As part of a deal, a man was given the option to own as much land as he could cover in 24 hours, subject to the condition that he returned to the starting point within that time. This man made a simple calculation in his mind that he would go as far as he could in the first 12 hours and return in the next 12. This was very smart thinking, except that, in his excessive greed, he decided to run to cover the maximum distance within the allotted time. After 12 hours he turned back but he was tired due to all that running he had done. Since he had to return to the starting point to get anything at all, he somehow ran back. He did make it back to the starting point within the allotted time but fell dead out of sheer exhaustion.
This story has a nice moral to it. Many of us spend our entire lives working very hard to collect material things - some of which we never get to use. And out of the things acquired some do not satisfy us – “satisfaction” being a fleeting phenomenon. Why do we fall for such temptations ? Lord Krishna in the Bhagavad-Geeta says, “Thus the wise living entity’s pure consciousness becomes covered by his eternal enemy in the form of lust, which is never satisfied and which burns like fire” (3.39). An uncontrolled mind and lack of real knowledge - the higher spiritual intelligence - dull one to assume that only material possessions and sense enjoyments bring real happiness.
Such a person is essentially in the mode of passion. The symptoms of a person predominantly in the mode of passion have been described in the Bhagavad-Geeta. “He becomes greedy, develops harmful habits, remains excessively busy and has unlimited material desires” (14.12). Each of these traits bring harmful consequences : Greed, which can never be satisfied ; bad habits can harm ; being excessively busy is neither good for the body nor for the mind ; and having unlimited material desires is like running after a mirage in a desert.
We read in newspapers everyday about a number of persons caught with wads and wads of currency notes stashed in their houses. Imagine taking the risk of getting such money and then trying to safeguard it against thieves and family members, besides being under the constant fear of raids by anti-corruption and revenue departments. Is it worth all the trouble one takes ? Would it not be much wiser to do with a little less ? Unfortunately, one only learns this lesson when it is too late ; people have been known to throw their ill-gotten money through their windows when the raiding party arrives.
Then there is another very determined class of people who must earn and accumulate as much money as possible - mostly honestly - no matter what price one has to pay, be it their health or family relationships. One such person became very sick. Being a friend, I visited him and as it is not too unusual gave him some sane advice to take care of his health.
The gentleman had something very interesting to say. He said that getting sick was not very uncommon for him, but with all that money that he had made by ignoring his health, he could get the very best medical treatment abroad. This logic of first getting into trouble in order to obtain money and then using the same money to get out of the trouble is totally beyond my comprehension. This gentleman is a regular patient of a famous hospital in the US.
Then there was a couple in Los Angeles that purchased an 18 bed-room house. This special possession must now be displayed to friends and relatives and therefore they had parties all the time. But the couple after a while realized that working very hard to pay the installments on the house and arranging for the parties and subsequently cleaning up the house was not exactly what they were seeking in the name of happiness. They, therefore, sold the house and moved into a two-bed room house.
The truly wise do not succumb to such temptations ; they aim for optimum gains in the matter of material acquisitions since they know that more does not always translate into better. Bigger headache is certainly not better, as attempts to acquire material possessions unlimitedly turn out to be. The truly wise know that peace and happiness are much more precious than material success, though bodily comforts can certainly be obtained from them.
A spiritually enlightened person seeks material things only to the extent of his personal needs. He thus has the time for spiritual pursuits like meditation, chanting, reading scriptures, hearing spiritual discourses, etc which bring peace and happiness. Thus, he uses his tendency to accumulate more and more in the most profitable way which are in the areas of peace and happiness.