By Robert Butler
“I make myself rich by making my wants few.”
I do not remember when or where I first heard that phrase, but it stuck. Meditating on those words a few things occurred to me. What we truly need in life is very little. Air, sufficient water, a little food, a place to sleep, and if we are very lucky, love. Everything else is a want.
In the Eastern school of spiritual thought, it is these very “wants” that cause us to be dissatisfied with “what is” right now. And the last time I checked, now is all there is.
I recently heard of two women friends of mine, each living on opposite sides of the planet, who almost simultaneously had profound encounters with homeless men living at the mercy of the elements. What resulted for both women were powerful realizations around the nature of our material existence, the power of service, humility, and the resilience of the human spirit.
One of the women, who lives in the mountains experienced much turmoil in 2021, from spending weeks in the ICU with COVID. She returned home to a blazing wildfire, burning so dangerously close to her house she was ordered to evacuate, and just recently experiencing debilitating snow and freezing temperatures without electricity this winter.
It was painful for me to learn of her experiences and know how she could have endured them all in such a short time. Yet it was during this last episode in which she experienced her profound and life changing encounter.
Recently she came upon a man living out of a tent in deep snow, near the side of a mountain road. She saw him walking with his backpack and was struck by his peaceful demeanor.
An outstanding cook, she began bringing him warm food and soup and even slices of her home-made birthday cake. She began honoring him by spending some time with him each day without judgement. She learned that this man was very satisfied and peaceful within himself. He had virtually no comforts, certainly no heat, not enough food, and had it not been for the snow, not enough water.
He hadn’t bathed for a long time. She also learned not only how beautiful it was to serve another human being who was struggling for basic subsistence, but also experienced the deepest sense of gratitude this man authentically expressed to her.
My other friend lives in South Africa. A spiritual seeker as well as an accomplished psychotherapist and author, she also had a profound experience wherein the homeless man she found walking along the road carried with him the countenance of a deeply realized guru. The impression was so overwhelming that she found herself re-examining her own life and whether what she had created for herself was truly that meaningful. Or had her life been based on a superficial set of values?
I do not believe many of us would be willing to trade places with either of these homeless men.
At the same time, we certainly have much to learn from them. In the places of pilgrimage in India, some of the most revered individuals are the holy mendicants who live in the woods or on the banks of rivers and sleep under the stars. On the surface, they are beggars who live by the charity of strangers. Yet many of these individuals are deeply realized souls, who have meditated in caves for many, even hundreds, of years. They are fountainheads of spiritual wisdom, and prosperous members of society will give them alms just to sit at their feet to hear them speak.
Technically, they are “homeless,” but in one sense, they are more “home” than many of us who reside within four walls.
Their ceaseless meditation offers them access to the home within the heart.
They are not seeking the trappings of this world, an endeavor not unlike running on a hamster wheel, in which no matter how fast we go, we never attain the object of our joy. On the contrary, the joy we seek is exclusively an inside job, something all the wealth, fame, and prestige of this world cannot provide.
If we think about when we feel real joy, it arises from within ourselves. A feeling like an expansion in the center of our chest or belly. Or maybe a tingling in the skin that radiates in waves throughout the body. The joy that saturates our being is purely a function of consciousness.
So, the next time you encounter a homeless person, consider that you just may be in the presence of a self-realized soul, one who just may have more gifts for you than you could have imagined!
Even as a child, Robert Butler was fascinated with the nature of consciousness. A practitioner of Bhakti Yoga and committed vegetarian since the age of 17, he embarked on a lifelong journey to help himself and others uncover the mysteries of life. After living in an ashram in his late teens through his mid 20s, he traveled extensively, and delved deeply into personal growth and healing work. For the past twenty-five years, he has run a San Diego based nonprofit that supports three Bhakti Yoga ashrams and sustainable farm communities: Audarya Ashram in Philo, California, Sarahgrahi near Asheville, North Carolina, and Madhuvan in the Guanacaste region of Costa Rica. He is an author, spiritual counselor and senior staffer with the ManKind Project, as well as a mentor with the Boys to Men Mentoring Network. He lives in Encinitas, California.
Editor: Dana Gornall