About me: The wisdom I learned from a filthy-rich playboy … & an ascetic holy man

Hi! This is me in beautiful Canadian summer

Hi! This is me in beautiful Canadian summer

First the basic info stuff… I live in Canada. I am married and we have a son. I studied at University of Toronto, University of New Brunswick and Acadia University.

I grew up in an upper middle-class professional family. Originally from Sweden, we immigrated to Canada when I was young, and then I came of age while living abroad in several countries – Algeria, Germany and Cameroon, and finally returning to Canada for university. My mother had been born in India and grew up there. She speaks Hindi quite fluently. As I grew up, at times she would tell me about the various Hindu gods and goddesses and show me pictures of them that she had collected in her book of mementos. So as I grew up in the West, and then also in a Muslim country, I was also exposed in a familial way to Hinduism. And through it all, like everyone else I wanted (and still want) to experience a full life – one that is characterized by contentment, a sense of peace, and of meaning and purpose – along with a connectedness to other people.

Living in these diverse societies – of various religions as well as very secular ones – and being a voracious reader, I was exposed to different views as to what is ultimately ‘true’ and what it took to get a full life. What I observed was that though I (and most in the West) had unprecedented wealth, technology and opportunity to achieve these goals, the paradox of our time was that they seemed so elusive. I noticed that relationships are more disposable and temporary than that of previous generations. Terms like ‘rat race’ was used to describe our lives. I heard that if we can get just ‘a little bit more’ then we would arrive. But how much more? And more of what? Money? Scientific knowledge? Technology? Pleasure?

As a young person I felt angst probably best described as a vague restlessness. Since my father was an expatriate consulting engineer in Africa, I hung out with other wealthy, privileged and educated western teenagers. But life there was quite simple with few outlets to amuse us. So my friends and I dreamed about the days we could return to our home countries and enjoy TV, good food, opportunities, and the ease of western living – and then we would be ‘satisfied’. Yet when I would visit Canada or Europe, after the first bit of euphoria the restlessness would return. And worse, I also noticed it in the people who lived there all the time. Whatever they had (and they had a lot by any standard) there was always need for more. I thought I would find ‘it’ when I had a popular girlfriend. And for a while this seemed to fill something within me, but after a few months restlessness would return. I thought when I got out of high school then I would ‘arrive’… then it was when I could get a driver’s license and gain mobility – then my search would be over. Now that I am older I hear people speaking of retirement as the ticket to satisfaction. Is that it? Do we spend our whole lives chasing one thing after the other, thinking the next thing around the corner will give it to us, and then … our lives are over? It seems so futile!

The Wisdom of Solomon

During these years, because of this inescapable restlessness that I saw in me and around me, the writings of Solomon made a deep impact on me. Solomon, a king of ancient Israel famous for his wisdom, wrote several books in the Old Testament of the Bible (Veda Pusthakam) around 950 BC. In the book Ecclesiastes, he described this same inexorable sense of restlessness that I was experiencing. He wrote:

“I thought in my heart, ‘Come now, I will test you with pleasure to find out what is good.’ …I tried cheering myself with wine, and embracing folly—my mind still guiding me with wisdom. I wanted to see what was worthwhile for men to do under heaven during the few days of their lives.

I undertook great projects: I built houses for myself and planted vineyards. I made gardens and parks and planted all kinds of fruit trees in them. I made reservoirs to water groves of flourishing trees. I bought male and female slaves and had other slaves who were born in my house. I also owned more herds and flocks than anyone … before me. I amassed silver and gold for myself, and the treasure of kings and provinces. I acquired men and women singers, and a harem as well—the delights of the heart of man. I became greater by far than anyone … before me. In all this my wisdom stayed with me….I denied myself nothing my eyes desired; I refused my heart no pleasure. My heart took delight in all my work, and this was the reward for all my labor.” (Ecclesiastes 2:1-10)

Riches, fame, knowledge, projects, women, pleasure, kingdom, career, wine… Solomon had it all – and more of it than anyone else of his day or ours. The smarts of an Einstein, the riches of a Bill Gates, the social/sexual life of a Mick Jagger, along with a royal pedigree like that of Prince William in the British Royal family – all rolled into one. Who could beat that combination? You would think he, of all people would have been satisfied. But he concluded:

“’Meaningless! Meaningless!” says the Teacher. ‘Utterly meaningless! Everything is meaningless.’ … I … devoted myself to study and to explore by wisdom all that is done under heaven. What a heavy burden God has laid on men! I have seen all the things that are done under the sun; all of them are meaningless, a chasing after the wind.” (Ecclesiastes 1:1-14)

“…when I surveyed all that my hands had done and what I had toiled to achieve everything was meaningless, a chasing after the wind; nothing was gained under the sun… So my heart began to despair over all my toilsome labor under the sun.… This too is meaningless and a great misfortune. What does a man get for all the toil and anxious striving with which he labors under the sun?… This too is meaningless.” (Ecclesiastes 2:11-23)

Hardly optimistic! In one of his poems, Song of Songs, he records an erotic, red-hot love affair that he was having – the very thing that seems most likely to provide life-long satisfaction. But in the end, the love affair did not give him sustained satisfaction as we know from Ecclesiastes.  The promise of pleasure, wealth, work, progress, romantic love to ultimately satisfy was shown by him to be an illusion.

Now wherever I looked around me, either among my friends or in society, it seemed like Solomon’s pursuits for a full life were the ones everywhere being offered and tried. But he had already told me that he had not been able to find it on those paths. So I sensed that I would not find it there and would need to look on a road less traveled.

Along with all these issues I was bothered by another aspect of life. It troubled Solomon as well.

Man’s fate is like that of the animals; the same fate awaits them both: As one dies, so dies the other. All have the same breath; man has no advantage over the animal. Everything is meaningless.  All go to the same place; all come from dust, and to dust all return. 21 Who knows if the spirit of man rises upward and if the spirit of the animal goes down into the earth?” (Ecclesiastes 3:19-21)

All share a common destiny—the righteous and the wicked, the good and the bad, the clean and the unclean, those who offer sacrifices and those who do not. As it is with the good man, so with the sinner; as it is with those who take oaths, so with those who are afraid to take them. This is the evil in everything that happens under the sun: The same destiny overtakes all. … they join the dead.  Anyone who is among the living has hope—even a live dog is better off than a dead lion!  For the living know that they will die, but the dead know nothing; they have no further reward, and even the memory of them is forgotten. (Ecclesiastes 9:2-5)

The ancient writings of Solomon struck a cord within me and caused me to search for answers. Questions about life, death, immortality, and meaning percolated within me. In my senior year of high school we were given an assignment to collect one hundred pieces of literature (poems, songs, short stories etc.) into an anthology. Most of my anthology dealt with these issues and it allowed me to ‘meet’ and hear many others who also wrestled with these same questions. And meet them I did – from all sorts of eras, educational backgrounds, lifestyle philosophies, religions and genres. There was Satisfaction by the Rolling Stones, Time by Pink Floyd, and Ozymandius by Shelley, Samuel Coleridge, W.H. Auden, Shakespeare, Frost, and so on.

The Wisdom of Guru Sai Baba

When I was an engineering student, one of my professors was a devotee of the Bangalore-based guru Sai Baba and lent me several of his books, which I read with great eagerness. As I read his precepts I found that my moral conscience in me could only agree with his moral teaching. Here are some excerpts from his books that I copied down for myself.

“And what is dharma? Practicing what you preach, doing as you say it has to be done, keeping precept and practice in line. Earn virtuously, yearn piously; live in fear of God, live for reaching God: that is dharma”  Sathya Sai Speaks 4, p. 339

“What exactly is your duty?…

  • First tend your parents with love and reverence and gratitude.
  • Second, speak the truth and act virtuously.
  • Third, whenever you have a few moments to spare, repeat the name of the Lord with the form in your mind.
  • Fourth, never indulge in talking ill of others or try to discover faults in others.
  • And finally, do not cause pain to others in any form”  Sathya Sai Speaks 4, pp.348-349

“Whoever subdues his egoism, conquers his selfish desires, destroys his bestial feelings and impulses, and gives up the natural tendency to regard the body as self, he is surely on the path of dharma”  Dharma Vahini, p.4

When I studied Sai Baba’s writings I did so in two ways. In the first way I studied them to see if what this Hindu holy man taught was actually good. Did I agree with him that what he said was good and true, really was in fact good and true?  And I recognized that what he taught in these precepts was good, really good. These were teachings I should live by. I invite you also to study these teachings to see if you should live by precepts as these.

But that is where I came across a big problem. And the problem was not in the precepts, but rather was in me. Because as I tried applying them, no matter how hard I admired these teachings and would strive to live by them, I found I could not consistently do them. I was continually falling short of these good ideals.

It seemed like I had two paths to choose from. The path embodied by Solomon, so commonly pursued all over the world, was to live for self, creating whatever meaning, pleasure or ideals that I would chose to pursue. But I knew the end was not good for Solomon – nor for the many I had watched in life who walked down that path. The satisfaction was temporary and illusion.  But the path embodied by Sai Baba was impossible, perhaps not for a guru like him, but impossible for a ‘normal’ person like me.  Continually striving to keep these ideals that I could not attain was not freedom – it was slavery.

The Gospel – Ready to Consider it

In my reading and searching I had read the discourses and teachings by Jesus as recorded in the Biblical gospels (Veda Pusthakam). Statements from Jesus like the following stuck with me

“… I have come that they may have life and have it to the full” (John 10:10)

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30)

It grew on me that maybe, just maybe, here was an answer that perhaps addressed the dead-ends of the other paths. After all, gospel (which to me had just been a more-or-less meaningless religious word) literally meant ‘good news’. Was the Gospel really good news? Or was it more-or-less hearsay? To answer that I knew I needed to journey down two roads. First, I needed to start to develop an informed understanding of the Gospel. Second, I had lived in different religious cultures, had met people and read authors who had many objections to, and held ideas in opposition to, the Biblical Gospel. These were informed and intelligent people. I needed to develop a sound basis for belief – regarding the Gospel as well as other doctrines – and test these beliefs. I needed to think critically about the Gospel, without just being a mindless critic.

There is a very real sense that when one embarks on this kind of journey one never totally arrives, but I did learn that the Gospel does provide answers to these issues. Its whole point actually is to address them – a full life, death, eternity, and practical concerns like love in our family relationships, guilt, fear and forgiveness. The Gospel’s claim is that it is a foundation that we can build our lives upon. One may not necessarily like the answers provided by the Gospel, one may not agree with them or believe them, but given that it addresses these very human questions it would be foolish to remain uninformed of them.

I also learned that the Gospel at times made me quite uncomfortable. In a time when so much beguiles us to just live Comfortably Numb the Gospel unapologetically challenged my heart, mind, soul and strength that, though it offers Life, it did not offer an easy one. If you do take time to Consider the Gospel you may find the same.

Since I began my journey in following the Gospel, I have had the privilege to work and travel across India and even visit Nepal.  My forest engineering took me to many places, with different co-workers.  In this context I was able to have conversations and gain further insight into how the gospel is relevant, true and meaningful in a vedic context.  I hope you will find the same as you Consider the Gospel.

 

8 thoughts on “About me: The wisdom I learned from a filthy-rich playboy … & an ascetic holy man

  1. Stop using Hindu terminology to fuel your evil soul-harvesting purposes. Does your Bible not have anything original that you need words like Karma and Moksha to go on? Are your scriptures so weak in front of ours? Doesn’t that prove how artificial and plagiaristic you people are? If you love Jesus, why not stay in the Biblical context, and stop stealing concepts from Hindus? If you are a true Christian, stop abusing our philosophy and importing our concepts. Either try and study your own faith better, or simply accept Hinduism, and go on with it. Don’t try to create a breed between two fundamentally different religions. We all know what that leads to. Stop this sin, if you are true to Jesus.

    • Hi Roger
      You misunderstand the Gospel. It deals with fundamental concepts that go deeper than culture. Therefore it has and uses themes and terminology that is familiar to the direct audience. So when Jesus is called the ‘logos’ in the Gospel of John this is a word that had previously been used in Greek philosophy discussions. Justin Martyr (died ca 150 AD) continued to reference Plato and other Greek words and concepts to explain the gospel to his Greek audience. St Patrick did the same with the pagan Irish in the 5th Century. The concept of enlightenment and freedom and salvation is endemic through the Gospel. The Gospel affirms and declares that this universally recognized human desire is found only in Jesus, and everyone deserves the chance to weigh this in their own mind. Read the following article about how a Hindu knew, learned and expressed a story about Jesus which is found in the Gospels. Is the story ‘Christian’ or ‘Hindu’? It is a universal story that can be expressed in different forms. The person of Jesus, his work, and what he offers does not belong to Christians. It is for everyone.

  2. i do agree with admn, if you love look and see carefully you will find much similar things in both (bible and hindu) but its the people who makes it different not the book… gods is same Christ or ram its the same…. i will like to ask roget sir this question can you please answer it.( in the beginning was the word and the word was with god, and the word is god)..

      • Hi Pragati
        So sorry my reply has taken so long. My time has been very limited lately. In the Gospel of John the ‘Word’ is a title used for Jesus to indicate that he is the incarnation of God. In Genesis God created the universe by ‘speaking’. John starts out his Gospel alluding to that and tells us that the ‘Word’ created everything that has been created and then ‘became flesh’ (ie became a human). IF you browse my article on the Genesis Promise you will see that this promise of a ‘He’ that was to come was made right at the beginning, similar to the promise of the sacrifice of Purusa made right at the beginning.

  3. well both the holy bible and the holy gita contain a lot of similarities in their teachings. being a Christian or a hindu does not say who you are ! I believe its how you live your life and the teachings you adopt and apply in your everyday living . karma means you get what you put out so if you do bad things then bad things will follow you meaning your deeds and if you do good then good things shall follow. the holy gita teaches those who are attached to material things in this world would never cross over and the holy bible teaches that those who pile up money and steal would be severly punished because THE LORD does not like this .”Whoever is greedy for unjust gain troubles his own household, but he who hates bribes will live”-proverbs 15.27. I have seen rich wealthy people punished because they did many wrong things and they got so sick all the money in the world cannot save them. I my view GOD is can never incite hate , he would never say to hate someone because they are hindu or in india hate Jesus ! once you serve GOD that’s all that matters , the fact that we believe there is a super power greater than anything on this earth is enough and we live a decent and humane life . I am grateful for the opportunity to share my opinion and thank you.

  4. according the doctrin of bible,we are not to follow the shrine laws or the pagans even to think but not the language anyway the godspeal has already said the world will change the words,verses will change and it will be ampty blank.so let us wait and find out and at least pray.

What are your thoughts?