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Spiritual health and material comfort

From: sudarshan madabushi (
Date: Sun Jul 11 1999 - 23:32:48 PDT

Dear members,

Here are some thoughts that crossed my mind while going through "list" 
discussions on "Material wealth Vs Spiritual health" which elicited the 
following from Sri. Mani:

"…to what extent should we try to build
wealth to live comfortably, and how should we define
comfortable, without falling into the trap of chasing

My gut feeling is that the example of Sri Desika and other
gRhastha-s is not an ideal that is to be left merely for saints,
but something to which all true mumukshus should sincerely
aspire. Is this still practical? Could Desika have survived
today? (What few disciples he had certainly couldn't have
given him enough money to pay the rents in San Francisco!)


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· I think Swami Desikan would have not only survived the present age (be it 
San Francisco or Sri Rangam) but conquered it just as he did his own times. 
Also surely, as a modern-day "AchAryA", he would have clearly shown us all 
the way out of our terrible quandaries such as "Material wealth Vs Spiritual 
health". How many would pay heed to him is, however, a matter of conjecture. 
There is no doubt in my mind that far fewer people today might be willing to 
follow Desikan's precept and example than they did during his times.
· If you read Swami Desikan's biography you will not fail to note the man's 
utter fearlessness. Personally, I have never ceased to be awed (and envious) 
of such absolute fearlessness. His fearlessness ("a-bheeti"), I think, was 
the secret of his extraordinary "vairAgyam". Pelf and easy living, of 
course, had no lure for him. But far more importantly, I think, penury held 
no fear for him either. Most of us, if you think about it, would have no 
great difficulty in suppressing our urge to hanker after wealth. Not many of 
us can, however, remain undaunted by the prospect of being reduced to dire 
straits in today's world … a world that has basically no respect for you if 
you are not a personal tax-return filer, are not covered by a policy of 
medical insurance and do not have a pension-cum-annuity plan to finance your 
old age.
· Unlike us, I should think, Swami Desikan's sense of self-worth did not 
need the prop of personal net-worth. It simply did not matter to him (nor to 
his wife, that most wonderful lady!) that he earned his daily bread by 
"Unchavrtti", that his home was a ramshackle dwelling in a by-lane of 
Kanchipuram or that his wife could never strut around the social circuit in 
Kanchipuram with a diamond necklace dangling on her bosom. (We all know the 
story about how Desikan, on discovering beads of gold in the rice that his 
wife was one day sifting, asked her to trash the precious metal filings 
along with the chaff. She is said to have heeded his suggestion immediately 
without a second's hesitation!) Desikan's wife seemed to have been as 
fearless a soul as he himself! I think both shared an uncommon indifference 
to their social standing. Obviously, they did not seem to really care for 
what the world thought of them … where they lived, how they lived, what they 
wore and who their friends were…

The quality of a "mUmUkshu's" marital relationship … of how husband and wife 
mutually nourish and sustain in each other a certain fearlessness in life as 
they go through its vagaries … that "quality  relationship" certainly 
determines the vigour of the "grhastA's" spiritual resolve and endeavour in 

· From his autobiography, we see that Swami Desikan was also not afraid to 
tread alone on the "road less travelled" and to strike out on his own in the 
face of detractors and denigrators. It was again a very rare sort of 
courage. He was not a happy man while he lived in Kanchipuram, being 
endlessly teased and oppressed by his peers there who never lost an 
opportunity to scathingly run him and his work down. In Tiruvaheendrapuram 
where he retired for 14 long years in a sort of "vanavAsam", he was often 
the butt of his rivals' unkindness, jealousy, pettiness and vicious 
mischief. In Sri Rangam where he spent the prime of his life, he was again 
constantly pilloried by adversarial colleagues. The political turmoil of his 
times shunned him to SatyakAlam where again he lived the life of a lonely 
exile for more than two decades.

But through all those trying conditions of long and personal adversity, 
Swami Desikan seems to have stuck steadfastly and fearlessly to the twin 
core-values of "gnyAnam" and "vairAgyam"… to a life-style marked by "simple 
living and high-thinking", by freedom from pecuniary or personal anxieties 
of any sort….

No wonder they called him "gnyAna-vairAgya-bhushaNam"!

I think, Swami Desikan symbolised an idealist way of life transcending all 
considerations as narrow as those that confound us in our times…such as 
whether "material wealth" promotes or impedes "spiritual progress", for 
example. Such questions are themselves founded in fear… and where there is 
fear how can the spirit really advance… with or without "material comfort"?

adiyEn dAsAnu-dAsan,

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