I had written about how I got to read Radhanath Swami’s book A Journey Home here. Profoundly moved by Radhanath Swami’s journey, I wanted to learn more about him and his teachings, and watched some YouTube videos, as well as read his other book A Journey Within. One term that Radhanath Swami employed repeatedly is para-dukha-dukhi. A devotee is a para-dukha-dukhi, said Radhanath Swami – he feels the pain of others. This is another word for empathy, I reflected. When seeing the pain suffered by others, some people say ‘That is because of their karma’. “Is this how a devotee thinks?”, chided Radhanath Swami, “Their karma is between them and God. What we need to do is see if we can help them.”

The next day after listening to this video, when I was driving from my house to go to work a couple of kms away, I saw a lady in a small temple on the way, frantically trying to sell pens. I saw a toddler sitting on the temple, I guessed that this should be her kid, and she was trying to get money to get food for them. 

When I would come from the US to India on vacation, being a part of an opulent society, my heart would break upon seeing beggars at temples and traffic signals. After moving back to India, and having lived here for 10 years, seeing people beg routinely has calloused my heart – while I feel bad, I have subconsciously resigned to the fact that I can’t do anything, and my heart doesn’t break with the same intensity. On occasions, I give money, while on others, I don’t.

On that particular day, the term para-dukha-dukhi was at the top of my head, and having driven past this lady, I decided to go back and give the lady some money. When I reached out for my wallet, I found that I hadn’t taken my wallet with me! Now, I had two choices. I could go back home and collect my wallet, or I could go to work (and walk back home in the evening, given that I couldn’t drive, since I didn’t have my wallet and hence drivers license). I usually would have gone to work, preferring to start my day. That day, I wanted to help this lady if I can – I went back home and took my wallet. 

Another thought struck me: The lady may not be in the temple any longer by the time I reach. Regardless, I retraced my steps to the temple, and she was still there, looking more distraught than ever. I lowered my windows, and gave her Rs. 200. I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone as happy as she was upon receiving the money. 

I had some reluctance in sharing this story. I didn’t want the takeaway to be my act of kindness, or project that I am a kind person. In fact, on a few occasions in the following days, I was asked for money by a few more people on the road. I refused each time except once. On one occasion I didn’t have money, on other occasions I just didn’t feel compelled to give money to the people in question for various reasons. 

If at all there are any takeaways, it is that the butterfly effects of actions (if the lady would like to thank anyone for the money received, there are several people she can thank – Radhanath Swami for writing his book and introducing me to para-dukha-dukhi, Shalini Pandey for recommending the book via her article, for Swamiji for opening up os.me and making this all happen, the list is endless). Oh, and the starfish principle – while I may not be able to help everyone who needs help, I had the opportunity to practice RAK and help one starfish in the form of that lady.

Image Credit: Danie Franco from Unspash