The Roots Of Giving
Together, let us take a pledge to give generously, with an attitude of being a channel of blessings through whom this grace and energy flows, rather than a possessor and giver of what ‘we’ own
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The word brings different images and intents in our minds. On this lovely occasion of completing ten years of Daan Utsav, let us examine some of the traditional beliefs from our wisdom practices and how Dana, or Giving, became an integral part of our being and why it needs to be so.
Brihadaranyakopanishad, one of our Upanishads, talks about an occasion when the Gods, the Demons or Asuras and the Humans, together approached Brahma, the supreme creator, seeking his guidance on how they ought to live their life. Brahma, it is said, gave all 3 of them only one word D as the key to their approach to living. 'Jai Shikasutu Daman Daanam Daryititi' were his words.
To the Gods he said practice DAMAN (literally meaning suppress or oppress but also meaning Self-Control). Gods enjoy pleasures of all the worlds and they should learn to use these pleasures with self-regulation and a sense of sharing for the welfare of others.
To the Devils, he said practice DAYA (meaning kindness or mercy). Devils are known to be heartless and cruel and they cause harm upon others. Kindness will moderate or neutralize the impact of their natural impulses on others.
To the humans he said practice DANA (giving). Make sure that others do not suffer from misery by sharing what you have. Take care of your needs and not operate out of greed.
Interestingly, the three (God, Devil, Human) are nothing but our states of being. When we feel blessed, happy and abundant, we need to exercise self-restraint and regulation the most. When cruelty takes root in us, it is the time to manifest kindness. Whilst living our regular daily lives, interacting with each other, we need to remember ‘giving’ from an attitude of abundance and gratitude.
Giving has appeared in different ways across the globe. The concept of tithing (tithe – one tenth), coming from the Bible, refers to parting with one tenth of our wealth toward the religious institutions, subsequently broadened in interpretation to include any act of charity or philanthropy.
The pre-colonial history of our country is laced with examples of generous kings who established mechanisms to share wealth in all forms with the needy. A great example was of the kings of Thanjavur in the nineteenth century who established ‘chatrams’, centres of hospitality, located along the roads to pilgrim centres, looking after the needy and the sick.
During the British rule, such arrangements were unfortunately discouraged. This led to the dilution of India’s religious and cultural tenets around giving and generosity. It is heartening to see the spirit of giving now coming back in different ways. Corporates, who have wealth bigger than nations, are becoming conscious of this need although traces of brand and ego may still be still be seen in some of this giving.
Bhagvad Gita talks of three categories of gifts; one given without any expectation of appreciation or reward; one given with the expectation of some advantage, and one given untimely or without regard for the recipient’s feelings. Only the first type of giving is considered beneficial to the giver and receiver.
An interesting perspective on giving is the continuous flow of energy that is maintained along with the physical flow of a ‘gift’. This energy or prana also has significance in our traditional texts. By not giving humbly or by not receiving graciously, we block the seamless flow of this energy, leading to disease. In a sense, therefore, giving is also a way to maintain inner and outer well-being.
Typically, we do not give what we do not need. The idea is to part with what is precious to us and to the intended recipient. In today’s day and age, for example, giving our time to each other, to our team members, our loved ones, is perhaps one of the best gifts we can offer.
We have enough inequality and misery in this world. Our greed as a race has destroyed the planetary balance of eco-system. Giving, not just to each other, to the society but also to the planet, is, in my view, an important way to restore this harmony and bring equity.
Together, let us take a pledge to give generously, with an attitude of being a channel of blessings through whom this grace and energy flows, rather than a possessor and giver of what ‘we’ own.
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