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Study Guide on Eight Flowers of Worship

Non-violence

Control of Senses

Compassion for All Living Beings

Forebearance

Peace

Penance

Meditation

Truth

It is the experience and practice of the citizens of India that they generally worship God with flowers, offer ritual adoration, and make obeisance to God. But there is something that is more sacred than this. There is a distinctive type of devotion by which you worship God with a good, clean mind and good conduct. This has been given the name of para bhakthi (supreme devotion). By always worshipping God with ritual worship and flowers, the spiritual aspirant will remain stationary in his place. This is good in a way, but to remain in one place all the time and failing to rise to a higher position is not good.

There is a superior type of worship — to worship God through good qualities, good conduct, good thoughts, and good company. The scriptures have described this kind of worship as worship through good qualities. By offering what kind of good qualities can we please God?

Eight Flowers of Worship

The first flower with which we can worship God is non-violence. The second flower is control of senses. The third flower is compassion. The fourth one is forbearance. The fifth flower is peace. The sixth flower is penance. The seventh one is the flower of meditation. The eighth is the flower of truth. The inner meaning of this statement is that God will shower grace on you if you worship him through these eight flowers.

The flowers in nature always fade, drop down, lose fragrance, and also develop an odour that is not pleasant. Instead of worshipping with such worldly flowers, which are impermanent and receiving impermanent rewards from God, we should worship Him with what is truthful and thereby attain a stage that is higher.

The flowers that you are using for worship have not been created by you. You are bringing flowers that have been created by the Will of God on some tree or in some garden and are offering them back to the Creator Himself. What is the greatness in using the flowers created by God and giving them back to God Himself? Many people bathe in the Ganges River, take the water from the Ganges into their palms, and offer it back to the Ganges itself. This is not what you have created. This is not what you have the right to offer.

From the tree of your life, picking such fruits that you have protected and that you have grown in the form of good qualities and offering them to God, there is some distinctiveness in that. In order to promote good qualities, you have to undergo several troubles. So it is through these good qualities that your mind can also acquire a divine concentration. Without good qualities and without good thoughts, how can you fix your mind in meditation?1

FIRST FLOWER

The first flower is the flower of non-violence. We regard the word non-violence to mean not causing harm and hurt to other living things. The true meaning of the word is not to cause hurt and harm to any other living being through your thought, word, or deed. Cleansing and purifying these three—thought, word, and deed—has been called a Thriputi (summit of three) in spiritual parlance. All of them should be harmonised and brought together as one unit of flower.1

We find doctors performing surgeries on patients to cure them of their ailments. In the process of surgery, the doctors cut the body with a knife. You cannot call it an act of violence because it is beneficial to the patient. Some people may argue that even cutting vegetables is an act of violence because vegetables and trees have life in them. No doubt, vegetables and trees have life, but they do not have the mind. Consequently, they do not suffer any pain.

Only man has got five sheaths, namely, food sheath, life sheath, mind sheath, wisdom sheath, and bliss sheath. One with the mind experiences pain and pleasure. Men, animals, birds, and insects are endowed with the mind, not trees and vegetables. In some trees, you find the sap oozing out when you pluck their fruit. Oozing of sap from a tree is a natural phenomenon, but some people mistake it for the tears of suffering. The trees do not suffer any pain because they do not have the faculty of mind.2

SECOND FLOWER

The second flower is the control of sensory organs. Our senses run without any control. If running horses or animals are not controlled, they pose a danger. God has created each organ of the human body for a specific purpose. It is only when we use these sensory organs along the right path for which they have been created that we will be entitled to God’s grace. God has given us a nose. We should make an attempt to breathe in and breathe out through the nose and only accept fragrance through the nose. If we use such a nose to take snuff, the purpose will become useless. In the same manner, He has given us the mouth and a tongue in order that we may take in pure food. If we use the mouth to take in unholy food or intoxicating drinks, then we will be using the mouth for a wrong purpose.

In the same manner, we should understand under what conditions and in what times and in what manner we should use each of these organs and put them under control. Our inner strength will become less and less on account of excitement or unnecessary sorrow. The body will become ill by mental agitations and distractions. Man ages very quickly through excitement and sorrow. The reason for your not preserving this sacred instrument in sound condition is lack of control over these sensory organs. The second flower of sensory control should be used for worshipping God.1

Lack of Sense Control Is the Main Cause of Unrest and Agitation

All spiritual practices will prove futile if one lacks sense control. Control of the senses is very essential for one and all. Lack of sense control is the main cause of all the unrest and agitation that you find in the world today. How can one control the senses? First of all, one should exercise control over the tongue.

You must control your tongue as it always craves a variety of delicacies. You must ask this question, “O tongue, how many bags of rice, wheat, and vegetables have you devoured! How many delicacies have you consumed! Fie on you if you are still not satisfied.” A morsel of food is enough to sustain the body. You should eat for the sake of satisfying your hunger and sustaining the body. Do not give undue importance to taste. Likewise, tell your eyes to see God instead of watching unsacred things on television or video. Teach your ears to listen to the stories of the Lord instead of listening to vain gossip.

O ears, you are interested in listening to vain gossip and tales about others, but you pay least attention when the wonderful stories of the Lord are narrated.

(Telugu Song)

Think for a while how you benefit by listening to unsacred things. In fact, you are polluting your heart in the process. All that you see and hear gets imprinted on your heart. Once your heart is polluted, your life will become meaningless. The human heart is like a pen. The colour of the words that you write will be the same as the colour of the ink in the pen. Likewise, when you fill your heart with love, all that you think, say, and do will be suffused with love. God expects you to fill your heart with love and lead a sacred life.2

THIRD FLOWER

The third flower is compassion for all living things. Looking merely and superficially at human nature, which has diverse aspects, we are forgetting God in this field. From the seed of Divinity the tree of creation has grown. On this tree of creation the fruits are the human beings that are the individual souls. In each of these human fruits, there is Divinity in the form of seed. That is why in the Bhagavad Gita, Krishna has said, “I am the seed in all the living beings.” Recognising the truth that God is present in the form of the Atma in all living beings, we say compassion for all living beings is the next flower.1

The Story of Abou Ben Adhem

Students might have heard the story of Abou Ben Adhem who always offered compassion towards all beings as a form of service to the Lord. Every day he traveled the streets to serve the destitute and the handicapped and returned home late in the night. One night when he returned home, he found in his bedroom an angel writing something. When he asked her what she was writing, she replied that she was making a list of those who loved God. She replied in the negative when he asked her if his name was on that list.

The following night when he returned home, he again found the angel writing something. He queried, “Mother, what is it that you are writing now?” She said, “Son, I am writing the names of those who are dear to God.” He again wanted to know if his name was on the list. She replied that his name was at the top of this list.

The sum and substance of this story is that God is pleased when you serve your fellow human beings. The scriptures have prescribed nine paths of devotion, namely, listening to the Lord’s stories, singing His glories, remembrance of the Lord’s name, service to the Lord’s Lotus Feet, worship, salutation, servitude, friendship, and offering oneself to the Lord, i.e., complete self-surrender. But the path of service is the greatest of all.

Neither by penance nor by pilgrimages, nor by going through the sacred texts, can one cross the ocean of worldly life; One can redeem one’s life only through service.

(Sanskrit Verse)

Abou Ben Adhem became the recipient of God’s love because he spent all his time in the service of his fellow men. God loves all, for He is the embodiment of love. But He will give Himself to those who show compassion for all beings.2

Have Compassion towards All as God Resides in All

Among all the flowers, compassion for all creatures is most important. Man alone is endowed with this virtue of compassion. This is the flower that you should offer to God. God is the indweller of all beings. Names and forms may vary, but the same God is present in all. Therefore you should have compassion towards all beings with the broad feeling that God is present in all. Only then can you understand how expansive and fragrant this quality of compassion for all creatures is.

You need not waste your time gathering the flowers that fade away and wither away in no time. The flower of your heart is eternal, ever fresh, and ever fragrant, for which you need not spend even a penny. That is the real flower. One who understands the secret of this flower is one of supreme wisdom.3

FOURTH FLOWER

The fourth one is the flower of forbearance. Forbearance truly is the highest quality of a human being. But in human life, because he develops narrow ideas, man wants to live in a constricted place. He thinks “I” and “my family” are what matters; others are all different from “me.” It is not possible for us to develop the flower of forbearance as long as these ideas are in us. It is only when we love that we can have patience and forbearance. One’s love should encompass all living beings. That will fructify as forbearance.

Here is a brief example. In our home there are our children. Along with our children, there is also a servant. In the house, a son may be pilfering something or other and developing bad habits. In many ways we will try and control that son by beating, scolding, and persuading him to return to good ways, but we will never take him and hand him over to the police. In the same house, if the servant steals a small spoon, at once we will take him and hand him over to the police.

What is the inner meaning of the situation in which we do not punish a son, even if he steals day after day, but we hand over a servant immediately to the police when he steals even a small thing? The reason for this is the narrow idea that “this boy is my son.” Because the servant does not belong to you, there is no place for forbearance and patience. So you see that when you have the broad idea that “everyone is mine” there is room for patience and forbearance. It is only then that our love will also grow.1

Forbearance Promotes Divine Qualities

Forbearance is identified by the scriptures with truth, righteousness, knowledge, sacrifice, and joy. Without forbearance, man cannot be happy for even a moment. It promotes divine qualities. It reveals inner Divinity. One has to undertake spiritual practices to earn it and establish oneself in it. Nourish the idea that God is equally present in all, in spite of ridicule from the ignorant and sarcastic criticism from the blind or even praise from admirers. Do not mind them.4

Forbearance Is Very Dear to the Lord

The Pandavas suffered a lot at the hands of the Kauravas. But never did Dharmaraja lose forbearance, even when Droupadi was being humiliated by the Kauravas. It was the virtue of forbearance that protected the Pandavas and made them an ideal for the rest of the world. This flower of forbearance is very dear to the Lord. God will be pleased with you and confer boons on you only when you offer Him the “flowers” which are dear to Him. No benefit accrues from offering the flowers that fade away and decay. The ever-blooming flowers of non-violence, sense control, compassion for all living beings, and forbearance are liked by God.2

FIFTH FLOWER

The fifth is the flower of peace. This flower of peace should not be interpreted to mean that you should be silent no matter who is attacking you, or who is blaming you. It is not that. If you are unmoved and unperturbed in spite of anyone finding faults with you, this can be called real peace. If you can fill your heart with love, then peace will come into you from outside. Through bad qualities, to some extent, we lose peace. With truthful thoughts, a man will have peace. With untruthful thoughts, a man will not have peace. If you can get rid of all thoughts, you will become a saint. It is only when you can be free from all thoughts that you can have peace.

Your own bad thoughts are responsible for all your pain and sorrow. By good thoughts and by good ideas, you will become a holy man. Holy man does not mean one who merely wears an orange robe, shaves the head, and wears holy beads. He who has good thoughts and good ideas is a holy man. A holy man is one who is the embodiment of truthful thoughts.1

Peace Has Detachment as the Basic Quality

Peace does not mean that a person should not react at all, whatever others may say or however they may abuse him. It does not mean that he must be silent as a rock. It involves mastery of all the senses and all the passions; inner peace must become one’s nature. Peace has detachment as the basic quality. The sea, which likes to gather and possess, lies low; the cloud that likes to renounce and give up is high in the sky. Peace endows man with an unruffled mind and steady vision.

The prayer for shanthi (peace) is usually repeated thrice. “Om, shanthi, shanthi, shanthihi,” since peace is prayed for in the physical, mental, and spiritual planes. Man should not bring his blood to boil, nor should he yield to fear. Spiritual calm is exemplified by Emperor Janaka of the Upanishadhic texts. He was known asvidheha (without body attachment), not because he was disembodied, but because he lived in utter forgetfulness of the body and its needs. He saw, heard, and spoke only from the Atmic plane of consciousness.4

Bear All Sufferings With Fortitude and Patience

One should remain peaceful through all the vicissitudes of life. Only then can one attain divine grace. Great devotees like Thyagaraja, Tukaram, and Droupadi underwent many hardships. They bore all sufferings with patience. Thyagaraja said, “One cannot attain happiness without inner peace.” Man needs peace at the physical, mental, and spiritual levels. Peace is not present in the external world. It is present within.

You are the embodiment of peace. In the worldly life, there are bound to be many hardships, but one should not be perturbed. One should bear all sufferings with fortitude and patience. Human life is given not merely to enjoy the worldly pleasures like birds and beasts. Life becomes meaningful only when one experiences the peace that originates from the heart.2

SIXTH FLOWER

The sixth one is the flower of penance. Penance is not to give up your wife and children, go to a forest, put your head down and feet up; that is not penance. When we think of real penance we should eliminate bad thoughts from our minds. The co-ordination of thought, word, and deed is penance. Whatever thoughts sprout in your mind, to utter them as word and to put them in practice as your work, that is penance. It is in this context that it is said, “A great soul practises harmony of thought, word, and deed.” Giving up bad thoughts in your mind will become a sacrifice. That sacrifice will become yoga (spiritual practice leading to union with God). But giving up one’s property and one’s wife and going to the forest is not yoga.1

Be Even-Minded in Happiness or Sorrow

One should contemplate on God at all times and achieve harmony of thought, word, and deed. He is a noble one whose thoughts, words, and deeds are in complete harmony. Do not be carried away by pain or pleasure. The Bhagavad Gita teaches, “One should be even-minded in happiness or sorrow, gain or loss, victory or defeat.” One should discharge one’s duty and serve society without any expectation of reward. Such even-mindedness and desireless state is true penance.2

SEVENTH FLOWER

The seventh flower is the flower of meditation. Today, meditation is taking many forms. Many types of meditation that people are adopting today are against the culture and tradition of India. To sit in a lotus posture and to make the kundalini shakti (kundalini power) rise from basal plexus to the cranium is not meditation. True meditation consists in recognising the presence of God in all types of work. God is the indweller of all and is all pervading. To make an attempt in your meditation to confine Him (God) to one place that you choose, cannot be meditation.

When you are driving a car, the car is your God. When you are doing business in a market, the market is your God. According to the culture of India, we first make obeisance to the work that we have to do. Before we undertake to do any work, we should regard that work as God. The Upanishads are teaching us: “The work I have to do, I regard as God and make obeisance to God in that form.”

Let us consider the person who plays the drums. Before he begins to play on them, he pays obeisance to the drums. The harmonium player will make obeisance to the harmonium before he starts. A dancer before she begins her dance will make obeisance to her anklets. Even a driver who is going to drive a lifeless car, before he holds the steering wheel, makes salutations to the steering wheel. You do not have to go so far. While driving, if the car hits another person, immediately we make salutations to that person. The significance of all this is the faith and belief that God is present in all things. Thus to regard the entire creation as the form of God and to perform your duty in that spirit is meditation.1

Contemplate On God at All Times

Meditation does not mean sitting in lotus posture with eyes closed in contemplation on God. This is physical, worldly activity. No doubt, this is also needed, but true meditation lies in unifying the mind with God. Just as milk and water cannot be separated, likewise, the mind, once merged with God, cannot be separated. An iron ball cast in fire will become one with it. Likewise, your love should become one with divine love. This truth is contained in the Vedic dictum, “The knower of Brahman becomes Brahman Himself.”

Some people contemplate on God for a limited period in the morning and evening. This cannot be called meditation. Contemplate on God at all times, at all places, and under all circumstances. Perform all tasks with your mind firmly fixed on God. That is true meditation. Thinking of God for a limited period cannot be termed meditation. That is only part-time devotion. Part-time devotion confers only part-time grace. You should have full-time devotion in order to attain full-time grace.2

EIGHTH FLOWER

The next flower is the flower of truth. If you simply speak what you feel and tell what you have done, this can be called worldly truth — statement of facts. This cannot be called truth. Truth is that which does not change at any time. What you have seen is truth at that moment. At the next moment, it becomes untruth. All material things that you see in this creation are things that will decay, that are bound to change. In this transient changing world, how can what you see and what you hear become truth? Truth is God. This truth is the eighth flower. This truth is the form of Divinity. In the world, we experience truths of a relative nature.

Let us take chemistry as an example. You take some chemicals and mix them together. They change, and you get some other chemical. If you mix turmeric in lime, you get red colour. This is chemistry. Another example is physics. If you take a 3-inch needle and put it in fire, it will become a longer needle. This is the truth of physics. How long do these truths of chemistry and physics remain? These are temporary, worldly, scientific truths. But spiritual truths are such that they will remain unchanged whatever you may do to them, whatever fire you may use on them and howsoever you may change the circumstances.

So, what does not change at all is truth. Cruelty and harshness are predominant in the world today because we are not attempting to promote such sacred qualities. Today, among believers, non-believers and the believing, the same kind of attitude is developing. That day when we can promote such good qualities in the minds of believers, the non-believers will disappear from this world.1

Truth is changeless in all the three periods of time, i.e., past, present, and future. Everything may disappear, but truth remains forever. So, truth is God; live in truth.2

Win God’s Grace by Worshipping Eight Flowers

Worship the Lord, and offer Him these flowers. Now, when other flowers are used, devotion does not last after one comes out of the worship room! When one crosses that door-step, anger, hatred, and anxiety possess him and degrade him. Without developing the qualities indicated by the eight flowers, how can anyone win the grace of God? Engaged in wrong worship on all 364 days, what good do you derive by doing true worship on the 365th day of the year. When you claim to be Sai devotees, justify the claim by cultivating these flowers of virtue and offering them to God.4

Serve Society to Your Utmost Capacity

God will be pleased only when you worship Him with these eight types of flowers. The priests in temples worship God with various types of flowers. But God does not want these flowers. He says, “O priest, is this what you have learnt all these years? You are worshipping Me with lorry loads of roses and jasmines, which fade away in a short time. These are not the flowers that I expect from you. Worship Me with the flowers of peace, love, non-violence, etc., which will never fade.”

Embodiments of Love!

People worship God with devotion and sincerity, but God is not satisfied with external worship. You should serve society. Only service can confer bliss on you. By rendering service to society, not only can you alleviate the sufferings of the people, but you can also bring about transformation in their lives. As is the feeling, so is the result. If you serve with sacred feelings, it is bound to yield sacred results. Serve society to your utmost capacity. You are singing devotional songs in the morning and evening. The satisfaction that you get by participating in singing devotional songs is temporary, whereas service confers permanent satisfaction.

The Vedas say, the objective of actions is to purify the mind. Service alone is undertaken to purify the mind. Today people waste a lot of time, wealth, and energy in performing activities that do not foster purity of the mind. That is why they are unable to experience peace of mind. The peace that one gets out of worldly activities comes and goes like a passing cloud. One should aspire for the true and eternal peace, which originates from the heart.2

References

  1. Sathya Sai Speaks, Volume 15, Chapter 9: The Flowers That God Loves.
  2. Sathya Sai Speaks, Volume 33, Chapter 12: Flowers That Never Fade.
  3. Sanathana Sarathi, March 2012. Chapter: Humanness Blossoms in a Compassionate Heart.
  4. Sathya Sai Speaks, Volume 15, Chapter 25: The Garden of the Heart.

Glossary

Atma/Atmic

Self; Soul. Embodied Self is jiva (the individual soul). Self, with no limitations, is Brahman (the Supreme Cosmic Reality).

Satwa/Satwic

It is the quality of purity, brightness, peace, goodness, and harmony. It leads to knowledge.