A Rabbi was once asked to describe the difference between heaven and hell. By a wave of the hand he manifested a vision of hell; a group of hungry, emaciated men sitting at the dining table eagerly awaiting their lunch. The bowls of soup appeared. Problem was, their hands were in the shape of unusually long spoons – as they attempted to eat they just couldn’t get the food into their mouth. It was agony! A veritable meal, but nobody could eat. The rabbi then waved his other arm and manifested a vision of heaven. Interestingly, it was the same dinner table, the same cuisine and the same long, spoon-shaped arms. In heaven, however, everyone seemed happy and healthy. As they began their meal, the secret was revealed. In heaven, everyone utilised their long spoons to feed the person opposite, and they were being fed in return. Perfect cooperation! The difference between heaven and hell: selflessness versus selfishness.
In Chapter Sixteen, Krishna distinguishes the divine from the demoniac. A demon is not necessarily a ghastly one-eyed creature with ferocious expressions and fiery weapons. They may well be walking among us, unassuming and unidentifiable, rooted in a way of living which distances them and others from spiritual progression towards the Supreme Person. There may well be a demon inside each one of us! In dialogue with Arjuna, Krishna clearly outlines the philosophy, mentality, activities and destiny of those with demoniac tendencies.
In the urban jungle, survival of the fittest is the name of the game. Our happiness is often founded upon the exploitation, mistreatment and detriment of others. If we are winning, it usually means someone else is losing. Spiritual communities of bygone ages, however, were based upon diametrically opposed ideals. Cooperation, respect and genuine concern for others were the cardinal principles underpinning social interaction. Sharing, after all, is caring. Wisdom teachers explain one way to decipher the degradation of society: first you’ll have to purchase food, then you’ll have to purchase water, and eventually you’ll have to purchase air! Previously, these commodities were freely and lovingly exchanged amongst everyone. Nowadays people make a small fortune from selling them.
Selflessness even makes sense on a practical level. If every person in a community of 50 people is thinking about themselves, then everyone has one person looking after them. If each of us selflessly focus on others, then everyone has 49 caretakers! It may sound idealistic and utopian, but it really does work – for relationships, family units, organisations and entire communities. The depth and quality of any interaction is based on the degree of selflessness involved. Until we change the ‘me’ to the ‘we,’ genuine relationships, inner fulfilment and deep spiritual experiences will remain elusive. At every moment we’re challenged to chip away at our own miserliness and become kind, open-hearted and generous souls.
To the degree that we live in the concept of ‘I,’ we experience illness. When we shift to the concept of ‘we,’ we’ll experience wellness. The Gita encourages us to escape the small world of ‘I, me, and mine,’ and instead identify how we can sacrifice, serve, and bring happiness to others - in such gracious endeavours, our own happiness arises automatically. Mahatma Gandhi famously said, “The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.”
“The demoniac person thinks: "So much wealth do I have today, and I will gain more according to my schemes. So much is mine now, and it will increase in the future, more and more.” (Bhagavad-Gita 16.13)