The Art of Giving


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The world is full of philanthropists. Many of the tall temple towers,sprawling hospitals, educational institutions, etc, owe their existence tonoble, generous souls, who wanted to put their money to good use. Every day, we come across appeals for some worthy cause or the other, and sometimeswonder whether all of them would succeed: however, much to our surprise, we find most of them able to garner the funds they need, sooner or later. This strengthens our belief in humanity- despite the numerous factors workingagainst them, charity and generosity are still very much alive. To give, without any expectation of getting anything in return, is indeed a great trait. In this piece, adiyen would like to write about some of the great givers, and the way giving should be done.

The TaittirIyOpanishad SIkshAvalli is full of sound instructions. Among the numerous dicta are to be found guidelines on how to Give.

“ShraddhayA dEyam, ashraddhayA dEyam, ShriyA dEyam, HriyA dEyam, BhiyA dEyam, samvidA dEyam” says the Upainishad, enumerating the characteristics of charity.

“ShraddhayA dEyam- All charity is to be done with sincerity and good intention, the underlying motive being an urge to be of help to the receiver. Thus giving, with the aim of receiving something in return, is not charity. Giving is also to be done with grace, and in a way that is not embarrassing or insulting to the receiver. The giver should not flaunt his wealth, nor should he remind the recipient of his poverty. Usually, the act of giving puts the giver’s hand uppermost and the receiver’s, on a lower plane. However,it is said that KarNA, to save the receiver the ignominy of stretching hishand lower, held his palms joined together, and requested the recipient totake the gold coins therein, thus ceding the upper position to the receiver.

“ashraddhayA dEyam”-Once we decide to give away a particular article, its value or magnificence should not bother us, and we should give whole-heartedly, having scant regard to the item’s worth. Parting with a possession withreluctance does not qualify as charity. This mantra is also interpreted differently-“ashraddhayA adEyam”- do not give without shraddha or sincerity and good intention.

“ShriyA dEyam” In a miser, the very thought of charity would induce sorrow, dismay and distress. One should give with a benign disposition, with a smile on one’s face, with happiness induced by the opportunity to be of use to a fellow human being.

“HriyA dEyam” Keeping in mind the conduct of the great philanthropists of the past, the inadequacy of one’s own aid and the greatness of the receiver, one should be ashamed of one’s attempts at charity. This is prescribed so that one doesn’t tend to think too much of oneself for the act of kindness.

“BhiyA dEyam” If the act of charity is not done in the prescribed fashion, and is contaminated by either insincerity, pride or highhandedness, then it is likely to prove counter-productive. A healthy apprehension of counter-productivity due to incorrect attitude or procedure, should characterize an act of charity, so that the giver would always be on guard against attitudes incompatible with giving. Hence the Upanishad says, “Give with fear”.

“SamvidA dEyam” The act of giving should be preceded by a resolution to give. Such resolution makes the mind determined in the act, and preventslast-minute reversal of attitude due to attachment in the article proposedto be given away. And once we resolve to give, it should be implemented immediately, for, the mind is fickle. And given the time and chance to think logically, we would probably come to the conclusion that the amount proposed to be donated is too high or the cause unworthy. So, once we decide to give, we must give immediately. MahAbali Chakravarty is a shining example in this regard.

The Lord had assumed the garb and demeanour of a short and enchanting brahmachAri, with a knee-length dhoti around His small waist, a kamandalu in Hisright hand, and an umbrella in the left, radiating the aura of one who haslearnt the Vedas and Vedanta with their true purport. (In this case, therewas the additional factor of the scholar being Himself the knowledge sought after- “VEdaischa sarvam aham Eva vEdya:”) A sparklingly white YagyOpaveetam adorned His chest, the small feet were encased in wooden slippers, and He held a palAsa dandam (stick), as should all brahmachAris.

As Sri Piratti refused to leave His chest (true to Her resolution not to beseparated from Him even for a second-(“agalakillEn irayum endru alarmEl mangai urai marba”), He had to hide Her with the small deerskin He wore on His chest, as Her presence would have been incompatible with His bachelor appearance, and would have instantly shown Him in His true colours, as the Lord Mahavishnu.

Everybody would agree that children (with rare exceptions) are captivating, and young BrahmachAris more so. And when the Lord Himself chose to assumethis disguise, He was indeed a feast to the eyes. Everyone who saw Him coming had eyes for nothing else, and kept staring at the bewitching boy wonder, forgetting whatever they were busy with. And MahAbali was no exception-though in the midst of a Yaga, he rose immediately and showed due courtesiesto the BrahmchAri.

Welcoming the short Brahmin to the Yaga, Mahabali enquired as to how he might be of use to Him. In His piping voice, the youngster replied that all that He required was three feet of land, measured with His own feet. Amused at the apparent naivette of the Brahmin boy, who did not even know what to ask of a great Emperor, Mahabali tried to persuade Him to accept sumptuous riches, in the form of houses, cows, gold, etc. Surprisingly, however, the boy was firm in His request, and would accept nothing more than a mere three feet of land, measured that too, with his tiny feet.

Mahabali, who knew the true meaning of hospitality as the satisfaction of the guest’s requirements,( however simple or absurd they might sound), immediately acceded to the BrahamachAri’s request, and prepared to pour water on the latter’s hands, as a token of having given away the three feet of land. The king’s Guru SukrAchArya, who instantly saw through the Lord’s garb, alerted Mahabali that the Brahmachari was indeed the Lord Himself, and thatHe had an agenda much deeper than was apparent. And the request for a merethree feet of land was extremely suspicious, for, who would be satisfied with such a trivial item, when the Emperor was capable of giving away the whole of the earth? SukrAcharya hence advised Mahabali not to proceed with the donation, as it was probably a subterfuge to undermine the King’s position as the Emperor of the three worlds.

Here is where Mahabali set a shining example to all donors- knowing full well that he might probably lose quite a lot, indeed the whole of his empire through this simple-looking charity, Mahabali was undaunted in his resolution to give. He told his Guru that he had decided to give, and was not prepared to go back on his words. He reminded the Acharya that to promise someone something and not to honour the promise was a cardinal sin, unworthy of an Emperor of his standing. And, above all, if it was indeed the Lord who had come in the guise of the Vamana BrahmachAri, it did him (Mahabali) proud to be giving the Lord what He wanted. Hence, looked at from all angles, Mahabali told his Guru, the proposed donation was admirable. And ahead went Mahabali and poured water into the hands of the patiently waiting Brahmachari, with the active support of his Empress Vindyavali.

What happened next is a matter of record, of which the Vedas never tire of recounting. The Lord assumed His true Visvaroopic proportions, and , with His huge Tiruvadis, measured all the world and the ones above with the two feet, and looked inquiringly at the Emperor for the third measure of land.

The point to note here is that once the King had resolved to give, he did not resile from his decision, knowing full well of the tragic personal consequences that may follow. It is because of this that to this day, Mahabali is held in reverence. Nor did he allow himself to be persuaded by even his Acharya, who tried his utmost to block the donation of land.

Yet another example of the Classic Giver is Emperuman Himself. He is so generous that even after giving everything He has to the seeker, He feels guilty that He hasn’t given enough. There is a pAta bhEdam in the Adaikkala Patthu of Swami Desikan, which, while not being widely-accepted, is interesting nevertheless-

“umadu adigaL adaigindrEn endru oru kAl uraitthavarai
amayum ini enbavar pOl anjal ena karam vaitthu
tamadu anaitthum avar tamakku vazhangium tAm miga VELGUM
amaivudaya aruLAlar adi iNayai adaindEnE”

The third line in the above pasuram indicates that the Lord is fond of giving all that He has to the prapannA, and even after doing that, feels shameful that He has hardly given anything.

If the Lord is like this, would Piratti be outdone? After all, it is She who is endowed with the motherly qualities of mercy and charity, much more than Her husband. Sri Parasara Bhattar voices similar sentiments about the Divine Consort- he says that Piratti is never satisfied with showering upon her devotees all purushArtthAs. She wants to give them more and more, and is often ashamed that whatever She has given is hardly commensurate with thedevotee’s ardour. “Tvam lajjasE amba kOyam udAra bhAva:?” wonders Sri Bhattar at Piratti’s boundless generosity.

However, there is another class of Givers who outshine the Divine Couple ingenerosity- the Acharyas. It is they who give us the invaluable treasure that is the Sampradaya, and help us in attaining the qualifications for Bhagavat Kainkaryam. Irrespective of how bad we are, (“payan andru Agilum , pAngalar Agilum seyal nandrAga tirutthi paNi koLvAn) they persevere, in theirinfinite mercy, to make good prapannAs of us. It is they who give us the Lord, in all His splendour, through mantrOpadEsam and Prapatti anushttAnam. Could there be a greater act of generosity or charity than that of an Acharya?

Source: Oppilappan Yahoo Groups (V. Sadagopan Swami)


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