A friend asked me to drive with her to the palatial home of a very old and sick man who lived alone in a prosperous north Indian town. She was an enthusiastic social worker who took care of orphaned children in her spare time. Her husband was wealthy, and this was her way of doing some good. I agreed, and on the way, asked her why she needed to talk to him. She told me his wife had died a long time ago and that both his daughters were doctors, married to doctors, and well settled in Europe. He lived in this great big house alone, and a housekeeper came in every day to clean and wash and cook for him. His daughters had both invited him to live with him, but he wanted to be alone, claiming he needed solitude to finish a book about his spiritual experiences. He knew he had very little time left and did not wish to be distracted. She was going to see him, she confessed, because his daughters, whom she had spoken to at length, had no interest in coming back to live in India. Neither had an interest in their inheritance, and so she was hoping to persuade him to leave his house to her organization.
I was stunned by her revelation, and, frankly, rather repelled. There was something ugly about this scenario, for it reminded me of a host of vultures hovering greedily over a dying creature, in anticipation of the coming feast. I said nothing, because she was very different from me, single-minded and ruthless when she wanted her way. To her, the end justified the means, whereas for me it was important to show gentleness and refinement in getting what one wanted, no matter the nobility of one’s motive.
We stopped outside this huge mansion on a beautiful tree-lined street and she marched ahead of me and boldly rang the bell. The old man who opened the door for us was frail and unkempt. He did not look friendly, but still he invited us to come in and called out to his housekeeper to make us tea. Over tea, my friend blurted out that she’d already spoken to his daughters and they were agreeable to him making over his property to her organization. He was quiet for long moments, then, brusquely, he said no. I have other plans for it, he added coldly, and I am not going to die until I finish my book anyway. Please go now—I have lots of work to do.
Of course you must finish your book, my friend said quickly. But don’t you think it’s a beautiful idea to leave your property to compassionate people who could do so much good with it?
As he appraised her carefully, I got the sense that he did not trust her, for she was dressed like the socialite she was, in a gorgeous sari silk sari, long silky hair streaming down her back and face superbly made-up. No, she would not appear to be a humble social worker in his eyes, but just another wealthy and bored matron, longing to get her name into the local papers. What can I say? He was a sharp guy!
He cleared his throat and gathered his thoughts. I can see you think I am a foolish old man, he said slowly. But I am well aware that few would be interested in what I have to say. That does not matter to me. I’ve lived an intensely interior life and it is vital to me that I put down everything that I have learned via meditation, study and practice before I pass on. This book is my legacy to the world, whether it cares or not. Besides, it gives me peace and satisfaction to write it. As for this house, I am leaving it to my nephew who plans to turn it into an ashram. My daughters do not know about this. Please go now, and leave me in peace.
I was so embarrassed I could not say a word on the drive back. Charming and persuasive as she was, and spoiled by always getting her way, I hoped she knew better than to approach that sharp old man again.
This strange encounter flashed through my mind this morning perhaps because, in certain ways, I am like that old man. After living a tempestuous life out in the world, I have now settled down to a quiet life of deep contemplation. I too am aware that what I write appeals only to a tiny segment of the world population, the majority of whom are still chasing dreams in samsara (the relative world) and can’t be bothered delving deeply into the heart of reality. There is always one more deal to be struck, the stock market and bank balances to be monitored, parties to attend, movies to see, children and spouses to care for, and new relationships to be forged. How many really care about mystical realms?
Like the old man, I write for myself—which is not to say that I don’t relish praise. Also, long ago I took the Boddhisattva Vow, a wish to become enlightened, not just for oneself, but for all beings. If even one person wakes up to the deeper reason to why we incarnate by reading my work, all the effort and care I invest in it is gift enough for me.
Greetings from Arunachala, Shiva in the form of a hill of fire and light, who makes us see that the most important task we are born to achieve is to know that we ourselves are immortal bliss!
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