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Simplicity and Frugality

Sri Ramakrishna often used to say that only a simple-hearted person can reach God. "By being guileless one can speedily realize God. There are several kinds of people who do not attain divine knowledge. First, a man with perverse mind; he is not guileless."

Absence of hypocrisy is the basis of simplicity. Crookedness is opposite of simplicity. However, simplicity should not be confused with foolishness. The attitude of simplicity should be nicely blended with tactfulness in our everyday dealings so that others do not take undue advantage of us. Even saints similarly advise us to be on guard against being cheated in our day-to-day activities. To pay more for a thing of less value is not simplicity. Similar attitude should be cultivated in accepting ideas and explanations of religious doctrines and scientific theories.

Frugality, on the other hand, is a tendency to possess less and what is absolutely necessary for leading a simple average daily life. For example, a person who has genuine quality of frugal living does not crave to possess things of material comfort, say a car, if his calling does not require it. This quality, however, should not be equated with miserliness. A miser is a person with greed and of possessive mentality. He believes in hoarding the money without utilizing it even for sense gratification! Nor should it be seen as a beggarly character. A beggar is not frugal in so far as he cherishes the desire to possess more and more. He craves for more riches and comforts.

Spiritual Values

Persons with ordinary consciousness, like most of us are, have natural tendency to enjoy worldly pleasures perceived through the senses. We do not see anything wrong in this, but believe that to enjoy comforts is the goal of life. Therefore, we attempt to gather more and more riches, and thereby power as well. Many of us turn a blind eye to moral-ethical code to achieve this end. Such persons cannot help their tendency to be selfish and non-frugal. For them possessing all types of luxuries, acquiring name and power are natural goals to seek. This human tendency is termed as a consciousness of rational human being!

These persons are active, ambitious, and claim to be intelligent. Their rationality is limited to gratify the sense cravings; and at the best refine them by giving them aesthetic turn and shape. Hence such persons are happily engaged in creating and developing art, literature, architecture, technology, etc. Simplicity and frugality are seen by such persons as the attributes of lowly--lethargic people, whom they claim to be dull and ignorant.

Still others are happy to give up these pleasures to experience the bliss of supra-human consciousness--divinity. Such persons are rare and for them titillation of and mind are obstacles on the path of realizing God. Hence, they willingly seek simplicity and frugality with joy. The person who has realized, or has had even the glimpse of divinity (superconscious reality), automatically develops these qualities as his second nature. There is then extreme aversion to seek sense pleasure. Such persons are on a higher step of the evolutionary ladder, and their number is very small at a given period of time. In their lives these tendencies are naturalized. Reflexively also they do not think to possess more than what was absolutely essential to be able to survive to seek God!

Simplicity in the life of Sri Ramakrishna and the Holy Mother:

Sri Ramakrishna and the Holy Mother recommended absolute poverty and continence as the ideal for sannyasins. They almost recommended that the house-holder sadhaka -spiritual aspirant- should also consciously try to be simple and frugal in his life-style so that the divinity may make its presence felt in his life and consciousness. Just as the knowledge of superconscious state imparts these qualities, similarly, the person who attempts to cultivate these qualities in his life gets the glimpse of that much desired Divine state

In the life of Sri Ramakrishna and the Holy Mother we get thought-provoking instances where simplicity and frugality had reached a state unparalleled in the history of spirituality. A few examples will not be out of place:

(1) That money is an obstacle in the path of spiritual progress; this idea was so deep rooted in the mind of Sri Ramakrishna that he could not touch even a coin without getting pain or reflex withdrawal of the hand. Later in his life he was unable even to touch any metal because he thought that it also represented money. Sri Ramakrishna used to take a few coins in one hand and a few clumps of earth in the other; and sitting on the banks of Ganges used to throw both in the river telling both were equally useless for realizing God. Thus his attachment to the gold and materialistic possessions also vanished completely.

Once Swami Vivekananda wanted to test the authenticity of this claim. He without anybody's knowledge hid a coin below the bed on which Sri Ramakrishna used to sleep. When Sri Ramakrishna sat on that bed, he shouted in pain as if electric shock was applied to his body. Similar experiment was confirmed in presence of his treating physician, doctor Rudra. When a coin was kept in the hand of Sri Ramakrishna, his hand began to writhe with pain. His breathing also stopped which became normal as the offending coin was removed.

(2) The idea not be greedy (as greed comes in way of God realization) became a natural reflex in his life and he was unable even to tie a knot to his clothes, lest it be taken as a sign of amassing something for the future! This is the highest form of frugality as can be easily understood, but difficult to practice in one's life. Our tragedy is that the thing that we can't accomplish, even knowing that it is beneficial for us, we discard it as untrue or of no significance.

(3) Once a Marwari devotee offered ten thousand rupees to Sri Ramakrishna. Sri Ramakrishna felt as though his head was 'under a saw'. He called his wife Ma Saradadevi and said, "Listen, my dear, this man proposes to give me money. As I have refused the offer, he proposes to give it to you. Why don't you accept this?" At this Ma Saradadevi replied instantaneously, 'How can that be? The money can't be accepted. If I receive it, it would be as good as your receiving it; for if I take it, I shall spend it on you; and hence it will amount to your own acceptance. People respect you for your renunciation; therefore, the money can never be accepted.'

Simplicity and frugality are the virtues that are more powerful than surrender and submission. There is no helpless resignation, no grudge in leading simple life, nor frown for owning fewer things of material comfort. Rather, the person of simplicity and frugality is very happy to give away to the needy whatever he has. Secondly, the person with these qualities becomes very happy at the prosperity and success of others. Hatred and jealousy are miles away from the mind of these persons.

Non-attachment was inborn virtue of the Holy Mother Ma Saradadevi. Money matters were handled by her but she had no attachment to them. Minor details never interested her. She used to clean the plates and utensils after the devotee has taken his food. Despite protests she maintained that as everyone is her child, as a mother she has no hesitation in doing such things.


We, therefore, see that simplicity and frugality are the divine virtues, rare to find in today's world. Only a few great souls reveal these qualities for the welfare of the common man. The naturalized intuitive simplicity and frugality in the life of Sri Ramakrishna and The Holy Mother are to be studied and meditated upon; for these rare qualities are the qualities of future human evolution! The highly developed consciousness in such persons, brought about by constant prayers, meditation, and contemplation, is the source of these values. Just as greed and lust are natural to ordinary human consciousness, renunciation, discrimination, simplicity, and frugality are the natural characteristics of spiritual persons. Truthfulness and purity go hand in hand with simplicity. These are the desired qualities for the well being of the human race that should enable us to reach the state of divine social consciousness.

In today's world of glamour and show-off, where the younger generation has fatal attraction to the western culture, simplicity and frugality of true Indian tradition should be eulogized, as exemplified above in the Holy life of Sri Ramakrishna and Holy Mother. In recent times Mahatma Gandhi had these qualities. The great impact he made in India and abroad is well-known. There is nothing to be ashamed of in this regard. Before it is too late, let us teach ourselves and our children the true spirit behind these virtues.
c s shah

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