Sometimes the rules of spiritual hospitality appear to make no sense whatsoever by modern standards. I don’t claim to understand them myself. In this age of regarding our homes as our castles, of being wary of the other—defensive even—I am committed to exploring the standards of an earlier age, come what may.
So what happens when a bad guest appears, someone who is unappreciative, who seems to delight in the inflicting of mental anguish, whom no one in their right mind would ever knowingly invite into their home? It can happen.
The ancient Hindus used to say that the guest is God. They believed that this was literally true—that the gods disguised themselves as guests as a kind of test of the host’s mettle. They said that hospitality was to be offered first, and questions were to be asked later—at least until after a meal (or better yet, a feast) were offered. Since Vedic times, Indian culture has emphasized that a level of care for guests be provided which has, at times, bordered on the extreme. The host was urged to not only provide for the basic needs of the guest, but for all the guest’s needs and wants.
The basics included providing water to drink or to wash the guest’s feet, a comfortable place to sit or sleep, and food. Yet a guest’s demands could sometimes become humiliating and sometimes hazardous to the host, as when guests wished to satisfy their sexual appetites.
This happened to Anasuya, the wife of the sage Atri. While her husband was away on a long journey, Anasuya was confronted by three mysterious guests who applied to her for hospitality. These guests were the gods Vishnu, Shiva, and Brahma disguised as beggars. They said they were Brahmins from far away, and in need of food, they were directed to her house. So as not to dishonor her vow of providing hospitality, Anasuya prepared a meal.
Yet as Anasuya was about to offer them food, one of the guests said that they could not accept offerings from anyone who was clothed. Anasuya would have to disrobe first.
Anasuya immediately realized that she was being tested by someone powerful. If she refused she would commit the sin of refusing the Brahmans her hospitality. If she disrobed, she would dishonor her husband and betray her vows to him. Anasuya then chanted a mantra and summoned all the Karma she had accumulated in her life. Immediately the three gods were transformed into crawling infants, and one by one she suckled them. She thus met the requirements of hospitality without compromising her fidelity to her husband.
At least for a little more than a day, I have been once again living alone… but Derek arrives later tonight. Whereas at times I felt like I was trapped in a bad movie with no means of escape, I honored my vow of hospitality and feel that the difficulties of the last 10 days have finally passed. What the next days will bring is anybody’s guess, but I doubt that I will have to resort to another vacation.
86° and Partly Cloudy