It is often said that man is the resultant of his environmental forces. This is not true. We cannot believe this, because the facts always prove the contrary. Many of the world's greatest men have been born in poverty and in adverse circumstances. Many who have been born in slums and filthy surroundings have risen to the highest status in the world. They have won laurels of fame and distinguished themselves in politics, literature and poetry. They have become brilliant geniuses and beacon-lights of the world. How do you account for this?
Sri T. Muthuswamy Aiyer, the first Indian High Court judge in Madras was born in absolute poverty. He had to study at night under municipal lanterns. He had insufficient food. He was clad in rags. He struggled hard and achieved greatness. He rose above the environmental forces by his strong will and iron determination.
In the West sons of cobblers and fishermen have risen to high positions. Boys who did polishing of boots in the streets and who were selling beer in bars and were cooking in hotels became famous poets and able journalists. Johnson was placed in quite adverse environments. Goldsmith was "passing rich with forty pounds a year." Sir Walter Scott was very poor. He had no place to live in. The life of James Ramsay Macdonald is worth mentioning. He was a man of great Purushartha. He rose from poverty to power, from a field-labourer to the status of Prime Minister of Britain. His first job was addressing envelopes for ten shillings a week. He was so poor to buy tea that he drank water instead. His main meal every day for months was a three-penny beefsteak pudding. He was a pupil-teacher. He took great interest in politics and science. He was a journalist. Gradually, through right exertion (Purushartha), he rose to the position of a Prime Minister.
Sri Sankaracharya, the exponent of Advaita philosophy, a spiritual giant and a brilliant genius was born in very poor, unfavourable environment and circumstances. There are thousands of instances like these. It is quite obvious, therefore, that unfavourable environments cannot annihilate the potential greatness and excellence of the future geniuses and that one can outgrow environments through diligent application, integrity, sincerity of purpose, iron will and strong determination.
Every man is born with his Samskaras. The mind is not a Tabularasa or a blank sheet of paper. It contains the impressions of thoughts and actions of the previous births. Samskaras are the latent potentialities. These good Samskaras are valuable assets for a man. Even though he is placed in unfavourable environments, these Samskaras give him protection against extraneous, undesirable, hostile influences. They help his growth and evolution. In the Gita Lord Krishna says: "There he recovereth the characteristics belonging to his former body and with these he again laboureth for perfection, O joy of the Kurus." Ch. VI-43.
Miss not any opportunity. Avail yourself of all opportunities. Every opportunity is meant for your uplift and development. If you see a sick man lying down on the roadside in a helpless condition, take him on your back or tonga to the nearest hospital. Nurse him. Give him hot milk or tea or coffee. Shampoo his legs with divine Bhava. Feel the all-pervading, all-permeating, interpenetrating indwelling God in him. See divinity in the glow of his eyes, in his cry, in his breath, in the pulsation and motion of his lungs. God has given this opportunity to you to develop mercy and love, to purify your heart and to remove Ghrina, hatred and jealousy. Sometimes if you are very timid, God will place you in such circumstances wherein you will be forced to exhibit courage and presence of mind by risking your life. Those world figures who have risen to eminence have utilised all opportunities to the best advantage. God shapes the mind of human beings by giving them opportunities.
Remember that in your weakness lies the strength, because you will be always on your alert to safeguard yourself. Poverty has its own virtues. Poverty infuses humility, strength, power of endurance and the spirit of struggle and perseverance, whereas luxury begets laziness, pride, weakness, inertia and all sorts of evil habits.
Do not grumble, therefore, of bad environments. Create your own mental world and environments. That man who tries to evolve or grow in adverse environments will be a very strong man indeed. Nothing can shake him. He will be of a sterner stuff. He will have strong nerves. Man is certainly not a creature of environments or circumstances. He can control and modify them by his capacities, thoughts, good actions and right exertions (Purushartha). Theevra Purushartha can change the destiny. That is the reason why Vasishthaji and Bhishma have placed Purushartha above destiny. Therefore, dear brothers, exert, conquer nature and rejoice in the eternal Satchidananda Atman.