One of the most beloved books in India is Hitopadeśa, “friendly counsel”, a collection of animal fables used for teaching young people the path of righteous living. At the end of each of the stories is a Sanskrit verse that encapsulates the lesson of the tale. One of my favorite verses deals with the nature of attachment and how it causes suffering and sorrow.
The verse is this:
अयं निज: परो वेति गणना लघुचेतसाम् ।
उदारचरितानां तु वसुधैव कुटुम्बकम् ॥
ayaṁ nijaḥ paro’veti
gaṇanā laghu cetasām
udāra caritānāṁ tu
vasu dhaiva kuṭumbakaṃ
The translation is:
“This is mine, but that belongs to someone else” – this type of “counting” is of small-minded people. For those with generous minds, the entire earth is one family.”
This verse got me thinking — How much suffering is caused by the false belief that we actually “own” anything, especially other people? How much time do we spend trying to protect what we feel is ours? Is it this sense of ownership that lies at the root of jealousy, control and aggression?
In the Yoga Sutras, asmitā, the sense of “i-am-ness” is seen as one of the root causes of suffering, and one of the primary beliefs that the process of yoga seeks to diminish and ultimately release. While we may need some sense of asmitā to function in mundane, daily life, as we begin play with the idea that asmitā is neither the deepest truth of self, nor an unshakable law, we can begin to cultivate an awareness of a self beyond individuality and dualism.
Even love, the strongest force for change and awakening in the universe, can be polluted by the smallness of the grasping ego that seeks to own both people and things. As we demand to “own”, we attach our identity to those very things. In attaching our identity, we attach our sense of happiness. Happiness based on external, fluctuating objects cannot be true happiness. Believing impermanant happiness to be true happiness is a core definition of avidyā (ignorance), and avidyā, according to yoga philosophy, is the root of all suffering.
This verse from hitopadeśa reminds me that, beyond ideas of ownership, there is a sense of interconnectedness that permeates humanity. At the core, we are one family, engaged in the wild, sacred, full-spectrum adventure of life.
Here is the verse from hitopadeśa chanted by the wonderful, inimitable Dr. Ram Karan Sharma. Dr Sharma, past president of the International Institute For Sanskrit Studies (IASS) is an ocean of knowledge and humility, and a man that I feel deeply honored to call both a teacher and a friend.
Listen Here: Vasudaiva Kutumbakam