BBC Radio 4 Thought
for the Day
17th July 1998
Perhaps our picture of military training is the sergeant-major ordering his troops to perform tasks far beyond their limits. But, the army is quick to correct that view. Things have changed significantly in the last thirty years, it says. The tragic death this week of Graham Holmes and the collapse of another cadet at Sandhurst are rare and unfortunate incidents for the Royal Military Academy.
There are so many easier options in life than marching for eight miles with full kit on your back. Civilian life becomes ever more cushy, but the demands on a soldier require stamina and endurance which is achieved only by rigorous training.
We expect a lot from our soldiers. And it is sad that any one of them should suffer from their efforts to prepare themselves for a career of service to others. I admire the discipline that cadets accept when they voluntarily enlist in the forces.
Indeed, the desire to take up an additional discipline on oneself seems to be a very special aspect of the human spirit. As homo sapiens, we do not indulge merely in evolutionary survival. We aspire to elevated goals. We set higher standards for ourselves. There may be attempts to say that the motivation behind ethical behaviour is simply in the perpetuation of the species. But, throughout history, humans have adopted religious disciplines far beyond what could reasonably be described as socially utilitarian.
As with military discipline, spiritual life also requires fitness and determination. Hinduism advises us that we will not make much progress by being religious couch potatoes. Revelation is bestowed by the grace of God, but we can try to make ourselves a more capable recipient.
Like many Hindus, my personal training programme involves a spiritual fitness routine each day. Ideally, I like to use the quiet morning hours for meditation, prayer and reflection. It also impacts my interactions with others. If I am callous to their needs or feelings, I close my eyes to them as fellow spirit souls. How can my love for God grow if I don’t show kindness to all those He loves.
Hindus who are tee-total or vegetarian, are often asked why they are not allowed to drink alcohol or eat meat? But, Hinduism is not prescriptive for its adherents. They have accepted a way of life - not because there are laws to be obeyed - but because they want to keep spiritually fit for cultivating their relationship with God.
Adopting a personal discipline for a higher cause is rarely easy. But it is one of a human being’s most precious aspirations and one that brings the deepest satisfaction to the individual and enrichment of our society.
© BBC This script was commissioned by the BBC for broadcast as “Thought for the Day” on the Today programme Radio 4.