“O best among the glorious ones, all of this has been achieved by me through the divine grace of You and Your brother. One who does not repay the favors offered to him certainly is considered a disgrace among men.” (Sugriva speaking to Lord Rama, Valmiki Ramayana, Kishkindha Kand, 38.26)
Miserly behavior is generally not appreciated. “Cheapskate”, “penny-pincher”, “Grinch”, etc., are all unflattering terms used to describe those who are not very willing to part with their time or money. Miserliness is based off of ignorance; an outgrowth of the mindsets of “I” and “Mine.” The Vedas, the ancient scriptures of India, consider this way of thinking to be very detrimental towards the cultivation of spiritual knowledge. Knowledge of the Absolute, or at least some inquisitiveness about the highest authority figure, greatly aids the conditioned individual in ascending to the highest platform of consciousness, Krishna consciousness. This purified mindset, that of always thinking about and remembering God, allows the soul to transcend the stringent laws of nature, the codes that force one to be bound to the cycle of birth and death. While miserliness is bad in a spiritual sense, it also hurts those who are only worried about losing their illusory possessions.
“O daughter of Gargacharya, he who leaves this world without learning about the infallible Supreme is a kripana, or miser.” (Brihad-aranyaka Upanishad, 3.9.10)
Why are worldly objects considered illusory? An illusion is something unreal, that which is not. For example, if we travel through the desert, the temperature is often so hot that it causes steam or hot air to hover above the surface of the ground. From a distance, this heat gives the visual of an oasis, or a pool of water. In the scorching heat, just the sight of water is enough to make one anxious, giving them hope of relief from their distressful condition. Yet since the image of an oasis is merely an illusion, it is known as a mirage.
Our possessions can be thought of in the same light. This really isn’t so difficult to understand. The term “possession” implies ownership; the act of acquiring an object of importance, something to derive happiness from. If we purchase a house from someone else, the ownership of the land and the building that resides on it changes hands. One person, the original owner, parts with their possession, the house, in exchange for money. The other person, the buyer, parts with their money in exchange for the possession of the house. Though the buyer is acquiring something, the house, they are simultaneously separating from something else; their hard earned money. This money is gathered through work or through the sale of some other object of value. Therefore money is not to be taken lightly. Throwing money around isn’t a common practice, for the wise remember the initial effort required to earn it.
What if the house wasn’t bought from someone else, but rather, built from scratch? Again, the same exchange, the parting and acquiring of a good, is visible. In order to build the house, trees must be cut down, brush must be cleared, and nails must be hammered. All of these objects must come from somewhere, for human beings are incapable of producing matter. All that humans can create is new life, but even then, it is the presence of the soul within the body that causes its growth. When the new house is built, other elements are shifted, transformed, and eventually parted with. After the house is erected, we may live in it for upwards of thirty or forty years, but eventually either the house or our body will be destroyed. Therefore, based on the house example, it is accurate to describe the nature of material possessions as illusory, or at least temporary.
While these facts are quite obvious to many, they are easily forgotten by those who are miserly. A miser is constantly in the mode of defense. They have certain possessions that they refuse to part with, be it money, a house, or even time. The miser forgets that they will have to part with all of their possessions eventually anyway, so there is no real claim to any of the property. On a higher level of thought, everything in this world originally belongs to God. We most certainly can lay a rightful claim to the property that we acquire peaceably and voluntarily, but technically, such property is simply on loan from the original Divine Being, the Creator of all things matter and spirit. If we mistakenly take everything in this world to be ours, we are essentially saying that we are God. It is precisely this mindset that leads to the repetition of birth and death.
The acharyas, the authority figures following the tenets of the Vedas, advise us to shed this flawed view of our worldly possessions. In addition to taking to direct worship of the Supreme Lord, a good practice is to avoid miserliness. The opposite of being cheap is being liberal. This doesn’t mean that we should spend our money with reckless abandon, but rather, we shouldn’t refrain from being kind and charitable to others. This is especially true when others have offered us some service in the past. It is bad enough to be an ordinary miser, or kripana, but it is even worse to be stingy when someone else has been kind and charitable towards us already. The more we repay our debts, the more we purify ourselves. The purer the individual, the greater their chances are for liberation from the cycle of birth and death.
While we certainly owe a debt to our friends, family, and fellow man for the kind services they provide us, no one is more deserving of our gratitude and kindness than Bhagavan, the original proprietor. This was the point raised by Sugriva, a famous Vanara warrior and king. During the Treta Yuga, the second time period of creation, the forest dwellers were known as Vanaras, which were a human-like race of monkeys. These monkeys had the great fortune of meeting Lord Rama, an incarnation of Godhead. Though Rama is declared to be a primary incarnation of Lord Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, in the authoritative Vedic literatures, one doesn’t need to believe that Rama is Divine in order to derive a great lesson from His dealings with Sugriva and the Vanaras.
Shri Rama was playing the part of a human being, a fallible living entity who had to suffer through the ups and downs of ordinary life. Yet Rama was a qualified incarnation of Godhead, so if He was going to show suffering, He couldn’t undergo any ordinary calamities. Depending on age and surroundings, one’s definition of what constitutes suffering will vary. In our youth, having to wake up early and sit in school all day is a great form of suffering. As we get older, dealing with romantic relationships is the greatest source of distress. As the famous song says, “Breaking up is hard to do”, getting together and parting with a significant other are not easy things to deal with. As we mature a little bit, having to take care of our own children, watching them grow, worrying about them constantly, and hoping that they won’t fail in life are the greatest forms of suffering. Finally, in the latter stages of life, the greatest source of distress is the fear of death, an end to the way of life we have grown accustomed to.
In order to garner the attention and attachment of His fellow sons and daughters, Bhagavan decided to put Himself through some of the most troubling situations during His time on earth as Rama. Shri Rama lost His kingdom on the day He was to be coronated as the new king. He lost His riches and claim to His kingdom at the same time. Worst of all, Rama lost the association of His wife Sita Devi when she was kidnapped by a Rakshasa demon in the forest. In trying to find her whereabouts, Rama made His way to the Kishkindha forest, where He met up with Sugriva and formed an alliance.
The arrangement with Sugriva was pretty straightforward: Rama would help him regain his kingdom by killing Vali, and Sugriva would in turn help the Lord find Sita. Rama did His part by killing Vali while the monkey was engaged in a fight with Sugriva, his brother. Upon Vali’s death, Sugriva regained his lost kingdom and subsequently took to celebration. Being a monkey, he had a natural penchant for intoxication and sex life. After months of enjoyment on the part of the Vanaras, Lakshmana, Rama’s younger brother, grew irate. The monkey king had made a deal after all, and now he wasn’t coming through. Sita still wasn’t found, while Rama was left to sit and wait. Lakshmana angrily approached the monkey, and through the good graces of Hanuman, Sugriva finally came to his senses.
In the above referenced statement, Sugriva is offering kind words to Shri Rama. All the monkeys had approached the Lord and offered to serve Him. Sugriva is remarking that any person who fails to repay the good deeds performed for him by a friend or well-wisher is certainly a disgrace. In this way, Sugriva is openly admitting that it was his duty to meet his end of the bargain, to help Rama find Sita. Eventually, the Vanaras would be successful in this mission, with Hanuman leaping his way to the island kingdom of Lanka and finding Sita. Rama would regain His wife, kingdom, and peace of mind. Sugriva and the rest of the monkeys ended up being some of Rama’s closest associates, His beloved friends.
Aside from avoiding miserliness in our ordinary dealings, we should also avoid being stingy in spiritual life. God has already given us the tools with which to work, the necessary procedures, guidelines, and practices to achieve perfection in life. Of all of Bhagavan’s gifts to us, the greatest is the maha-mantra, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”. This sacred formula allows us to produce the sound vibration representation of the original Divine Being. After being universally empowered by Shri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, this mantra was passed down to allow any person to make progress in spiritual life, allowing them to become free of their flawed mindset brought about by association with illusory material objects. Let us repay this kind favor by regularly chanting this most sacred mantra, at least sixteen rounds a day on a set of japa beads. The Lord doesn’t want our money or our possessions, just our sincere and loving thoughts. Let us not be misers in this area, for the greatest human beings are those that repay the good deeds done in their favor.