I remember reading Anton Chekhov’s ‘The Bet‘ in school. The story brilliantly emphasizes the idea that human life is far more valuable than money. It begins with an argument at a party over which is more moral – capital punishment or life imprisonment? A rich banker believes that capital punishment is more moral. A young lawyer at the party argues any life is better than no life at all. The banker, feeling insulted, bets the lawyer two million rubles, that he cannot last fifteen years in solitary confinement. As the years pass, the lawyer discovers the significance of human life.
While the idea has always seemed strangely familiar to me, I’ve often wondered why there is no instance in our mythology where a similar situation is shown to unfold. We have read stories of numerous sages and ascetic who did tapasya with personal interests in mind. Some wished for wealth, some for prosperity, others for immortality. None seem to get cleansed by the ‘process’ of doing the tapasya and have dropped out or drifted away from their materialistic goals, by the time their wishes are fulfilled. An exception might be Bhagirath whose tapasya was for a greater cause, but neither did his goal change in the process of doing the tapasya.
This confuses me! Does a long sacrifice for a materialistic cause make sense at all? Does the process of sacrifice kill the cause? Or does it make the desire even more powerful? Does it have no effect at all? Or does it vary between people or cultures? If so, what are the factors that drive it? Is realization disillusioning, or is disillusionment realization? How does the equation differ, if at all, when the cause of the sacrifice is non-materialistic?