The Prodigal Son

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…”

Sounds familiar?

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!

About Michaela

I am a wanderer and a wonderer, like you are. I love our journey and to walk in the company of friends – to learn, experience, share, laugh, cry and above all I simply love this marvelous, magical, mysterious life. I have no plan (cannot believe I am saying this) and my only intention is to be truthful to myself and others.
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4 Responses to The Prodigal Son

  1. justme says:

    The prodigal son is a story about us. It tells how we left the fathers house and squandered our living. It shows the love of the father, who even though his son wasted his inheritance (like us) still wrapped him a coat and put a ring on his finger (a symbol of that which has no beginning or ending) and interestingly it shows that the son did not struggle to get home. All the son did was make a decision that he wanted to go home and….’the father who seen him a long ways off, ran to meet him’. So we dont need to add anything to return to who we are, we just need to surrender and the invisible spirit, through grace will come to meet us, and we will be fulfilled (kill the fatted calf) and require nothing. Our brother is the reflection of who we are when we try to attain by ‘power and might’ enlightenment- we mix it up with being good.Therefore subject to the law of opposites.

    justme says ‘It is better to live one day as a lion, than a lifetime as a lamb’. either way sooner or later we run out of room and eventually surrender and the father who will see us will come to meet us and ‘take’ us home.

    • Michaela says:

      …and nothing is as it was before. This is why I really like this poem – nobody ever talks about what happens after the “happy ending”.

      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!

  2. fatima says:

    Pride in general and spiritual pride in particular is considered the worst of the diseases of the heart in Sufism. They are both attributes of the ego but quite different. Spiritual pride is clearly illustrated by the activities of the Pharisees in the original bible passages. Not part of the specific story but part of the context and, I think and helpful to a discussion in this context.

    If you are aware of that picture – two different aspects of pride, then the poor brother was an example of simple human arrogance rooted in jealousy , a ‘normal’ person in other words. He is a ‘hound’ because he is totally clueless to the spiritual reality, dreaming the dream of ‘normal’ egoic identification – not a true human being as we were meant to be. I think his prototype was Cain. In a way, for me, he is the most poignant in the allegory because his is the cautionary example. I can almost weep for him and for myself to see the seeds of jealousy and its evil brother envy (both tools of the ego) in myself.

    Arrogance and envy arising out of spiritual pride requires some degree, maybe even a high degree, of spiritual awareness but without full clarity of insight/knowing. As a prototype pride and envy, not jealousy, along with ambition are the dominant characteristics of Iblis/Satan who, in the company of Angels, refused to acknowledge Adam/mankind as the pinnacle of God’s creation on earth. Maybe spiritual pride is a pitfall of spiritual aspiration and so called accomplishment (the Satanic model). It is from the ranks of spiritual leaders and teachers that spiritual ego becomes so problematic. They take on the role of leading people into the formless dimension after all. I don’t know really but when I think of myself/the brother I feel sorrow and when I think of the myself/the Pharisees I shudder. In itself, that reaction is cautionary. What are the signs and symptoms of spiritual pride? Can you know it when you are it?

    In this situation I hope my ego would resemble the brother’s and not the Shaytons and pray to be shown the reality what ever it may be. Ambition may be a key here.

    On the other hand, I really agree with justme and your comments. This is just a slightly different perspective.

    It’s a really good poem.

    • Michaela says:

      Thank you, Fatima.

      I think it is just important to be aware of what we are doing to protect our beliefs. The real danger of a spiritual life is that is becomes another identity to protect us from change.

      I am thinking of writing a sequel. 2 years after…what has happened to the prodigal son ? Lets do that together, what do you think ? An invitation to sit on the sofa with me ?

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