The Hindustan Times revealed Mr. Buffet’s determination to keep life simple. “It’s easy not to flash your cash if you have none,” noted the editor, “but the CEO and chairman of Berkshire Hathaway hasn’t taken a salary hike for the last quarter of a century, pays back his company expenses such as phone charges, and feels content with his annual salary of $100,000, a pittance for CEOs these days.” The editorial observed that Mr. Buffet’s chief financial officer gets four times that much. Mr. Buffet also drives his own car to work and “says no to all things hedonistic.”
Human life: A Life of Responsibility
Warren Buffet’s refusal to pursue an “I get what I want” existence the hallmark of modern society is refreshing to hear. At a time when crass greed masquerades as simple ambition and frugal habits are frowned upon, Mr. Buffet’s reticence has few parallels. The Vedic scriptures extol the value of not artificially increasing personal wants.
isavasyam idam sarvam
yat kinca jagatyam jagat
tena tyaktena bhunjitha
ma grdhan kasya svid dhanam
“Everything animate or inanimate that is within the universe is controlled and owned by the Lord. One should therefore accept only those things necessary for himself, which are set aside as his quota, and one should not accept other things, knowing well to whom they belong.” (Sri Isopanisad, Mantra 1) When we recognize the proprietorship of the Supreme Lord and contribute our little worth toward ensuring that the needs of all are taken care of, we lead a life of responsibility. If, however, we regard this body as all in all and confine our ambitions and goals to making it big in this world, we restrict our scope of happiness. A deep sense of insecurity crops up with changing market conditions, twisting political fortunes, and crashing stockmarkets. These fears provoke men to abandon all moral scruples and timehonored spiritual values, creating a dog-eat-dog world. Srila Prabhupada eloquently exposes the wild pursuits of modern man:
According to nature’s arrangement, living entities lower on the evolutionary scale do not eat or collect more than necessary. Consequently in the animal kingdom there is generally no economic problem or scarcity of necessities. If a bag of rice is placed in a public place, birds will come to eat a few grains and go away. A human being, however, will take away the whole bag. He will eat all his stomach can hold and then try to keep the rest in storage. According to scriptures, this collecting of more than necessary (atyahara) is prohibited. Now the entire world is suffering because of it. Nectar of Instruction, Verse 2, Purport
The Eternally Dissatisfied Mind
Besides social responsibility, another reason to keep our lives simple is the personal satisfaction it guarantees. We may fulfill our desires, but our mind remains dissatisfied. “Earth provides enough to satisfy every man’s need,” said Gandhi, “but not every man’s greed.” Mr. Buffet and other rare persons of his ilk are fortunate to be spared the screaming wants of the mind. The human mind is fickle and, if let loose, knows no peace. As we unleash our passion to acquire various pleasures, the mind points out the unattained delights. And the more elusive they are, the greater the passion to possess them.
The enjoyment of all things material follows the law of diminishing marginal returns: Each successive pleasure derived from an object or person reduces our taste for that pleasure. A drastic gap occurs between the expectation of pleasure and the enjoyment experienced. To fill the gap, the mind desperately urges us to spend more, buy more, and go wild. In the ensuing race for happiness, the mind’s demands remain eternally unfulfilled. It’s like scratching an itch: The momentary relief is accompanied by a greater itch, and the more you scratch, the more you itch. Repeated scratching only causes pain and bleeding.
In this regard, the Srimad-Bhagavatam reveals the plight of Hiranyaksipu, the king of the asuras, or anti-theists:
eka-ran visayan priyan
“In spite of achieving the power to control in all directions and in spite of enjoying all types of dear sense gratification as much as possible, Hiranyaksipu was dissatisfied because instead of controlling his senses he remained their servant.” (Srimad-Bhagavatam, 7.4.19) Although the universe bowed to his command, Hiranyakasipu was miserable. Eventually his unfulfilled lust and greed led to violent anger against his own son and to his own ruination.
Connection to God: The Secret of Satisfaction “He who is content is rich,” said the wise Lao Tzu. When we lead a God-centered life, with a culture of prayer and service as the foundation, we’re filled with serenity. The pushing of the restless mind to “get what I want when I want” is replaced by a desire to improve the quality of our offering to God, Krishna. The mind’s primary function is to like and dislike. The mind’s constant acceptance and rejection ensures we are never peaceful and happy. Connection to Krishna, however, helps us ignore and transcend the petty wrangling of the mind. Many devotees in the Hare Krishna movement formerly lived lives centered on drugs, alcohol, and illicit sex. But the process of Krishna consciousness changed all that, and now they are happy to ignore these allurements and instead happily execute the practices of devotional service.
Devotees living a Godcentered life fill their hearts with loving remembrance of Krishna. Absorption in chanting Krishna’s holy names and hearing His pastimes gives one an experience of spiritual happiness that helps one transcend the constant battering by the mind. To the extent we are connected to Krishna, our happiness only increases with the passage of time, and simultaneously the craving for material possessions wanes.
Lessons from History
When Lord Krishna appeared five hundred years ago as Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu, He revealed the glories of His devotees absorbed in loving Krishna. Sridhara was a poor banana-leaf seller (khola-veca) who earned barely enough to live on. Yet he was happy to offer fifty percent of his earnings to serve the Lord, and he spent much of his time blissfully chanting and hearing about Krishna. Lord Caitanya revealed to him His supreme majesty. He then asked Sridhara to request any benediction he desired. Sridhara wasn’t tempted by unlimited riches, mystic power, or even the opulence of the kingdom of God. He desired only to remember the Lord and engage in unalloyed loving devotional service.
Similarly, Maharaja Ambarisa was an ideal king who possessed the wealth of Krishna consciousness in his heart. He used all his senses and wealth in service to Krishna. He was the emperor of the planet, yet was the most renounced person because his life was centered on serving Krishna and all other living entities.
Lord Caitanya’s disciple Srila Rupa Gosvami has written,
yuktam vairagyam ucyate
vairagyam phalgu kathyate
Possessing Krishna: A Higher Principle A Krishna conscious person knows that possessing Krishna is a higher principle than mere renunciation. A devotee loves Krishna and knows that everything belongs to Him. He therefore uses everything he has in the service of his beloved Lord. Srila Prabhupada encouraged us to use all material resources and modern amenities, not for our benefit but to worship Krishna and proclaim His glories. Serving Krishna with His material energy is real renunciation because by such service we renounce the deep-rooted conception of being enjoyers and proprietors in this world.
If you find a wallet filled with $100 bills, you have three choices. The first is to keep it, the second to renounce it, the third to return it. The first choice symbolizes the person trying to enjoy this world; the second, the philosopher who decides to renounce the world when it doesn’t belong to him in the first place. The third action, which symbolizes using God’s property in His service, is the responsible one. The devotee uses his wealth in service to God, while giving up the false sense of ownership and enjoyment.
Thus, Mr. Buffet could take his renunciation a step higher. Whether one is as poor as Sridhara, as rich as the emperor Ambarisa Maharaja, or somewhere in between, one can be a great renunciant, simply by possessing Krishna.