Give, but in Silence…

Warren Buffett’s recent trip to India has ensured that charity as a virtue has been attracting quite a few newsreels. Some, including the Government of India, are pegging it as a duty! There is a proposal to make Corporate Social Responsibility a mandatory obligation in India. Well, would it really be charity, if things were to get to that?

The art (if you will) and the act of giving is not something that needs to be taught to us here in India. It is, I believe, a much greater (and silent) part of our ethos than it is in the western world. There are countless examples of local charities, helping hands being lent – in the lattice network that is India – which never reach and never are meant to reach mainstream media. The way charity is sought to be practised in India, is best brought out by the story of Eklavya. It addresses the core question of how one should feel and behave after giving (a point which I try to address at the end of this post as well).

Most of us would know about how this master archer cut off his thumb at the behest of Dronacharya. There is a lesser known sequel to his thumb sacrfice where he is asked if he ever regretted his sacrifice. This was asked to him when he was dying and he replied that he had indeed once regretted his sacrifice. That was the time when the Pandavas were coming in to kill Dronacharya who had given up his arms on receiving fabricated news of his son, Ashwathama’s death. Eklavya regretted giving up his thumb for he believed that had the thumb been there, no one would have dared hurt his Guru. I guess this is why he attained death at the hands of Krishna (who was also his blood cousin) – which is believed to be a mark of exceptional divine favour.

Buffett’s India trip may have many motives but it is certainly being projected as a mission to rasie money for the needy. There were doubts regarding his trip but I guess he proved himself “retarded” enough to finally make the trip. Japan was to be his first stop which did not happen due to their current problems of nuclear proportions. Joined by the likes of Bill Gates, Jeff Immelt and Paul Bulcke (Nestle’s CEO), who are also visiting India around the same time, I am sure he must have wanted some RoI on the various assorted flu shots and other precuations that visitors to India (chiefly from the US) routinely invest in before  taking the plunge. As usual and as expected, a visit to China (Sep ’10) predated his visit to India. In China also, he had done the rounds with his charity collection box but to limited success. The wealth in China (and also India) is new found – I think its owners may like to enjoy it’s effects for some time before embracing charity.

There is nothing spectacular or bold about his visit here, since he would anyways be under pressure to look for growth spots outside of the din of the US currency printing presses. I am not sure od the exact number, but I think I read somewhere that c80% of his investment company’s assets are in the U.S. I like to hear him when he says that India is a large maket and no longer an emerging market. When he points out that a hike in the current 26% limit in insurance Foreign Domestic Investment (FDI) would help the industry, I like it. But when when he and his best pal, Bill Gates, start talking about charity, I switch off. Never mind the fact that the Oracle of Omaha has pledged (or perhaps already given?) 99% of his wealth to charity.

Reason being, I keep wondering is there a return expectation in the minds of these ultra rich people and corporate houses when they give?

The Bhagvad Gita says, “A gift is pure when it is given from the heart to the right person at the right time and at the right place, and when we expect nothing in return.” The Bible elevates charity and the act of giving to an act of love.  It teaches, “When you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing.”

There is a bit of a personal paradox here for me. I know I have read (and sometimes experieced it as well) that when we give spontaneously, without attachement, whatever you give comes back to you manifold. Now, the problem lies in the fact that the next time you give, you have precognition of this “bounce back effect” having taken place. So, then are your subsequent acts of charity really just outward? I don’t know the answer – perhaps the answer lies in mind control via Yoga or some such device. I’m bad at this.

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