Tuesday, 7 June 2016

By giving we receive - Sai teaches me the generosity paradox

The Generosity Paradox

It is by chance that I came to know of the existence of the Generosity Paradox. By definition, a paradox is a statement that is self contradictory because it contains within itself, two parts which are both true and yet, cannot otherwise be true at the same time. The Generosity Paradox states that the more we give, the more we will receive. By spending ourselves for others’ well-being, we enhance our own well-being. In other words, this means that by holding on possessively to what we currently have, we lose out on better things that we could have gained.

Both are true... Yet both are false - A Paradox!
It is easy to understand why this is called a paradox. Logic states that when we give we lose what we are parting with. On the other hand, by holding on we continue to possess what is valuable for us. That is the cold logic of a zero sum game - when some one gains, the other has to lose. Logic does not allow for a win-win situation because the material universe is finite. How then does generosity/kindness/goodness work?

It is interesting to note that the answer is simple and it has sound logic backing it. I discovered this answer for myself by travelling through the lanes and by-lanes of my memories that have been neatly recorded in several personal diaries. Needless to say it involves an experience with my Master and best friend, Bhagawan Sri Sathya Sai Baba.

The ‘handkerchief chance’

During the late 90’s and early years of the new millennium, Swami used to bless the students with one special kind of chance - the handkerchief chance. Unlike the years before and after, 1997-2001 saw Swami walk alone during darshan without anyone following Him. He would collect and carry all the letters which devotees offered on His own. Thus, when He materialized vibhuti (holy ash) for any devotee, any student (of the Sri Sathya Sai school or college) in possession of a handkerchief could run up to Him and offer the same for Him to wipe His hands on. Naturally, the student who was seated closest to where the materialization happened was in the best position to avail this ‘handkerchief chance’! I was a regular to leap at this chance and often carried two handkerchiefs daily to mandir. In fact, my first, memorable interaction with Him was also through this kerchief chance.

Scanning through the pages of my diary, I understand that the 21st of December, 1998 was special for me because I got this handkerchief chance with Swami. What I realize today is that it was also a chance for me to experience the generosity paradox firsthand.

As always, I reached the mandir and scoured the devotees’ sitting areas for whom I felt might get vibhuti from Swami. This was like picking a ticket for a lottery because several other students with handkerchiefs in their pockets too would be on a lookout for probable places where they could avail the ‘handkerchief chance’! I finally settled in front someone who seemed lost in meditation. I felt that Vibhuti might be gifted to him as a fruit of his sadhana. Isn’t it amazing how we are constantly evaluating and judging people!
Soon, the music filled the air and the beautiful form in orange came floating into the hall. It took about fifteen minutes for Swami to come near where I was seated. He paused for a while and looked at me. Then, moving over to the opposite side, he crossed my meditating man. A couple of feet ahead, He paused again and spoke to someone. The way He took a step behind and held out His right palm, I knew that He was about to materialize something - vibhuti mostly. I tensed my muscles, ready to sprint on confirmation of the vibhuti. The next second, I was off.

A 'handkerchief chance' that was captured by a camera. The camera was a cheap one but it
captured an invaluable memory.
Swami distributed the vibhuti He had just created to several people seated there. After that He turned to me, took the handkerchief, wiped His hand thoroughly and walked on throwing the kerchief back at me. I put the kerchief into my pocket and, from my other pocket, pulled out small sheets of paper. I distributed these to the blessed ones to safely store their gifts of grace in. That was when one of the devotees, a westerner, asked me for one more sheet of paper. I was surprised but I gave it to him nevertheless. He shook his head to say no and again asked me for something, pointing to my other pocket. I realized that he was asking me for the handkerchief! I just smiled at him and ran back to my place.

The joy of selflessness

As I sat on my mat, my mind began to wander. Thoughts arose by the dozen.
“That was totally unexpected... asking for the handkerchief that Swami blessed for me...”
“Maybe you could have given it to him...”
“No way! The vibhuti was for him and the handkerchief for me! Would he have given me the vibhuti that Swami gave him?”
“Maybe... if you had asked....”
“But he would have given me only a part of it. I can’t tear this handkerchief...”
“You could have given it to him...”
“How? What about me?”
“You could have given it to him...”

The voice of the heart repeats the same thing. Yet, it strikes one with greater force each time. As the music faded out and Swami entered the interview room, I made my decision. I got up and walked briskly to the devotee who had asked me for that kerchief. Many people had already begun to leave the hall for a short break. Thankfully my kerchief-seeker was still sitting in the same place, eyes closed in meditation. I patted him gently on the shoulder. He opened his eyes and looked up. Without saying a word, I gave him a smile and dropped the handkerchief on his lap. I again ran away from him even before he could respond.

Going a short distance, I hid behind a pillar and observed him. He was clutching the handkerchief to his bosom and sobbing away. It was as if the object of his penance had been granted to him! He was delirious in joy and seeing that, waves of joy began to surge in me. I cannot describe how happy I felt. Getting the “handkerchief chance” gave me great joy no doubt but this other “handkerchief chance” seemed to possess greater joy. It was as if Swami had patted me on my back and told me, “Thank You”. I was beaming as I stood watching him.

Returning to the hostel later, I specially noted down the experience in my diary. It was something so special.

An unexpected response

The next day, as I chose a spot to sit for darshan, I noted that two of my ‘kerchief-giving competitors’ had taken up vantage positions opposite to devotees who looked ‘deserving’ to get vibhuti from Swami. I sat opposite to a small group of devotees who were wearing scarves bearing the name, “New Zealand”. My only hope of getting the handkerchief chance was if Swami materialized vibhuti for someone in this group.

Imagine my amazement when Swami, during the darshan, stood exactly in front of me and materialized vibhuti for a member of this group! Like a cowboy drawing his pistol, I got up and pulled the kerchief out of my pocket. Rushing to Swami I offered it to Him. Swami took the kerchief and wiped His hand. Instead of throwing it back to me, He dropped it on to His feet! I tried to pick it up but He immediately placed His left foot on it. So, I moved back and pulled out the paper sheets from my pocket. I thought that I would distribute these first and later collect the kerchief, after Swami goes. When I finished handing over those 4-5 sheets, I turned and saw that the kerchief was no longer on the floor!

I quickly looked at the devotees wondering whether any of them had picked it up. That was when something beautiful happened. Swami who had walked a couple of metres away, stopped and turned back to me. As I gazed into His eyes, He smiled, gently lifted one foot off the ground and shook it. The kerchief fell out!

All the devotees around also smiled. Swami turned and continued walking. I walked up to that spot, picked up the kerchief and returned to my place. I was feeling so special. And why not? What had happened was indeed something special. Swami had balanced and carried the handkerchief for nearly two meters. I had never seen Him do that before (nor have I see Him do it since)!

I held the handkerchief close to my heart and embraced it. It was a special kerchief indeed.

What goes around comes around

That was when it struck me hard. The voice of my heart began to ring in my ears,
“You gave it to him and He gave it to you...”
This hugging-the-kerchief-close-to-the-heart joy which I had conferred on a person yesterday was being conferred on me today with double the intensity as it and God doing it. The response had been immediate.

As I sat in meditation after darshan, reliving the whole experience, I understood the generosity paradox though I did not know the existence of that term then. Giving is not a zero sum game though the material universe is limited because the rewards arrive in another dimension - the spiritual universe! The spiritual universe is infinite and it allows for win-win. There are no limits on the amount of love, joy, peace and fulfillment. It is not as if when one gains love and peace, someone else will have to lose them! That is because these are gifts of the spiritual universe - gifts that the material universe can never confer. Yet we become selfish, trying to grab and hold on to the material universe. How foolish! How sad!

However, there is an important caveat for giving too. When I gave the handkerchief to that devotee, I never did it with the aim that Swami would get happy with me and reward me for it. The next day’s experience was actually a bonus gift. I had already collected my reward of joy in the act of giving the kerchief itself! Though Swami's response to me had been immediate, the reward - the joy in giving - had been instantaneous.

Generosity cannot be counterfeited. Generosity cannot be faked in order to achieve a more valued self-serving end. Generosity itself needs to be desired. The good of other people must be what we want and giving must be the reward in itself. All said and done fake generosity does not make us happier, healthier, and more purposeful in life. Because what goes around, comes around.

Give fake, get fake. Give real, get real!

For all the readers:

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  1. Dear Brother, Very Very Good, once when swami left Brindavan and was going back to Parthi, at Hoskote junction, many were waiting, including me, i just saw few poor kids, out of instant compassion and love i purchased chocolates and gave it, after few minutes Swamis car came, and for the first time in my life, Swami looked at me, smiled and blessed from the car. Really Brother Aravind it was 100% coming to Baba that an ounce of Generosity has got implanted in me, seeing Babas infinite selfless works. Thanks very good article

    1. A truly beautiful true life experience that inspires the hearts of all who read it. Thank you so much for sharing. You sacrificed something of extreme value and importance for the sake of another person's happiness, and Bhagawan has blessed u in such a grand way. Isn't this what our Beloved Bhagawan is tirelessly teaching us. Sacrifice. Thanks again. I love this article

  2. Na karmana na prajaya dhanena tyagenaike amrutatva manushaha....
    This shloka is proved absolutely right by this experience...

  3. Very good article. May God bless you dear Sai brother.

  4. Amazing incident - very wonderful & blessed to read. Also the comment given by "Love all serve all help ever" is also in tandem with your good writings. Thanks for sharing - S.Ganapathy

  5. This moved me deeply. Thank U so much for sharing Beloved Aravind. Love is the Way to Peace. I Am. Om Sai Ram. Om Shanti AUM

  6. Om Sri Sai Ram. Baba is most compassionate and is omnipresent.

  7. SaiRam Aravind Bhaiyya. What a touching article. Thank you so much. Often times, we fully know how to distinguish right from wrong and good from what's not expected from us, but your article today is it beautiful and gentle reminder that letting go of attachments and giving selflessly is so rewarding. Thank you. You are eternally dear to Bhagavan Baba. Thanks for sharing.

  8. Moved me.this has answered my queries as well.thanks bro.sairam

  9. Sairam brother Aravind... a great experience and wonderful lesson for all....


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