Alexander learnt life’s lessons from a thief

(The following article was printed in the “Inner Voice” column of the Hindustan Times, one of India’s largest English language daily newspapers, on 28 December 2004.) IN ALEXANDER the Great’s conquests, it’s recorded that he pushed east, traversed the Hindu Kush and encountered King Porus. He saw elephants used in battle for the first time. Alexander’s settlement with the Hindu king was that Porus would retain the sovereignty while he would keep the ‘overlordship’. Shortly thereafter, Alexander came upon an Indian thief whom he got arrested and brought before him. A conversation ensued in which the recidivist reminded Alexander, a former pupil of Aristotle, that the renowned chieftain was himself a thief. Alexander, the robber said. was a ‘big’ thief, and he a ‘small’ thief. The story goes that on realising the truth of these statements, Alexander released the thief. What we learn from this story is that we’re all thieves. Every one of us is trying to possess and enjoy people, situations and things we don’t own. A famous song written by Rudy Vallee had recorded numerous times includes these lyrics: “The sweet things in life to you were just loaned, so how can you lose what you’ve never owned”? According to the Gita, we own zero (5.29); i.e. nothing is ours. Everything belongs to God. Alexander, at least momentarily understood that pillaging on a global scale was not so different – from petty pilfering. He was really the big thief trying to possess things which were not his. We think we own things: our vehicles, homes, bodies and minds. The sages say no; that there are higher order laws of the universe and that these unseen laws – unseen like many other laws — govern our actions and control our lives. Awareness and understanding of these invisible forces make us cognisant of deeper knowledge and evokes greater levels of personal satisfaction. We work, save and worry over what’s not ours. Learning to let go is a good beginning. The writer is emeritus member of the Iskcon governing body commission