Generosity of Spirit
A short movie is often shown at the Dera on the weekends in the mand pandal before the main satsang begins. It is the simple, touching story of a man who donates a kidney to one of his employees. The movie offers a profound example of what it means to be a good human being.
The plot is straightforward. The boss discovers that his clerk, the man who brings him tea, is in the hospital because of kidney failure. The clerk’s wife and children are crying; there are no kidneys available for a life-saving transplant. The boss, who is a good and kind man, explains to his wife that he has decided to donate his own kidney. He goes to the doctor. He finds out that he is a good match, a compatible donor. And then he makes the decision to go forward, under one condition: that his employee is never to know who donated the kidney. The transplant goes smoothly. The employee and the employer have a full recovery. Even the bosses wife, who was initially worried, decides that she, too, will donate a kidney to save the life of a stranger.
The newly healthy employee then again brings tea to his employer. The boss invites him to sit down and tell him how he is getting along. The man replies that he has one great regret – he does not know who gave him his kidney. The boss just smiles and keeps his gift anonymous.
There are five virtues that this story illustrates that have the power to inspire us to become better human beings. These virtues are: humility, compassion, charity, untiring effort, and awareness of the presence of God. These five are not a definitive list, but they can provide a foundation for our lives, for our meditation practice, and for reaching our ultimate goal of God-realization.
Let’s begin with humility. The most astonishing thing about the man who donated his kidney was his humility. He didn’t want credit for his noble action. He didn’t parade his generosity, his gift or his sacrifice. He just quietly gave what he could. He saw an opportunity to be of service, and he took it. He saved a man’s life, but he did so with no egotism, no fanfare, wanting no attention for himself.
Today, and possibly in all times, the world teaches us to claim whatever we do, or know, or accomplish as our individual success. This claim can lead to a kind of “moral narcissism.” The egotist hopes to make a parade of virtue. That is not the path of the saints. Maharaj Sawan Singh cautions us in Philosophy of the Masters, Vol. III:
If we do not take a humble and meek attitude before doing a good deed, do not retain it while doing it and do not consider it a gift by the grace of the Lord and the Master after it is done, it is snatched from our hands by pride amidst our rejoicings. “The way to God is firstly humility, secondly humility, and thirdly humility. Again, unless humility precedes, accompanies and follows every good action we perform, pride wrests wholly from our hands any good work on which we are congratulating ourselves.”
There are many ways to learn humility: growing up in the school of hard knocks, being a parent, moving to a new place where we don’t know how to find our way to the grocery stores, hospitals or recreational facilities. Then there are the indignities of aging, whereby we are rendered increasingly invisible and irrelevant. Life can teach us to be humble in many, many ways. But the best way to learn our own limitations and our own need for forgiveness and grace is to meditate! Meditation is the humbler of everyone who tries. If we desire to become better human beings, and increase our humility, meditation will do it. As Maharaj Charan Singh says in Spiritual Perspectives, Vol. III, “The more we meditate, the more we are driving out ego.”
An important virtue emerges as our humility increases. We begin to see that we are not the only ones in the world with problems to solve, with suffering to face, with responsibilities to fulfil or with significant challenges to overcome. When we stop focusing so much on our own needs, desires, and failings we become much more aware of others.
The second virtue is compassion. As we become more aware of others’ challenges and suffering, we naturally become more compassionate – we feel empathy for our brothers and sisters. The man who donated his kidney clearly saw the suffering of his employee. It mattered to him that the clerk’s children were about to lose their father and that his wife was about to lose her husband. Great Master gives a beautiful description of compassion in Philosophy of the Masters, Vol. III:
Humanity simply means love for the Lord and his creation. Its other name is sympathy or compassion, fellow-feeling, or heart- felt attraction. Its proof is that one’s heart melts like wax on seeing the suffering of another. The other man’s suffering appears as his own. He heartens him, feels sympathy for and is attracted to him, and takes steps to remove his sufferings.
As we become more humble, and our hearts become softer, then we become more generous, more giving. Maharaj Charan Singh in Spiritual Perspectives, Vol. III, is very clear about compassion when he says:
If we can do anything to help anybody, we should. That is our duty – we are meant to help each other. Humans are meant to help humans. Who else will help? Birds and plants won’t come to help you – you have to help each other. We should be a source of strength to each other.… Your heart should be very, very soft to other people and you should be very compassionate, very kind.
The third virtue is charity. Our hands open in offering towards our neighbours. The gift of a kidney that the boss in the film gave was the gift of life. Our charity and generosity is not limited to gifts like that of a kidney, which can be offered only rarely in life. We can demonstrate generosity every day. We learn to let go, to share, and to offer to others what has been given to us. We can offer a smile to a cashier at a store, a welcome to a friend, a word of encouragement to someone who is exhausted or an email to someone who feels isolated and lonely. The practice of generosity is important. It embodies the understanding that we are here to serve. Great Master states in Philosophy of the Masters,Vol. III:
We are all children of the one Supreme Father. Everybody has a claim on what he (God) is bestowing. Share the gifts with the poor, the orphaned and the helpless. We are all partners. Bestowing gifts on others is possible only through the feeling of mercy. Mercy always resides in the heart of the charitable.
Becoming humble, compassionate, and more generous sounds good. But how does this transformation actually happen in our lives? It should be obvious that it is not sufficient to merely think about becoming a better human being, to contemplate the possibility, to listen to satsangs on the subject or to admire the concept. Becoming a more ethical, moral, and caring human being is all about action and effort.
The fourth virtue is untiring effort. We can understand that donating a kidney is a fine and noble ideal. But doing it requires intention, and the sacrifice of undergoing the surgery, and then experiencing pain during the recovery process. This work begins with good intentions, but must be followed through with action. Becoming a better human being involves a humbled mind, a softer heart, an open and generous hand and our shoulder to the wheel.
Becoming a better human being takes effort, practice, and persistence. It is our assignment every morning. It can be our aspiration in every interaction, in every service we perform. It all matters – whether it is the simplest act of recycling or the smallest kindness we extend to someone. Picking up a piece of trash on the sidewalk matters. Offering a compliment to a co-worker matters. Making a newcomer at satsang feel welcome matters. The Masters say we are only on this earth for two purposes: for God-realization and to help one another. And these two aspects of our lives are intertwined.
This brings us to the fifth virtue – awareness of the presence of God. A tender moment in the kidney transplant film occurs when the clerk, not knowing that he is in the presence of his life-giving donor, says,“I wish I could see the face of the person who gave me this kidney, for then I would be able to see the face of God.” One of the most extraordinary ways we can become better human beings is by showing through our behaviour that we are aware that we are always in the presence of God.
The Lord is present within us, closer than our own breathing. When can we experience this? We will know that we are living in the presence of the Master whenever we take refuge in him, whenever we remember him, whenever we seek his company. Of course, it’s true that we can turn in his direction only when he pulls us. But look at all the hundreds of ways he is pulling us: whenever we do our meditation, repeat our simran, attend satsang; whenever we recognize others as being God’s children. And there is no better way to see generosity than in an enlightened human being – in a saint who personifies humility, compassion, charity, endless effort on behalf of the sangat, and who manifests an absolute focus on God.
Every initiate, every day, is invited to become aware that he or she is standing in the presence of the inner Master. We are not alone in this work of becoming a better human being or in our meditation. One day we might even discover that the path of God-realization and the path of becoming a better human being are intimately related.
Masters have said, “One who obeys
does what the Beloved orders,
one who claims closeness
does that which the Beloved prefers,
but one who Loves
loves everything that befalls him.”
Sheikh Abol-Hasan, The Soul and A Loaf of Bread, rendered by Vraje Abramian