Vedas are mostly based upon "Karm-Kaand", the practice of daily systematic rituals for everyone according to their family background and status. They also propose certain rituals to be performed to fulfill certain desires; to achieve happiness and prosperity in the world. But over a period of time, these rituals became almost mechanical; without any feelings, emotions or considerations.
And that is exactly what Nachiketa’s father was doing. He was performing a special Yagna to fulfill his desires. But it was just a mechanical ritual. He was giving away a thousand old cows in the name of charity to priests and poor Brahmans without considering if they would be of any use to them or not. Nachiketa, even at such tender age, could see that it was not really an act of charity. He saw that those cows would be useless for the priests because they could neither provide any milk nor produce offspring. Since the cows were so weak, they would actually become a burden upon those priests. They would have to feed them, fetch water and take care of them at great expense. Nachiketa seems to be a wise and caring young boy. He also knows that those priests cannot refuse because they are supposed to accept readily whatever is given to them as offerings, whether they like it or not. Moreover, they must bless the ‘yajmaan’; the patron or donor. This is one of their priestly duties.
All religions and social welfare organizations worldwide preach charity. But "offering" is a pious act and it should therefore be done with sincerity from the heart. It should be practiced with humility and mindfulness; keeping in mind the needs and requirements of the receiver.
A few years ago, in his discourse during Sunday Satsang at Toronto Bhavan, a renowned preacher from England spoke on a similar subject. He said that many times we buy clothes and other things but end up not using them right away. When we look at them after some time, we either don’t like them or find them useless. When we are unable to find the receipt, we cannot return them. What should we do ?
We say “Oh well! We’ll give it as ‘offering’ to some guest or preacher when they come to visit us.”
And that’s what many people do.
As a Punjabi saying goes: "Naale Punn, te naale phaliyaan."
नाले पुण्य ते नाले फलियाँ
A nice way to get rid of unwanted things and at the same time, perform an act of charity as well.
"There is nothing wrong in doing so," he further added. But there might be a problem when we become completely inconsiderate for the guest’s requirements and, for example, give small size clothing to large people and extra-large size clothing to people with smaller physiques.
He then shared few personal experiences during some of his out-of-country visits when he received large amounts of clothing and other gifts that were of no use to him or his family. Not only was he obligated to accept them and carry the extra weight where ever he went, but he had to pay for the extra luggage charged by the airline. After reaching home, they had to store the clothes in closets and wait… only to recycle those again by giving to some other visiting saints or guests.
So, I think some important lessons to learn from this story would be:
1. The offerings (charity or gifts) should be given sincerely from the heart, with love and humility and with proper considerations; keeping in mind its usefulness to the recipient.
2. On the other hand, the priests, preachers or guests who receive the offerings should also be considerate of the "giver". They should not hurt their feelings and insult them by refusing to accept something they don’t like, or for any other personal reason. Just as the priests and poor Brahmans in this story - even after seeing that those cows were anything but burden upon them - did not say anything. Considering their priestly duty, they quietly kept on performing the Yagna for the sake of their ‘yajmaan’.
3. Out of respect for their priestly duties, the priests could not say anything, but should someone else watch out for their welfare and concerns and speak up for them?
Nachiketa is thinking how hard it would be for those revered priests and poor Brahmans to take care of those old and frail cows who cannot provide anything in return. And at the same time he is also thinking about the reputation and welfare of his own father - who cannot apprehend that giving such gifts is not an act of goodness. Perhaps by reading scriptures or by using his common sense, Nachiketa knows that his father cannot achieve ‘Swarga’; that his desires cannot be fulfilled by giving such useless gifts - which seems to be more like punishment than charity. So he warns his father:
"Joyless are the worlds which he attains who gives such dakshina – gifts or alms."
To be continued……..
*The word god does not really convey the proper or actual meaning of the Sanskrit or Hindi words Deva and Devataa; pronounced Dev and Devtaa respectively, meaning ‘giver’ or provider. Therefore, father, mother, teacher and anyone else who provides physical or financial security and knowledge is also called Dev, such as Pitri-dev, Maatri-dev, Guru-dev etc.
In English however, the word Dev has been translated occasionally as angel and mostly god with a lower case g.