Ideals and Values/Gentleness (mārdavam)
30.1 What is Gentleness?
We should be polite and helpful to others, respectful towards elders and our teachers and loving towards little children. We should show compassion towards animals and plants and other dumb and helpless creatures.
Hindu scriptures say that our speech action and our thoughts should be as sweet as honey, free from harshness and cruelty. May the tip of my tongue be as sweet as honey, may the base of my tongue be as sweet as honey. May there always be honey like sweetness in all my actions. May that sweetness abide within my heart.
30.2 Why Should we Practice Gentleness?
Gentleness is an extension of compassion especially in relationship to the more meek, weaker and helpless creatures and even lifeless objects. Swami Tejomayānanda explains:
"We can augment our compassion with the practice of mārdavam or gentleness. This is an attitude of mind that is not only limited to living things but extends to insentient material objects as well. If we handle all the things with care, they will serve us beautifully. For instance, some people take proper care of their cars but others are so rough with them, there is no gentleness when they apply the brake, change gears or shut the door. In the same way, we should remember that shoes are serving our feet and we should place them down with respect. Once a man came running to a Zen Master, threw his shoes here and there and fell at his feet saying, Please teach me about God. The Master calmly replied, First learn to respect your shoes. How we take care of inert objects reveals the state of the mind. This mārdavam is a disposition of the mind. When a person has this state of mind, all his actions have a quality of gentleness.
30.3 Gentleness and Sensitivity:
Being gentle also means being sensitive to the likes and dislikes of others. Sometimes, we say or do something that hurts others, even though it was not our intention to hurt them. We should make an effort to understand what pleases and hurts the other person, so that we avoid causing pain to them. At times however, we have to be stern for the sake of discipline or for punishing evil doers. Bheeshma said, He who becomes gentle as well as stern appropriately as the situation requires accomplishes all his tasks. He overcomes all of his enemies.
But in all these cases, the guiding principle should still be gentleness and our intent in punishing should not be revenge or causing pain to that person but to reform him and make him a better person.
Story: Krishna's Gentleness toward the Birds
A beautiful tale is narrated in the oral Hindu tradition demonstrating the gentleness that Kṛṣṇa showed towards lesser creatures. On one day of the Mahābhārata war, Kṛṣṇa noticed that on a nearby hillock, there was a nest containing recently hatched bird-wings. The roaring sounds of the trumpets and the clang and clatter of weapons was terrifying the newborn birds. Kṛṣṇa took a giant metal bell that had fallen off the neck of a war elephant and covered the nest with it leaving a hole for breathing. When the war was over, He went to the hillock and removed the bell.
Story: Aesop's Fable on Gentleness
One day, the sun and the wind started quarreling amongst themselves as to who is the greater of the two. Suddenly, they saw a traveler walking on a street with a shawl wrapped around him. The wind said to the sun, "You will see how my might will force the shawl to fly off the traveler's body."
So the wind blew hard, but the traveler clasped onto his shawl. The harder the wind blew, the firmer was the grip of the traveler on the shawl. No matter with how much force the wind blew, the traveler would just not let go his shawl. Finally, the wind grew tired and gave up.
Now it was the sun's turn. The sun sent down warm and loving rays of light on earth. Soon, the traveler started feeling too warm. So he unwrapped the shawl from around his body and folded it neatly and held it in his hands. The sun said to wind and said, "See, what your force and power could not achieve, my gentle warmth was able to do."
- Compassion, the Manamam Series. 2007. Chinmaya Mission West. Piercy, California, p. 3