I read “Freedom at Midnight” right through from cover to cover in a single day when I was a teen and recall loving it. The authors (they work as a team) spoke of an infamous Nizam of Hyderabad who was a noted miser. This Nawab (ruler) had two sets of clothes and two grimy skull caps. He was so rich that he stored currency notes (big denomination, foreign) in his cellars and rats feasted on them, even as his poor citizens struggled to keep body and soul together. This was during the time of British colonial rule. One day the Nizam was informed that a new British high official was about to make him a formal visit and that he should prepare appropriately. Naturally this official was anticipating a sumptuous reception; instead, the bewildered man was led into a small room to meet the Nizam and offered a cup of tea and two biscuits. So much for grand expectations, huh?
I grew up with parents who were ultra generous. My father believed not just in living well but in being extra hospitable to the extent he could. My mother (I have rarely come across so naturally good and innocent a woman) tried to help everyone. For big feasts, she would spend weeks before the event preparing sweets and savories in the traditional Indian way, and not just for family and relatives, but for the poor. Oh yes, they both had their faults, but their high ethics and willingness to help others have left an indelible impression on me. (They have both passed on, but sometimes I pray that they will come back to me in their reincarnated forms, just so I can be good to them, as I rarely was when I was a young rebel.)
Coming from such a background, I didn’t believe misers really existed (except in fiction) until I got to know one in close quarters. He puzzled me because, unlike that crusty old Nizam, he could he exceedingly generous in certain ways. For instance he loved gourmet food and did not stint on it for himself or others. But he was a hoarder of other goodies, and perhaps the most secretive man when it came to his money and assets, of which he had a lot.
Since then I have met other misers. Like the man who indulged in gourmet food, and yet was laughably tight-fisted in all other ways, these too had their own peculiarities. One wealthy woman spends abundantly on herself, her home, her pets and her current boyfriend, but shrinks back from spending a single dollar on even a close friend—unless there was some benefit in it for her. (She is committed to the Eastern path and a fervent meditator too, so go figure!) Another guy, who boasts that he has so much money that he doesn’t know what to do with it, religiously counts his pennies and will even ask you what you plan to order when he takes you to a restaurant—lest you are going to eat the most expensive items of the menu. Ha ha ha, not. Another big businessman I know has enough money for generations to come, but continues to spend most of his time making new deals; despite his seeming generosity, and although he would vehemently deny this, he too can be both miserly and crooked. And so on and so forth.
I used to be shocked and revolted by miserliness, but now I actually feel a deep compassion for those so attached to their material possessions that they cannot allow Spirit to move freely through them. The beauty of Advaita is that it teaches us that we are all One—that we emerge from a single source (sat-chit-ananda) and will eventually return to it.
Though convincingly real, the three states of waking sleeping and dreaming are not “real” in the context of Advaita, simply because they come and go; and it is the I AM, a split off from the Whole, that is the root of our powerful sense of I, me and mine. In its pure state, the I AM is the Guru, the Light, Brahman itself; in its mischievous form, it is Satan itself, for it seduces us to spend all our precious time grubbing away in the material world. The job of the seeker (Advaita) is to first to isolate the I AM, and then to focus solely on it, until it realizes it has been outed, and can then be coaxed to become your ally. Since the I AM has emerged directly from Source, it knows the way back to paradise; if Grace is showering down upon you, it will finally lead you home.
According to classical karmic theory, all our actions return to us multiplied, good and bad. So if we give, we are actually going to receive much more in return. In fact, giving or generosity is the first of the Paramitas, the great virtues that lead to enlightenment. But in order to qualify as a virtue, giving must be free of the ego. I know many (and I am guilty of this too) who will give a lot, but are also convinced that it is their mini-me, their egoic self, that is doing this great thing. This sort of giving only produces “dirty good karma”— results that sprout solely in the material ephemeral world.
The correct way to give is to realize that in truth we own nothing, for ownership implies control. Can you deny that even a billionaire cannot take a single hair or nail with him when Death comes calling? We have what we have due to our own past karma, which has a shelf life. And so the genuine seeker gives as if it is the Self that is giving, forgetting entirely about the human element.
Mostly it is suffering (intense grief, loss of possessions, reputation, loved ones and relationships, etc) that finally opens the eyes of the miser to the self-destructive beliefs he or she has been nursing. In our true state, we are abundance itself; study the lives of the great sages and you will see that many refused to even handle money or have possessions (except for essentials), and depended solely on the Divine (their own Self) to provide them with all their needs. We don’t have to be like them, of course, for few are secure enough to do this, but we can become more aware of our basic oneness, and know that when we are being generous to those in need, we are actually giving to our own Self.
Greetings from Arunachala, Shiva the Destroyer in the form of a hill of fire and light, who leads us, if we are ready and willing, from the unreal to the Real!