Begging – A tool for growth
Once, there was a beggar who was so poor, he had lived his entire life in just one tattered coat. But he had gathered a certain reputation about himself and people would go to him for solutions to all kinds of problems. He became known as a very wise man. News reached the king who also began to go to him seeking advice. One day, the king said, “You should not be a beggar, you should become my minister.” The beggar replied, “What you are offering does not mean anything to me, but if it makes me useful to the people, I will take this offer under one condition: I must have one room in the palace, which nobody should enter or inspect, including yourself. If anybody enters or inspects this room, I will no longer be your minister.” The king said, “Yes I will give you a room. Keep it any way you want. Why would I want to look into your room?”
This went on for a few years and the beggar, who was now the Chief Minister, could not go around in his beggar’s coat anymore so he dressed himself properly. With time he came to be immensely admired and became very dear to both the king and the people. Seeing his popularity and his unrivaled wisdom, the other ministers were very jealous. Some of them began to plot, “He has got something suspicious in that room. That is why he does not want anybody to enter. It must be some plan he has against the king and the nation. Otherwise, why is he protecting it like that?” The rumor built up, and it soon reached the king’s ears. The king was fired up and one day told the minister, “I want to see what is in the room.” The minister said, “You can look, but the moment you enter that room, I will go back and no longer be a minister.” The king, knowing the man’s wisdom, did not want to lose him, and so, restrained himself.
However, after some time the king became restless and people were telling him stories, “You are the king and no secrets must be hidden from you in your palace.” This went on until one day, the king insisted, “I must see that room.” The minister agreed so the king went in. He saw nothing in the room. It was just a plain empty room. Hanging on the wall was that old tattered coat the beggar used to wear. The king looked at all this and asked, “Why did you keep this a secret? There is nothing here.” The minister answered, “During the day, I am a minister. At night, I wear that coat and sleep on the floor. This way I never get caught up with my position as a minister. But now that you broke the agreement, it is off.” He wore his coat and walked away.
Begging in India was a part of the spiritual tradition. On aspect of this was, you did not select your food, you begged and ate whatever people gave you. It was considered a great privilege when a person on the spiritual path stood in front of your house and asked for food, and for you to offer food to him. Today, these traditions have been misused and there are so many people wearing the uniform of a spiritual seeker, who are just plain beggars in search of money and food. But when people begged consciously, it had a completely different meaning and possibility.
When someone stretches his hand in front of you, if you feel it is being misused, you can refuse and move along. If you feel that it is really coming out of genuine need, you must respond as a human being. Just think how difficult it would be for you to stretch your hand in front of someone on the street. That man is putting himself through that. A beggar may be doing so out of helplessness but a sanyasi is doing it consciously for his own growth so that he does not get too full of himself. A beggar does not have such great goals. He is just trying to fill his belly, which he is incapable of doing by himself. You need to understand, disability is not just in terms of losing a hand or a leg. You can become disabled just in the way you think and feel about life. Actually, almost the whole population is mentally and emotionally handicapped because of their patterns of thinking and feeling towards life. Similarly, the beggar has gotten himself into a corner, and he thinks begging is the easiest way to earn a living.
A spiritual person however, takes to begging because he wants to drop himself. The idea, “I earn my own living, my own money, my own food, my own home,” is a big part of your ego. One day, a guest came to Gautama the Buddha carrying a few flowers. It is a part of our culture that when people go to meet their guru, they take flowers as an offering. When the man came, Gautama looked at him and said, “Drop it.” The man looked around and wondered, “What to drop?” He thought it was the flowers. He hesitated, “But I brought it for you.” Gautama again said, “Drop it.” So the man dropped the flowers. Gautama looked at him and again said, “Drop it.” The man said, “I have dropped the flowers. I brought them as a gift, but you asked me to drop them so I did. What else to drop?” Gautama said, “No, you drop yourself first. The flowers are not the problem. You plucked the flowers for me that is fine, I will take them, but you drop yourself.”
Begging was used as a tool to drop yourself because in earning a living, you gather yourself. But you drop yourself in just stretching your hand in front of someone, knowing and being fully conscious that you have the capability to earn your living, to rule a kingdom, yet you still choose to beg. That is a tremendous shift in a human being. So in our tradition, at least once a year you must go begging for food, so that you do not think too much of yourself. People may give you food or they might just ask you to get out. It does not matter, but being a beggar is not a small thing.
Named one of India’s 50 most influential people, Sadhguru is a yogi, mystic, a bestselling author & poet. Sadhguru has been conferred the "Padma Vibhushan" by the Government of India in 2017, the highest amongst the annual civilian awards, accorded for exceptional and distinguished service.