ITIES 16–18: Charity, Generosity, Purity

Swami Yogatirthananda Saraswati (Switzerland)

The 18 ITIES of Swami Sivananda are Serenity, Regularity, Absence of Vanity, Sincerity, Simplicity, Veracity, Equanimity, Fixity, Non-irritability, Adaptability, Humility, Tenacity, Integrity, Nobility, Magnanimity, Charity, Generosity and Purity. (For other articles in this series see September 2001, November 2001, May 2002, September 2002 and January 2003 issues.)

CHARITY

According to the dictionary definition, charity is (a) Christian love, to be full of love and goodwill for others, (b) to be generous in assisting the poor, (c) to be liberal in judging others, to look on the best side and to avoid harsh judgement.

Swami Sivananda finds charity in the teachings of Jesus: "Sooner a camel will go through the eye of a needle than a rich man enter the kingdom of God." "Go and sell what you have and give it to the poor if you would follow me." "The left hand should not know what the right hand does."

In his own definition he gives the following advice: "The water of the Ganga cannot decrease if thirsty people drink it. So also your wealth cannot decrease if you do charity. Share with others whatever you possess, physical, mental or spiritual. You will expand. You will experience oneness and unity of life. Strip yourself of the veils of limitations. It is easy to fight in the battle, but it is difficult to give a gift silently without manifesting pride and self-glorification and without expressing to others. Charity must be spontaneous and unrestrained. Giving must become a strong habit. Give, give and give. Radiate thoughts of goodwill and love. Forgive the faults of others. Bless the man who injures you. Share what you have with all. Feed and clothe all. Disseminate spiritual knowledge to one and all. Use the material wealth, knowledge and spiritual wisdom that you possess as a divine trust, entrusted to you by God, to be distributed among His children."

Forgiveness is an act of charity. What do I give when I forgive? Besides kindness and understanding what else do I give? Why is forgiving more difficult than giving? What do I have to give up and let go of in order to forgive? Giving of one's wealth, giving of one's self, giving up one's attachments will ultimately make all forgiving unnecessary. Without judgement there won't be anything to forgive. Giving in all its shapes and colours is charity.

I am aware how many of the previous ITIES make up charity, like serenity, humility, equanimity, integrity, magnanimity and nobility. Without these qualities there can't be true charity.

The ability to be totally in tune with the needs and moods of the other person(s) is part of charity. There is again the image of the empty flute on which God/guru may play for the benefit of all. If the flute is not empty, God's/guru's gift cannot reach the other person. Charity means to empty oneself, to become the perfect flute and channel.

Thinking it was in her best interest, I was very firm and hard with a student. But afterwards I asked myself if charity makes allowances for hardness. Does charity always have to be sweet, kind and gentle? Does charity exclude severity even if there is no self-motivation? According to the dictionary definition harsh judgement should be avoided, but does severity and firmness always imply judgement?

Previously charity had the connotation of doing good, caring, always smiling. Mother Teresa and her Missionaries of Charity come to mind, their self-effacing devotion, never grumbling, focused on prayer and work, which is but prayer in action.

Over the last few days charity has another connotation. The idea of helping or guiding the other person has become prominent and of course sometimes this help implies firmness. Somehow the vision of help has changed, and the vision goes beyond the moment. The action complies with that vision rather than with the immediate situation. If I act with this vision in mind, in an impersonal way, without self-interest, firmness seems to be OK, even without the sweet smile.

Throughout the ITIES I have been aware how much judgement is tainting my interactions with people. Even the most fleeting split of a second judgement can turn into a mental block and eventually prevent any free and spontaneous action.

When I started teaching yoga in prison, I had asked not to be told about the action that got the students into jail. I wanted to be neutral, free of prejudice, thinking I would not be able to treat someone who had committed a crime against children the same way I would treat a petty thief. Now, someone told me about two of the students who had been sentenced because of child abuse. I was very surprised that I was not affected by the information.

I feel that the ITIES have something to do with it. So often I have been made aware of personal likes and dislikes which are like fetters, serving no purpose at all. The fact that I can look at all students the same way, even with some knowledge about their offence, is a great gift. The application of this gift, the handing on of this gift to the students is charity.

Constant awareness is the key to all the ITIES, the key to a more harmonious life, to a life that is more creative and productive and full of love. Applying this awareness in life is charity to one's self, to others and to life itself.

How often people long to express their hidden invisible side and to be allowed to drop the mask. Behind arrogance there lies vulnerability, behind the clown lies hidden a lot of sadness, behind insecurity we often find an indomitable will and vice versa. Charity is the effort to look beyond the visible, to see what is hidden behind the mask people wear, knowingly and unknowingly.

In the 19th century novel Emma by Jane Austen, the heroine says, "I have shown charity but not kindness." She is placing kindness above charity, for her charity is nothing but the condescending act of a rich young lady taking food to a poor family. For her the act of giving (out of plenty) to the poor is without value if deprived of human warmth and kindness.

The ITIES are a discipline to develop strength(s) and to reinforce the presence of strength(s) in daily life. No ITY can be lived and practised if weakness, ambitions or needs are predominant. Each ITY makes me aware of the inherent strength(s) in me and of the need to let the strength(s) determine my action. The SWAN will always be there with all the four aspects, but the ITIES are a way to increase the potential of strength in everyday life.

Living among vineyards gives me a beautiful example of charity. In February, the vine is cut down to a pitiful stump, no more than a foot high. Yet nine months later, this wooden stump has grown tall and is giving its fruit in abundance, while the leaves paint the countryside in all the shades of gold, orange and dark red. Then the bare branches are tied down and for three months the vine will remain alone, abandoned, maybe covered in snow, until in February again it will be cut down in preparation for a rich harvest. This goes on for 20 years, when the last stump is pulled out and used for firewood. If I had to choose an image for charity, it would certainly be from Mother Nature who never asks anything in return but only gives.

Like all the other ITIES, charity is a means to increase awareness and make conscious choices. The choice is to give or not to give, to accept instead of criticizing or judging. Maybe there is no place for right and wrong, for good and bad, in charity. Maybe charity is so impartial that, no matter what, it sees something positive in every situation. Maybe true giving and forgiving is this ability to see something positive everywhere and all the time.

The hardest kind of giving is the giving up of habits, attachments, fixed ideas. Putting aside my weakness and the identification with it in order to try and satisfy the needs of the students was an act of charity, maybe the greatest act of charity I have done this month. Overcoming one's own weakness to help others is as difficult as it is charitable and it puts into practice Swami Sivananda's definition of charity: "Strip yourself of the veils of limitation."

GENEROSITY

First the dictionary definition: Archaic: nobility of birth and breeding, high quality, liberality in spirit or act, liberality in giving, magnanimity, benevolence.

Swami Sivananda describes generosity thus: In whatever you give be liberal. Have a large heart. Do not be stingy. Take delight in the joys of others, in making others happy. Generosity is a sister-virtue of charity. Generosity is the fulfilment of charity, magnanimity and nobility.

I wonder why there are two similar ITIES, or sister-virtues as Swami Sivananda calls charity and generosity. Veracity also has a sister-virtue, honesty, but it is not part of the 18 ITIES. Maybe it is because giving is so difficult and yet so liberating that it needs two ITIES to confront the issue of giving. It is not only the giving of material goods, of time, kindness and of one's self, but there is also the attitude behind the giving. The giving must be totally free of expectations, of self-interest and of judgement, and that is not so easy.

My favourite children's story is called 'The Giving Tree', by Shel Silverstein. It is about the relationship between an apple tree and a boy. The boy comes to climb and play in the branches of the tree, eating the ripe apples. As a young man he comes asking for money to build a house and found a family. The tree gives him the branches to sell. After family life (and its disillusions) he wants to go away and the tree gives him the trunk to build a boat. At the end the boy returns an old man. The tree is very sad because it has nothing left to offer the boy, except the old stump. The old man accepts and rests on the stump of the tree. Throughout its life the apple tree had offered whatever it had and it was happy to give.

It is the giving of God/guru, it is a giving without conditions attached, without any expectations, and a giving that makes the giver happy. It also shows that there is always something to give and that actually there is no excuse for not giving.

All the words starting with 'gen' have their root in 'genus', which means gender, race, offspring, descent. Generosity is linked with generating. Whatever is given with an attitude of generosity should generate something in the receiver. Maybe I should be aware of the potential that lies in this attitude. Maybe every giving should be accompanied with a blessing that the gift may generate well-being, happiness and peace.

Again I am awed by nature's generosity. So much beauty everywhere, no matter if I look at an autumn leaf, a flower, a snow flake, or if I look at the still majesty of a lake, the grandeur of a mountain range, the vastness of the sea or desert. In her minute detail or in her all embracing expansiveness, nature is always there to give. How Mother Nature bestows her beauty and bounty on all alike who are willing to receive.

Maybe when I make the effort to do my best then I am really generous. To do that I need constant awareness of any given moment as well as the requirements of any given situation. If I am willing to do that, then I am generous because I give one of the most precious gifts: awareness.

Generosity must be fearless. Generosity is the unexpected, to give the unexpected. As long as there is expectation on the part of the receiver, and I merely fulfil and satisfy this expectation, it is not generosity. Generosity must go beyond and open new grounds. At the same time it is a way to show the futility of expectations to both giver and receiver.

Understanding is a form of generosity, maybe even one of the highest forms of generosity. If understanding does not come easily or spontaneously, then it is the effort I have to make that is generosity. The opposite of understanding is judgement; that is the short and quick way out. No effort is required to judge. Therefore, also laziness is the opposite of generosity.

Understanding, judgement and acceptance are the words that come up with generosity. It is very generous if I can accept a person or a situation as such without any 'ifs or buts'. Preconceived ideas, likes and dislikes, even opinions are stumbling blocks on the way to generosity. The same issues seem to be coming up again and again under a different angle according to the ITY. Today I saw that expectation is definitely the opposite of generosity.

As soon as there is the slightest trace of an expectation, I am closing out all other possibilities; I am being less generous to life, limiting others and myself to my own little expectation. Expectation is nothing but an expression of insecurity. If I feel secure and safe, I do not need any expectation and I can be open and generous to all that is out there. Expectation is therefore also an expression of weakness and therefore non- ITY, as ITIES are all expressions of strengths.

Generosity is not far from sacrifice. Maybe real generosity must be sacrifice, maybe unless I go as far as feeling that I am sacrificing a part of myself there is no generosity? The sacrifice of self-interest, of the self-identification, of identification with the SWAN and especially with my weakness is true generosity.

The first six ITIES deal with tamas or tamasic tendencies. They are tools I can use to overcome laziness, lethargy, and inertia. The second six ITIES bring rajas or rajasic behaviour under control, give it direction and keep it from dissipation. The last six ITIES develop sattwa, they show how I can develop qualities in everyday life that will lead me to a sattwic life altogether. And this sattwic life is expressed in the last ITY, in purity.

Generosity is the giving that goes beyond myself. It is a giving that plants the seed in the receiver that it may generate there more well-being, understanding and in its turn generosity. Only if there is no identification whatsoever with what I am or have or do can there be such a disinterested giving, like the giving of the apple tree. The apple tree knew that it had been but a seed grown into an apple tree thanks to the earth, the rain and the sun. In the same way I should always be aware that I have grown thanks to God / guru, to life and all that is around me. Only with such an attitude of detachment is generosity possible.

Give a warm smile to generate laughter,
Give of your time to generate peace,
Give up ideas to generate oneness,
Give just kindness to generate care,
Give always more to generate plenty,
Give a surprise to generate awe,
Then give yourself to generate freedom.

Let all your gifts be seeds planted
In the soil of understanding,
Nurtured with the rain of patience,
Bathed in the sun of awareness.

PURITY

The term 'purity' is used in many fields of science. The verb 'to purify' is defined as (a) to clear from material defilement or imperfection, (b) to free from guilt or moral blemish, (c) to cleanse ceremonially (d) to free from anything that is alien, extraneous, improper, corrupting or otherwise damaging.

Purity is the closest to serenity and the laughter of a child. The circle of ITIES is coming to an end. But purity is much more than serenity - it has been in the forge of 17 ITIES, it is built upon understanding, on a lot of patience and on the constant practice of awareness.

Somehow the previous ITIES told me what purity is or should be: no likes and dislikes, no ego, no expectations, no self-interest, no identification, no attachment but instead constant awareness, total dedication to a goal, putting the well-being of others first. The map is there, the 17 ITIES have shown the way, but walking the path is still up to me.

Kirtan is an expression of purity. Singing God's name is maybe the easiest way to come close to purity.

According to the definition, purity means being free of anything 'alien, extraneous, improper, corrupting or otherwise damaging'. Thoughts, ideas, opinions, prejudice, likes and dislikes, expectations, desires, fears - all these are without any doubt not purity.

Nature is full of purity or at least associations are possible with different aspects of nature. Even a tempest has an element of purity; there is purity in the violent outrage of a storm. But what does it have in common with the laughter of a child, with the face of a child asleep or with the beauty of a sunrise. Yet all seem to express some kind of purity. Out in nature, I was impressed that the majesty and grandeur of mountains display as much purity as the indistinct meadow and lonely forest. Obviously it doesn't matter - nature is always pure, in her spectacular and in her humble garb.

Frustration and a sense of exhaustion and fatigue. My thoughts are not pure, I don't feel pure, I don't see purity. I just want to get through the day as best as I can. The only touch of purity is the simple treading on, just doing what has to be done.

I found purity in prison. The yoga classes are starting again, and the almost childlike joy some of the students showed was definitely pure. They were looking forward to another season of a weekly yoga class and were very honest and frank about it. For men who don't usually advertise their feelings it was an achievement of purity.

I have seen purity in various colours and shapes, but never in myself. I could not say, "This was a moment of purity," the way I had done with serenity, with sincerity, even with equanimity. I could not say, "This was an act of purity," the way I had done with generosity and nobility. No, I might have been a witness of purity, but I have never felt it with my own being. I still don't know what purity is like.

The German writer Johann Wolfgang Goethe said in one of his poems that we see the sun because we have the sun in us, we only know of God because God is in us. And the New Testament says: "There is nothing without that isn't within." So somewhere inside there must be purity, and it is my job to do the tidying up, to free myself from anything that is alien, extraneous, improper, corrupting or otherwise damaging.

In regard to purity only questions remain and the feeling that the constant willingness and effort to purify myself is purity. In other words, to live and practise Swami Sivananda's advice every moment is purity: "Be pure at heart. Eradicate lust, anger, greed and other evil qualities. Be pure in your thoughts; let no evil thought enter your mind. Think of God always; think of the well-being of all. Be pure in your words; never utter a vulgar, harsh or unkind word. Be pure in body also; keep it clean. Keep your dress and your surroundings clean. Observe the rules of physical, mental, moral and spiritual hygiene." Of course that makes purity the most difficult and the most radical of all ITIES.

Purity has been the most vague and intangible ITY. Coming to the end of the ITIES after 18 months, I don't feel that I have achieved anything, yet there is no sense of emptiness either. I had anticipated a great void after this practice of ITIES - the well known "So, what now?" My aim in life has never changed yet the focus has been renewed. I have got to know the ITIES a bit better. I have learnt of their beauty and importance in everyday life and in spiritual life - a difference that through the ITIES definitely ceases to exist. I feel as if I am on the doorstep of a new job to tackle, the sadhana of perfecting the ITIES, the sadhana of conscious, committed and ceaseless purification.

Will, effort and an open heart shall be Thy gift.
Then - service, silence.
Other than that I know not.