Abbreviated Lives, profound meaning

A tough question today – how many years does a human have to live to make a momentous change on earth? When we say momentous, we mean changing the lives of hundreds of thousands of people for the better – to let them view the world and lead a life they would never ever have led otherwise.

A little googling reveals a certain number – 33 to be exact – to be very popular. At least three spiritual supermen have changed our view of life forever before giving up their bodily sojourn when they were 33. There may be others as well – and maybe there is another “life tenure” just as popular-  if not more – but for the purposes of this piece, we’ll o no further research.

33 if you really look at it isn’t all that much. When one is a teen or in her early twenties, 33 does seem a very long way to go – and an age where youth begins to fade into middle age. And then before you know it, it comes and whizzes past – leaving one perplexed and not a little dazed! The typical human being would have completed his education, be in his first or second job, and have a wedding, a small paunch and eyes that would have witnessed a few hundred hours of soap operas on tv – to show for his 33 years of life on earth. The three supermen we mentioned earlier however thought differently – and how!

Jesus – His story and teachings compiled as part of the bible,  the most read book (and definitely most published) in the world ever. From a humble birth and an early vocation as a shepherd boy, this remarkable man somehow found the time to codify an approach that helped instill spirituality into the hearts of billions of people over the years. He was instrumental in helping establish a religion,  a moral order and his death by the crucification has made the cross a much revered holy symbol. Interestingly great saints like yogananda paramahamsa have found advaitic parallels in the rendering of the bible, and Jesus’teachings continues to provide solace and new knowledge even today.

Adi Shankara – an advaitic genius – this monk established (or should we say re-established) the sanyasa order in India during a time of declining faith. A precocious child, he devoured the Vedas in no time and set out to find a guru who could take him further. He found Govinda Bhagavadpada and from thereon there was no stopping him in his quest to discover the truth and establish it across his homeland. He wrote commentaries on all the key scriptures and authored treatises, founded mutts and laid foundations for the new sanyasa order at the 4 corners of India (how he managed all this continues to be a mystery) and sang some of the most lilting poems to life man out of his earthly slumber and rush toward a higher life. A very proficient logician, he made many, many scholars see the truth and won them over as disciples. Miracles happened around him – whether it was a crocodile in the waters letting him live when his mother agreed to let him become a sanyasi or when he brought in the river to help his mother’s passage to the heavenly abode. What shankara achieved in 33, most of us could not do in 10 times the period – what a man!

Swami Rama tirtha – Supposing someone argues that these two great men didn’t travel abroad much, nor did they have families who slowed down their impacts – Rama Tirtha is the answer we must spring upon them. He was a mathematician, a poet and a remarkable advaita exponent. He married young as was the custom at the time and left with his family’s concurrence for searching the higher truths. He travelled to Japan, to the US and lectured heavily. His logic and insight endeared him to very, very many. While we have few of his speeches recorded into books – those make for enlightening reading – and are a must read for any seeker irrespective of religion.

Three great men – and tons of material that they have left behind for us to reflect and be inspired by. Why they all chose 33 is a question we cannot answer. It could be a co-incidence for all we know. However, 33 is a very holy number for the hindus – it is the number which denotes the sum total of devas(gods) as enumerated in the vedas . Maybe a good time to say a prayer to them and wish for grace to descend up on us – a fraction of the immense sagacity these supermen had will do wonders for us…


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