THE BLOG
03/12/2014 05:31 pm ET Updated May 11, 2014

Between Las Vegas and Renunciation

It was the year of 1994. I was in the 6th standard and my class was being conducted under a tree by my class teacher. 'Some time ago', it seemed that sir was narrating an incident,

I was going back home on my scooter after withdrawing my monthly salary from the bank. When I reached home, I realised that the entire packet full of money had fallen out from my pocket. I went back on the same route in the hope to find it, but my efforts were fruitless. Naturally, it will only be a miracle if a packet full of lost unmarked money gets returned in today's times. I started to feel awful about the loss but before that feeling could take over, I thought that the money could have disappeared this way because perhaps I committed some wrong to someone unknowingly or perhaps I did not do required justice to my job; all in all -- I was not supposed to have that money with me. Whoever found it must have deserved it more. There is an old saying dane dane pe likha hai khaanewaley ka naam...'the name of its rightful consumer is marked on each grain of food' and my name was indeed not written on that month's salary. Money is nothing but the reflections of one's dharmas and destiny,' he concluded. And then he laughed 'Either I am getting much attached to the Maya (illusion that is the world) or maybe it was because you bunch expect so much out of a teacher like me, that I have to give more than my 100 percent to my teaching without a moment of distraction! Now -- let's get back to the class.

Since then, whenever I lose something and cannot find it even after a lot of efforts, the same thought process helps me get a perspective. To think that it was something that did not belong to me -- something I was not supposed to have, has worked at times like therapy. Not only does it put me at ease, it also helps me purify my thoughts and actions. The story narrated by my teacher in the 6th standard has left such a deep impression in my mind that I have slowly learnt to let go of my possessions into the infinite maze of Maya.

The society that I grew up in echoed these sentiments everywhere. Even at home, the emphasis has been on not depending on newer things and newer possessions to look for happiness. For instance, when a bed-sheet becomes old, we make cushion-covers out of it and when the cushion covers also become old, we make the dust-cleaning rugs from it.

The subtle message that 'attachment to material possessions brings unhappiness' has always had many takers. In fact, there have been legends around the notion of money being a source of all evils. One such story is clearly imprinted on my mind even now.

Once upon a time, in the court of King Akbar, a citizen came to seek help with a difficult situation. His problem was that his neighbour would sing till late at night, making it difficult for everybody around to have a sound sleep. King Akbar asked his wise counsel Birbal about what could be done? What Birbal did was to offer a bag of gold-coins to the singer to preserve for a year. Suddenly, the singing stopped! Preserving a bag full of coins caused the singer so much anxiety that he could no longer sing freely at night!

It was not only that in the ancient times people did not take material possessions too seriously. The same attitude, just like the oblivious vibrations of spirituality, sparks up even in the modern day India, from core subconscious of our society.

A few years ago, a documentary film-maker from abroad was visiting interior parts of India. He was so surprised to see how detached the people were from the material aspects of life and that they did not really strive for much. He decided to show the villagers a video about Las Vegas and expose them to how people live in different parts of the world. After showing the flashy video about the casinos, gorgeous hotels and people enjoying expensive food and drinks, the filmmaker asked the audience about their reactions and whether they would also like to visit Las Vegas one day. An old man with a faint smile replied, 'those people are living their destinies, I am living mine -- in one way, it's all the same!'

I have grown up in a culture where renunciation is seen as one of the highest paths to living a good life -- renunciation not only of the material possessions but also of thoughts and senses. Perhaps these thoughts have something very deep in offing for the human civilisation.

We live in interesting times! As the world becomes increasingly globalised, our values are becoming homogenised as well. The notion that the one who can enjoy the luxuries and all material possessions is living a good life, is finding acceptance across cultures and societies.

The thinking of renouncing the material pleasures is often seen as a reflection of lack of self-confidence... something that contributes to the slow economic progress of the society or even excessive tolerance to bad governance.

Many are seeing 'favourable' signs as the younger generation of India is more aspirational, more driven. It is fast sprinting to keep pace with the material progress of the rest of the world. I am no exception to being affected by the changing society as well. As a young Indian, where I see sky as the limit, the world full of opportunities and material luxuries excites me, makes me feel in control of my future.

Oh -- the conflict! Dreaming about having my perfect vacation in Las Vegas, losing important things as I go along in life... I feel as if my 6th standard teacher and the old man from the little village are watching me from a corner of my conscience. I see this dichotomy grow louder within and without, searching for answers.

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