Integrity and Character

 S I X T E E N

Integrity and Character

Spirituality helps develop good character. It is character that shines bright when words fail to do so.

‘Live your life in such a way that those who know you but don’t know God, will come to know God because they know you.’


What motivates people to act righteously? Is it the lectures they listen to from charismatic speakers? Is it the entertaining philosophy they hear? Or is it the electrifying mood of the events they attend? All these can help, but according to spiritual literature, what motivates people to take action is not the conviction in their heads, but the inspiration of their hearts.

This is because people are touched more by what we do than what we say. We feel inspired by those who live with the right conduct, character and integrity, sadachar in Sanskrit.

Carts and Character

The Jagannath Rathayatra originated thousands of years ago in the town of Puri, situated on the east coast of India. It’s a festival where three huge chariots carry the deities of Shri Jagannath, Baladeva and Subhadra through the town for everyone to see. Millions flock to the city to participate in the festival. Since the 1970s, the Rathayatra festival has been replicated in cities all around the world. In fact, in Mumbai it occurs a few times a year in different parts of the city.

A few years ago in Mumbai, in an affluent area called Cuffe Parade, where only the elite live, a Rathayatra was planned. The area is on the tip of Mumbai, and very narrow, so getting three large chariots there was difficult. Instead, they decided to have a small cart, like horse-drawn carriages found in England in the olden times.

A couple of days before the Rathayatra was about to take place, the managers realized that they were short of some funds. The last few days before any festival can be manic. The organizers combed through their entire phone books, ringing up followers to ask if they would like to sponsor parts of the event. One of those people was a close friend of mine—Hitesh Kotwani—who lived in the area and was a well-wisher of our community. Unfortunately, Hitesh had already given a considerable amount for the festival to make sure it went ahead, but he promised them that he would approach some of his friends to secure more funds.

Most of Hitesh’s friends were well-to-do. You had to be to live in Cuffe Parade. One man he approached said that in that week three spiritual organizations had already approached him for charity and that he could not afford to give any more. However, because Hitesh was a friend of his, he instantly wrote a cheque. Hitesh was quite the fundraiser, which deeply pleased the organizers of the festival!

On the day of the festival, thousands of people came out into the streets of Cuffe Parade, ready to dance, chant and sing for Shri Jagannath. The gathering was sublime, with people wearing spectacular colours and dancing in unison. People poked their heads out of the windows of their flats and clapped along as the whole scene was very attractive. Even cab drivers who were delayed by Shri Jagannath’s procession could not help but smile at the festivities.

As the cart moved from street to street, the driver did not realize how narrow they would be. Under pressure, he accidentally bumped the wheel of the cart against a silver Mercedes parked on that road. In the energy and gusto of the festival, most people had not taken note of the incident. Others had probably taken note, but had moved on because there was no one to witness what had happened. There were no cameras on that street. Apart from that little slip-up, the rest of the festival went smoothly.

Two days later, as Hitesh sat in his office, he received a call from the gentleman who had given him the cheque. Hitesh was shocked by what he said:

‘For the next festival, I want to sponsor the entire thing!’ This would be quite a sum of money.

Bewildered, Hitesh asked him, ‘That seems really kind of you, but why this sudden urge?’

He explained, ‘When the yatra finished, I took the elevator down to the street from my apartment and went over to my silver Mercedes to find a huge dent on the side. I was distraught; it is not usual in this area to have such vandalism. But then I found a note flapping between my windscreen wipers.’

‘What did it say?’ Hitesh asked.

‘It read, “To the owner of this beautiful car, we are so sorry to inform you that the equally beautiful cart of Shri Jagannath accidentally hit the side of your car during the festival. I waited here for an hour to see if you would come down so that I could speak to you personally, but no one came. Our temple would like to fully reimburse you to fix this dent. We are so sorry for this inconvenience. Here is my number and address. Please get in touch with us.”

The man exclaimed, ‘What honesty! Nobody would have known that they hit my car. There was no way to figure out who hit my car, but they decided to own up. If these are the followers of Shri Jagannath, I want to do everything I can to support them. This is the type of spirituality that should be encouraged.’

The man was wealthy enough not to ask for money to fix the dent in his car, but called the number and profusely thanked the writer of the letter for representing spirituality rightly. Hitesh later told me about this man’s conversation with the temple monks on this. ‘At first the man whom I called about the dent was nervous that I would be angry. To his shock, he got a call saying that I wanted to give a larger donation. I suppose my car was blessed by Shri Jagannath,’ he laughed.

Philosophy without good character is of little or no value. There are three aspects of spirituality in practice:

  • Vichaar: The philosophy that we seek answers from. This helps us understand how life should be lived, and how spirituality should be practised. These concepts, in turn, are the universal lighthouse principles that guide us towards living a life of value.
  • Aachaar: Based on the philosophy is the physical action which leads to a transformation in our value system and helps us develop good conduct and character. When one’s character is transformed by following even a sentence of the rich philosophy, then those actions are called aachaar.
  • Prachaar: The good conduct of a spiritual practitioner inspires others to have faith in the philosophy and values of spirituality. Without having to give a single sermon, we can reach out to many just by being exemplary and having good character. What great men do, common men follow.

In all my talking, I had not realized but we had finally reached the temple. Harry was parked and simply listening to me patiently.

‘Why did you not stop me?’ I said, smiling at Harry.

‘I wanted to hear more. If I had stopped you, you wouldn’t have told me that wonderful story of the Rathayatra,’ he replied.

‘Thank you so much for driving me all the way here, and of course, for the lunch,’ I said as I opened the door. I had already missed all my scheduled events for the evening, so there was no point rushing. ‘Would you like to come inside?’ I asked.

‘That would be great,’ he replied as he grabbed his keys and we both walked out into the humid air of Mumbai.

We both entered through the security gate and were greeted warmly by the guards, many of whom I have known for over fifteen years. They are part of our family. The ashram that I call home is located in Girgaum Chowpatty, Mumbai. As you walk through the entrance, you are met with a huge courtyard, with the two-storey temple carved from sandstone—the architecture is sublime! We laughed and joked as we walked towards the shoe stall—you have to take your shoes off when you enter the temple. It’s a gesture that indicates cleanliness and respect for the temple and its people.

‘What was the fourth wheel?’ Harry said all of a sudden as he took off his shoes and handed them to the person in charge of the stall.

‘Maybe we will leave that for another time,’ I said, exhausted from the journey. ‘I will have to come back to your house for the world-class sambar again.’

‘We will feel insulted if you don’t,’ Harry grinned.

At that moment, Harry’s phone rang. It was his wife again. ‘Just a second,’ he said as he stepped away from me to take the call. A few people approached me to take a picture with them, but all the while, my attention was still focused on Harry. I could hear bits of the conversation.

‘Hello? How are you? Why didn’t you pick up earlier?’ Harry said as soon as he got connected.

‘Hello?’ replied a male voice on the other side.

‘Who is this?’ Harry said, alarmed. I noticed his face drop.

‘Mr Iyer, this is Dr Shah from the Breach Candy Hospital. We were trying to get in contact with you, but a fire has taken down some of the phone towers in the area. Your wife is in the hospital. You should come . . .’ The phone cut off again.

Harry dropped his phone on the floor, his face pale. I immediately ended my small talk with the guests and rushed to Harry, who was now on the balcony of the temple.

‘What is it?’

‘Lalita . . . Lalita is in the hospital. There is something wrong. I have to go now,’ he panicked. He ran towards his car. I picked up his phone and ran after him.


  • Good character has the ability to change lives. It has to do with our actions, not our words. The story about the Rathayatra in Mumbai is a great example of this.
  • The principles of developing character are:

  1. Vichaar: The life philosophy we follow. We must learn from it.
  2. Aachaar: The action based on that philosophy. We must do it.

  • Prachaar: The good conduct that is displayed to the world through those actions. We must practise it.

What great men do, common men follow.




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