PYS II.39 aparigraha-sthairye janma-kathamta-sambodhah
When one becomes selfless and ceases to take more than one needs, one obtains knowledge of why one was born.
The Happy Prince is a story written by Oscar Wilde. It is the last story I am going to tell for this month's focus, and you can read the full text here.
The summary is this: The Happy Prince was a statue that towered over the town square. He looked beautiful and rich and grand with his golden skin, a ruby in his sword and sapphires for eyes. One day, a swallow noticed that he was crying and asked him why. The prince said he sees a lot of suffering. Together, the prince and the swallow worked together to ease the suffering of those in need. The prince saw a mother unable to buy medicine for her child, asked the swallow to take the ruby from his sword to give to the mother. He saw a young artist with nothing to eat, asked the swallow to take the sapphire from his eyes to give to this young man. He saw a poor girl selling matches, and asked the swallow to take the other sapphire to give to the poor child, even if it meant he would become blind. The swallow, after giving away the prince's second sapphire eye, decided to stay to be the prince's eyes. The swallow reported back to the prince what he saw each day, and the prince asked the swallow to peel off a leaf of gold from his skin to give whoever was in need, until one day the prince's skin was completely stripped of the layer of gold he once had. The swallow, in his final moments, kissed the prince goodbye, and fell to the prince's feet. The prince, heart-broken, felt the beating of his heart made of lead, and the pain of the loss created a crack in his body. When the mayor saw the statue of the prince, he declared that because the prince is no longer beautiful, he is no longer useful. He had the statue torn down and melted. But the lead heart of the happy prince will not melt. The lead heart and the swallow became known to be the most precious things in that town.
Although The Happy Prince is a children's story, I thought it is also a yogic story, one that teaches us about aparigraha and purpose. Aparigraha is a Sanskrit word that means greedlessness. That means we take only what we need and no more than that. Many of us were socially conditioned to believe that we need to accumulate wealth and acquire things to be happy, and yet many find that wealth and things do not give life its purpose. All they do is serve as a shield, a temporary reprieve, a coverup for what may be missing inside. And so, many people keep seeking satisfaction from the outside, with the irony being satisfaction sought from the outside is a pursuit with an unachievable goal. Greed comes not from an inherent propensity towards evil, but from ignorance of one's true nature. Greed too is a pursuit of happiness, though one that is likely to destroy than to build.
The happy prince, when he started out, had all of the riches that deemed him royal and stately, but it was then that he shed those tears of sadness. When he resolved to do something about the suffering of others, his purpose was manifested. We are like the happy prince in that we have our ruby and sapphires and golden skin in the form of our talents and skills and inclinations, our voice and our intent and our compassion and our ability to connect. These are gifts given to us, not to be kept hidden for ourselves but to be offered and shared and passed on. It is when these gifts become a medium that our lives begin to have a purpose.
Think of someone whose happiness and freedom matter to you. Dedicate your practice to this being. Notice how easy it is to pick someone we care about, how effortless it is to have the intention of selflessness. It is easy because we have that innate compassion in us to care about others. And if you imagine having to choose between the riches of the world and the happiness and freedom of this being, you will find that you will readily give up material riches for what gives your life meaning. Aparigraha, non-greediness, does not mean that we do not have any possessions. Rather, it means that we do not let our things possess us. They are useful not because they are beautiful, not the way the mayor in the story The Happy Prince put it. Rather, they are beautiful because they could serve as a medium in which we express our purpose in this world.
There is a happy prince in each and every one us, willing to give and uplift the lives of others. We also have swallows amongst us, those who were our eyes when we couldn't see, who gave us flight when we were stuck, who stayed with us to help us fulfill our purpose. If we are so courageous as to look inward rather than outward, we will find that it unnecessary to grip to possessions or attachments or to our egos. Our selflessness will free us. Our purpose will ground us. Our life as it is meant to be lived is revealed to us.