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Sunday, September 29, 2013

Nothing impermanent can ever make you feel secure – or happy

As long as you seek security from material things you will never be truly happy. This is the truth. But the human mind will convince you that just the opposite is true. So, you go on accumulating or trying to accumulate material stuff – a bank balance, jewellery, real estate and such – and the more you get, the more you have, the more you want. And the more you are fearful and insecure. And, resultantly, are unhappy.

There was once a man who was obsessed with making money. He was forever pursuing new frontiers. He acquired companies and expanded his business empire globally. Soon, he had more cash than anyone else in his country. He had a private jet to travel the world and hordes of personal staff that paid attention to his every personal comfort. But he was not happy. Nor was he secure. He feared that someone would kidnap him. So he had personal bodyguards. One day, he discovered that his wife was having an affair with one of his managers. When he asked her why she cheated on him, she replied that she did not find love in her relationship with him. She said he had given her all the comfort – a car, an Amex Credit Card, liberal shopping budgets and total freedom to indulge herself – but he was never there to love her. This revelation shattered the man further. He immersed himself in his business, and over the next decade or so, he became richer. He was ranked by Forbes as among the richest people in the world.

One day, when he was traveling through the Kumaon range in the Himalayas his car – a latest edition Merc – developed a snag. He was forced to spend the night in a small hut which overlooked a precipice in the middle of nowhere. Two armed bodyguards kept vigil outside the hut as the driver went away trying to secure help to fix the Merc.

The owner of the hut was a scruffy looking man in his late 50s who had a long, flowing beard. He made the his billionaire guest some hot spinach soup.

The billionaire decided to strike some polite conversation with his host. He asked his host: “What do you do?”

The host replied: “Nothing.”

The billionaire persisted: “What do you mean? I asked what do you do for a living.”

The host answered, nonplussed: “I live. That’s it.”

The billionaire looked around the hut. There was nothing in it. Just a mat on the floor. An old kettle. A traditional stove (a chula) and some old aluminium utensils. There were two glasses. One of each the two men held in their hands as they sipped the piping hot soup. The billionaire concluded that his host must be telling the truth after all. For there was nothing to speak of to show that this man really earned a living.

He asked the host: “Don’t you feel wretched that you have to eke out such a living?”

The host replied: “I enjoy living. I am happy.”

The billionaire lost his cool. He told his host in no uncertain terms that the essence of Life was achievement. To make an effort. To work hard. To succeed. And to conquer new frontiers. He declared, pompously, that he had worked hard for 30 years and was now 10 ranks away from being the richest person in the world.

The host was not provoked by his guest’s sudden belligerence. He calmly asked: “And what would you do after you get there, I mean, after you become the world’s richest person.”

The billionaire replied enthusiastically, thinking that his host was now recognizing him for his genius and business acumen: “I will then be happy. Because I would have achieved what I have set my eyes on.”

The host asked: “And what would happen if someone overtook you in some time and became the world’s richest person?”

The billionaire was agitated by the mere thought. He shot back: “I will fight that move. I will claw my way back. I will not rest until I am number one again!”

The host replied: “Let me offer you some unsolicited opinion my friend. You can never be happy as long as you are restless. You can never be secure as long as you are attached to money, to fame, to a ranking that is impermanent. You think I have nothing. Indeed I have nothing that can be taken away from me. So, I don’t need bodyguards. I am happy and I am living fully. I wake up each morning feeling great. I walk the mountains. I pluck herbs and berries. I enjoy a fresh water bath in the stream. I sing to myself. I cook a hearty meal. I eat well. I sleep peacefully. I am living my friend, while you are earning a living!”

The story goes that the billionaire couldn’t sleep that night. He thought deeply about the lesson that his host had unwittingly taught him. He changed his outlook to Life, gave away all of his wealth to charity and went on to live, happily, peacefully, somewhere in the hills, all by himself – without any bodyguards!

Our way of Life need not be as dramatic as the billionaire’s or the host’s. We will do well to simply understand the key message contained in that story. Our material attachments, and our desires, are merely expressions of our continuous search for security in Life. The tragedy is that nothing that is impermanent can ever make us feel secure. Yet, because we are conditioned to believe otherwise, we keep on barking up the wrong tree. Only when we realize that we will feel truly secure when we have nothing, will we seize the opportunity and simply live!



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