Tuesday, November 08, 2005

The Householder and the Renunciate

The Householder and the Renunciate

It's good to be able to blog early in the morning for a change. I've already worked for two hours since I woke up at 4am, and now I can hear the neighbourhood stirring: cars starting, reversing, mothers fussing over their school-going kids, the bustle of morning joggers and people walking their dogs.

The stillness of the morning is already broken but I'm glad to have awakened early today to enjoy at least two sacred, uninterrupted hours, graced in between by the pleasant call for prayer from the nearby mosque. It's good to be reminded daily of one's obbligations to the Almighty, especially early in the morning before one is overwhelmed by the maddening stress of a new working day.

It is a great challenge for the modern working man or woman to balance the material with the spiritual. But it is this balance that is the whole purpose of our living. A material life unguided by spiritual principles makes us feel empty, unsatisfied and aimless.

Yes, we will all have our material goals in life, but it will inevitably make us feel like we are living in a rat race--always competing, fighting and compromising on our core values. We achieve something--a cushy job, a house, a car--but yet we still feel unsatisfied.

Why is that so? Maybe we need a life partner; so we get one. And then we realize that it comes with a heavy price: you need a better paying job, a bigger car and a bigger house to support the family that you have built. It consumes your entire life. Happiness is suddenly limited to the "quality time" that you get to spend with your loved ones during weekends and holidays when the rest of the world is also trying to do the same thing. So the whole mass of humanity spills into shopping malls, parks and resorts during this time. Quality time.

Can a householder's life be guided by spiritual principles? Most certainly. I admire the values expounded in the Tirrukural--an ancient Tamil manual for virtuous living. There's an English translation written by the late Gurudeva, called the Weaver's Wisdom. Precept No. 45 says:
If a man masters the duties of married life,
what further merits could monkhood offer him?
No. 50:
He who rightly pursues the householder's life here on Earth
will be rightfully placed among the Gods there in Heaven.

By being a householder and through caring for one's family, one learns how to share and to love selflessly. These are virtues that are difficult for the sanyasin or renuntiate to learn. The renuntiate has to make extra efforts to master these virtues because he is not thrust into an environment that demands it. A family man is always thinking about the needs of his family. His ego, at least, expands to embrace a wider circle--his family.

The challenge that a householder faces is pressing material needs which makes him forget his spiritual roots. Sometimes neverending family strive caused by clashing demands between husband and wife can also knock one off course. Or one party's overpoweringly ego could warp the ecosystem of love in the family, to suit the person's selfish needs. The family then becomes a tool to be manipulated to feed the person's own ego. It is not a process of expansion anymore but one of sucking and draining. That is the danger that the householder has to watch out for.

The householder has to take these as spiritual challenges that help him to uncover the inner essence of his being--like the process of extracting precious minerals from dirt. Deep down inside, we all have a spiritual core. It is simply covered by the soil of selfish desires, which seeks to accumulate material things and to build false images of oneself.

One has to choose one's path to purge oneself of this outer dross. If you are a householder, then make full use of your opportunity to cultivate the virtues of selfless love. But beware of the pitfalls. If you are a sanyasin, dive deep into your inner core, and let love shine forth from within, like a divine lamp dispelling the darkness in the world.

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