The modern world has given us many things but not the one thing we need the most—detachment. Both Jesus and Krishna teach that material possessions and sense-enjoyments will not give what the soul longs for—the inner harmony without which man, with all his scientific discoveries and mastery over the forces of nature, feels sad and lonely as a lion in a cage.
Detachment is the secret of true life—the life that is life, indeed. We are all in quest of happiness: our tragedy is that we seek it in the wrong places. And in quest of happiness we move from form to form, only to find that the happiness we build in forms—wealth, position, power, human love—is passing, fleeting, transient. It is then that we realise that the secret of true happiness is not in accumulating silver and gold, not in gratification of the senses, not even in building institutions and organisations, but in detachment.
To be detached is to be free of the tyranny of craving and self-love—of all ego-centric thinking, wishing and acting. The man of true detachment surrenders himself completely to the will of a higher power. He is detached from the ego and is untainted by the sense of “I”-ness, of “me” and “mine”. In this faith he grows from more to more. He accepts all that comes to him as a gift from the Universe. He has risen to the stage of ‘holy indifference’.
In success and defeat, in prosperity and adversity, in pleasure and pain, in health and sickness, in heat and cold, in praise and censure, he glorifies his Lord, and ever in his heart vibrates the one word: “Gratitude! Gratitude! Gratitude to Thee, for every thing that Thou dost send. For in every thing that happens is a meaning of Thy mercy!” The little candle of self-will is extinguished: the Golden Sun of the Will Divine burns bright.
Witnesses to the Light of Krishna and Christ have appeared in all countries and ages.
I read the other day about one such true servant—St. Frances. Her name is not known to many in India. She was born in Rome in the 14th century. Frances was born in a wealthy family: her parents belonged to the nobility of Rome. They loved her as few parents love their children. She was their pet child. They wished to give her all she wanted. Alas! they could not give her the only one thing on which her heart was set.
From the beginning of her days, Frances was smitten with a longing to dedicate her life to God, to spend her time in prayer and contemplation. As she aged, she grew in the realisation that domestic life could not make her happy, that she would be happy only if she became a contemplative nun. This was the one thing her parents could not give her. She pleaded, she entreated, she implored, she shed torrents of tears: but her parents were adamant and unyielding. And they made hasty preparations to get her married in the thought that entanglements of married life would drive sense into her ‘crazy’ head.
In utter helplessness, Frances planned to run away from home. Before taking the crucial step, however, she thought of consulting a man of God: she felt sure he would encourage her to leave her home and join some secluded convent.
With tears in her eyes, she placed before him her difficulty. His answer startled her. “Frances,” he said, “why are you planning to do this? Do you wish to do God’s Will or do you wish God to do your will?” And he proceeded to explain to her that the dedicated life was a life of self-denial and self-sacrifice. “It is not where you are and what you have that really matters, but what you do with what you have,” he said to her. “So think not of running away from your home to this or that place. Think alone of pleasing God in every detail of your life.”
The words resonated deep in the heart of Frances. She returned home determined to do the Will of God in every detail of her daily life. She willingly consented to marry the man her parents had chosen for her—a young nobleman named Lorenzo Ponziano. She served him as a faithful wife. She became the mother of three children—two boys and one girl. She loved them as the living, moving images of her Master with whom she willingly would have communed in the undisturbed seclusion of a cloister. She went about her house, arranging things, cooking food, cleansing utensils and performing the multifarious duties every housewife is called upon to do. And in every little thing she did, she breathed out the aspiration: “This be my offering to Thee, O Lord!”
The yearning in her heart grew for a life of prayer. But her daily round of work left her little time for quiet meditation. And as the years passed, a profound realisation grew upon her that to dedicate oneself to God one did not need to be in a particular place or follow a particular mode of living. To dedicate oneself to God, was to renounce all selfish ego-centred desires and to rejoice in the Will of God.
Frances attended to her daily tasks in this spirit of utter dedication. Her work became worship, for in the midst of her humdrum duties she did not forget God for a single moment. Again and again, she lifted up her heart to Christ and uttered the simple prayer: “Thou art my all. And having Thee, I need not anything!”
Disappointments came to her: she accepted them as His appointments, and rejoiced in every situation and circumstance of life. She did not fret: she did not fume. She did not worry—so deep was her faith in God. All that the Beloved has done, all that the Beloved is doing, all that the Beloved will do is for my good—she said to herself.
Her work, her whole life, was a dedication to God. Did she dust her house? It was as though she dusted the dwelling-place of Jesus. Did she arrange a bed? It was as though the bed belonged to her Beloved. Did she work in the kitchen? It was as though the Lord Himself walked among her pots and pans. She worked with her hands, but her mind and heart rested on the Lord. Her action became a contemplation: for in her action, she was engaged in communion with the One.
Frances worked in harmony with the Divine Will. She forsook herself: she broke the ego of desires. She acted impersonally, non-egoistically. She worked, but bore no ill-will to anyone. Her work was a benediction to all. She worked: and her action was as deep as meditation and uplifting as music. “Unto Thee,” her heart sang again and again, “Unto Thee may my life be a sacrifice!” Her sacrifice stands—an inspiration to many. It was the sacrifice of a humble soul. Frances lived and died—a witness to the Light of Christ.
This was first published in the December 2013 issue of Complete Wellbeing.
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