride and self-importance or deflated and discouraged. If you remain steady in both situations, and simply stay fixed upon your spiritual goal then you will become content in happy or distressful times. This is how you can please and praise the Lord.”
*A burning ghat refers to a cremation site, usually stairs or a set of steps that lead to a river or lake.
**Hari is a name for God.