What you can give…
“What you have is God’s gift to you, but what you make with what you have is your gift to Him. This implies that you must do your utmost to make the best of whatever is given to you so that your return gift to Him is worthy of being received…”
Dr R Neerunjun Gopee This is the season of giving gifts. Throughout the year we are giving gifts on various occasions, such as birthdays, marriages, marriage anniversaries or festivals such as Divali when sweets are shared with neighbours and close ones.
Children of course receive a special attention, and this collective giving added to the similar year-round exchange of presents not only calls forth creativity and generates business, but is the oil that keeps the wheel of humanity turning.
Human beings have been so busy fighting wars as far back as we know that it is a real wonder that we have survived to this day. Some thinkers, such as Steven Pinker of Harvard University, believe that humanity is currently living in the most peaceful era since its existence, and I would like to think that if this is true then exchanging gifts may have something to do with it – even if that be only at the smaller, individual level!
Giving a gift is truly special because it is the physicalisation of an intention, although equally valued can be a thought expressed in words. This is especially so for people of a certain age and maturity, on occasions such as birthdays. Such people do not necessarily expect a present – just that they are remembered warms up their heart, and there could be no better feeling than this at any time in one’s life. This is particularly the case nowadays when family members and friends are spread out across continents, and it is so easy to communicate with all the latest means at one’s disposal.
On the other hand, if one looks at how the eyes of someone who receives a gift lights up, one cannot but be in awe of the tremendous bonding that takes place through this simple gesture, because both the giver and the receiver are equally touched and as deeply. Giving a gift comes with an unspoken message of love, understanding and gratitude.
I am sure that this noble act is looked upon as significantly in all cultures, and in some it is even associated with sacred feelings. In fact, Pujya Swami Chinmayananda says that what you have is God’s gift to you, but what you make with what you have is your gift to Him. This implies that you must do your utmost to make the best of whatever is given to you so that your return gift to Him is worthy of being received.
In the same spirit, Pujya Swami Dayananda (of Arsha Vidya Gurukulam), while explaining about the ‘offerings’ we make during a puja, goes on to say that since everything belongs to God, truly speaking what can we offer Him! And yet in so doing firstly we are acknowledging and being grateful that we are part of the larger whole that is the creation – because the offerings (flower, water, naivedyam or food, the incense stick and the diya) represent the five elements out of which all created things, and that includes us, are made: earth, fire, water, air and space.
Secondly, we feel happy in expressing our gratitude for the gift of life and what comes with it. Thirdly, we take it for granted that our offerings will be ‘accepted’ with grace – much like the birthday gift that children would save their pocket money for and buy for their parents: parents know jolly well don’t they, that it is only their money, and yet they will accept the gift very happily as if it were exclusively the children’s. Which parent would so much as even think of making fun of their child’s gesture and refusing it on the grounds that whatever is being given has been bought with their money?
That is why, Pujya Swamiji goes on to explain, by physicalizing the thought of someone for any occasion through offering a gift, tremendous joy is felt by both parties, and whenever the occasion arises, and if the means allow one to do, it is a very nice thing indeed to give an object as a gift: the actual money-worth is the least consideration because from the larger perspective outlined above, it is the nobility and the thought behind the act that matters.
But alongside the physical objects, there are also other precious, indeed invaluable gifts that we can give. A teacher friend of mine put that beautifully. See for yourself what you can give that has no cost and yet is priceless:
To your father: deference
To your mother: conduct that will make her proud of you
To your spouse: unconditional love
To your child: a sense of duty
To your friend: sincerity
To your teacher: gratitude
To all people: humanity
To your opponent: tolerance
To your enemy: forgiveness
To your country: patriotism
To yourself: self-respect
If gifts of objects help the smooth running of humanity, the above list represents the very foundation of our humanity, because we do not have to wait for any special occasion to give these gifts.
If we have not done so already, we could start straightaway… and never stop.
However, it is around Christmas and particularly New Year that everybody, practically the world over I would think, becomes involved in procuring gifts for their near and dear ones.