Food for Thought

Raja_Ravi_Varma_-_Sankaracharya (1)It isn’t often that the Gita makes me jump from my chair and run to make amends, but this week’s verses delivered such a jolt that I had to take immediate action.

It was a Tuesday afternoon and I sat in my very comfortable reading chair, legs up on the padded footstool, sipping a hot cup of tea, eating an avocado tomato sandwich, and going over the verses for this week’s class. Outside the window was the comforting hum of the lawnmower as the gardener made his rounds of the backyard.

Imagine my discomfort when the first thing I read was that eating without offering to another, whether God or a fellow being, was not only selfish, it amounted to cooking up and consuming sin. This had a terrible effect on my appetite. As I kept reading in dismay, the Gita went on to explain why this kind of ingratitude for all the good things we receive, including food, shelter, air, water, love, kindness, is one of the greatest of sins, binding us forever to a mortal existence.

To truly show how grateful we are for what was never ours to begin with, we need to share it, to offer it to others, before we consume it selfishly on our own. This made perfect sense. I immediately dropped the sandwich I was eating, unable to swallow another bite, and ran to the pantry, determined to share something with my gardener and his family. All I could find was an unopened bag of kidney beans from the Indian store, which I had intended to make into rajma one of these days when I got around to it. I took the bag outside and called the gardener’s wife over, and when she happily accepted, came back in relieved that I could now eat my sandwich without guilt.

Still, while I just happened to find a quick way to relieve my guilt and enjoy my meal, it occurred to me just how rarely we practice the attitude of being grateful and sharing our good fortune.

In class, we talked about being thankful for each new day, for each opportunity to share with others and show our gratitude. We have made it a practice to give thanks the moment we wake up, and offer our day to God. We offer thanks before each meal and offer that as well. And once again, before we sleep, we thank God for the opportunity we have been given. What we realized this week, however, was that it is not enough merely to give thanks and practice gratitude, but that we need to give of ourselves and practice sacrifice as well.

Our homework for this week is to find at least one way to help someone else each day, not only by offering them food or money, but by showing sympathy, kindness, love, attention, support, or giving the gift of our time.

I read somewhere that the greatest gift one human being can receive from another is that of spiritual wisdom. The next best thing is education and the means to survive. Unfortunately, the kind of charity we all tend to practice, that of giving a donation, is the least valuable, since it keeps the other dependent and still unable to better their circumstances.

As an educator, it makes me happy to know that I have the means to share academic knowledge and help others access opportunity. And while I am far from a spiritual teacher, I hope that this blog where I document our struggles and journey, counts as some small attempt to share garnered wisdom.

As for day to day charity, I can only remember that whatever I do solely for myself and my pleasure sets a sure path to bondage, while whatever I can spare for others, be it as simple as a like on a facebook post, a kind word when they are down, a meal or a pair of clothes, allows me to express gratitude for all the blessings I have been showered with and brings me forward on the path to liberation.

Image: Raja Ravi Varma [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

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