Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Men, women, and giving

I often think of the real (though, of course, general) differences between men and women, and of how urgently we need to elevate the qualities of the feminine. One of those is not making war. Another is nurturing, feeding others, which I think is a feminine quality that goes deeper than socially conditioned roles. Today, a little story in The Urban Dharma Newsletter in my mailbox struck me as almost amusing, because it illustrates the difference, though not to say anything about the sexes. It is making a larger point about how scrupulous piety is no substitute for authentic compassion. Here it is, in my words.

The Bhagavata Purana tells of a time when Krishna's hungry friends ask him to feed them. Krishna tells them, "Go to the nearby temple, where the learned Brahmins are performing an elaborate ritual to attain heaven. Tell them I sent you, and ask them for some cooked rice."

The young men go, bow deeply to the priests and say, "Venerable saints, we are the servants of Lord Krishna. He is hungry and has asked us to seek food from you."

The Brahmins are busy. This is like interrupting Sunday morning service in the middle of the sermon. It isn't done.

Anyway, they are important people, and their lives are scheduled, meditation at certain hours, study at other times, purification rituals. They brush the young followers off. Maybe one of them says, "Come back when we're open. We only do food between the hours of 6:00 and 8:00 a.m. And go around to the back door." Something like that. I don't know whether these young men are homeless, but if they're hungry, they clearly aren't of the same class.

They go back and tell Krishna what happened. He is not surprised. This whole thing is meant to be instructive. He tells them, "Now go to the same men's wives and ask them."

Maybe the young followers are somewhat dubious by now, but you do what the boss tells you. They go to the women. This time their story is, "Lord Krishna is in the neighborhood, and he told us to ask you for food for our hungry group." [So it's like I'm raising money for my high school band.]

When they hear this, the women drop everything, gather huge bowlfuls of the best food in the house, and rush "like rivers towards the ocean" to Krishna, glad to have a chance to give, their hearts full.

Here ends this part of the story. Now, don't anybody call me a femininazi. I didn't make it up. And in any case, bless Christmas. Whatever else is wrong with our holidays, in this season we are sometimes moved to give from a genuine surge of generosity and compassion.

No comments:

Post a Comment