“Master, you are wonderful! You have renounced riches and comforts to seek God and teach us wisdom!”“You are reversing the case!” The saint’s face held a mild rebuke. “I have left a few paltry rupees, a few petty pleasures, for a cosmic empire of endless bliss. How then have I denied myself anything? I know the joy of sharing the treasure. Is that a sacrifice? The shortsighted worldly folk are verily the real renunciants! They relinquish an unparalleled divine possession for a poor handful of earthly toys! … The world is full of uneasy believers in an outward security.”I chuckled over this paradoxical view of renunciation—one that puts the cap of Croesus on any saintly beggar, whilst transforming all proud millionaires into unconscious martyrs.
Paramahansa Yogananda tells this story about Bhaduri Mahasaya in his Autobiography of a Yogi (1946) that I am presently reading. In a previous post I referred to Yogananda as founder of the Self Realization Fellowship whose grounds in southern California I frequented in college. While the supernatural experiences of Eastern tradition reported in this book are hard for this Westerner to believe, the philosophy is persuasive and powerful.
While I have not attained the saint’s dispassion toward rupees and “earthly toys,” many if not most of my colleagues in ministry will identify with the saint’s preference for the spiritual life. To whatever degree we have “gone without,” given the culture’s greater monetary valuing of other professions, we have realized our greater dependency on spiritual treasure—the satisfaction of pastoral care, of preaching and writing, of attending to matters of the heart and soul rather than simply to matter and materialism.
A church member once told me that she was well into adulthood before she understood that ministers were paid! And I’ve met people who think spiritual leaders should do what they do for the sheer joy of it, unlike other vocations.
“Worldly people do not like the candor that shatters their delusions,” Bhaduri Mahasaya explained to Yogananda. The gurus Yogananda writes about receive rupees in their slippers from followers. And though I am not a guru, I am grateful that a few of my readers have put rupees in my slippers!
When I was ordained by MCC in 2005 after a professional lifetime denied ordination by the Presbyterian Church simply because I’m gay, I chose for the Gospel lesson Jesus’ words on God’s Providence from the Sermon on the Mount, which reads in part, “Do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly [Creator] feeds them.” It is the scripture that gets me through the tough times when I do not rise to the level of a saint’s disposition!
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