The uncivilised student

Every day a young man went to his university library to study. His final examinations were fast approaching and he was very anxious to get high marks, so he was determined to read as much background material as possible. Each day he went to the library early in the morning and returned late at night. He was always very modestly and decently dressed and he did not create any problems for the library staff.

Unfortunately, on one particular day something went wrong with this young man, and he came to the library wearing only his underwear. He had completely forgotten to put on his outer garments! His chest was bare and he was not wearing any trousers or shoes. He was so preoccupied with his studies that these things had slipped his mind.

When the head librarian saw the young man entering the building, he became absolutely furious. He rushed up to the student and cried, “What are you doing? So many people come here to read — both men and women — and you are wearing only your underwear! What will they think? This kind of behaviour is unacceptable!”

But the student did not feel ashamed of his appearance at all. He said, “It is my eyes that read the books, not my clothes. I have come here to study with my eyes. What does it matter what I wear? My clothes will not be able to read on my behalf!”

What the young man said was very true, but his argument served only to increase the anger of the librarian. The librarian said to him, “Whatever you want to wear in your own home while you are studying you can wear, but this is a civilised place. Here you have to observe a certain dress code.”

The student vehemently objected to the librarian’s strict rule and before long their argument descended into a physical fight. The librarian was trying to push the young man out of the library and he was resisting in every way. Soon the two of them were wrestling on the ground.

An old man came up to separate them, but he was rudely beaten by both parties. The librarian struck the old man and told him that it was none of his business, and the student also directed some blows at the poor fellow. Both of them claimed to be in the right. The librarian felt that it was his duty to punish the student, and the student felt that nobody should be able to prevent him from studying at the library, regardless of how he was dressed.

By this time, a crowd of people had gathered. Finally, they managed to separate the librarian and the young man. These onlookers said to the student, “Please explain to us why you came to the library today without proper clothing. This is not your normal appearance.”

The young man said, “It is very simple. I must sit for my examinations very soon and I am so worried. Do I have time to think about mundane things like clothing? This morning I came running to the library so that I would be able to have a few extra minutes to study. I did not intend to create a commotion.”

Then one elderly woman said, “Tell me, young man, if you had seen somebody in the street running to and fro completely naked, what would you have done?”

The student said, “I would have thought that the fellow was insane. Perhaps I would have cursed him.”

“You would not have run to join him?” continued the old lady.

“Never, never, never!” said the student. “I would have run in the opposite direction.”

The old lady looked at him compassionately. “Then what are you doing here?” she said. “Is this not exactly the same sort of thing? Like me, so many people have come to the library today to read and study. We are all wearing proper clothes. If you appear dressed like this, almost naked, then we will all be forced to run in the opposite direction! Is it fair? So where does your argument lead you? Your eyes do the reading, true, but this is a civilised society. People will be horrified by your behaviour.”

“I do see your point,” said the young man, “but again and again it happens that when I am in a rush, I completely forget about external things. I do not have the time to look civilised. I am only concerned about my examinations.”

Then the old lady became stern. She said, “Young man, if you have no time to be civilised, then I wish to tell you that you will never become civilised by reading books. Civilisation is something inner. It is the inner goodness of an individual. You may become a great person by reading books, but you will never become a good person unless you pray to God to give you the light to do the right thing at every moment. Right now, you are assailed by worries and anxieties. You are afraid of failing your examinations, and this fear has made you insane. But you do not see that this insanity itself will never allow you to pass your examinations. It is an obstacle on your path. Only if you are calm in mind and body will you pass the examinations. If you are so worried about the examinations that you do not have time to wear proper clothes, then you will definitely fail. I am absolutely sure of it.”

The young man saw the wisdom in the old lady’s advice and thanked her profusely. He went home to put on proper clothes and then he came back to the library with a humble attitude. The librarian was waiting for him at the entrance. Very happily he said, “Now my library welcomes you.”

The young man answered, “Your library is really illumining me.” The librarian and the young man embraced each other and from that very day they became lifelong friends.

Sri Chinmoy, Amusement I enjoy, enlightenment I study, part 1.First published by Agni Press in 1997.

This is the 1187th book that Sri Chinmoy has written since he came to the West, in 1964.


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by Sri Chinmoy
From the book Amusement I enjoy, enlightenment I study, part 1, made available to share under a Creative Commons license

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