Tuesday, November 5, 2013

It Is In Giving That We Receive

I know i use the word "wonderful" a lot for some of the words i read and post here. I do try and control myself, but sometimes that is simply the best word to describe them. As is the case here (sorry), in this section of Eknath Easwaran's commentary on the 18th chapter of the Bhagavad Gita, in volume 3 of his book The Bhagavad Gita For Daily Living.


"[M]ost people have never had the experience of giving simply and purely, for no other reason than love. They have been conditioned to evaluate even an act of charity in terms of the admiration or status it brings; they have not had the opportunity of working with others for a great cause without expecting even a thank you. How could they know that this selfless giving of resources, time, or talents can release us from tension and competition?

"I began to learn this lesson when I was a freshman in college. In those days I wanted to be a writer, so naturally I wanted to see more of life. That summer I persuaded my Grandmother to let me spend my vacation traveling among some of the villages in the neighboring state of Tamil Nadu.

"Soon I came across a village very different from the one where I grew up. Our village was prosperous and literate, but this Tamil village was so poor that it didn't have a school, and most of these villagers did not know how to read or write. They were simple, hard-working farmers; that was all.

"But they had a strong desire to learn. They asked me to stay and be their teacher, not only of the children but of the adults too. What would i charge? They had never had a teacher in the village before, they explained, and they had no money with which to pay. But they could provide me with food, each family taking turns, and I could stay with one of the better-off households as if I were their own son. All this moved me deeply. I was a freshman, after all; most of these villagers were old enough to be my parents. And I had only three months of vacation. How much can you teach in three months to people who had scarcely had a day's schooling in their lives, who knew nothing but crops and soils?

" 'What do you want to learn?' I asked.

" 'We'd like to know arithmetic,' they said, 'for buying and selling. We'd like to learn how to read, so we could read the stories in the scriptures. And we'd like to know how to write, so we could write letters to our relatives and friends.'

" 'That's a lot,' I said.

"They smiled. 'We have all summer. Of course, we can't come during the day' we have to work in the fields. But we can come at night.'

"That kind of desire really impressed me. 'Do you have a building where we could meet?'

" 'No,' someone said. 'But we can make one.'

"In my mind the three months began to shrink into two. 'How long would that take?' I asked.

"They grinned enthusiastically. 'We can do it tonight.'

"I couldn't believe my ears.

" 'Sure,' they said. 'It's a full moon. We'll start after dinner. You have your meal and then come and select the site; we'll do the rest.'

"That was my first glimpse of the real strength of India's villagers, the millions of peasants who hold the country together. I selected a pleasant site on a gentle hill, from which you could see the river running close by. And after dinner, probably about eight o'clock in the evening, a man turned up from every hut in the village. These were men who had been up before dawn, worked hard in the hot fields with just a couple of hours rest when the sun was at its zenith. I was so profoundly impressed that I insisted on working alongside them, though I probably only slowed them down; they had to teach me everything. But by the time the sun came up the next morning, we had a one-room school—mud walls, thatched roof, sand from the riverbank for a floor, even a slate to write on and a piece of railing for a bell. As far as we were concerned, it was perfect.

"I taught throughout that summer, and though attendance was a little irregular, by and large someone from every household was there faithfully every evening at eight when class began. None of us had a watch so we used to end the lesson when we heard the whistle and clatter of the Blue Mountain Express chugging its way up the hills, Sometimes I would get so absorbed that when I heard a train and stopped, they would laugh and say, 'The Blue Mountain Express went by an hour ago. That's the Malabar Express; it must be eleven o'clock.' By the end of the summer we didn't go home till we heard the Cochin Express go by at midnight.

"By that time they could read, write, and reckon, which must have felt like the greatest achievement of their lives. Yet I felt I had learned much more. I never received a penny for my work, though in their simple affection my students used to bring me all kinds of things they had grown or made: mangoes, coconuts, bananas, grass mats, a pair of handmade sandals. But I received much more than I gave. From those simple villagers, who had just the bare minimum of material possessions, I learned to understand the words of St. Francis: 'It is in giving that we receive.' "


That's a wonderful story. Powerful. And you can look at it from two sides as you wonder how it applies to your life.

Are you willing to drop everything, completely change your plans, and give your life to others if asked? What would it take to make you consider doing so?

From the other side of the aisle, how much are you willing to give, to do, to learn something you know would benefit your life and the lives of those around you? We say we are on the spiritual path because we want to 'learn' Truth. Would you go to the extreme of the villagers in this story to accomplish that?

Very nice words.

No comments: