Doing Good
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       =======  Understanding Hinduism  =======

Doing Good

Click on underlined words to open paragraph

(Sacrifice)

Doing Good

The Story of King Rantideva

The Story of Sage Dadeechi

The Story of Mahabali

The Story of King Sibi

__________________

Doing Good
Vivekananda Kendra Patrika

Why do we do good work? Because it is a blessing to ourselves. Swami Vivekananda calls upon us to serve God in man, and gives the key to blessedness in the following words:

“We may all be perfectly sure that it will go on beautifully well without us, and we need not bother our heads wishing to help it. Yet, we must do good; the desire to do good is the highest motive power we have, if we know all the time that it is a privilege to help others. Do not stand on a high pedestal, and take five cents in your hand and say, ‘Here, my poor man,’ but be grateful that the poor man is there, so that by making a gift to him you are able to help yourself. It is not the receiver that is blessed, but it is the giver. Be thankful that you are allowed to exercise your power of benevolence and mercy in the world and thus become pure and perfect….

“No beggar whom we have helped has ever owed a single cent to us: we owe everything to him because he has allowed us to exercise our charity on him. It is entirely wrong to think that we have done, or can do, good to the world, to think that we have helped such and such people. It is a foolish thought, and all foolish thoughts bring misery. We think that we have helped some man and expect him to thank us, and because he does not, unhappiness comes to us. Why should we expect anything in return for what we do? Be grateful to the man you help, think of him as God. Is it not a great privilege to be allowed to worship God by helping our fellow men? If we were really unattached, we should escape all this vain expectation, and could cheerfully do good work in the world.”

The Story of King Rantideva
Srimad Bhagavatam
Paraphrased by K. Balasubrahmania
source 'Hindu Ideals'

During a period of devastating famine in his kingdom King Rantideva spent the whole of his wealth in feeding the hungry and the distressed. Deeply pained by the sufferings of his people and by way of atonement, the King undertook a fast for forty-eight days and did not take any food or even water during that period. On the forty-ninth day, when he was satisfied that almost all the hungry and the distressed in his kingdom had been well looked after, he decided to break his fast. Just as he was about to do so by taking a morsel of food and a cup of water he heard the piteous cry of a person of low caste (Pulkasa as he is called in the Purana), asking for water to quench his thirst. The King was then in the midst of his ministers and councillors. He stopped tasting the water placed before him and ordered that the cup be given to the Pulkasa. The people around him remonstrated strongly at this suicidal act on the part of the King. It was pointed out by them that it was too much on his part to take the risk of sacrificing his own life for the sake of a pulkasa after this long fast of nearly forty-eight days. Immediately afterwards the King began to take the morsel of food. Even for that food there came a guest at his doors. At this stage, Ranti Deva made the famous pronouncement recorded in fitting terms by Vyasa:

“I do not seek from the Supreme Lord the highest Bliss attended with the eight powers or siddhis. Nor do I care for apunarbhavam or cessation of the cycle of births and deaths. But my only desire is to be present in all beings, undergo suffering with them and serve them so that they may become free from misery.”

In the next verse he continues to say:

“Hunger, thirst, fatigue, loss of strength in limbs, distress, languor, grief, disappointment, delusion – all these undesirable features of my distressed soul have all disappeared upon my giving water to one who was suffering from acute thirst.”

The Trimurtis, the rulers of the three worlds, revealed themselves to him and praised his heroic sacrifice and infinite mercy for his suffering fellow men. There can be no higher or nobler humanitarian ideal than the one revealed by this episode. Not only did Ranti Deva seek to relieve the misery of his fellow-men, but he also desired to so identify himself with them and become a part of them so as to undergo their suffering and thereby share their miserable predicament.

Mahatma Gandhi, the Father of our Nation (India), took hold of this great teaching of the Srimad Bhagavatam as the inspiring motto of his life. He inscribed this verse in front of the Sabarmati Ashram founded by him for the inspiration and guidance of his followers. The fundamental basis of the great national movement started by Mahatma Gandhi was suffering and sacrifice for the liberation of his countrymen from foreign yoke.
__________________

Three Basic Truths In This Story

This great utterance of Ranti Deva lays down three basic truths for the guidance of mankind:

  1. The paramount duty of relieving the suffering of others both for moral purification and for bettering the lot of our brethren.
  2. The doctrine of sharing the suffering of others both for moral purification and for lessening the burden of the sorrow.
  3. This duty of relieving the suffering of others is greater than that of working for one’s own salvation or the attainment of moksha or of siddhis or miraculous powers.

__________________

From the Rigveda:
That man really enjoys his food who feeds also the poor and the emaciated beggar that ges about oppressed by hunger. He will have plenty of wealth as a result of such philanthropic deeds and his charity will secure for him friends in times of need.
__________________

Sir Philip Sydney

The echo of Ranti Deva’s sacrifices we hear in the story told about the great English nobleman, Sir Philip Sydney, who, lying wounded in the battlefield, felt severe thirst on account of much loss of blood. He asked for a cup of water to quench his thirst. But finding another soldier in a similar distressing predicament by his side, Sir Philip offered the cup to the soldier instead of taking the water himself, saying: “Thy need is greater than mine.”
__________________

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The Story of Sage Dadeechi

There are two other episodes in the Srimad Bhagavatam that very clearly illustrate the great ideals of service and sacrifice for the sake of the poor and the suffering. One is the story of Sage Dadeechi, who was deeply engrossed in tapas (austerities). During that time, Deva Loka was under the throes of a great struggle against the invading Asuras (demons). To stem the tide of the invasion was the task of Indra, the ruler of Deva Loka.Though Indra fought many battles, he could not succeed in resisting the invasion. He was advised by the Rishis that if he could improvise a bow made out of back-bone of the great Muni (Sage) Dadeechi, he could acquire the necessary powers to fight his foes successfully and rescue Deva Loka from them. While every one was afraid to approach the great sage with such a request, Indra made bold to go and seek his help in the matter. He pleaded with him and put forward the reason for such an extraordinary request on his part by pointing out his own miserable condition and the predicament of the Devas. Veda Vyasa very wisely queries through the mouths of the Devas:

“Is there anything that persons who are full of compassion cannot forsake? Surely, the world is selfish and does not understand the distress of others.”

Dadeechi quickly reacted to these words of the Devas. He said:

“Impelled by compassion and possessed of this transient body, he who does not desire Dharma or fame is to be pitied even by non-sentient beings like trees.”

Dadeechi thereupon quietly acceded to the request of Indra. By his powers of Yoga he gave up his life so that his backbone might be utilised for making the mighty bow, Vajrayudha. Dadeechi is considered in the Puranas as one of our earliest ancestors and he shines in this great country as the illustrious example of sacrifice for the sake of the liberation of the suffering from their distress. No sacrifice is too great for the noble-minded in this world. In fact, Dadeechi may be regarded as the starting point of the galaxy of saints that have adorned this great country.
__________________

The Story of Mahabali

In the same work (Srimad Bhagavatam), we have the thrilling episode of the famous King Mahabali. This king performed a great sacrifice in which he vowed to make generous gifts to all those who came and asked for anything from him. Lord Vishnu approached him in the guise of a dwarfish Brahmachari (celibate student) and asked for a gift of three feet of ground to be measured by his own diminutive feet. The preceptor of King Bali, Sukracharya, discovered who the Brahmachari was and for what purpose he was asking for such a gift. He tried to dissuade the King from his intended act of generosity. It was also pointed out by the Acharya that the Brahmachari would seize the place, the power and the wealth of the king and would hand them over to Indra. But the king stuck to his promise and propounded in the following weighty words the highest ideal of charity:

“Righteous men like Dadeechi and Sibi do good to other beings even at the expense of their own lives, which are difficult to abandon. Then what concern should there be about land and such other things? It is even common to see men who fight in the battlefield without turning their back, give up their life. But it is rare to see those who would make a gift to a deserving person.”

What is meant by this is that at the spur of the moment or in a fit of heroic anger a person may give up his life in the battlefield fighting the enemy. But in a calm moment in ordinary life he will not give up his wealth to a deserving person approaching him for help and assistance. Saying this, King Bali stuck to his promise in spite of the remonstrations of his preceptor, lost his entire kingdom and came to grief. Here again we have the instance of a person who pursued this glorious ideal of charity and sacrificed his all for the sake of it. In the historic pronouncement of King Bali quoted above, the King gives the example of Dadeechi and Sibi.
__________________

The Story of King Sibi

The story of king Sibi is a brilliant and thrilling one. It is found in the Mahabharata, Aranya parva, adhyayas 130-131.

To test the high character of Sibi, Indra assumed the form of a falcon and pursued a dove to kill it. In dire distress, the dove approached the King and asked for refuge. Moved by intense compassion Sibi readily promised succour. The falcon that pursued the dove came to King Sibi and remonstrated with him that it was pursuing the dove, which was its natural food. The falcon demanded that the King should hand over the dove. But the king said that he had given promise to the dove to save its life and therefore he was unable to accede to this demand. Thereupon the falcon asked King Sibi to give up a portion of his flesh, to be equal in weight to that of the dove for satisfying its own hunger. King Sibi readily agreed to do so and began to cut a portion of his thigh and weighed it in the balance against the dove. But the weight of the dove was greater. Thereupon, the King proceeded to cut other portions of the flesh from his body and weighed them in the balance. Still, it was found that the dove was heavier in weight. Finally, the King placed himself in the pan offering the flesh of his whole body to the falcon.

When this climax was reached, the falcon assumed its real form as Indra and praised the King for his heroic sacrifice for the sake of the dove and said: “Your fame will last so long as the world lasts.”

The story of King Sibi is unique in many respects. Not only do we find illustrated therein the unbounded love which a person should entertain towards all beings including birds and beasts, but also the paramount duty of protecting even at the risk of one’s own life for anybody who seeks refuge. This duty relates even to the beings other than one’s own kind like the bird in the story. Rightly as Indra said, the fame of King Sibi has been enshrined not only in our great epics like the Ramayana and the Mahabharata but also in the literatures of our other regional languages.
================
Related articles
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Duties

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