Feed Thy Neighbour

Swami Vibhooti Saraswati

“The water of the Ganga cannot decrease if thirsty people drink it. So also, your wealth cannot decrease if you give to others.”

—Swami Sivananda Saraswati

The story about the banquet given by Lord Brahma for the devas and demons gives us plenty of ‘food’ for thought and can inspire us to think more deeply about the work Swami Satyananda is doing in Rikhia. Lord Brahma, the creator of the universe, had invited all the devas (gods) and asuras (demons) to a banquet. Before they started eating, however, Brahma had bamboo sticks tied to everyone’s arms, from the shoulder to the wrist. Of course, neither deva nor asura could bend their arms to get the food to their mouths. Unable to feed themselves, the demons became angry. But the devas, realizing that it was impossible to feed themselves, spontaneously began to feed each other. So the gods enjoyed the feast fully, lovingly fed by each other, and left enriched by the experience, whereas the demons left hungry and dissatisfied!

This story symbolizes both the demonic side of the human personality and the possibility of developing the divine, creative side. In this Kali Yuga, the divine side seems to have become closed to the suffering and needs of others. As Swami Sivananda says, “Most people are absolutely selfish these days. Money is in their blood. Cheerlessness and ugliness are in their faces. Worry, greed, passion, jealousy, hatred, depression and all the other negative qualities stick to the one who has a miserly nature and consume the very core of his heart.” The asuras or demons represent this narrow, grasping materialistic mentality, as opposed to the open, giving and spiritually aware mentality of the devas or gods.

This story could be said to contrast the aggressively dynamic society which lives for getting and accumulating for personal satisfaction (thus creating very thick and gross karma for itself) and the passively dynamic society which lives in peace and harmony, keeping the welfare of others in mind (thereby accumulating good karma). It shows the complete emotional and mental imbalance that can occur when we live only for self-gratification and personal gain, without having any awareness of those around us. There can be no true nourishment or contentment in such a lifestyle, but when we look after the needs of others there can be true nourishment, inner satisfaction and peace of mind. And nourishment does not only refer to the actual food eaten. A kind, encouraging or uplifting word at the right time to someone in distress is also a type or nourishment. As Swami Sivananda says, “The food you are able to give a guest may be meagre, but if you offer it with love, it acquires great power, nutrition and taste.”

Yoga of giving

When Swami Satyananda came to Rikhia to perform his higher sadhana in the peace of Shiva’s domain, he received the command, “Take care of your neighbours as I have taken care of you.” He says that at first he did not know how to help the people of the villages best. But in his own inimitable way he has solved the problem and fulfilled the command to the hilt (in true kshetrya fashion), causing ripples of compassion which are spreading to all corners of the globe. Sri Swamiji is the perfect example of someone who really lives, because he lives for others. What we see in Rikhia today is the unfoldment of the miracle of his caring for his neighbours worldwide; for both his materially poor neighbours and for the materially rich who are poor in spirit, having forgotten what it is to give to and to care for their fellow sufferers on earth. For this Boddhisattva the whole world is his home and all the people in it are his family.

People coming to Rikhia over the years and seeing the poverty and suffering of the villagers have been given the opportunity of distributing warm blankets, clothes, cows, rickshaws, bicycles and utensils to the needy. They have seen the little underfed children plied with wholesome food, and their hearts have opened. They have left Rikhia enriched, with a new understanding in their hearts and with their spirits fed.

One group came from abroad to participate in a yoga course, but they took part in something much greater – the yoga of giving. They were given the seva of distributing money and a new set of clothes to the elderly men of the villages on behalf of Sri Swamiji, who refers to them as his ‘fellow travellers’. (Some of these villagers cannot even walk here to receive Sri Swamiji’s prasad and have to be brought by rickshaw or carried because their legs are too thin to support them.) Not one of the group involved in the distribution remained dry-eyed as a result of this exposure. They were so moved because they had never experienced what it is like to give and to share with people so much more unfortunate than themselves, face to face! It was the actual living contact close up which stirred their compassion and opened up their hearts, seeing the smiling faces which received the gifts with such gratitude and joy. Just sending money from a distance to relieve the suffering of others is one thing, but as Swami Sivananda says, “Thinking well towards suffering people and praying for their welfare will accomplish more good than much money.”

This is the wonder of Sri Swamiji’s vision. He shows us that when you nourish others, you yourself are nourished. You are enriched at a much deeper level of being which cannot be sustained by gross food alone, no matter how much you may eat. For one who does not feed others is always hungry, but when you look after the welfare of others you will also be looked after. The gift you give returns to you. Swami Sivananda, who is the source and inspiration of all the work taking place in Rikhia, said, “Give to the poor, the sick, the helpless and the forlorn. Give to the orphans, the decrepit, the blind, the helpless widows . . . and thank the one who gives you the opportunity to serve.”