Ahimsa 8: To Feel or Not

Several readers have written to me after reading A Heart That Can Feel. “I am a sensitive person, I don’t like being unkind, yet the more compassionate I am, the more I am taken for a ride,. “ said one person. “ My heart always lets me down, and I’m beginning to get hard, but I don’t like being this way, “ wrote another.

My grandmother and my mother have been wonderful role models for me as I journey the path of ahimsa .On my mother’s 70th birthday, a man who was our builder, said how much he wanted his daughter to study medicine. Even though she had done well and had got a place in college, he was going to ask her to turn her seat down as he just could not afford the first year’s fees. My mother had the exact same amount that he needed in her account. Her heart went out to him, and she wrote a cheque for that amount and gave it to him. I was not surprised, but hoped that the girl would use her time in medical college well. Sadly, the man began a building project for her and cheated her in every way possible. I was furious when the girl came to my mother for the next set of fees. My mother chided me and spoke to the girl kindly and did not tell anything about her father. When she had gone, she told me this story.

A holy man was having his bath in the river. He noticed a scorpion in the water, and it was drowning. His heart went out to the scorpion. So he lifted it and put it on safe dry ground. But before he could put it on the ground, the scorpion bit his hand. The man was in great pain. The people sitting around hi laughed at him for his stupidity. ‘What did you achieve? You spared the scorpion’s life only to get yourself bitten.”

The man smiled and replied, “I did what I had to do according to my nature. That is to rescue it from drowning. The scorpion did what it had to do, that is sting me, according to its nature’. I knew what my mother was trying to teach me, and since then have used it in my own life.

Readers too have commented on the worthiness of giving to beggars, servants, people who ask in emergencies…… A Jewish story teaches us a lesson here. A very poor man, dressed in rags, went from home to home in a town, asking for food, clothes and money. He looked frail and sick and many people’s hearts went out to him. So they gave freely and generously. One day, when one of the townspeople who had given him lots of good clothes was at a meeting, he saw this man well dressed, sitting opposite him. The man got very angry. “What a cheat, “ he thought. “I will expose him for the fraudster he is.” But by the end of the meeting this “poor” man had gone. In frustration, the angry man goes to a Rabbi and pours out his anger. “‘ How could he do such a thing? I would never have given him anything had I known he was not a poor man.”

The Rabbi asked him, “ When he came to your door, how was he dressed?”

“ Why in rags,” replied the man.

“And how did he look?”

“He looked as if he would die soon.”

“So you did not know then that he was a rich man?

“Of course not,” he replied indignantly.
“Well, then don’t worry about it. You gave to a poor man who came to you for help, Your heart did the right thing. It responded to the poor man’s pain. And that is the main thing. If the man cheated you deliberately, then he will have to answer for his sins.

Often we turn the other way from a beggar, or an appeal for help, because we don’t like to be cheated. Our hearts want to respond, but we are unsure if our help will actually reach them. As we reflect on how we take care of the poor, I share with you some snapshots. While we stopped at a traffic light, a young boy ran up to our car waving a packet of coloured wash cloths for the car.

” Only ten rupees for the pack,” he told us, begging us to buy a pack. The person I was with shooed him away as I dug into my purse for some money. I was a little surprised by the ferociousness with which she did this. ” These kids are such a nuisance,” she said. The boy looked at me with soulful eyes. ” Please buy a packet,” he said, ” It’s for my books.” I know so many children like him who sell flowers, car cloths, spinach and other things early in the morning before they go to school. Yes they are a nuisance, they pester us at the wrong time, when we have no change or when we are stressed about something. Life is hard for them, but yet, they go on hoping that today will be a better day…….that today they will sell one more packet than yesterday. Reaching out towards such children takes them a little nearer to the road of independence, economic stability and personal dignity.

The next incident is very different. I was on a train with a group of people. One of them dropped some coins which rolled near my feet. I bent down to pick them up. ” Leave them there,” said the man. ” I always drop some coins on a train. I don’t need them, they don’t make any difference to me, but they mean a lot to the person who finds them. For that person, it’s a lucky day just a few coins can turn someone’s life around with hope and happiness. Life may be hard, but somehow there is a sign that today, things might be different. ”

The third story is of a friend who is a teacher who keeps the money she earns during the first half of the month for herself. What she earns during the second half is used for any poor child whose parents are sick and cannot afford good health care, or for school fees, or other essentials for children at her school. It often seems that what ever we do is never enough. The poor are every where around us. Often we give up doing anything because it seems like a drop in the ocean.

I’m reminded at this point of the story of the boy who was dropping starfish that had been washed ashore, back into the sea. An elderly man rebuked him saying he was wasting his time. ” I don’t think so,” said the boy, ” For every one that survives, it makes a big difference.”