Gift of Giving

The Gift of Giving is a privilege which only we humans have. Sharing is possibly something which animals and birds also do. But consciously GIVING is a capacity only humans have. That is why I have called the blog as “Gift of Giving”.

Take the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. What prompts Gates to do so much for society at large? Warren Buffet is well known for his uncanny investments, but he has pledged to give away 99% of his wealth to philanthropic causes. With The Giving Pledge he co-founded with Bill Gates they have got 200+ billionaires from 23 different countries to pledge giving to 50% or more of their wealth in charity. The signatories include David Rockefeller, Sara Blakely, Bloomberg, Mark Zuckerberg, Richard Branson, Bezos, etc. 2013, our Azim Premji became India’s first signatory to The Giving Pledge. Premji has raised his total lifetime giving to $21 billion; he became the world’s largest contributor (to charity), being named as Asia’s most generous philanthropist in the year 2019 by Forbes. Wealth wise, Ambanis have more!! One hears of their taking, but little of their giving. Obviously Mukesh has not heard Anne Frank’s ” No one has ever become poor by giving”.

Giving is considered noble, elevating; rather than the complementary act of receiving. In Giving, the needs and desires of the receiver are given precedence. A conscious effort is made to fulfill these needs, sometimes even to the exclusion & suppression of desires of the giver. The most classic example would be of a Mother making sacrifices and adjustments to see that her child does not want at all. Even the unspoken needs and desires are sought to be fulfilled, whatever personal or monetary cost it entails. A mother’ motives are tough to analyse and understand as they go beyond the realm of reason.

There is an old anecdote about a child stuck on top of a mountain and crying. Everyone in the village gathered, but the mountain was so treacherous, no one dared to climb up, to bring the child down. Even as all were standing around debating, the mother had reached the top and was walking down with the child wrapped on her back. Trained mountaineers asked how she could go up when even they hesitated, her one line reply was ” It was not your child”. All of us who have received a mother’s love will know, no one can give more than a mother!!!

Gifting and Giving go hand in hand in many traditions. Consider the simplest example of birthday party. You would never go empty handed. And if there is a child with you, s/he would expect to come back with a “return” gift, even if it is a mere chocolate bar.

Sudama, forced by his wife to visit his friend Krishna, went with a bag of puffed rice, as a gift for his childhood friend. The Raksha Bandhan festival is sealed with a gift to the sister, however old or wealthy she is. The Padva in Diwali sees the wife receiving a gift from the husband, the Bhaiyya Duj again rewards the sister. Pune even has a gift for the son-in-law as a part of the Diwali giving. During childhood, Eid celebrations meant receiving Sheer Kurma from Muslim friends and of course rich, almond laded lamb curry for Bakri Eid. Within Muslim households grown ups are expected to keep “Iddi” envelopes/gifts ready for distribution at Eid ul Fitr and would even be entitled to receive their own share of gifting for the occasion. . We will soon get into the Christmas season which began with the 3 Wise Kings who came to call upon the Baby Christ bearing gifts. This giving tradition continues till today. Immediately after Thanksgiving in end November, the “festival shopping” season begins for the X’mas giving. So Giving is a part of our experience & culture.

I am reminded of a story I had heard which is set in the Church context. As we know a collection plate is circulated after the Mass to raise resources for the Church’s activities. An over aggressive, enthusiastic young girl was asked to take the collection plate around. She pushed the plate under the nose of an old goat like me and said, Please give…. a big contribution….Give till it hurts” And the world-weary old-fogey replied with a twinkle,” The very thought of giving hurts!”

But jokes apart, when we give, we get a glow, a feeling of satisfaction, an inner peace. the power equation is also well defined, the giver’s hand is on top and full; while the supplicant’s hand is below and empty. This has been true from times immemorial. Remember the Michelangelo’ painting of Creation!

Often the giver falls into the trap of the God Game, thinking himself superior. Whenever I have felt such false pride, I recount for myself my favorite Zen story. During a time of famine, a Zen master went around the countryside begging for money, foodgrains and clothes from all to help the afflicted. He carried a jute sack on his back, & whatever he gathered through the donations of all, he would put in the sack; then go forward, to seek another donor. Once he reached the court of a King in interior China. He put down the sack he carried on his back & made his pitch. The king asked his minister to give a donation of 20 gold coins. When the minister gave him 20 gold coins, he put them in his sack, swung the sack back onto his back, and started leaving the court. The King stopped him and said,”Master, though I am a king, 20 gold coins is a big donation” “So?” asked the Master. “So should you not thank me for this handsome donation?” asked the King. “Why should I?” said the Zen Master,” It is the Giver who should be grateful!”. He swung his sack back, and left without a backward glance.

I love this story because truly I have understood, it is the giver who should be grateful. Grateful that he has enough that he can give. Grateful that he has a full stomach and can spare some surplus. Grateful that I have met someone with whom I can share my wealth! This truth is indeed sublime. Throughout my life I have tried to teach my wife and daughter that we have enough and more. Someone did not question my capability and competence and rewarded me disproportionately. So now why should I grudge giving to others? What right I have to judge their status & deserving, when someone gave me more than enough, with no questions asked. Take heart in Don Williams’ number, ” I have quite enough to live/And my mind is free..” So my living principle, always give more that what others expect, and give it cheerfully. Sometimes, the first half is relatively easy, but giving cheerfully, with a smile, ensuring the receiver does not feel small or burdened; not playing the God Game; accepting that the Giver must be Grateful: That’s real giving!

The Maharaja of Giving in Mahabharata was Karna. Daan-shur Karna. When asked for, Karna even gave away his divine breast-plate and earrings (Kavach Kundala) though he knew this was a trick to make him mortal & vulnerable in war.

A lesser known side-story is Arjuna became angry for Krishna praising Karna for his supreme generosity. Krishna told Arjuna he would prove that Karna’s generosity was indeed superior. Sometime later, Krishna gave a mountain load of gold to Arjuna. Arjuna said he has no use for so much gold, called the populace and started donating the gold, using a spade. Arjuna felt great he was giving away such riches literally spade-fulls. Later Krishna gave the same gift of mountain full of gold to Karna. Karna’s way was to call people, ask then to take however much they wanted. And he just walked away from the mountain of gold!! Proving thereby that he was a true Giver, supreme in generosity, far above Arjuna in this regard.

Remember, Giving is a virtuous cycle which will bring back for you, more than what you have given. That is the Law of Nature. As you Sow, so Shall you Reap. This is the Law of Feed Forward. What ever you have given to others, will come back to you multifold. Have Trust. Have Faith. Believe. Just Give.

At the end let me tell you a Hungarian children’s story, The Safe. There was a wealthy merchant who kept all his money in a safe. He commissioned the village mathematician and intelligent person to design a new safe, such that money kept in it would double!! Obviously the mathematician tried many designs, but money would not double in the safe.

Later, the Merchant was to go on a long travel. He summoned the Mathematician & threatened : by the time he comes back the Safe that doubles the money is made ready, else he will complain to the King!! He left on his travels giving the keys of his existing Safe to the Mathematician. The Mathematician opened the Safe and gave away ALL the money to the people in the village.

When the Merchant returned he found the Safe empty. He rushed out to confront the Mathematician. But en route every neighbour, who had been a beneficiary, called the Merchant to their house, treated him with lots of love & affection, heaped praises & food on him!!! The Merchant realised that though his paper money was gone, he had become much, much richer. He understood that “Everything we give to others will, sooner or later, returns to us, whether or not it be in a form we expected”

Remember, Always Give more than what People Expect & Do it Cheerfully : your friendly neighbourhood vikibaba