It is the custom in the villages of the Punjab that the barbers should act as odd-job men as well. Many years ago, it happened that a certain village-headman summoned his barber, and, speaking to him rather roughly, said: “I want you to go quickly and have a meal and then go off twenty miles to my brother-inlaw’s village. I’ve got a very important message for him.”
The poor barber at once began to strain every nerve. He shot back to his house got his wife to place a dry crust into his pocket in the hopes of being able to eat it on the way, and set off immediately at high speed to fulfil his master’s order in all sincerity of heart. But, alas, the poor simpleton is in such a hurry that he has forgotten to ask his master what the message was. What on earth is he going to say when he gets to the brother-in-law ?
Well, this question never so much as occurred to the barber’s mind. His only thought as he went along was, “How can I get there quicker?” Eventually he arrived and met the brother-inlaw. The latter was very upset when he did not get the message, and was just about to give the barber a piece of his mind when suddenly a better idea occurred to him. After a moment’s silence he said, “All right, you’ve brought the village-headman’s message. Jolly good. Just take my answer back. Only look, I want you to go as quickly as you have come.” “Whatever you say, master,” said the barber in great relief. The brother-in-law pointed to a great wooden beam that would be a struggle to lift off the ground and said, “Just take that little beam back to the headman and tell him you’ve brought him the answer to his message.”
The poor barber had done his job honestly and laboriously. But on account of an error at the outset he had the punishment of having to sweat and stagger back home, gasping for breath, with an enormous beam on his head.
Science advances very swiftly along the path of material progress, saying to itself, “Go on, go on, go on!” Yes, on, science, on! Speed up, my beauty! But alas! Is it ever going to meet the one for whose sake it is pressing on ? It takes the railways, the telegraph wires, the cannons, the balloons—understood as means to sense-pleasure—for the brother-in-law of the Self, for the brother-in-law of the Infinite Bliss. But just flex your ears and listen. Joy and contentment will never come from all these factories and warehouses, this involvement in external complications, these unnecessary headaches. Sooner or later this false so-called civilization will have to struggle back to the Self, its own home, with the great beam of all this load of artificiality on its head.
O ye young men, the world over! Beware! Your first duty is to recognize the Self. Throw off the halter of body and name from your necks and cease to wander about in the garden of this world like tramps, as slaves of the sense-objects. Recognize your own true nature and make yourselves Emperors of the realm of Truth, walking about intoxicated with your own independence, enjoying the beauty of the garden in every atom, in every leaf. Vedanta does not aim to disturb your business career. It only wants to alter your vision. The manuscript of the world is spread open before you. Instead of reading, “The world is all, and God is nowhere,” read “God is now-here.”
Read it like that. Vedanta has not come to shave your head and make you a monk, but to dye your mind. True, if the dye of passionlessness strikes so deep within you that it irresistibly breaks out externally in the form of the orange robe, then you are blessed indeed. What are you worried about, you political economists, why have you lost your senses ? There’s nothing to worry about. Retention of these holy men who walk the path of Vedanta is not “unproductive expenditure of capital.” They are inexhaustible treasuries of spiritual wealth. It is on account of their pure lives that the earth blooms in spring-time. The sun shines and the stars twinkle to greet their nectar-filled eyes. The goddess of wealth is burning to throw herself at their feet. Do you want to get rid of them, ye revellers in earthly riches ? Have no fear. Quite apart from anything else, these holy men do not stretch out their hands to beg even from God Himself. If their body remains, well and good, otherwise let it go at once, and gladly. Their very breathing and walking about is an inestimable favour conferred on the realm of nature.
Extract from an article by Swami Rama Tirtha in “Alif,” dated about 1895