Monday, December 10, 2012

The Poor man in the Rich Man’s house

Our attitude towards life should be that of a poor man being invited by a rich man to his household for a meal - this is an advice from “The Imitation of Christ” - A devotional classic from Thomas a’ Kempis. The “Rich” man in this context is what you want to believe: Brahman, God, Nature(or Natural Selection) or whatever. It doesn’t matter in this argument. (S)He has given this one chance to you to see, perceive and think while surviving and being conscious carriers of life. I have come to believe quite dispassionately, that there is no reason to be proud that we have been given this - it is pure chance that we are here. (Unless like true karma yogis, we give purpose and meaning to it - That’s an altogether different topic and let’s not go there now)

Imagine that you were a poor man, terribly hungry and were invited to a dinner by a rich man to his household. You think hard and yet you find no real reason why he invited you. You are sure that you are nothing special in that rich man’s eyes. You must have got invited just by chance or you reason it whichever way you fancy. But still deep within you realize the truth - that you are nothing to the rich man and he would have invited you only because of his magnanimity. You gobble up the first few morsels and now the law of diminishing marginal utility starts kicking in. You start finding one of the dishes is not tasty enough. Now If you are reasonable and clear headed will you forget how hungry you were just a while ago and how magnanimous it was for the man to call you over? If the food was not tasty, should that make you less thankful of the fact that you got invited and fed something?

Now let’s take an extreme, assume the rich man fed you but then suddenly changed stance. He ridiculed and asked you to take leave in the middle of your having food. Now you have a choice of attitude. Either you forget the reality that you are still better off and get emotional, angry and wild at the rich man, or you reflect upon reality and understand that you were lucky to be at least half-fed. The choice of the attitude is with the poor man, you.

This is an attempt to capture my thoughts and contemplate further on what I read in the book. I will keep on thinking on this a couple of more times and more deeply and try to see if this statement is true. I am not sure whether I will be able to apply any more critical thinking on this. This is going to be my project to conclude the year. (I had far more ambitious plans revolving around “Imitation”, but let that wait)

While contemplating on the above mentioned aphorism, I was struck by a sudden brainwave of a story that illustrates Christ’s message beautifully in the Holy Bhagavatha. The story of Sudama. In this story which is rich with lessons on attitudes, Sudama was the poor man in a rich man’s household. I started wondering if there is more to the story than lessons of devotion, humility, simplicity and friendship. This are perhaps more hidden riddles in this Bhagavata Story. The parallel was striking, Sudama would have understood that he being in the rich man’s household itself was an extreme privilege and there is no asking for more. So he gifted Krishna whatever he could and did not ask for anything in return even though he had every reason to think that he was entitled. His sagacity was rewarded amply in the end.

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