Great works of literature have great opening lines. My favourite piece of Sanskrit literature, the Isha Upanishad, has the best opening line ever. If these words are taken seriously, they have the power to transform our lives.
“Isha vasyam idam sarvam yat kinch jagatam jagat. Tein tyaktena bhunjita, mas gridh kasyaasya dhanam”.
Everything in this ever changing world is the abode of God. Enjoy everything, but without any attachment. Do not covet what belongs to someone else.
In other words, we are only guests in this world, we do not own anything here. We are only paying the rent, nothing really belongs to us but we can enjoy whatever is given to us by the host.
God is saying to us:
‘Be my guest.”
These opening lines speak directly to me. They describe a big portion of my life, and the things that happened, not so much by choice as by necessity.
I grew up living in very nice bungalows in Lucknow and New Delhi, with a very comfortable life style. My father was a well-known journalist, working for a leading newspaper, and he was provided this accommodation by his employer. We did have a family home in Allahabad but it was joint property owned by many family members, and we never lived in it.
My father passed away while I was a teenager, and our lifestyle changed completely. I realized from first hand experience that everything changes in this ever changing world, just as the Isha Upanishad says. After my father’s demise, we moved to Lucknow, to stay with my uncle. I got a lot of TLC from him, from my aunt and from my cousins, but still, we were, effectively, guests in my uncle’s abode.
Later, I went to IIT Kanpur, where my rented hostel room was my abode. After graduation, I got a job in Mumbai and we moved to a rented apartment there. Still later, we lived in rented homes in New Delhi and in the NCA. We enjoyed the good things of life, but we did not own our property.
This changed a bit when I emigrated to Canada. Within a few years, I bought a home, thanks to easy availability of credit. However, I didn’t really own the home – the bank did, as long as we had mortgage payments to make. We also bought new cars, as needed, but again the ownership resided with the banks most of the time. In recent years, we have become debt free, but now I realize the lease is running out on my body. I don’t really own this body, I just live here. As I live longer and this rental property gives me more trouble, the realization becomes stronger: I am only a tenant here.
I don’t really own my family either: my wife, my children, their spouses, my grandchildren. We are all bound together by love but no one really owns any one. We are together in love, but everyone has individual lives to lead. The children make their own choices; as parents we don’t own anything that they do.
Some of us may have more property, others a bit less. Some may have more material things, as people nowadays like to shop more and more, using credit cards and Easy Monthly Instalments. No matter what the situation, none of it belongs to us, in the long run. The EMis will eventually run out.
I have visited quite a few ashrams in India and abroad; so far, I have not had the privilege to stay at the Badhrika ashram. Whenever I go to an ashram, it seems like a slice of heaven. There is perfect peace and tranquility, and there is always a powerful spiritual presence at work. Life is regulated, the food is always fresh and nutritive. There are opportunities for doing self – less service to help the ashram in its self – less activities. Everyone seems happy and everyone gets along with everyone else.
Just imagine, for a moment, that the whole world is an ashram. We are visiting the ashram and nothing here belongs to us. Even so, all our needs are taken care of. The host gives us a place to stay, and we get the food and clothing that we need. There is always a strong spiritual presence, because the creator is looking after his creation.
All that is required from us is to be ideal guests in this world. We need to look after the rooms that have been allotted to us, making sure we keep them neat and clean. We can enjoy whatever our host offers us, but only as guests. There is no need to grab someone else’s share, there are enough resources to go around if we don’t waste anything. There is no need to destroy the environment, if we only take what we need from Mother Nature.
To earn our place in this paradise, we have to do self less- service through our occupation, according to our ability. Every job is important, whether it is inside the house, in an office or a factory, or in the farming community.
Above all, we must not quarrel with other guests. There is nothing the host dislikes more than noisy, troublesome guests who are always fighting each other. Bad behaviour can get us kicked out of this paradise very quickly, and most places are worse than the human paradise that we know on earth.
It is a privilege to be born as a human being. There are so many other life forms on this planet and none enjoy the privileges that we do.
Let us enjoy our role as the perfect guests on planet earth for as long as we can, so that God can keep on saying:
‘Be my guest.”