Learning lessons of life from spiritual leaders

“People spend money they don’t have, on things they don’t need, to impress people whom anyway they don’t like…”


Spiritual Billionaire

I wondered if Warren Buffet was really a renunciate in disguise. The Hindustan Times showered appreciation on the ‘‘immensely financially endowed’’ gentleman for being a simple man at heart. As he toppled Bill Gates to claim the world’s richest person’s crown, the media revealed Mr. Buffet’s plans to donate $37 billion in charity. The CEO and Chairman of Berkshire Hathaway also hasn’t taken a salary hike for the last quarter of a century, and pays back his company expenses such as phone charges. Mr. Buffet also drives his own car to work, and apparently says ‘no’ to all things hedonistic.

Human life a life of responsibility

Although Warren Buffet’s motivation for giving up so much isn’t clear, his refusal to pursue ‘I get what I want’ lifestyle the hallmark of modern society comes as a breath of fresh air in these troubled times. At a time when crass greed goes in the name of ambition, and frugal habits are frowned upon, Mr. Buffet’s reticence has few parallels. The Vedic scriptures extol the glory of not artificially increasing personal wants.

isavasyam idam sarvam
yat kinca jagatyam jagat
tena tyaktena bhunjitha
ma grdhah 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 in ensuring that the needs of all are taken care of, we lead a life of responsibility. If however we consider this body as all in all, and confine our ambitions and goals to making big in this world alone, we restrict our scope of happiness. Some may even refuse to flash their cash, and donate huge sums but only to gain popularity and acceptance as a great philanthropist. A life centered on acquisitions gross and even subtle aspirations for name and fame only increases our bodily misidentifications. For such a person, a deep sense of insecurity crops up with changing market conditions, twisting political fortunes, and crashing stock markets. Srila Prabhupada eloquently exposes the latent fears and 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 is prohibited. Now the entire world is suffering because of it…” (Nectar of Instruction, verse 2 purport).

The eternally dissatisfied Mind

Besides the social responsibility, another reason why we need to keep our lives simple is the personal satisfaction it guarantees. The more we fulfill our desires, the more mind continues to remain dissatisfied. “There’s enough in this world to meet everyone’s need,” said Gandhi, “but not enough to meet even one person’s greed.” The human mind is fickle, and if let loose, knows no peace. As we unleash our passion to acquire different pleasures, the mind points out the as yet unacquired 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’ with each successive pleasure derived from an object or person, the taste reduces in greater proportion. A drastic gap occurs in the expectation of pleasure, and the actual enjoyment experienced. To fill the gap then, 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 minute relief is accompanied by a greater itch, and the more you scratch, more the itch. Repeated scratching only causes agonizing pain, and bleeding.

The Srimad Bhagavatam reveals the plight of the king of demons, Mr. Hiranyakashipu. Hiranyakashipu had unrivalled controllership of the universe. Merely by the raising of his eyebrows, he could invoke fear in the hearts of all, and summon all heavenly delights at his service. As he conquered the world without, he ignored the needs of the soul within. Fear and insecurities haunted him as his own five year old son, Prahlada reposed his love in Lord Krishna the Supreme Personality of Godhead.

sa ittham nirjita-kakub
eka-rad visayan priyan
yathopajosam bhunjano
natrpyad ajitendriyah

“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, Hiranyakashipu was dissatisfied because instead of controlling his senses he remained their servant.” [Bhag 7.4.19]

Although the universe bowed to his command, Hiranyakashipu was miserable. Eventually his unfulfilled lust and greed leading to violent anger against his own son lead to his ruination. 

Connection to God the secret of satisfaction

Spiritual Billionaire

“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 basic foundation, a sense of serenity fills our lives. 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’. Constant acceptance and rejection by the mind ensures we are never peaceful and happy. The connection to Krishna however helps us ignore the various material allurements, and transcend the petty wrangling of the mind. How does this science of Krishna connection work?

A devotee practicing a God centered lifestyle fills the heart with loving remembrance of Krishna.  This absorption in chanting Krishna’s holy names and hearing Krishna’s pastimes gives us 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 away.

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. Kholavecha Sridhara was a poor banana leaf seller, and barely met his ends. Yet he was happy to offer fifty percent of his earnings to serve the Lord, and spent his other time blissfully chanting and hearing about Krishna. The Lord arranged an audience for him, and revealed to him, His own supreme majesty. He then asked Sridhara to ask for any benediction he desired opulences of the Kingdom of God, mystic powers, and unlimited riches. Sridhara wasn’t tempted. He only desired to remember the Lord and engage in unalloyed, loving devotional service.  

Similarly Maharaja Ambarisa was an ideal example of a king who possessed the wealth of Krishna consciousness in his heart. He used all his senses and wealth in service of Krishna. He was the emperor of the planet, yet was the most renounced because his life was centered on serving Krishna, and all other living entities.

anasaktasya visayan
yatharham upayunjatah
nirbandhah Krishna-sambandhe
yuktam vairagyam ucyate
prapancikataya buddhya
mumuksubhih parityago
vairagyam phalgu kathyate

“When one is not attached to anything, but at the same time accepts everything in relation to Krishna, one is rightly situated above possessiveness. On the other hand, one who rejects everything without knowledge of its relationship to Krishna is not as complete in his renunciation.” (Bhakti-rasamrita-sindhu 1.2.255-256)

Possession of Krishna a higher principle

A Krishna conscious person knows that possession of Krishna is a higher principle than mere renunciation.

“A living being is finished as soon as there is nothing to possess. Therefore a living being cannot be, in the real sense of the term, a renouncer. A living being renounces something for gaining something more valuable. A student sacrifices his childish proclivities to gain better education. A servant gives up his job for a better job. Similarly, a devotee renounces the material world not for nothing but for something tangible in spiritual value..The devotees are generally without material prosperity, but they have a very secret treasure-house in the lotus feet of the Lord.” (Teachings of Queen Kunti, text 27 purport)

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 facilities, and modern amenities, not on personal account, but instead to glorify Krishna, and preach His glories. This is real renunciation because through this act we renounce the deep-rooted conception of being the enjoyer and proprietor in this world. 

Making the right choice

If you find an unclaimed wallet, filled with Rs.100/- notes, you have three choices. First, keep it after all “finders’ keepers, and losers’ weepers’ ”. The second choice is to ‘renounce’ the wallet. The two choices are compared to being the ‘enjoyer’ and ‘false renouncer’ in this world respectively; because the wallet anyway did not belong to you. The third action to find the owner’s address and return it to him is a more responsible one.

Similarly, a devotee refuses to exploit the resources of nature for selfish enjoyment. He also does not artificially renounce things of this world, because the world and its resources are not his property, rather they belong to God. Instead, he engages his wealth in service of God, while giving up the sense of false proprietorship and enjoyer.

Thus Mr Warren Buffet could very well take his renunciation a step higher. You could be the impoverished Sridhara Kholavecha, or the emperor of the planet, Ambarisa Maharaja, or someone in between you still can be a great renunciant, by simply possessing Krishna. Mr. Warren Buffet, are you listening?

Vraja Bihari Dasa, MBA, serves full-time at ISKCON Mumbai, and teaches Krishna consciousness to students in various colleges.