A contemplation on a poem by Rudyard Kipling
Here come I to my own again,
Fed, forgiven and known again,
Claimed by bone of my bone again
And cheered by flesh of my flesh.
The fatted calf is dressed for me,
But the husks have greater zest for me,
I think my pigs will be best for me,
So I’m off to the Yards afresh.
I never was very refined, you see,
(And it weighs on my brother’s mind, you see)
But there’s no reproach among swine, d’you see,
For being a bit of a swine.
So I’m off with wallet and staff to eat
The bread that is three parts chaff to wheat,
But glory be! – there’s a laugh to it,
Which isn’t the case when we dine.
My father glooms and advises me,
My brother sulks and despises me,
And Mother catechises me
Till I want to go out and swear.
And, in spite of the butler’s gravity,
I know that the servants have it I
Am a monster of moral depravity,
And I’m damned if I think it’s fair!
I wasted my substance, I know I did,
On riotous living, so I did,
But there’s nothing on record to show I did
Worse than my betters have done.
They talk of the money I spent out there –
They hint at the pace that I went out there –
But they all forget I was sent out there
Alone as a rich man’s son.
So I was a mark for plunder at once,
And lost my cash (can you wonder?) at once,
But I didn’t give up and knock under at once,
I worked in the Yards, for a spell,
Where I spent my nights and my days with hogs.
And shared their milk and maize with hogs,
Till, I guess, I have learned what pays with hogs
And – I have that knowledge to sell!
So back I go to my job again,
Not so easy to rob again,
Or quite so ready to sob again
On any neck that’s around.
I’m leaving, Pater. Good-bye to you!
God bless you, Mater! I’ll write to you!
I wouldn’t be impolite to you,
But, Brother, you are a hound!
” But, Brother, you are a hound ! “
There is something about the symbolism in the parable of the prodigal son and his brother that caught my interest.
Here is the story of the prodigal son and his brother:
The parable tells of the younger son in a family, who obtains his inheritance from his father. He leaves for a distant land, where he squanders it all, has to take up the work of herding swine, and is even reduced to hungering for the food of swine. He finally comes to his senses and decides to return home, if only to work for his father as a hired laborer. As he nears home, his father is running to meet him, happily welcoming him, even holding a feast. The older brother however, who had remained at home working, resents this and refuses to go in. The father pleads with him, saying: “Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. But we had to celebrate and rejoice, because this brother of yours was dead and has come to life; he was lost and has been found.”
There are many teachings in this story with the greater theme of “ lost and found again”. But what really makes the parable so unique and powerful is the part of the older brother. Here is what it means to me:
The older brother has served the father all his life. Hardworking and law-abiding, he is a picture of someone having developed a sense of entitlement and he cannot hold back his resentment.
To me he is the epitome of a “spiritual ego”.
Spiritual ego means that the egoic mind co-opted the awakening experience. It is any sense of achievement, entitlement, a personal sense of betterment or smugness about my own experiences. It is any sense of “my awakening” and it is about getting stuck in any of the common traps of delusional superiority.
Inherent in the delusion of the spiritual ego is that I “know something” that others do not. Because I have “awakened” , “have been touched by grace” or “understand what others cannot yet comprehend” , I have developed the righteous sense of “I know”. I believe truly KNOW because I have realized something and I understood, so in consequence – I am right and the others are wrong. Spiritual ego is any sense of feeling “ I am more conscious, therefore…”
It is important for us to talk about this and to find ways of recognizing signs of spiritual ego in ourselves. It is critical to nip things in the bud, because I can see once the ego hijacks the whole awakening experience, it may well go on to construct even an “enlightened ego”, to create a truly superior sense of self.
But, Brother, you are a hound! Yes, because an enlightened ego is truly distasteful.
I think we all have the older brother in us. We may have found and we may have had authentic and deep realization of Truth, but as long as there is any tendency to take a part of the awakening experience and turn it into a reason „why I am more entitled than others“, we are not free of the traps of spiritual ego.
So again it is back to honesty and the practice of observing one’s own thinking. As soon as we realize we are using the awakening experience as means to dismiss unconscious behavior in others, let’s say out loud:
But, Brother, you are a hound!