Snuggled up against the western borders of old Burma (now Myanmar) in the rugged front range of the majestic Himalayas, just south of the Bhutan and only a few miles from China, lay three orphaned substates of India. Because they are nearly cut off from the rest of India by Bangladesh, the territories of Mizoram, Manipur, and Nagaland are characterized by dangerous insurgency and wild independence. I traveled there to assess some needy hospitals and clinics.

While I was in the city of Kohima, Nagaland, my host took me to a village near his birthplace. Before the missionaries had come to the area, the residents had been ferocious headhunters. The sturdy ceremonial, wooden gates of the village had been carved and painted with scenes of warriors carrying the heads of their tribal enemies as trophies. No longer do they hunt down their neighbors, however. Now, heads of bear, deer, straight-horned bucks, monkeys, and wild boars are displayed on the roofs, porches, and outside walls of the homes.

Just inside the door of each village dwelling was a special room that immediately revealed the earthly wealth of the owner. Woven reed baskets nearly six feet tall were filled with rice, maize, and other grains. Ears of corn were draped over the rafters, and cuts of meat were hung from racks to dry.

My doctor friend interpreted as I talked with an old village resident who told me that the entry areas were called wealth rooms. “It is good to be considered wealthy because it lets everyone know that you are not lazy but are very productive. You care about life. But the wealth rooms serve an even greater purpose,” he told me.

“Later in life, when a man becomes rich and his room is very full, he invites all the other village people to his house for a giveaway party. All his friends and neighbors come and honor him because he had worked very hard, had been a good hunter, and had lived wisely. At the end of the party, the host goes to his wealth room, takes the contents and divides them up among the other inhabitants of the village. In return, the villagers confer on the man and his family great honor and influence, guarantee him a legacy of greatness and respect, and vow to take care of him as long as he lives.”

I had never before heard of wealth rooms and giveaway parties. What a great way to move from success to significance! But I quickly agreed that the concept had certainly been established in heavenly wisdom. It had been both refreshing and confirming to realize that way back in ancient Mongol history, some folks had it figured correctly:

Your greatness is always determined by what you give away from your wealth room while you are still alive.