Pearls of Wisdom: Devotion, Giving & Faith
Every day people come to me with problems for which they would like guidance. While the details vary from person to person and situation to situation, there are common themes that run through much of what ails us. The deeper questions, the questions beneath the questions are always the same: how can I be happy? How can I have meaningful relationships with others? There are so many deeply important principles to live by, so many lessons to be learned in this life on Earth. Below of just a few of these lessons.
I) Devote Your Life to God, Not Glamour
Every day people go out, go to work, earn money and become more and more prosperous. Yet, at the end of the day, when they return home, they are not happy. At night, when they lie in bed to go to sleep, their hearts are not peaceful, their minds are not at ease. There seems to be no correlation between the amount of money we earn, the number of possessions we buy and our sense of inner peace. Yet, if you ask people what they want most deeply out of life, they will say, “To be happy.” How then can we find this happiness that appears so elusive? What is the true secret to internal peace and everlasting joy?
The secret is God and God alone. In India, in all villages, there is a temple. I remember when I was growing up, and it is still mostly true today, that first thing in the morning, everyone would go to the temple. Before beginning the day’s tasks, everyone went to the temple, did pranam to God and took three parikramas (walking in a circle around Bhagwan). The point of this was not merely ritual. Rather, the parikramas signified, “God, I am about to go out and perform my worldly tasks, but let me always keep You in the center, let me remember that all work is for You.” Then, they would take prasad – from their tongues to their souls God’s sweetness would spread – and they would leave.
In the evening, before returning home, once again everyone went to the temple. “God, if during this day I have forgotten that You are the center of everything, please forgive me. Before I go home to my family, let me once again remember to Whom my life is devoted.”
This still occurs in almost every village, especially the small ones, every day. People in those small villages have very little in terms of material possessions. Most of them live below the Western standards of poverty. Yet, if you tell them they are poor, they won’t believe you, for in their opinion they are not. They have God at the center of their lives. Their homes may not have TV sets, but they all have small mandirs; the children may not know the words to the latest rock and roll song, but they know the words to Aarti; they may not have computers or fancy history textbooks, but they know the stories of the Ramayana, Mahabharata, and other holy scriptures; they may not begin their days with newspapers, but they begin with prayer.
If you go to these villages you may see what to you looks like poverty. But, if you look a little closer, you will see that these people have a light in their eyes, a glow on their faces and a song in their hearts that money cannot buy.
So, what is the meaning of this? It means, acquire possessions if you want to. Earn money if you want to. There is nothing wrong with being prosperous. It’s wonderful. But, remember what is truly important in life, and that is God. Only He can put the light in your eyes, the glow on your face and the song in your heart.
II) Giving is Living
There is an old adage that says, “It is better to give than to receive.” Yet, how many of us actually live by this? How many of us would give to another before taking for ourselves? It is not simple sacrifice I am talking about. Sacrifice implies some level of suffering. It implies that one is forsaking something one wants out of duty to another. While there is a great deal of spiritual value in the lessons of sacrifice, this is not what I am talking about. For, in true giving, there is no suffering. One does not forsake anything. The giving itself becomes its own reward. People talk about cycles of life. For me, the true cycle is: giving is living, living is learning, learning is knowing, knowing is growing, growing is giving and giving is living. This is the true cycle of life.
The poet Khalil Gibran said beautifully, “All that we have will some day be given away. Let us open our hearts and give with our hands so the joy of giving is ours and not our inheritors’.”
This is truly the message to live by. Embedded within this phrase are many important factors. The first is the fact that we can take nothing with us when we leave this Earth. We expend so much time, mental energy and physical energy to acquire material possessions. Yet, we come into this world with nothing and we leave with nothing but the karma accrued from the lives we lived. Hence, we must re-evaluate the drastic measures we take and the stress we go through to acquire more and more fleeting wealth. That which marks our life, that which lives on after we have departed, is that which we gave while we lived.
The second important message in the above phrase is the idea of the “joy of giving.” Giving truly is a joy. We think we will be happy if we get this or get that. But, that happiness is transient. Watch a child with a new toy, for this is a beautiful example of the happiness which is possible through material wealth. The first minute, the child is ecstatic. Nothing else matters in the world; he can barely contain his exuberance. Within a mere few minutes though, you can see the child start to get a little bored. He looks around; what else does this toy do? Are there any other parts that came with it? Within a matter of hours the toy is lying behind the couch, and will only be picked up by the child’s mother or father in an attempt to either straighten the house or re-stimulate the child’s interest.
Yet, when the child’s interest is completely faded, watch the child give this toy to a younger brother or sister. Watch how he loves showing what the toy can do, how he loves telling everyone that “I gave this toy,” and how he loves watching his sibling enjoy it.
Isn’t this how life is? The pleasure you get out of an old sweater, or a dress you wore once, or some mechanical appliance that you just “had to have,” is minimal. Yet, take those clothes or appliances to a homeless shelter; donate them to someone in need – you will then know real joy, the joy of having given to someone else. This is a joy that will last. It will stay with you and never fade. In fact, it will inspire you to give even more. So many times we regret having bought something. “Oh, why did I waste my money?” we say. Yet, I have never once heard anyone regret that they gave something to someone in need. I have never heard anyone say, “Oh, why didn’t I let that child go hungry?” or, “Why did I help that charity?”
So, remember, old adages may have a great deal of meaning for today. “It is better to give than to receive” is one of those adages.
III) Leaving is Always Losing
So many times in life, when something is not going our way, we attempt to solve the problem by leaving the unsatisfactory situation. Sometimes this works, but usually it doesn’t.
The real lesson in life is to live with it, not to leave it. It is by living with situations that seem difficult that we can truly attain peace and non-attachment. It is in these circumstances that we learn that happiness can only come from God, not from one environment or another.
If you are with God, everywhere is Heaven, and you would never want to leave anywhere. You would see every place as an opportunity to learn, to grow or to serve. However, that is not how we usually live our lives. Instead, we say, “Oh, this is Hell!” and we leave. Yet, if He is with you, how can you be in Hell? Hell is due to lack of Him. If the spiritual corner in your heart is not there, you will be cornered everywhere. So, the goal of life is to develop that spiritual corner, to be with Him, not to leave where you are.
IV) Be Devoted on the Inside, Perfect on the Outside
Your mind should be always with Him, yet your hands should be doing His work. People think that in order to be spiritual, or to “be with God,” one must be sitting in lotus posture in the Himalayas. This is not the only way. In the Gita, Lord Krishna teaches about Karma Yoga, about serving God by doing your duty. It is the duty of a few saints to live in samadhi in the Himalayas. Their vibrations and the global effect of their sadhana are extraordinary. However, that is not what most people’s dharma is. We must engage ourselves in active, good service; that is truly the way to be with Him.
In one of our prayers, it says, “Mukha mein ho Rama-nama, Rama-seva hatha mein.” This means, “Keep the name of the Lord on your lips and keep the service of the Lord in your hands.” Let your inner world be filled with devotion to Him, and let your outer performance be filled with perfect work, perfect service.
I once heard a story about a man who spent forty years meditating so he could walk on water. He thought that if he could walk on water, then he had truly attained spiritual perfection, that he was then “one” with God. When I heard this story, I thought, why not spend forty rupees instead, sit in a boat to cross the water, and spend the forty years giving something to the world? That is the real purpose of life.
However, there must be both devotion and service. We cannot develop one at the expense of the other. We can’t be truly perfect on the outside unless we are devoted on the inside, for only then will God’s work shine through us in a beautiful and perfect way. Similarly, we cannot say we are truly devoted on the inside unless we are doing perfect work on the outside.
The pearls I have given you are only a few. However, like any precious jewels, they are priceless, regardless of the size. If you follow these and let them purify your life, they will bring you more prosperity than all the diamonds in the world.