Hello listeners, this is Krishna with HinduLit, a podcast on Indian literature, mythologies, and history.
Today's story is a folk tale about a mongoose, whose fur was coated in gold across one half of its body. The mongoose narrates to an audience, how half of his body came to be coated in gold.
Once, there was a king Yudhishthira of Hastinapura. To assert his dominance, win the favor of the gods and celebrate his rule, he performed the Rajasuya Yagna. The Rajasuya Yagna is a ritual performed by kings where they ceremonially dress a horse and let it loose. The horse is followed by the king or the king's army and any kingdom that the horse visits must either accept a challenge to the throne or submit to the king performing the ritual. After the horse completes its journey and returns, the horse is sacrificed. The ceremony typically ends with prayers and the distribution of alms. The king performed the ritual and towards the end distributed gold, jewelry, food, and other riches to the brahmins, the poor, the lame, and the blind.
The brahmins who attended the ritual spoke high praises of the king Yudhishthira.
"Wah! What a great ritual!" said one brahmin.
"Yes, it was majestic. The king donated several times more than the recommended donation for this sacrifice.", said another in praise of the king.
"The feast was amazing. Look at all the delicious varieties of food. The gods must be heaping the king with blessings."
"Yes! This must be the most generous king ever."
Suddenly, a mongoose walked into the area where the ritual was performed. One half of the mongoose's body was coated in gold. The brahmins and the other attendees were surprised to see such an unusual animal and watched it with interest. The mongoose then rolled its body on the ground.
After a short pause, the mongoose spoke, "This sacrifice isn't the greatest. I know of a Brahmin whose sacrifice was much greater."
The brahmins who attended the king's ritual were surprised to hear this and asked the mongoose, "how can ANY sacrifice be greater than the king's? It was conducted splendidly. Look at all the riches that the king has given away. Look at the food. Observe the religious rites that the king has followed. He has been so judicious. How can there possibly be a sacrifice greater than this? Where has there ever been a person more generous than Yudhishthira?"
The mongoose replied, "You are correct. Yet, the brahmin's sacrifice was greater. By comparison, this sacrifice by the king is nothing."
On hearing this, one of the brahmins asked, "You slight the king without giving an explanation. We who are attending and witnessing this great ritual are learned men. Tell us about this brahmin and his sacrifice that you speak of. We wish to be enlightened."
"So be it.", said the mongoose, "Let me tell you the tale of how half of my body turned to gold." And so the mongoose narrated the story of the generous brahmin.
There once was a brahmin in Kurukshetra. He lived with his wife, son, and daughter in law in a small hut on the outskirts of the kingdom. The brahmin and his family were poor and lived a simple and austere life. The brahmin ate only once a day, and even then, only a few grains of corn. Despite their meager consumption, there were times when the brahmin could not afford to even provide that much for his family due to famine. Both the brahmin and his son ventured out for several days in search of food and returned empty-handed. The brahmin family went without food for several days.
One day, owing to some good fortune, the brahmin was able to find some barley. He brought home a bag of the same where his starved wife and daughter in law began cooking a meal with it. The food was distributed into 4 equal portions for each family member. Just as they were about to sit down for their meal, a guest arrived at the front door.
The brahmin stepped out and greeted the guest. The guest was a traveler who was passing by and he was weary from his journey. The brahmin, despite his adversity, performed his duty as a host. He invited the traveler into his home, washed his feet, and gave him a seat.
The brahmin said to the traveler, "Please rest. Let me go and bring you some food to eat."
With that, the brahmin went inside where his wife had distributed the barley and took his share and brought it to the traveler.
"Here, dear sir. Please having this meal. I am sorry, but it is all I have to offer," said the brahmin.
The man, hungry from his travel, took the portion of barley from the brahmin and ate it quickly without ceremony. So hungry was he, that he began licking his fingers.
The brahmin thought, "He is still hungry. What should I do now?"
As the brahmin wondered how he could appease the hunger of his guest, his wife stepped forward with her portion of barley.
"You are troubled that our guest is hungry and that as a host you have not satisfied our guest. Do not worry. Please give our guest my portion of barley, too," said the wife.
The brahmin replied, "I cannot do that. You have not eaten for days and your body is weak and worn from hard work."
The wife said, "So have you. And you gave your portion away. If you can do it, why can't I? Please give our guest my portion. It is your duty as a host."
The brahmin reluctantly took the portion of barley from his wife, turned around and gave the meal to the traveler.
The traveler continued his meal and soon finished it.
"The man is still hungry. I can't blame him. Two handfuls of barley are hardly enough to appease a man's hunger, let alone after a long and weary journey," thought the brahmin.
As the brahmin wondered what to do next, his son stepped forth with his portion of barley.
"Father, please do not worry. Give our guest my portion of barley. I am young. I can withstand hunger for quite a while," said the son.
The brahmin replied, "The hunger of children is much stronger my son. And even as you grow older, to me, you will always be a child, even if millennia passed."
However, the son insisted on giving his portion of barley to the guest. The brahmin resigned himself and took the barley and gave it to the traveler.
The traveler gulped down the portion of barley in a single gulp and looked forward to more.
This time the daughter-in-law came forward with her portion of barley and persuaded her father-in-law to give her portion to the guest. The brahmin then offered the last portion of barley to the traveler.
"Sir, won't you have some more?", said the brahmin.
The guest rose, "Enough. You have passed my test. You and your family are truly great. Despite your challenges, you live a noble life and continue to treat your guests with humility, and offer anything and everything to them as a way of upholding your duty as a guest. "
The traveler began to glow with a brightness like the sun. The brahmin and his family realized that the traveler was a deva.
The deva continued, "Hunger can steer people away from righteous action. Those who conquer hunger have won heaven for themselves. Your sacrifice has impressed the devas. Come, join me. The home of the immortals awaits you."
A golden chariot dragged by horses descended from the heavens. The deva took the brahman and his family on the golded chariot and ascended to heaven.
The mongoose continued his story, "I was a witness to these events. After the deva took the brahmin and his family, I went into the brahmin's home, where he had served the guest. There were some granules of barley on the floor. I rolled my body over the barley and lo, half my body turned to gold."
"Ever since, I have visited every sacred ritual and ceremony and rolled my body on the grounds where a great sacrifice was conducted. Alas, my other half has never turned to gold. "
As the mongoose concluded the story, he started walking away from the ceremony conducted by the king. As the brahmins who were listening to the mongoose's story watched him leave, the mongoose said, "I think, I will never succeed. The brahmin's sacrifice was great indeed."
That ends our story about the golden mongoose. Let's discuss some of the themes of this story. Why are the brahmin and his family's sacrifice viewed as superior to that of the king? Why do the devas bless the brahmin's family and take them to heaven, yet don't even offer their presence to the king's event? After all, the brahmin merely served one person; the king served hundreds of people.
The king had vast wealth. He was charitable as part of a ritual that was designed with the intent of earning the praise of the gods and as a means to showcase his greatness. While the king was certainly generous, he imparted but a small portion of his wealth. And he did it with an intention of self-aggrandizement.
The brahmin and his family, by comparison, were poor. They hadn't eaten for several days, yet they served their guest, a traveler, who was hungry and weary from his journey. The brahmin and his family were not just generous but were selfless because they gave everything that they had to feed their guest. They were not resentful nor did they perceive any gain from their actions. They merely considered it their duty to serve a guest. There was no show to the public of their generosity. The brahmin was humble and primarily focused on attending to the traveler.
The brahmin's sacrifice was greater than that of the king because he had given away everything with no intention of receiving anything. Whereas the king merely doled out a portion of his wealth, and that too for his vanity.
Giving can be in many forms. You can give money, food, shelter, physical assistance, or some other form of assistance. They all constitute giving. Giving does not have to only be for the poor or desperate but can even be to your friends or family. Selflessness should be a part of your moral constitution, temperament, and practice in life. In most spiritual practices and pursuits, selflessness is considered a virtue and greed avarice.
When you are giving, you ought to give willingly. If you are so enamored with your wealth or so self-absorbed that you do not wish to aid others, that it pinches you to give anything of yours to another, then you are
are better advised to address this character fault.
I like to reference Maimonides, who in his 'Mishneh Torah' lists his 'Eight levels of giving'. I will paraphrase his eight levels of giving here:
Level 8: Giving out of pity.
Consider that you are out and about, and you see a destitute begging for food. She is grimy, possibly from sleeping on the streets. She may have a child with her who is hungry. Her troubles might tug at your heart and you may then reach out for your wallet and give them some money. You help the mother
and the child, and you leave elated.
Maimonides assigns this form of giving to the lowest of his eight levels. You have acted of pity. You may have helped the destitute woman and her child, however, you have probably notdone anything to resolve the fundamental challenges that the woman and the child are facing. She and her child will be back in the street, begging the next day. Also, you have acted on impulse, to soothe an emotional urge that you are facing at the moment. This impulse might not lead you to make smart assessments. What if the woman is irresponsible and uses most of the money to purchase alcohol or drugs?
I don't want to suggest that you be cynical of everyone who might appear in need and therefore, do nothing. However, it is worth considering how to help people; there are perhaps better ways. Consider it your duty as part of your spiritual growth to seek out better ways to help people.
Level 7: Giving willingly, but inadequately.
Let's say that you know a family that is poor and this family has three children who could benefit from your help. The three children could benefit from a good education at a school, which can enable the family to get out of poverty over the long run. You have the finances to either support one child's education from grade 1 through high school or support all three children through middle school. Maimonides would recommend supporting one child to finish his entire education.
You have in your power the ability to change life dramatically for at least one child. It may appear fair to support all three children equally, but unless you have the finances to get them to the finish, the money you are investing in them may go well to waste. The three children will still need more money to support them to finish their education past middle school, but now you are no longer able to fund them. By choosing to distribute sparsely across three children, you may not achieve your intended effect.
Level 6: Giving adequately, after being asked.
Level 5: Giving adequately, before being asked.
I have lumped these two rules together as there is only one key distinguishing element. That is, you are asked for assistance versus volunteering the assistance. Maimonides assigns voluntary assistance to a higher stature than assistance when asked. People who need help can sometimes be prideful or ashamed to ask for assistance. Because of it, some may never even ask. Maimonides is directing you to be observant of the needs of your fellow man and volunteer your assistance. Save others from their shame or pride, and offer assistance with humility.
Level 4: Giving publicly to an unknown recipient.
Level 3: Giving anonymously to a known recipient.
Tere is nothing wrong with giving money in a public or broadcasted fashion, but we must refrain from it being a venue for stroking one's ego. Let us not be politicians who take pleasure in cutting ribbons as a photo opportunity and instead be humble in our giving. For this reason, Maimonides suggests donating anonymously. The distinguishing element between a known versus unknown recipient is that with a known recipient you have some idea of their needs and can properly judge how to assist the person and can be confident that the money will not be used for ill.
Level 2: Giving anonymously to an unknown recipient via person or public fund that is trustworthy, wise, and can perform acts of giving with your money impeccably.
This form of giving is better than other forms because (1) you aren't drawing attention to yourself and stroking your ego by aggrandizing to the public; (2) You are giving to a person or organization that is invested in ensuring appropriate usage of your money for the intended purpose. The money, therefore, will not be used adversely; and finally (3) you are helping someone with who you have no connection.
Level 1: Giving an interest-free loan to a person in need; forming a partnership with a person in need; giving a grant to a person in need; finding a job for a person in need, so long as that loan, grant, partnership, or job results in the person no longer living by relying upon others.
The highest level of giving is one where we can help someone in such a manner that the person will be able to stand on their own feet and can support themselves without your further assistance. This can be accomplished in several ways. Maimonides offers a few suggestions.
These are the 8 levels of giving according to Maimonides.
The Indian epic, the Bhagavad Gita, also has a simpler pronouncement on giving:
datavyam-iti yad-dhanam diyate 'nupakarine deshe kale cha patre cha tad daanam sattvikam smritam
- Charity given to a worthy person simply because it is right to give, without consideration of anything in return, at the proper time and in the proper place, is stated to be in the mode of goodness.
yat tu pratyupakÄrÄrthaá¹ phalam uddiÅhya vÄ punaá¸¥ dÄ«yate cha parikliá¹£há¹aá¹ tad dÄnaá¹ rÄjasaá¹ smá¹itam
- But charity given with reluctance, with the hope of a return or in expectation of a reward, is said to be in the mode of passion.
adeÅha-kÄle yad dÄnam apÄtrebhyaÅh cha dÄ«yate asat-ká¹itam avajÃ±Ätaá¹ tat tÄmasam udÄhá¹itam
- And that charity, which is given at the wrong place and wrong time to unworthy persons, without showing respect, or with contempt, is held to be of the nature of ignorance.
That concludes this episode of the podcast. Please join us again next for more stories on Indian literature, mythologies, and history.
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