Paramhansa Yogananda taught that this world is a school to which we are sent to learn the key lessons of life. He would often say, “This world was made for our education and our entertainment.”
Yoganandaji was a living example of this teaching. He delighted in visiting new places and appreciated the unique and positive traits among the different cultures spread across the globe. He also kept abreast of the latest scientific discoveries and enjoyed uplifting art and music. His disciple, Swami Kriyananda, exhibited the same lively curiosity, deep admiration, and joyful creativity that are the hallmarks of a good student. Yogananda was – and encouraged all of us to be model students in the School of Life.
I recently had an opportunity to put this advice into practice. I have always found the process by which Mother Nature ripens fruit to be magical. Most varieties of fruit begin their journey as raw and hard. Mother Nature miraculously transforms them as they ripen into something that is sweet, delicious, and colorful. Watermelons, mangoes, cherimoyas, litchis, persimmons, oranges, figs, apples, jackfruit, to name but a few, are all sweet and delicious but very distinct having their own unique taste and appearance.
Remembering Paramhansa Yogananda’s admonition to be a good student in the School of Life and feeling that perhaps Mother Nature had some wisdom to share through her fruit-ripening process, I decided to make a list of the transformations that most fruits undergo as they ripen. Here is what I came up with:
As fruits ripen (generally speaking) they:
- Become sweeter
- Become softer
- Develop a unique flavor and color
- Serve others through self-offering (a convenient interpretation for all fruit lovers!)
Mother Nature does indeed convey one of her deepest lessons of Life through this simple-looking list: The qualities that She implants into fruit as they ripen are meant to remind us of the qualities that all of us should develop as we ourselves “ripen” and grow older.
Let us consider each of the qualities listed above as they apply to what Mother Nature wants to teach us as students in Her school.
As fruit sweetens with ripening, so must we also become kinder, more loving, and more compassionate as the years pass by. We should become more amiable and our company more enjoyable for others. It may happen however, that we find that we have grown churlish, cold or disagreeable with the passage of the years. If so, we can learn from Mother Nature and resolve to practice becoming sweeter with each passing year of our lives.
The correct interpretation of “becoming softer” is to learn to express ourselves in a softer tone. In our youth, we often express our opinions (right or wrong) self-righteously, forcefully, and even harshly. We should learn with the passing of years to sensitively feel other people’s realities and then garb our thoughts and opinions in the language of courteous suggestions so that others are free to accept and absorb the opinions we share at their own pace without feeling coerced.
Yoganandaji gave the following advice to help us practice becoming both sweeter and softer:
If you are suffering from the indigestion of unkindness or choleric crabbiness, drink the medicine of sweetness. Make yourself attractive by wearing the fine garment of genuine courteous language.
Develop a unique flavor and color
Paramhansa Yogananda often said that the Divine has a unique melody to play through each one of us. “Each atom is dowered with individuality,” as he quoted his guru. Mother Nature encourages us to tune into our unique melodies ever more deeply with the passing years by showing us how each type of fruit develops a unique flavor and color as it ripens.
Swami Kriyananda explained that the way to do this is to attune our consciousness with the Divine Consciousness, which is the true origin of all individual creativity. The deeper this attunement, the more our individual and unique natures can naturally shine forth.
Yoganandaji gave the following prayer-affirmation to help us creatively develop our individual qualities while tuning into divine guidance:
I will use my creative thinking ability to gain success in every worth‑while project that I undertake. I will help myself that I may bring into proper use all my God‑given powers.
I buried dead disappointments in the cemeteries of yesterday. Today I will plow the garden of life with my new creative efforts. God will help me if I help myself, praying to Him to help me to bring success to my efforts. (Metaphysical Meditations, 1932 Ed.)
Serve others through self-offering
Mother Nature prods us through this quality to live more in the spirit of service and let go of the“What’s in it for me?” attitude. An ancient Sanskrit saying puts it well:
“These are my own and those are strangers” — is the calculative approach of the small-minded. For the magnanimous-hearted however, the entire earth is their family.
Paramhansa Yogananda also gave us the following affirmation-prayer to develop this inclusive quality:
The door of my friendship will ever be open equally for those brothers who hate me and for those who love me. . . . I will feel for others as I feel for myself. I will work out my salvation by serving my fellowman. (Metaphysical Meditations, 1932 Ed.)
These lessons from Mother Nature are in perfect harmony with Paramhansa Yogananda’s exhortation to his disciples, “When I am gone, only love can take my place,” and with Lord Krishna’s exhortation in the Bhagavad Gita:
O Arjuna, the best yogi is he who feels the needs of others, their sorrows, their joys, as though these were his own. — Bhagavad Gita VI:32
They are also the highest teachings of Jesus Christ:
Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me. — Matthew 25:40
All teachers in the School of Life — be it Lord Krishna, the Guru, Jesus, or Mother Nature— proclaim these same universal truths.
Have you ever wondered why we say that fruit ripens whereas human beings grow old? Perhaps it is because we all know subconsciously that there is a difference between ripening and growing old. When we age without developing the qualities that nature imbues in fruit as they ripen, we grow “old.” However, when we can imbibe those qualities and live in harmony with the principles of Life, we become “ripe.”
Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary gives the following definition of “ripe,” a definition that applies equally well to fruits and to human character:
Ripe (adjective): fully grown and developed; having mature knowledge, understanding, or judgment.
It might be a good practice for yogis to ask the following questions on their birthdays:
- Have I become sweeter over the past year?
- Have I become softer?
- Am I developing my own unique flavor and color naturally as I attune ever more deeply with the Divine?
- Is my life of increasing service to God and my fellow beings?
If we diligently nurture these qualities each passing year of our lives, we will be able to answer the above questions with an overwhelming, “Yes!” Mother Nature, one of our best teachers in the School of Life – shall then count us among those exemplary students who have studied the curriculum diligently, learned all the lessons, and are “ripe” for graduation.
Then on Graduation Day, we shall all receive the Outstanding Student Award from the Divine Headmaster Himself!