The founder of Shanti Sadan, Hari Prasad Shastri, recalls an incident during his time in China (1919-1929)
Once while living in one of the cities of China, I had a room on the first floor of a house, the ground floor of which was used as a bar, frequented by sailors and others drawn from various ranks of life. When they were very noisy I could hear their talk and their sounds. I did not want to live in that room, because it was neither comfortable nor conducive to my studies and quiet contemplation, but economic conditions had driven me to such a narrow strait that I could not afford to be in a room which cost more.
I used to write articles for the China Weekly Review and for other newspapers, which were published almost daily, and I used to deliver yogic lectures in different cities from different platforms. My little band of yogis was working very well.
One night I heard the following conversation going on in the bar. ‘Do good, do good’, a man was pompously shouting, betraying signs of alcoholic influence. ‘Make money, make money—by honest means if you can’, said another voice, and it appeared to be talking what was regarded as wisdom. ‘Enjoy life, forget the past, the future is unborn; enjoy today by any means; drink is best; society of the fair is best; songs are good’, was said by a voice which appeared to be that of a young and modern man. ‘Come, come, follow me, and I shall give you an ideology which will make you powerful and by which you will be able to help the world. But obey me! Let me be your director. Surrender your soul to me. I have a recipe for the key problems of the world. We are marked by destiny to be leaders of mankind.’ Thus spoke a party-member who was more drunk than any of the preceding people whom I have just described.
I said to myself: ‘Now what shall I offer these people? They are totally drunk. They are in a dingy, smoke-filled, semi-dark tavern in a germ-laden atmosphere. Would they listen to me if I spoke to them? I am sure they would lay hands on me. They are imbued with race and colour prejudice, and if I go to them, they will only make fun of me. But I must speak to them. They are my fellow human beings. By being drunk and by talking irresponsibly, they have not ceased to be fellow humans. They are still the lights of the divine sun, though darkened by the clouds of ignorance. How can I cease to love them when I say every day that I love mankind? I should be one of them if I remain silent or just said God bless you!’
Therefore I went down and I shouted at the top of my voice: ‘Wake up children, wake up. You are dreaming dreams bitter and sweet in the sleep of ignorance. Do not chase the wild goose of pleasure and power; read history and know how the once powerful ones have been thrown prostrate to the ground. Wake up, dear ones, know your nature, know it while you still have the power to know. Get out of this tavern. Be simple and walk in the fresh air under the canopy of heaven, filled with the lambent light of the sun. Listen to the music of the birds and look at the boundless expanse of the heaven above.
‘In order to wake up, my dear friends, practise control over your impulses, which are narrow and individualistic. Wake up. Know that within you there is a power which is above all other powers and which you can stir up and make use of by the practice of sincerity, endurance, contentment with little, general kindness, freedom, simplicity, aversion to inane chatter. Give up flattery, ostentation and perpetual restlessness of the soul. My friends, know what you are. You are not inferior in spirit to any person that ever lived. Practise meditation on the evanescent character of life, and on the all-pervading truth and bliss which is your real Self.
‘Wake up, wake up. Be like a bee which has gathered honey, like a horse which has run its race. Practise benevolence every day, also prayer and compassion; but do not forget to discipline yourself, and do not forget to draw your inspiration for discipline by cultivating single-minded devotion to the principle which pervades and upholds the universe: truth. Do this meditation daily, again and again. Make it the highest aim of your life. Pursue the highest and noblest of interests—the teachings that draw your attention to the one reality. This is the most beautiful and soul-satisfying of all pursuits, and there is nothing higher. Wake up, wake up.’