Tuesday, December 09, 2008

A trip to Gujarat - and some thoughts

As a part of my India trip, I went to Gujarat, first to Bhavnagar and then to a place called Palitana which is one of the holiest spots for Jains. For non-Jains, a brief background . Palitana is considered to be a place where a large number of Tirthankers attained Moksh (or Nirvana). It's a hill with about 3800 steps, and it is considered to be a good deed to climb up and down ( by yourself or in a 'doli' lifted by 2-4 people) once. The tougher things to do are to do this 7 times in 2 days without food , and also to do this 99 times in your lifetime ( Called 99 jatra).There are about 863 temples in Palitana. Every time I go there, there are always plans to build some more, or to build some 'upashrays' for Jain monks and nuns.

As I started the journey this time, I had something in my mind. I have always seen small children ( mostly under the age of 14) working as small time labourers here. Typically, their job is to carry a bottle of water, or a carry bag for all these 3800 steps. All this is for an extremely paltry sum. I started off with some money in my pocket, and kept handing over 50 Rupee notes to any such child I found on the hill. When I gave it to a girl for the very first time, I saw a twinkle in her eyes. She was very surprised, even thought I would ask her to carry some luggage, but she then smiled and looked so happy. The first thing, that came to my mind, was the Master Card commercial. It might sound funny, but this is precisely what i thought

Trip to Palitana: xx Rs.
Cost of staying there: yy Rs
The price the girl gets for carrying that bottle up 3800 steps: zz Rs.

The look in her eyes when she actually felt someone was doing good for her: Priceless :):)

And that's when it struck me. There's probably more 'punya' in helping people in need than to build a temple in an area which already has so many temples that no one ever manages to visit each one of them. Even more so, I am sure that if there is God, He would be more happy to see the betterment of living beings, rather than a blind following of religion. I would personally prefer that the next time I give a donation it goes towards building a school instead of a temple. Education, awareness, health facilities , is the key to a better society and a better world for all.

I am not an atheist. I do believe in God, because I feel that is something that propels me to do good, whose fear stops me from doing bad, and something on which my hope rests in a time of crisis. But then, I do not believe in following things blindly. Thanks to some very noble and educated people at Jain Centers in the US, I have known things about religion in the correct way. And the belief, that it does not make sense if you know every verse of every sutra by heart, unless you know the underlying meaning, and you understand and accept it. Like, how many of us know, that Jainism believes that the earth is not spherical ( as scientifically proved) but more close to a flat earth .

There are various teachings of Lord Mahavir which are quite correct, like non-killing of animals, non-violence etc. But, some teachings might not have been correct. The problem though is, that as a part of his teachings, it was almost a sin to change even the pronunciation of any line of any sutra [ For Jains, this is one of the things for which you beg forgiveness in Pratikaman], and the teachings were carried over for generations ( about 500 years) before people got together and documented them correctly. And hence, no one has ever tried to change or challenge it. And that's where we are not going correct. Maybe I'll get my elders to think on this :)

[A small disclaimer:I personally believe that good/social work should not be publicized. The only reason why I wrote about that girl is because I think that this might inspire more people to do good. If you believe that that deed was good, do it yourself the next time on]

One more thing is, when you give money to a disabled person/child , don't give a rupee or 2. Give the person 10 rupees. Why, you'll ask? Don't you complain to your boss about inflation/rising prices/bad economy ? That's why.


Animesh said...

Beautiful post, and beautiful deed dost!

Reminded me of this youtube video. Must watch.

vrroom said...

The post was nice except where you make sweeping judgements about right and wrong ".....which are quite correct, like non-killing of animals, non-violence etc."
I think it is ridiculous to comment on things that are integral to others especially when your belief stems merely from the indoctrination of your social surrounding since childhood!!!
I think Jains and many armies from rajasthan and gujarat were valiant warriors. How did the religiously pious society of yester centuries permit armies of slodiers if non-violence was categorically bad!!!!

Quick question: The terrorrist were wrong to kill innocent people indiscriminately not just for violence.But were the NSG commandos wrong to fight back and kill them????? Think about it!!!

Preksha said...

hey...cool one... loved the mastercard ad...made by u...

i too believe tht its better giving ppor n needy ones money thn in temple... my family does the smae.....on birthdays....or any festivals...rather thn giving 2 rs to ppor n put 100rs in temple we do the reverse.....we think the same thing....god has many ppl to give to him, who cares r these needy ones...

Jasper said...

Nice post mate! Thank you for sharing your thoughts.

Though it gives us happiness (including me) to hand out money to the girl and other children who are working, it is not a good idea. Begging alms (child work) only gets encouraged. They get happy because they go and give back the money to their master/guardians/parents and they say "Very good Job, I am very happy!"

In my opinion and actions, best is to buy food and distribute to them or if you want to give money, give it to children NGO's started/affiliated by local church/ashram (if you look for one it's no difficult to find). Here the childrens are really looked after. Their food and education cared for.

God Bless us all!!

Animesh said...

Re-read this post today, and was again moved by it.

And guess what, it struck me that your definition of "punya" matches very closely what my personal "religion" is [Only Morality, no God needed].

"ashtaadash puraneshu vyasasya vachanadwayam,
Paropakaarah punyaay,
paapaaya parapeedanam"

[All that the great rishi Vyas said in the 18 puranas is that helping others is punya, and hurting others is paap]