There was a discussion about whether it is necessary, or even right, to give a warning on a spiritual matter when it is clear that it will not be heeded at all. One view was that in such cases it is meaningless, and the instance was given of a saintly man who had given a warning about the sin of using violence to a crowd of self-styled patriots. Their response was to beat him, and then go on with their program, which in the event led to the calamities for others and themselves which he had predicted.
A member of the sangha asked for an explanation. “Did that saintly man know they wouldn’t listen? Or did he simply miscalculate?”
“Nothing is absolutely impossible, and he would have been following a spiritual impulse to speak out,” said a senior, “but, yes, he would have known that in the ordinary course they would never listen to him.”
“Then why do it?” persisted the other. “The Gita says yoga is skill in action. Surely it isn’t skillful action to waste the breath like that, and provoke them as well.”
“I used to think so too, but then I had an experience of it from the other side. And that made me change my mind. I was very ambitious when I was young, and I suddenly got a good chance to make a jump in my career. I knew that one of the other sangha members had had something similar a little time before. To my amazement, however, an old and rather tottery sangha member approached me, and timidly hinted that I should be careful about taking up anything that would excite ambition. I guessed that this came indirectly from the teacher, but I brushed it aside with one sharp comment about interference. I assumed this was some sort of routine warning given mechanically to pupils. But my opinion of the teacher’s insight went down a bit; there was not the faintest possibility of my listening to that sort of thing, particularly through that sort of intermediary. (At that time I couldn’t distinguish between a letter and the postman.)
“As things turned out, my project was successful. But it did cause me a good deal of anxiety. I found I couldn’t stop thinking about it; it invaded my thoughts and hindered my yoga practise. It was a long time before I could get free.
“When I look back on the beginning and end of that time of self-created difficulty, one thing stood out clearly: I had been warned. There had been no possibility of my listening, but … I had been warned. And that gave me confidence in the teacher. From then on, I paid great respect to what he said. If he had not given that warning, futile though it seemed to be at the time, it might have taken much longer to get on a firm basis.
“It may well be that some of those terrorists too will look back and realize: We were warned.”