Poverty is in the heart. You don’t own anything because you didn’t bring anything with you when you came, and you’re not going to take anything with you when you go. It’s all given to you by God. When you’ve emptied your mind of ownership, that’s renunciation or poverty. I will give you a small illustration.
Once King Janaka was studying under a great sage. He used to leave the palace and go to the hermitage and sit with all the other students to study the scriptures under the guidance of a swami. It seemed to the other students, however, that the teacher was treating the king a little specially. Naturally they became jealous, so they were gossiping. The sage knew what was happening, but he allowed it to continue for a while.
Ordinarily in those days in the hermitages, the swamis used to sit and teach under a tree. One hermitage happened to be on the outskirts of the king’s palace. One day the swami created the illusion that the palace was on fire. The ministers and servants from the palace came running saying that the palace was on fire and the fire was spreading. Immediately all the students got up and ran; but Janaka,the king himself, was just sitting there contemplating on what the teacher was saying. The swami was talking about the steadiness of the spirit, and Janaka was contemplating on that. He didn’t even hear what was happening.
So all the other students got up and ran. After a few minutes though, they all came back saying, “It was just a false alarm. There is no fire at all. We don’t know what happened.”The swami said, “Ah, is that all? Thank God! Okay, sit. But when the palace was on fire, why did you people run to put the fire out? The palace is far away. Are there not people there to do those things?” “Oh, no, we weren’t worried about the palace. But our loincloths were hanging on a line very close to the palace, so we just ran there to save them.” “I see. Do you know who is the owner of the palace?”“Yes, this strange man; he didn’t even notice. He was just sitting here the whole time.”Then the teacher said, “You see, you were attached to your loincloths and ran to save them, whereas he just sat here. He didn’t even run to save his palace. So who is rich here, and who is poor? All you renunciates have is a loincloth. But he doesn’t even have that much. He is really the poor man. Nothing can shake him.”
King Janaka simply answered, “Well, there are people there to take care of it. This is a precious moment for me, why should I go?” Then the others realized how attached they were and got the lesson. It’s not possessions that make you rich. Even attachment to a begging bowl can make you a householder; whereas you can have a big family and still be a renunciate. It’s the attachment that makes the difference. So we should learn to empty our minds of the attachment, not of the things.