It was one cold December morning before Christmas. We were out with book tables in downtown Toronto, trying to get passing souls to consider a spiritual gift, either for themselves or others.
One elderly lady, dressed in shabby winter wear suddenly approached me, speaking a language I didn’t understand, but holding out a a pair of gray socks she had in her hand. She herself could have used those socks… some good Samaritan had given out the socks as a present, probably in the spirit of the season. But the lady insisted that I take them from her.
When I repeatedly refused, the look in her eyes turned from a kind eagerness to a kind of dejected sadness – why was I refusing her gift?
I tried to show her my own warm socks, the ones I wore – she pulled out another pair of the same kind of socks… in other words, we were even.
I then explained that I had other pairs of warm socks at home… she probably thought I was politely declining out of some kind of pride.
Each time I refused, she grew sadder.
Until finally, I decided to accept her gift. She couldn’t have been happier!
To the kind lady, out there in the cold, I appeared to be in more need than herself!
I tried to look at myself from her angle of vision. I was wearing an unbranded hat, coat, and boots. I was out there soliciting passersby to consider taking books. Some people handed me change or different amounts of money in exchange for the books.
So, it must have appeared to her that I was trying to earn some money by selling spiritual books to passersby. She saw that I had a child with me… and her motherly compassion was aroused.
She was quite happy when I accepted her kind gift, and she blessed me, this time, in English, saying “God bless you my child, you should keep doing this work for God. You are doing a good thing”.
Relieved and happy that she was conversant with English, I handed her a gift set of books and without being asked, she gave me some change with a smile.
She may or may not have realized this, but at that moment, the whole trajectory of her life changed. She had donated in exchange for spiritual knowledge, which means she had acquired the power to read and understand those books, and apply the knowledge to her own life.
The gift of spiritual knowledge has the power to end the endless sojourn of the soul in the material realm. Each soul has been here, taking birth, growing old, catching disease, and dying, over and over again.
But genuine spiritual knowledge, such as the Bhagavad Gita As It Is, has the power to change the trajectory of the soul and end all suffering.
So the gift of spiritual knowledge is the highest of all gifts, because it is the ultimate solution to all problems.
I came back home and offered those socks to Krishna. Those were valuable socks.
I treasure and value that gift. Because the lady gave a donation selflessly without expectation of a return, to a person who was out trying to serve God and His souls, her donation qualifies under this qualification spoken by Krishna:
दातव्यमिति यद्दानं दीयतेऽनुपकारिणे ।
देशे काले च पात्रे च तद्दानं सात्त्विकं स्मृतम् ॥ २० ॥
dātavyam iti yad dānaṁ
deśe kāle ca pātre ca
tad dānaṁ sāttvikaṁ smṛtam
Charity given out of duty, without expectation of return, at the proper time and place, and to a worthy person is considered to be in the mode of goodness.https://vedabase.io/en/library/bg/17/20/
I am no beggar from an external perspective. God has given me enough and more, enough to be able to donate my time and money to worthy causes. He has given me a relatively easy way to earn a decent livelihood, given me good health, put me into a good family, given me a good education, and best of all, placed me in the care of advanced spiritualists. I’m really quite fortunate in all respects.
I don’t consider myself “worthy” to receive charity… but the mission I was on is worthy. She may have given to me, but actually she gave to the mission.
From an internal perspective, I am indeed a beggar. I constantly beg God to engage me in His service, and the service of His servants. I also beg other souls to please turn their attention to God, and to make God the centre of their lives. In other words, I beg from people for their own benefit.
To anyone who is a beggar of any kind, of course, must be prepared for all sorts of rebuffs, insults, and the like.
नूनं स्वार्थपरो लोको न वेद परसङ्कटम् ।
यदि वेद न याचेत नेति नाह यदीश्वर: ॥ ६ ॥
nūnaṁ svārtha-paro loko
na veda para-saṅkaṭam
yadi veda na yāceta
neti nāha yad īśvaraḥ
Those who are too self-interested beg something from others, not knowing of others’ pain. But if the beggar knew the difficulty of the giver, he would not ask for anything. Similarly, he who is able to give charity does not know the beggar’s difficulty, for otherwise he would not refuse to give the beggar anything he might want as charity.https://vedabase.io/en/library/sb/6/10/6/
I often get told “Go get a real job” (as if this world were permanent and that any job in the material world had any relevance in the realm of eternity), or “stop living off of others” (as if anyone is living off of themselves, everyone depends on God for everything!). I get shooed, chased off, ridiculed, and made fun of. Sometimes, I get threatened with violence or worse. Sometimes, I get barely tolerated, sometimes, I get all sorts of rude comments.
Of course, I do get compliments and admiration and so many nice sentiments expressed.
The best is when someone actually takes the spiritual message I am trying to pass on.
I know the difficulty of the beggar, and I know the difficulty of the giver too. It is the hardest thing to contemplate and actually surrender. But the search for a soul who is ready to return to God is well worth all the trouble.
As for the kind lady with the gift of warm socks? She has a special place in Krishna’s world. Time separates her from her eventual destination. I pray that wherever she is, Krishna helps her to continue her journey, for she has served Lord Chaitanya’s mission with a kind heart.
Krishna is someone who is constantly looking to catch us doing something right, and He takes the highest and best from even the most insignificant thing we may do. Krishna never forgets something that someone has done for Him or the servant of His servant. That I am, fortunately.
As a spiritual beggar, my job is to keep approaching souls, looking for the ones who are ready to go back.
Coming back to the kind lady, a beggar herself, possibly homeless, who developed a motherly affection for me…
The trajectory of her life is irrevocably altered, she has begun her journey home.