A friend of mine shared the following story with me:

A plump Indian businessman, dripping with gold and diamonds, came one day to visit Mother Teresa, fell at her feet, and proclaimed, “Oh God, you are the holiest of the Holy! You are the super-holy one! You have given up everything! I cannot even give up one samosa for breakfast! Not one single chapatti for lunch can I give up!”

Mother Teresa started to laugh so hard her attendant nuns grew scared (she was in her middle 80s and frail from two recent heart attacks). Eventually, she stopped laughing and, wiping her eyes with one hand, she leaned forward to help her adorer to his knees.

She said to him quietly, “So you say I have given up everything?” The businessman nodded enthusiastically. Mother Teresa smiled. “Oh, my dear man,” she said, “you are so wrong. It isn’t I who have given up everything; it is you. You have given up the supreme, sacred joy of life, the source of all lasting happiness, the joy of giving your life away to other beings, to serve the Divine in them with compassion. It is you who are the renunciate!” To the Indian business man’s total bewilderment, Mother Teresa got down on her knees and bowed to him. Flinging up his hands, he ran out of the room.

Much of the unhappiness, addiction, and depression epidemic to our society springs from our “Big Me” culture of self-preoccupation with achievement, wealth, and compulsive consumption, spurred by the relentless media messages telling us what we need to buy and how we need to be to be happy. In this way, our culture is diseased. We are one of the wealthiest nations on earth, yet many live joyless lives.

We have lost touch with the timeless wisdom of compassionate service, the gift of joy we give ourselves when we give to others. The Buddhist mystic Shantideva spoke to this:

All the joy the world contains
Has come through wishing happiness for others;
All the misery the world contains
Has come through wanting pleasure for oneself.

We lose joy and happiness when we grasp for them.

Reflect on the people you know. Reflect on the times when you have felt truly happy and fulfilled. You will notice that you and others experience the greatest joy when nurturing Life. This is why devoting ourselves to the wellbeing of others is so critical to our own wellbeing.

If you wish for happiness, joy, and fulfillment, make a commitment, on purpose, to a daily, intentional practice of compassionate service. Ask yourself, “What does the world ask of me?” Look and listen for your higher purpose to be revealed. If something is blocking you, such as resentments, negativity, victim thinking, compulsive consumerism, self-preoccupation, or self-gratification, mindfully note these unskillful habits of mind and let them go. This will clear the way for your Higher Self to manifest. As you allow yourself to become a channel of Love, the experience of joyless insufficiency and lack will dissolve.

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