Have you realized how we feel good when we give someone something, when we are able to do good for others? The feel-good factor magnifies even more if the other person cares about your offering and reciprocates in any way. All is well till here. Many a time, however, the reciprocation we seek from doing good does not come through. Either the other person doesn’t appreciate what you are doing for him or her, they don’t care, or maybe they just don’t know any better. It gets even worse when they feel that you owe it to them.
When we are given more credit than we actually earned, we hardly complain. We even begin to think that we must deserve the adulation and adoration being heaped on us by the other person. But, when we feel that we are not being acknowledged for our efforts, charity or nobility, we start to feel annoyed. This annoyance doesn’t subside. The next time we see the person, we are constantly reminded of how he or she acted ungratefully and so on.
This is generally the chief cause of trouble in all relationships. Either you feel you are doing more than you bargained for and the other person is not acknowledging or that the other person is doing less than they signed up for and therefore not acting responsibly. In any case, at the root is the feeling I’m being taken for granted or that I’m not being appreciated.
My focus today, however, is not reciprocation in a relationship but our attitude towards service. Maybe if I changed my perspective on charity, compassion and serving others, most of my problems might disappear. What if we turned the tables? Let me share with you a famous little story before I go any further.
Two great saints of India, both magnificent poets too, were contemporaries and friends. One was the Hindu mystic Goswami Tulasidas and the other Abdul Rahim Khan-e-Khan, a Muslim saint. Rahim, one of the nine key officials (navaratna) in the court of Akbar, earned a decent living and regularly donated large sums in charity from his personal income.
Every day, people would approach him with their problems and he gave them whatever he could. What was most unusual about Rahim though was his rather peculiar manner of giving alms to the poor. Whenever giving them charity, he would keep his gaze downwards and never look them in the eye.
Tulasidas once wrote a letter to Rahim and teased him in a friendly manner asking why he lowered his eyes while donating. Was it that he hadn’t earned legitimately and therefore was ashamed of giving away tainted wealth? Jokingly, he wrote:
aisi deni den jyoon, kit sikhe ho sain, jyon jyon kar oonchyo karo, tyon tyon niche nain. (IAST: aisī denī deṃna jyūm̐, kita sīkhe ho saina, jyoṃ jyoṃ kara ūṃcyo karo, tyoṃ tyoṃ nice naina.) "O my dear friend, why give alms like this? Where did you learn that? [I've heard] you lower your eyes as you raise your hands for charity."
Not to be outdone, Rahim wrote back a clever reply, full of humility, wisdom and wit.
denahar koi aur hai, bhejat jo din rain, log bharam ham par kare, taso niche nain. (IAST: denahāra koī aura hai, bhejata jo dina raina, loga bharama hama para kare, tāso nice naina.) "The Giver is someone else [God] who is giving day and night. Whereas, people doubt me for that giver, they think it's me who's giving. That's why I lower my eyes."
Remarkable. I doubt that our attitude towards giving could get any better than this. What if, for a moment, we kept this in mind that while we might have earned whatever we are giving, we were not actually born with it. Whatever we have, in all probability, was given to us by someone else. Probably our teachers, parents, siblings, friends, society, government, nature or someone else must have been the medium.
Similarly, often, if not always, we are simply the medium. The one who is taking from us may not necessarily be receiving because we are charitable. It could easily be that we owe them. Perhaps, they have earned it through their karma and we have a karmic account to settle. Particularly, when you don’t give out of choice but compulsion, in great likelihood, you are simply repaying an old karmic debt. Take it easy. Don’t be angry. The sooner you pay it off, the quicker you get rid of it.
Regardless of whether you are giving out of choice or not, the truth is you are simply a medium. We all are. If we were to zero in on a common theme in the holy texts of various religions, it would be the teaching that we are merely the instruments in the hands of the Divine. Some are purer and more potent medium than others, that’s just about it.
Imagine you have to dispense 1000 liters of water and the mouth of your hose is only 2 centimeters in diameter. It’ll take you a while. That too assuming that the hose has no blockages. Now imagine that the mouth of your hose is 20 centimeters wide. It will take you a fraction of the time to dispense the same amount of water.
The same goes for karma too. When you have to discharge a karmic debt, the quicker and more you pay, the faster you get over and done with it. The more blockages there are, the longer it will take you. Those blockages could come in the form of wrong view (I’m the doer, provider and so on), wrong expectations (just because I’m doing something for someone I own them), wrong emotions (how dare they downplay my charity) and so on.
At all times, if only we could remember that to be able to give anything to anyone is a great privilege, a blessing, we’ll feel less hurt if the other person doesn’t reciprocate. When we are able to give, it means Nature has placed a certain trust in us. It feels we are strong enough to give, to make a difference to someone’s life. Believe me, we couldn’t be grateful enough for such a blessing. Who would you rather be? Someone who takes with or without gratitude or someone who gives with compassion and humility? Take your pick.
When you give without expectations (it’s not easy but certainly doable), Nature will bless you without reservations. When you don’t hold back, it won’t hold back either. Besides, that’s one thing to learn from nature, that is, to give with a certain detachment and equanimity. See how it’s quietly going about giving. Perhaps, that’s the secret of its eternity. Just observe a waterfall or a river. It is giving indiscriminately, constantly. For, just remember that a spiritual relationship is never between a giver and the receiver. Instead, it is between the giver and his soul. If your relationship with yourself is true and meaningful, all else in life becomes secondary pretty quickly.
Charity offered with gratitude is a spiritual act whereas charity with expectations is merely a trade.
The next time you give and the other person doesn’t reciprocate, don’t take it too seriously. Tire them out with your goodness and charity and not with your expectations and demands in return. In the long run, it’s going to be absolutely worth it. Particularly, if you care about elevating yourself spiritually and setting yourself free, which, I may add, is the whole point of our existence and my writings.