It didn’t take me long to understand what had caused this transformation. During Aki’s earlier stay in Mumbai, he had no idea what it meant to inhale fresh morning air or watch the beautiful sunshine. But when he went to an idyllic setting, he walked to his office and back home daily, amidst verdant meadows, with the sight of exotic birds swarming at beautiful lakes. He experienced a higher taste in life. And then when he returned to Mumbai’s trains, the contrast was glaring.

The experience helped me come to terms with why some people find a materialistic life centered on sense gratification normal. They wonder what’s wrong with drowning ourselves in liquor, drugs and the sensual passions of this world. They even question the rationale of rising early, serving others and the chanting of God’s holy names. But the paradox is evident to one who despite a past of sensuality now takes to spiritual practices.

Simple habits change our happiness

After a few weeks of rising early, eating sattvic food, chanting and associating with spiritual teachings and offering little acts of service, our consciousness takes off to an entirely different realm. We experience inner contentment. The taste is rich and profound. Then if we go back to an environment surcharged with the modes of passion and ignorance, we feel choked. The higher taste is noticeable, as the saying goes, ‘the proof of the pudding is in the eating.’ Then the previous life of sense gratification appears gaudy and tasteless.

Daily habits of service could one day relieve us of our natural inclination to grab or exploit. A mother shared how she got her three-year-old son to get rid of his thumb-sucking habit. She just brought him a pair of shorts that was a little loose. As soon as he wore them, it would slip off. He’d instinctively grab his shorts as when family members saw him with his pants down, they would joke, “Shame, shame!” The boy’s hands were on his shorts all the time; the thumb moved from the mouth to his shorts. Slowly as the child grew, the habit was gone.

It seems natural to maximize our pleasures but there are souls like the senior man in Bengal who find it unnatural. For them service is life. The joy of giving fills their heart with more abundant happiness than the passion of grabbing.That afternoon I thought I had something and was guarding it. This man had nothing to possess and yet he gave everything. I knew he was a wealthy man. His life echoes what Churchill said, “We make a living by what we get; we make a life by what we give.”

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