How are you treating your gift?
What is your most valuable possession? If you have ever asked yourself this question, then you will know that it will be a while before you hit upon the right answer. You will have to consider all your assets. You will think about all your movable and immovable properties. Perhaps you will need to evaluate your stocks and shares and capital investments. Some of you may perhaps feel a sense of satisfaction. Many of you may feel a little disappointed and think, ‘Is that all I am worth?’
One million or even ten million is not a lot of money these days, some of you might say. Let me take you down the memory lane to a time when ten rupees was a great deal of money! It was 2 August 1921. I was celebrating my third birthday then. A family friend happened to drop in to visit my mother. On being told that it was my birthday, she blessed me and handed over a brand new
ten rupee note to me. A ten rupee note was a small fortune in those days.
Usually, whenever children were given gifts in cash, their mothers would swiftly put away the money to be spent on something useful and worthwhile. On that day, my mother was preoccupied in entertaining this guest and she forgot to take the money from me. As for me, I was delighted to have my own ten rupee note, and holding it proudly in my hand, I stood on the doorstep, hoping everyone would see what a fortune I possessed.
A candyman passed by, and seeing the ten rupee note in my hand, he put his wares down and began to woo me as a valuable customer. He tempted me with his alluring display of sweets. He said to me, “What will you do with a mere piece of paper? Give it to me, and I will give you as many sweets as you like in exchange.”
As a child, I was thrilled by this offer. Truly, the ten rupee note now seemed worthless. Sensing that I was now ready to yield, the candyman added, “You can take as many candies as you like.” I was too excited for words. I handed the ten rupee note to him and took as many candies as I could in my two tiny hands. In my heart of hearts, I regretted not having worn a coat with deep pockets, where I could have stuffed many more candies! In a few minutes, the candyman left with a huge smile, and I was thrilled with my bargain.
A few days passed, and suddenly my mother remembered the ten rupee note given to me on my birthday. “My child, where is the ten rupee note which aunty gave you?” she enquired.
I thought it safe to pretend ignorance. “What ten rupee note? Which ten rupee note?”
I asked her very innocently.
She reminded me about the birthday gift from her friend.
I said to her, “Oh, that piece of paper? I gave it away to a candyman. In exchange for it, he gave me lots and lots of sweets. It was a good bargain, trading that piece of paper for a heap of candies.”
My mother was naturally upset. Gently, she admonished me, “You are a foolish boy. Do you know the value of that piece of paper? You could have bought sweets for all the children in the street and still have money left over to buy yourself a few toys with that ten rupee note.”
That set me thinking. Alas, I had not been able to gauge the worth of that piece of paper. I did not know the value of my gift.
Since then, I have asked myself over and over again: ‘What is the most precious thing in this world?’ I reflected over my mother’s words for many years. At last, I found the answer to the question which I posed to you earlier – the most precious thing in this world is human birth, which you and I simply take for granted. Indeed, there is nothing more precious than the gift of life.
But alas, we do not know the worth of this great gift. Guru Arjundev tells us, “Ratan tyag kaudi sang rachai,” meaning “Abandoning jewels, you have sought empty shells.” I find these words potent with deep meaning. These words open the window to a new horizon of the spirit. All along, we have wasted our life collecting empty shells, running after shadow shapes. We have failed to gather those precious jewels, which are our true legacy. We spend a lifetime, earning more and more money, acquiring more and more possessions, enjoying all the luxuries that money can buy and running after name and fame. It is only when the call of death is heard that realisation dawns on us – that we have wasted away our most valuable gift. But by then, it becomes too late…