Give or Take?

All of us have met both types of people in our lives. Some are givers, some are takers. What is better? To Give? or to Take? Come, let us explore this.

Early in life I realized that giving is noble. It make you feel better. Your hands are on top. You are the benefactor. You feel proud. And then came along a story of a Zen Buddhist master who was gathering contributions to erect a new Monastery. The Master would go around with a sack slung over his shoulder and whatever he recd, he happily put in the sack and moved forward, to ask further. On his travels, he reached an Emperor’s palace and made his request. Convinced of the cause, the Emperor ordered 100 Gold Coins be given to the Master for the new Monastery. When the coins were proferred, the Master put them in his sack; slung it on his shoulder and started moving out of the Palace. The Emperor accosted him “Master, even for a King, 100 Gold coins is a lot. I have given such a large gift. Will you not say anything? Are you not grateful?” Pat came the Zen Master’s reply ” It is Giver who should be grateful” and he walked on…

Like all Zen stories, this gives a strong message subtly: indeed the Giver should be grateful: he should understand that his better position, that enables him to give. Do we understand this? or do we want the receiver to kow-tow before us and feed our ego? Yet when we expect gratitude/thanks/”receipt” for our giving: are we not cheapening our gift? Are we not making it totally transactional? Putting a value/price to our act?

And yet, that is how most of us are. As soon as we receive a bequest, we are already calculating how can I return the favor? We have already put a value to our gift, and are wondering what must I do in return? In my opinion, by this very thinking we bring down the Giver and his Gift to a lower, pedestrian level The nobler thought of gratitude is exchanged for the banal “how do I return this?” thought: making the whole thing  transactional, a daily matter of give and take.

On the other hand, if we remain grateful and feel obligated, we elevate the Giver to a nobler level.We recognize his pre-eminence and acknowledge his superiority. We make him richer and more important. Thereby priming the pump for him to do more good, help others, give more… acting on the principle of “Feed Forward” whereby more good radiates all across: you “return” the favor you received by doing good for others in your life, rather than “closing the account” with one person. Your becoming a Giver radiates the feed forward idea and overall there is more positive valence and joy in the relationships you touch.

We were in Atul, where hundreds of families showered love and affection on us. Still do. Could we “return” all that we got, to the people who gave? No. But we could carry the positivity forward, in ensuring we give to others more, if not in equal measure, to all that we receive. We just returned from a vacation abroad where families we had not met for years played perfect hosts and made our stay in a foreign country totally enjoyable and fun. Can we return their “good”? Yes, by being good to others. This is what gets the world to go around.

I recently came across a story of a teacher and his pupil who were walking in the woods. They found abandoned clothes in the wilderness, obviously left there by the farmer who was working the fields. The child said to his teacher: ” Shall we hide the clothes and then see the discomfiture of the farmer when he returns?” The teacher made a counter suggestion “Shall we instead put some coins in the pockets and hide and see the farmer’s reaction when he returns?”. They played out the teachers suggestion and put some coins and hid to see the farmer’s reaction. When the farmer came back, and while wearing his clothes, discovered the coins, he broke down and said  “God I thank whoever did this kind deed. This will enable me to buy some extra bread to feed my sick wife and hungry children.” The pupil had learnt his lesson : how it is far better to give than to take away.

Recollect the times when you were going through a difficult time in your career and others came forward to lend a hand? You were hard pressed for time to complete an activity with a strict time line, and a colleague offered to share the load with you? You were unsure which road to take and miraculously people appeared who guided you on the right path? Solutions often come forth from unforeseen quarters and people because when you are positive in your approach,  you do attract positivity around you.

An award winning corn farmer understood that he must share his prize-winning corn seeds with  neighboring farmers: since winds that blow, carry corn seeds  across farms. So if my neighbors’ fields have poor quality corn: those seeds will get mixed with mine and reduce the quality of my output. If my farm must produce good quality corn: then my neighbors’ farms must also have good quality corn. The positive I do will come back to me: that is the principle of the feed forward. To get I must give.

To end, let me quote another favorite Zen story :  a man was unhappy as his wife was very tight-fisted, never helped others and never shared openly within the family & friends. The man invited an enlightened Zen Master to guide and educate his wife. The Master came and saw the wife was unhappy with even the additional mouth to feed but did not say anything. He observed her stinginess and narrow mindedness and still said nothing. All slept, and  next morning, before he was to leave, he called the wife and showed her an open palm with his fingers stretched out. He asked the wife: “If my hand always remained like this and I could close it, what would you say?”  “It is deformed and bad” was the wife’s reply. “Yes” said the Master; & ” if my hand was closed tightly in a fist and always remained like this and I could not open my palm: what would you say?”    ” It is deformed and bad” was the wife’s reply. “Great” said the Master ” if you understand this I have nothing more to say to you.” The Master left. The wife learnt her lesson, mended her ways.

Hope we all understand this lesson and learn to give so that we get:  vikas

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