Thursday, July 26, 2012

Returned, with apologies!

We often hear the words "Returned with thanks".  Most of the printed receipts read "Received with thanks".  But ever heard of  "Returned with apologies"?  Today's THE HINDU (26th July 2012) carried one such news item.

In Kotturpuram extension of Chennai, house of Shri Azhar Hussain, a retired anesthetist from a Government Hospital in Chennai, was burgled last week. Burglars entered the house by unscrewing a window on Friday evening. Over 70 sovereigns of gold jewellery, including diamond and platinum items, and 2,00,000 rupees in cash was taken away by the burglars. After four days, on the next Wednesday, his daughter-in-law answered the door bell at 6 AM in the morning.  She did not find anybody near the door. She spotted a plastic cover placed on the door step. When she opened the packet, she found all the items that were taken away during burglary.  There was one additional item as well; a note of apology in Tamil (local language) expressing regret for having burgled the house.  What an honest act even in the midst of total dishonesty!

An friend and well-wisher told me that similar acts of honesty (!) is displayed by pick pockets in Bombay.  A picked purse usually contains many items besides cash; credit/debit and ATM cards, visiting cards, photo of a little son or daughter or even a girl/boy friend, or some piece of paper or noting.  Some may even keep an Identity Card or PAN Card.  The one who stole the purse is only interested in cash. May be credit/debit/ATM card if the holder ignores the instructions of the issuing bank and notes down the PIN number on the card itself.  Other items do not interest him but they may be invaluable for the owner of the purse.  A lot of trouble in getting the duplicate of these items. Some items can never be replaced; like a photo with one's mother taken several years ago.  The thief needs money but not other items.  He is aware of the importance of other items to the purse owner. He does not throw them in the nearby dustbin.  He takes a manila envelope and puts all these contents in it. He mails the envelope to the owner as per address available in the visiting card and drops it in the post box. He takes care not to put stamps on it as he does not want a reduction of his booty. The envelope is delivered by the postal department by collecting twice the normal postage.  On receipt of the envelope, the owner thanks the thief instead of cursing him.  He is grateful for the honesty and understanding shown by the thief in returning the priceless posessions!

It is true that the thieves are quite understanding in Bombay trains.   But they could be equally ruthless also.  I am reminded of an incident I was told several years ago by another friend. A thief stole a girl's gold chain from a overcrowded compartment. When he went to sell the item he found that it was not made of real gold, but an imitation.  He was angry at being cheated.  His efforts had gone waste. Had he known that the girl would cheat him by wearing an imitation jewellery item, he would have tried his luck elsewhere. The "Opportunity Cost" was too much for him and fair wages for his efforts were denied. The girl was a regular traveler on the train, commuting from home to work and back.  He came back on the next day and found her in her regular compartment. He threw the chain on her face and gave a blow as interest. She was warned not to wear such items and deceive others in future.

Another friend mentioned about his son's cricket gear.  The young boy is a hard core cricket enthusiast and keen to work hard and make it big in the game.  He has quite a pool of talent too. The family recognized his talent and eagerness and got him a sports kit with all the items required for a budding cricketer. There were good quality bats, leg guards, gloves, boots and a helmet to protect from short pitched deliveries.  His talent was spotted by a well known coach and the boy's desire got wings.  One day he reached the cricket field, kept his kit in the usual place and went for warm up exercises.  When he returned after a few minutes the kit was gone.  The young lad was heart broken.  For him it was not just a kit or a few items. It was the package that contained his dream.  Undaunted by the loss he continued his mission with a substitute kit. But the loss of his beloved original kit made him sad.  A few days later, one of his friends told him that another boy was playing in the nearby ground with a bat which looked like the lost one.  When they both went to the other boy and checked there was no doubt at all and it was the same bat.  The boy was confronted with identifying marks.  The other boy had no answer and the bat then led to the kit itself.  The kit is now back with the original owner and he is now pursuing his mission with renewed vigor. There was neither an apology nor a thanks muttered in this case, though.

Then there was the famous case of returning of stolen property, may be due to fear.  This is a story I heard from my mother when I was a school boy. Saint Thyagaraja was presented a beautiful portrait of "Kodanda Rama" by some of his disciples during the marriage of his daughter. The saint cherished it and used offer prayers before the portrait every day.  Some thieves broke into his house one day and carried away the photo. Saint Thyagaraja was devastated by this loss.  He is said to have composed many kritis describing his pitiable conditions due to the big loss.  The persons who stole the photo faced many sufferings and misery after the theft. They could not hold the photo any longer and one night came back and kept the photo near the front door and ran away.  When the saint opened the door next day, he found the smiling photo of "Kodanda Rama".  He was mightily pleased and carried the photo inside the house. He is said to have sung the kirtana "Echharikagaa Raa ra...." meaning something like come, carefully....  Another version says that his jealous brother Jalpesha stole the Saint's idols and threw them away in the nearby Kaaveri river.  The saint prayed continuously unable to bear the loss of idols.  One night Sri Rama appeared in his dream and told him the exact location in the river from which the idols can be retrieved.  The saint promptly went to that spot and gleefully retrieved the idols.  This was not a case of "Returning with thanks" or "Returning with apologies".  It was indeed a case of  "Returning with divine love", not by the thief, by the stolen himself!

As Saint Thyagaraja himself sang,  "Endaro Mahanubhavulu.....Andiriki Vandanamulu".   

Saturday, July 14, 2012

A Leaf, a Flower, a Fruit and a drop of Water

Many verses from Bhagavadgita are often quoted. In this often quoted verse from Chapter 9, the Lord says:

Patram Pushpam Phalam Toyam, yo me Bhaktya prayachhati,
tad aham bhakty-upahrtam asnämi prayatätmanah.

The meaning of this verse is thought to be very simple; as simple as the verse itself is.  The Lord says: "Whoever offers me a Leaf, a Flower, a Fruit and a drop of Water, with great devotion, I accept it with all the dignity it deserves".  Then things are very simple.  Find a leaf that is available everywhere, at least now. Till the destruction of trees and vegetation reaches the next level.  And similarly a flower or fruit.  A drop of water as well though it is becoming increasingly difficult to find drops of pure and unadulterated water. And after finding them offer it to the Lord.  Lord has given us an excellent option.  He has suggested any of these; not all of them!  Well, let us offer all the four of them as they are available easily and quite inexpensive too.  Like the student who answered all the ten questions in the question paper and asked the examiner to value any five of them, as he was required to answer only five of them.  The Lord should have no complaints too; he can choose any one of them and accept it. And in return give us the deserved recognition.  When we donate (!) a tube light or a fan to the temple, we get our names painted on them so that the Lord does not get confused as to which devotee made the offering.  Then what about the offerings that Lord himself mentions so prominently in his own words in Bhagavadgita?

Did he also mention about Karma without aspiring for its fruits? Should these offerings be done without expecting any returns?  Is it not opposed to principles of natural justice?  Work without remuneration?  There was a very logical and systematic argument in an article opposing "Nishkama Karma".  There was a lengthy justification for banning Bhagavadgita because it was anti-worker and pro-capitalist.  To be compensated for the work done is a fundamental right of any worker.  To preach to work without remuneration is total exploitation.  There should not just be remuneration, but there should be adequate and reasonable returns or compensation.  With bonus thrown in as a deferred wage.  A very erudite interpretation which ought to be accepted in totality.

But the problem actually lies elsewhere.  When you are dealing with the Lord, it is not work for remuneration.  When a mother attends to the child, it is not work for her; it is an act of pure love!  She does it even if the child does not want it.  She considers it as a goal of her life.  When she does it, she does not expect any thing in return.  For her, the act itself is the ultimate reward. As Moslow's "Need Hierarchy Theory" says.  Work itself is the ultimate reward. Nothing more is required.  So also when the Lord and devotee are concerned.  A Lord who does not  need or want anything.  A devotee who desires to offer everything he has.

Those who want remuneration for the work done need not worry at all.  It is nature's rule that the wages of sin or saintly act are automatically disbursed and in just proportions.  The fruit of work done will never go waste; it will chase you and fall in your lap even if you do not want it!  The Lord only said; "Do Karma without aspiring for its fruits".  He never said that there are no fruits for any Karma.  He will give the resultant fruit even if the Karmi does not want it.  There is no escape from the fruits of Karma, whether good or bad.

But what leaf, flower, fruit or drop of water did the lord mean when he said "Patram Pushapam Phalam toyam...."?  Is it only an ordinary leaf or fruit or flower or water drop?  Or was there any deeper meaning to it?  It appears so as many scholars opine. As the Lord himself says in the same Bhagavadgita, there is reference to some leaves of a tree therein.  "Oordhwa moolam Adhah shaakha, Ashwatham praturavyavam, Chandamsi yasya Parnaani, Yastam veda sa vedavit".  The Lord refers to a big Ashwatha tree with roots upwards and branches spread out at the bottom.  The verses of the Vedas are its leaves.  These are the leaves the Lord is referring to.  Someone capable of learning and reciting these verses ought to do it and those are the leaves the Lord accepts. Not any ordinary leaf from an ordinary tree.

What are the flowers the Lord mentions here?  "Ahimsa pratham pushpam, Pushpam indriya nigraha, Sarvabhoota daya pushpam, Kshama pushpam visheshataha, Gnana pushpam Tapah pushpam Dhyana pushpam thataivacha, Satyam ashtavidham pushpam Vishnoh preetikaram bhavet".  The Lord is referring to eight flowers: Non-violence, control of senses, compassion to all living beings, tolerance or patience, knowledge, austerity, contemplative meditation and truth.  These are the eight flowers that the Lord refers to and not any other flower from a bush or tree.

What is the fruit that is to be offered to the Lord?  He has advised to do one's deeds without desiring the fruits of those deeds. But the fruits do chase the doer; the deeds never lapse without yielding fruits.  This fruit, "The Karma Phala" is the fruit the Lord mentions to be offered with all love and devotion.

That brings us to the "Drop of Water".  A righteous soul travels the length of his or her life (his or her refers to the body probably, for soul is neither he nor she) doing this "Nishkama Karma".  And as the end approaches, the fearless soul is ready to welcome the death of the mortal body with open hands.  The tears of love towards the Lord and the final drop of water from the eye, not in sorrow but in joyful  acknowledgement of the love showered by the Lord all along one's life is the water drop the Lord mentions.

These are the leaves, flowers, fruit and drop of water the Lord probably means.  But what about those who are unable to meet all these in their lives when the demands of daily life and the struggles to just live through are hard enough?   One can fondly ask, as John Milton says, "Doth God expect day labor light denied?"  Everyone may not be capable of these deeds. The Lord believes is equity; equal treatment of equals.  A person capable of donating 1000 Rupees for a good cause should not give 100 Rupees.  That would be miserly behavior.  A person capable of  donating 100 Rupees should not donate 1000 rupees by borrowing the difference.  That would be self-destruction.  Each one to his capacity.  Nothing more or nothing less.  The operative word in the verse is "...Yo me Bhaktya.....".  What is difficult is to find the required level of Bhakti to accompany the offerings.  The Lord is interested in the envelope, not the contents!  Again, as John Milton says, "They also serve who only stand and wait".

A mother treats her children equally. She gives 4 Rotis to a 18-year old son. 3 Rotis to a 12-year old. Only one Roti to a five year old.  Did she discriminate among them?  Each one as per his need.  That is the essence of equality.  So also in the case of flower, leaf or fruit. Nishkama Karma is of equal value even if offered in different quantities or dimensions by different people. He knows. He measures. He dispenses.  That is the ultimate faith!