17.The second time I became decathlon champion, I was blessed with long jump shoes. Somebody had given these shoes to the Ashram to present to the decathlon champion. Unfortunately, I could not use them; it was too difficult for me. I preferred to compete in bare feet; ours was a cinder track.
Both the first and the second time I became decathlon champion, I was also given a gold medal embossed with a tortoise. The significance of the tortoise is immortality.
One year a sprinter from Tagore's Santiniketan competed in the 100-metre event. We finished with the same time —- 11.7 seconds —- but the position of his body was better than mine when we crossed the line, so he stood first. Our timing was the same, but the upper portion of his body was more bent than mine, so they awarded him first place. My leg was ahead but there are all kinds of rules and regulations about the finish.
I defeated him afterwards in the 200 metres. At that time he finished two metres behind me. Between the events, at least three or four hours' rest we got. After the 100-metre race, at one point he came up to me. I congratulated him very sincerely. Then he said to me, "Did you ever study geometry?"
I said, "A little."
"No, you have not studied geometry," he replied.
I was most surprised. "What? I have not studied geometry?" Then he explained, "When you run, you are not running straight. Your toes are going slightly outwards. If your toes were straight and your feet were straight, you could easily have defeated me. It is all because you have not studied geometry! But you can correct it."
He was such a nice fellow! What he said is so true. Many people have told me the same thing. My feet do not go straight. They go a little towards the outside. That is why I lost to him, he said. Alas, it was too late for me to correct it. But in the 200-metre race, in spite of my toe difficulties, I defeated him.
The first time I ran 400 metres, I did it in one minute flat. Then I made improvement and my time was 55.2 seconds. Then I went to 54 seconds and I stayed there for years. My best timing was 53.6 seconds.
Unfortunately, when the races were longer then 400 metres, my performance went down. In 800 metres, I was 50 or 60 metres behind the winner. One event I used to practise only once a year and that was 1500 metres. In those days, we Indians had such stupid theories. We thought that if you did not run on your toes, if you ran on your heels, then your sprinting would suffer. Such wonderful theories! Now I laugh and laugh when I think how ignorant I was. I was good in everything except 1500 metres.
Before the 1500-metre race, we did hurdles. Nowadays, all great hurdlers take three strides between the hurdles. Poor me, my strides were so short that I used to take five strides instead of three. But I was the fastest sprinter so somehow, because of my speed, I used to get very good points. But my style was horrible! However, in the rest of the decathlon events I was very good —- long jump, shot put, discus and so forth.
Then in 1959 I had the strongest desire to become last and so I gave myself a very high fever. I wanted to experience the sufferings of those who do not do well in the races. It was all pre-planned. But it did not work. God wanted me to become first. That experience I have spoken about. [See IMS:395]
Our philosophy is to surrender to God's Will. If God wants you to be first, well and good. If He wants you to be last, then well and good. If you are very kind-hearted and self-giving, you may wish to allow somebody else to be first. From the spiritual point of view, this feeling of oneness with others is very good. But if God does not want you to have an experience of failure, then no matter how hard you try, you will not get the failure experience. And again, sometimes it may happen that you die to have the experience of success; you do absolutely everything you can to become first, and then very nicely you become last because it was not God's Will.
A few years ago, a very close friend of mine came to our Masters Games. 1 He is Russian. I was at that time 62 years of age and he was 42. He challenged me and I challenged him to a 100-metre race. It was a friendly challenge. Before we started, I was thinking of my golden days in athletics when I was seventeen or twenty years old. I was invoking those days to defeat him. And he was laughing because he is so much younger than me. I asked him, "Were you ever a sprinter in your youth?"
He said, "No, no, but it is so easy to defeat you. You are an old man!"
I said, "All right, I am an old man."
I was still thinking about my golden days which are buried in oblivion. I thought, "Since he does not have a running background, I am sure I will defeat him, although I am older than him by many years."
Alas, God smashed my pride! He finished two metres ahead of me. I really wanted to defeat him because he was bragging that he is younger than me, but God said, "Now the time has come for you to be humbled and humiliated." So very nicely he defeated me.
Once we enter into the spiritual life, we cannot make any decision for ourselves. Once we make our surrender to God complete, ambition becomes a great obstacle. Ambition has to surrender to aspiration. So we aspire; we aspire wholeheartedly to become good citizens of the world. Otherwise, desire-life and ambition-life will make our life miserable at every moment.
Aspiration-life is all up to us. It is between ourselves and God. If we sincerely aspire, He will bless us with His inner Light, Peace and Bliss. And if we remain all the time in the desire-world, although we have entered into the spiritual life, then we are bound to be miserable.