Practice thrift, because ultimately nothing is ours

(The following article was posted in the “Inner Voice” column of the Hindustan Times, one of India’s largest English language daily newspapers, on 8 June 2004.) ‘WASTE IS preventing us from getting ahead’, says Angus Maciver of Prudential UK. On average, English people waste Rs 1,38,000 per person per year. Simple arithmetic reveals that the Briton’s annual waste bill is enough to cover their government’s combined budget for transport, defence, industry, agriculture, employment, housing and the environment. Frugality is often thought to be the emblem of the misers; Fagins, and Ebineezer Scrooges of the world. But there’s a philosophy that teaches that everything ultimately belongs to the Supreme Lord. According to the Gita (5.29), God is the ultimate owner of everything. But ‘everything’ must include our own families, bodies, thoughts, and senses. According to this theory, everything has a limit and nothing is ‘ours’. The questions that next arise are: If we don’t own anything, why do we think we possess our land, our house, bank account, family, body, brain and mind? And how is it that it’s the duty of government to protect our rights, especially our property and our lives? Are we no more than the flutter of an eyelid or a bundle of loose nerve endings, or do we occupy a significant place in the universe – a place we can call our own? Is there such a thing as proprietorship? Good questions, but the answer is simple, if not obvious. We live on borrowed plumes – God’s benevolence. Ultimately nothing is ours, the future’s not ours to see, whatever will be will be. No one knows the intricate workings of karma. Thrift is not miserliness or parsimony, but the wise application of resources. Anything engaged in the service of God never goes in vain, and it benefits the human situation long term. Gratitude, not greed, is the key. The writer is emeritus member of the ISKCON gQverning body commission