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759. Libby Prison

In the US Civil War of 1861, several events have become historically famous. Libby Prison in the South had acquired an unparalleled notoriety. One incident there caught my attention. General George Hazard of the North was there as a prisoner. In the next cell there was a fight among the prisoners. A few joined to smash a poor victim. George ran to the help of the victim and saved him. Just at that moment, the Captain in charge of the prison entered and asked what had happened. The three prisoners who had attacked the victim pointed to George and said that he had savagely attacked the victim. George was aghast at the audacious lie, not knowing what was in store for him. The Captain turned to the victim and repeated the question. The victim vigorously nodded his head in confirmation of what the assaulters had just said. George could not believe his ears and wondered why that poor victim should falsely accuse him, taking the side of the assaulters.

George, a Northern General, was gagged, put into stocks, left in the rain and tortured until a Southern General, an old friend, came to his rescue. Now, the question is what should George have done? Was it wrong for him to help the victim? Why did life go against him and cruelly punish him? Was it morally right for him NOT to have offered the victim help? Nowhere in our ancient literature is this question raised and answered. If raised, the answer will be, it is George's karma. Sri Aurobindo raises this question and answers it. It is a rule that a victim who receives help should mortally hurt the benefactor. George had not learned that rule. Life gave him an occasion to learn. The next question is, if George had been one who knew this rule, should he refrain from helping the victim? Before answering that question, let me repeat that George should know that he will be the sure victim as a result of his helping initiative and it would be the present victim who would bring it about.  If George had had that knowledge, Life would not have brought that occasion to him.

Selfish people have no such questions, as they will not offer help. It is selfless people who offer help and run into trouble. It is not enough to be selfless, but one must also know the ways of life. When a person does not know, life gives him the occasion to learn the hard way. In the story of the Civil War, George was portrayed as one who was gentlemanly and selfless, but who lacked clarity on this point. On several earlier occasions he acted similarly and received at the hands of friends a mild remonstrance. As these events had not finally taught him this rule, this time Life taught him the hard way. Man does not always readily learn, especially those who value selflessness. The joy in being selfless, the impulse of generosity, the expansive emotions that surge out of the heart to offer help are so noble that one does not readily give them up. Man is slow to learn. He needs sometimes hundreds of such experiences.

story | by Dr. Radut