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More important than health is the wisdom to use health
Author Acharya Prashant
Acharya Prashant
11 min
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Acharya Prashant (AP): (reading the question) Swami Vivekananda has said, "First of all, our young men must be strong. Religion will come afterwards. Be strong, my young friends; that is my advice to you. You will be nearer to heaven through football than through the study of the Gita. These are my bold words; but I have to say them, for I love you. You'll understand Gita better with your biceps, your muscles, a little stronger. You'll understand the mighty genius and the mighty strength of Krishna better with a little strong blood in you."

And then, Ilmari says, "I've observed that doing physical exercise certainly has an energizing effect on both the body and mind. On the other hand, fitness brings in the danger of becoming even more body centric. So, my question is, to what extent is physical strength useful on the spiritual path? Thanks for the guidance.”

It is peripheral, Ilmari. Do you really find Liverpool and Chelsea players really spiritually inclined if football were such a liberating force? Does that happen? Really? Then, let's have the Messis and Ronaldos and Ronaldinhos as the ideal figures for the next MAG (referring to the Month of Awakening program) session.

Let's take the case of Swami Vivekananda himself. When he went to Ramakrishna Paramahansa, did he offer him a football? I understand it's a thing with the Bengalis, football, but I have not heard that Ramakrishna was particularly fond of soccer. Or was he? It is not the central thing. It is one of those things that enable you further, that stoke the fire. But to stoke the fire, first of all, you need a fire. Football cannot bring about that spark. Football cannot raise that fire. Once the fire is there, once a man's consciousness says, "I want to be liberated. I want freedom. I want to know. I want to understand. I want to actualize this birth," then he says, "What is it that I need to reach the destination? I know the goal is far away, and I very strongly feel I must reach there. What is it that I need?" And there would be many things, many resources that he would find himself lacking in. He would say, “I need knowledge." He would say, "I need some money." He would say, "I need guidance." And he might also say, "I need physical strength. I need health. I need vitality. I need long years." One of those things that you need as resources to reach the destination. But just because you have those things, it does not mean you will reach the destination.

If you want to reach a particular city from here, you need your car to be fueled. But there are a million cars in Delhi that are parked with a lot of fuel. Are all of them going to reach that city? So, fuel is an ancillary requirement. Fuel will not automatically make the car reach the destination. In fact, you are right. An abundance of fuel could also mean that the car is roaming about rather aimlessly and wasting itself away. It must be remembered who the original recipient of a particular quote is. These words of Swami Vivekananda are golden. Golden to whom? I'm pretty sure that this time he is talking to well-meaning lads, sincere youngsters who are failing in their mission because they are physically weak. He is not talking to people who are anyway already lost. He is talking to people who are all set to pursue the spiritual path. They have the intention. They have determination. What they lack is health and vitality. So, he is telling them, "Why are you reading the Gita at this time? You have already had enough of Gita. Your bottleneck is not spiritual ignorance. Your bottleneck is physical vitality." Are you getting it?

You pull into a petrol pump, a gas station. Your car has half its tank full of fuel, so half the tank is empty. And at the same time, the engine oil levels are 10% of the ideal. You have money either for petrol or engine oil. What would you ask for?

Q: Engine oil.

AP: Why? Even the tank is half empty. Why don't you get the tank filled up? This is called commonsensical determining the bottleneck. You have two variables, and both are slack. Both are in lack. But which of these must you address first? You will address the one which is the bottleneck constraint. So, you will say, "I want engine oil", right? Similarly, a spiritual seeker may not have complete understanding of the Gita and he might be physically very weak. His understanding of the Gita is like the fuel in the fuel tank, 50%. And his physical strength is like engine oil, 10%. So, Swami Vivekananda is telling him, "Keep Gita away. It is at least 50% of the desired level. Focus on your health. It is only 10% of what you need to have.”

It is a special case that he is talking of. Swami Vivekananda was no soccer evangelist. His mission was not to promote the cause of football in India. He did not start with Mohun Bagan or... Was that his great mission? Yes? To bring the FIFA World Cup to...? But this is one quotation from him that I find touted most often—"Keep Gita away. Play football." People love it. (Sarcastically) Even Swami Vivekananda said, “Keep Gita away; play football.” It's another matter that India's FIFA ranking is...? So, we neither got Gita, and not even football. I suppose we breached the top 100 for the first time last year or some time. Lost on both counts. Gita kept away, football played, and beaten regularly by Nepal and Bhutan. Even the Sark gold medal is difficult to get.

Yes, you need health. But for what? When you say a fellow, a young fellow, must have vibrant health, I agree. But I'll ask: What for? What for are the biceps? Yeah, girls like them, obviously. Yes, a young fellow must be able to run a lot. Towards? Chimpanzees run a lot. But it's again one of those romantic ideals—the youthful, strong, vibrant young man. Why must one be strong? Strength is a resource. If you do not know what the resource is for, why do you need the resource at all? Before you gain health, must you not gain the wisdom to use health? Otherwise, you will be a very-very healthy moron and a rascal to boot. A giant gorilla. Very healthy. Make him stand at the goal post and he can dominate the best attacking players in the world. He doesn't have to do anything. He'll just stand. Unfortunately, with rise in income levels, availability of knowledge and food supplements, average height of human beings are rising across all nations, average weight of human beings is rising across all nations, colors are getting fairer. Everything that can physically rise is rising.

Wisdom? Understanding? Compassion? So, the gorilla is not merely getting more giant, it is also getting more violent. How does that sound? It's not a giant, yet benevolent gorilla; it is a giant trouble now. A Godzilla. And they all have kept the Gita aside. You know, Gita is not needed. They are all busy building their bodies—and it's lovely you know. That's what Prakriti has trained us for. It's so nicely and instinctively ingrained in us. You go to gorillas. They know how to choose a female. They will look at the body and they will know which one to go after. And the females, they too know which one to choose. The body will tell. And footballers are great draws. They've always been sex symbols. There is something about their calves, their thighs, the T-shorts coming off, the sweat. And the Gita can be kept aside.

Never forget who was being addressed in this quotation. I tell you I was there. I know who was being addressed. Swami Vivekananda was talking to someone who was potentially a Swami Vivekananda but for physical health. The fellow had everything going for him; dedication, austerity, simplicity, devotion—but he was always being packed back by his physical health. So that evening Swami Ji went to him and said, "Please, you're anyway not bad with Gita, with Upanishads, with Vedanta. We can wait a little. Don't be so harsh on yourself. Rather attach a little more importance to your physical health." It was with respect to that fellow and only that fellow that these words were uttered, and it is with respect to only that fellow that these words hold relevance and validity. To other young men and women, these words are not applicable or valid at all. This is not a universal message. This is not all-applicable. This is not one size fits all.

When you proceed on a great mission, then you require befitting resources. You deserve them and you are graced with them. Help comes from somewhere. Those things get bestowed upon you. You know of the legendary robe of the Swami, right? The one that you find him wearing in all his photographs. Where did it come from and how did it come? Do you know the history? In fact, even his name, Swami Vivekananda, came quite late in his life. He was known by many names. Ultimately this one stuck. And be it the robe or the name, they came to him partially because they were the need of that time. 1893 was the World Conference of Religions, right? And Swami Vivekananda was proceeding towards that. That is when a small king got him that special attire that became symbolic of Swami Vivekananda. Why was that customized dress made for him? Because he was on a major mission. He was going to represent India; he was going to represent Hinduism in that mighty conference. Otherwise, he was wearing very simple clothes that befit a normal monk. He was not always dressed exquisitely as you find him in his trademark pics. The normal ordinary robe of the ordinary monk he would be carrying. Health is like those exquisite clothes. It befits you only when you are on a large mission. Otherwise, what are you building this health for?

Those who are on the way to Truth have an obligation to maintain good physical health. Not for themselves but for that which they desire and represent. And those who are not on the way to Truth, if they have good physical health, it is just a burden because you will have vitality, you will have energy, and you will have no purpose. So, all your energy and vitality will be directed only towards nonsense. It would be a great burden on your consciousness. You will be like a misguided weapon having fire, having explosiveness, but having no direction, no accuracy, no purpose.

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