Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar, the philosopher and social reformer, has given the following account in his memoirs.
He was once invited by the viceroy who was about to confer an honor on him. He was a poor man, his clothes were old and threadbare, and he dressed in the Bengali style of kurta and dhoti. Friends advised him to get new clothes in keeping with the occasion. At first he refused but later thought better of it and let them order new clothes for him.
One day shortly before the event, as Vidyasagar was returning from his evening walk he saw walking in front of him a well-dressed Mohammedan in coat and pajamas, twirling a stick in his hand. He was walking at his own pace enjoying the evening. Soon a man – by all appearances his servant – came running and told him, “Hurry, sir, your house is on fire!” There was no change in the man’s stride; he continued walking along as if nothing had happened. The servant, thinking maybe he hadn’t heard, repeated loudly, “Sir, your house is on fire! Haven’t you heard what I said?”
Even the poor servant, who stood to lose nothing, was trembling and perspiring with fear, but the master remained unaffected. “I have heard,” he told the servant. “Should I change my habitual way of walking just because the house has caught fire?” Ishwar Chandra was shocked. Here is a man whose house is actually on fire, and he is not prepared to change his lifelong walk; and there he was, ready to give up his lifelong attire just to see the viceroy!
Ishwar Chandra was curious to know more about this unique man. As he followed, he saw him walking at the same pace twirling his stick; when he reached the house and saw the flames he calmly gave orders to put out the fire, directed it all, but himself stood on one side and watched without one iota of difference in his attitude.
Ishwar Chandra writes: “My head bowed in reverence to this man. Never had I come across the like of him.” What is it that this man was guarding so zealously? He was guarding his surati, his awareness, and he was not prepared to lose it at any cost. Whatever happens, happens. All that was required to be done was being attended to; that is enough. On no account can contemplation be bartered away. Nothing is so precious in life that you can afford to lose your remembrance for it.
But you abandon your awareness for the slightest thing. A one – rupee note is lost and you go mad looking for it. You look for it even in places where it could not possibly be. A man has lost something and you find him looking in the tiniest box, much too small for such an object. You are always ready to lose your awareness, or is it better to say you have no awareness to lose – you are unconscious!