Swami Kriyananda tells a story in The New Path about how he traveled to Mexico in his youth in hopes of connecting with a simpler way of life. He learned to make do with only ten dollars a month! He shares what foods he ate in order to save money and even how he rationed portions of dessert to not feel deprived.
A big lesson he shares through this experience is that we can over-complicate even simple living. He was spending so much time thinking of ways to scrimp and save, he was forgetting his true purpose of finding the joy of simplicity.
I’ve often found myself overcomplicating matters and this recent one is too funny not to share.
Narayan and I are in the process of having a tiny house built. We consciously chose to purchase a tiny home to try to live Paramhansa Yogananda’s ideal of simple living and high thinking. Our tiny house builder is in Oregon and when the house is finished, it will be delivered to our LA community. We picked this company because they promised to have the home built in six to ten weeks with an estimated completion date between July 4 and July 31.
Well, as I write this blog, it is August 20 with no new estimated delivery date in sight. It isn’t the company’s fault – there is an extreme supply shortage all across the country right now. It doesn’t help that Oregon was hit with the worst heat wave recorded and simultaneously our tiny house was in need of a mini split air conditioner.
Getting the news from our production manager that “we honestly don’t know when we will get the supplies to finish your roof and floor, among other things,” was hard for me to accept. And so, I started looking… looking for another tiny house that was already finished and ready to move into.
My search was not as easy as you might imagine, with tiny homes in high demand as more and more people embrace the minimalist lifestyle. But I finally found one – a nine-by-thirty-foot beauty, fully furnished and ready to be delivered to Los Angeles. Was it perfect for our needs, no. But like Swami Sri Yukteswar shared in Autobiography of a Yogi: “Attachment is blinding; it lends an imaginary halo of attractiveness to the object of desire.” I wanted a home and I wanted it now!
Simultaneously, it didn’t feel right to cancel the building of our tiny house in Oregon – it had already been framed in, electrical installed, and so much work had gone into it, not to mention how much I’ve enjoyed working with the builders.
So, I started thinking of how it could work to have both tiny houses!
“We could get the home that is ready, move in, then, when the custom home is finally finished, we could move the first one out to the farm retreat in Temecula.” My brain was spinning with tiny houses. Night and day, I found myself thinking about what furniture would be used in which house, would the exercise bike fit in this new one, would a 5 gallon propane tank be enough to cook and shower with, how would we get the money to buy a second tiny home, could we put the extra one on airbnb to pay for it, and the embarrassing list goes on.
Finally, I realized something important, after talking it out with friends who were kind enough to listen to my ramblings – I don’t have to buy two tiny houses!
Suddenly, the pressure I had built up in my mind was released; I could relax; the world was not collapsing; I was “simply” overcomplicating matters. The truth is, we are usually overcomplicating life. Maybe not as obviously as I was in this instance but as Yoganandaji said, “God is simple. Everything else is complex.”
I’d like to share a humorous and incredibly useful story Yogananda told:
In the depths of a jungle in India there lived a holy master and his disciples. Master and disciples woke with the dawn, spreading their prayers with the rising sun. They subsisted on jungle fruits and roots and slept in nature-hewn caves.
Rama had joined this jungle hermitage in order to live a very simple life, but as time went by, he began to find fault with the simple disciplinary duties of the hermitage. One day he said to his guru:
“Honored sir, I am fed up with the day-to-day duties of your hermitage, which are like the worldly duties I performed at home. I want to get away from all materiality and live by myself in solitude in the temple of contemplation.”
The master warned him: “Son, you may escape the crowds of people, but it will be more difficult for you to escape your own restless thoughts, which can lead you astray.”
Rama paid no heed to the entreaties of his master, and sallied forth in search of a solitary spot. He took with him only two pieces of rag to serve as loincloths, and a begging bowl for water. At last Rama found a very quiet place on top of a hill at the outskirts of a local village. He lay down to rest on a rocky ledge under a huge shady tree.
When dawn arrived, young Rama was dismayed to see that a mouse had chewed a few small holes in the second piece of rag, which he had hung on a tree branch. Rama thought, “Heavenly Father, I left all for You, and now you have sent a mouse to work on my last possession—the piece of rag.”
A villager passed by the rock and halted to pay respect to the “saint.” The villager inquired, “Honored Saint, please tell me what is worrying you.” On hearing the story about the chewed rag, the villager advised, “Your Holiness, why don’t you keep a cat to frighten away the mice?” “That is a marvelous idea, but where will I get a cat?” asked Rama. “I will bring you a cat tomorrow,” replied the villager.
The next day Rama added to his possessions a fuzzy Persian cat. And so the problem of the mice was solved. Every day, Rama went to the village to fetch milk for his cat. The villagers ungrudgingly supplied free milk for the saint’s cat for a full year, until one day the village elder said to Rama, “Holy Sir, we are tired of supplying you with milk.” “But how is my cat going to live?” retorted Rama. “Why don’t you keep a cow?” replied the village headman. “How can I get a cow?” asked Rama. “I will give you one right now,” answered the village elder.
Rama, beside himself with joy, returned to his sylvan home with a cow. Now Rama, the cat, and the cow formed a nice family. This cow was known as the “Saint’s Cow” and, like a freeloader, raided the paddy fields of the villagers, causing them extreme anguish.
Another year passed, and many were the tales of the munched paddy fields by the much-tolerated “Saint’s Cow.” At last one day, the villagers came in a body and complained about the ravages wrought by the audacious cow. “Well, how am I going to feed my cow?” asked Rama. “Why don’t you have your own land? We will give you twenty-five acres of land,” the villagers said in chorus.
Rama was delighted with this. He gathered together the children of the village, and in the name of God had them build him a cottage-hermitage, till his soil, feed his cat and cow, and do all the hard work required on his farm.
The villagers mutely tolerated all these saintly privileges for two whole years until they found they could not get the children to perform their own duties at home. In a body they went to Rama and complained, “Your Holiness, we have to stop loaning you our children to work on your farm. Our own farms remain neglected without the help of our children.”
“Well, how am I going to manage my farm without the help of your children?” asked Rama.
“Why don’t you have your own children? It will be an honor for one of us to give you a marriageable daughter,” cried the villagers in unison.
“That is a brilliant idea,” cried Rama.
And so Rama was getting ready to be married, when his master came to visit. The master said, “You left the hermitage to get rid of material duties, and now I see you have a cat, a cow, land, a home, and I hear that you are going to get married. What has happened to you?”
“Oh, Master,” cried Rama, “This is all for a rag!”
Master and disciple laughed heartily, and Rama left his newly acquired family and farmhouse and returned to live under the wisdom-guidance of his guru’s hermitage.
This story illustrates that if you leave the world for God, see that you forsake worldly thoughts from within; otherwise, wherever you go, your worldliness will go with you, and attract another worldly environment for you.
—The Man Who Refused Heaven by Paramhansa Yogananda