Full and Empty

I have been reading this wonderful little book called Like a Yeti Catching Marmots: A Little Treasury of Tibetan Proverbs. Some of them have resonated with me more then others. However, there have been a few that have stopped and really made me think. One of them says this “One thinks of Dharma when the stomach is full; one thinks of stealing when the stomach is empty.”

In the most simplistic of terms, Dharma is understood by most as living by the natural universal laws whose observance enables humans to be contented and happy, and to save themselves from degradation and suffering. When we do things in our life, which strengthen our relationship with the Infinite, then we become increasingly dharmic. When I began to think more about this proverb, I began to realize how easy it is to think holy thoughts and to live by one’s spiritual values when all is going well in one’s life.

What do we do, however, when our stomachs are empty? How do we live when we are going through challenging times in our life? Living by those same spiritual values and laws is the real test of us as spiritual beings. It reminds me of the Christian Scriptures, which reminds individuals to pray without ceasing and to give thanks in all situations.

This proverb reminds me of a story don Miguel Ruiz tells in his book Mastery of Love. He talks about how the choices we make can be shaped by the amount of love in our lives. He uses the analogy of a pizza delivery company, which offers you free pizza for the rest of your life under certain restrictive and limiting conditions. When your pantry is full and you have a steady income, it is easier to turn down an offer, which you know is not healthy for you and your well-being. However, when your pantry is empty, and you are living paycheck-to-paycheck, or even without a steady paycheck, the offer even with its limitations and restrictions can be so much more tempting. It is during these times when ones strength, love, and spiritual values are tested.

Perhaps this is why fasting is such a spiritual time for many. Fasting can help to accomplish many things and is a practice that is present in a diversity of spiritual traditions. Fasting is considered by many as a way of subduing the body for the soul to take its course. Fasting, then, is an exercise for the body and for the soul. Mahatma Gandhi is an example of dharmic fasting. His fasting was the most manifest and distinctive feature of his life, which he often used when faced with problems. It is through fasting, that many have found the strength of the soul. Hindus believe that the supreme state of Nirvana or the release of the soul from the body to become one with God can only be accomplished through intense asceticism, abstinence, and fasting. The spirit gains clarity and strength through during this time of emptiness.

Being able to live in accordance to our spiritual values is easy when our stomachs are full. However, what are we willing to do in our lives to ensure we live by them when our stomachs are empty?