Introduction to a Saint

Henri’s meetings with various holy men in India and his reflections on their teachings.

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Introduction to a Saint

Introduction to a Saint

Introduction

Who is a saint? What is it that makes one a saint?

Saints, unlike other people like you and me, are not born; they are not made, either, for they are not sanctified. Perhaps they are so because they are not sinners. Then what is it that makes me a sinner?

A sinner is not a man who goes against the rules of the establishment. The Buddha broke all the rules of the Brahmins, of the established caste system, of his royal tradition. Jesus Christ broke the rules of the Sabbath and did not keep away from the company of money lenders and light women. A sinner, maybe, is one who goes against his own better judgement. If that is so, a saint would be one who does what he thinks to be right. But that is rather a risky rule, for how does one know that one is thinking rightly?

Our thinking is so prejudiced and conditioned that what we think right here is perhaps wrong elsewhere and again we are back to rules. Could not the rules themselves be wrong? In that case even a sinner could be a saint! It is all a question of relativity, as Einstein would say. But then, there are certain things in which even a sinner cannot go wrong without knowing it, without willing it. Thus, to tell a lie can never lead to truth, even if we do not know what truth is. One who understands the falsehood of hypocrisy, and then refuses to be an hypocrite, cannot be a sinner, not at least on that score. But he who pretends to be a saint while knowing fully well that he is not, who wears the religious garb of saintliness and makes use of his position to acquire authority and power, he cannot be a saint.

I have met once a 'saint', although I did not speak to him and he did not even look at me; and our meeting did not last even five minutes. I do not know where he came from, nor where he went to. I only know that he was a beggar, one of the dozens sitting alongside the steps leading up to some temple in India. It was dark when I returned, one of the last to leave and there he was sitting, halfway down on the side, cross-legged, motionless, meditating or asleep, I do not know. Then, while I stood there higher up, he opened his eyes and looked round. Seeing all the other beggars gone, he looked down at the small piece of cloth in front of him, on which the devotees had thrown their coppers. Out of these he selected four annas (a quarter of an rupee), took up the little cloth and scattered all the other coins down the steps. Going down, I followed him close by. He went to some tiny shop where he bought two small rice-cakes and a glass of coffee, which was all he needed, he ate and drank standing near the entrance when he had paid his few annas, and then disappeared in the crowded street, without having spoken a word, not to be seen again.

He who knows his need,
And yet is without greed,
Whatever be his creed,
He is a saint indeed!

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