My Dear Readers, today I would like to share with you all a short story from the Mahabharata, which I think nicely illustrates what real generosity from the heart looks like. This story may or may not be known to many people, so I think it is worth recording here, so that people may benefit from it in the future.
It so happened one day, may years before the Great War at Krukshetra broke out, that Krishna and Arjuna were enjoying a leisurely walk by the banks of the river Yamuna. They were conversing about the personalities and the different qualities embodied by different members of the Kaurava clan. Arjuna at some point makes it known that in his books, he places Karna even lower than Duryodhana in terms of his virtues.
Krishna: Partha, what you have said now is not true at all. As long as there are humans in the world, the name of Karna will always shine, radiant like an unblemished jewel, for none exist in all the three worlds that can match his spirit of generosity. None.
Arjuna was completely caught off guard by this remark from Krishna and shot back a response in disbelief and anger: Keshava, I think the suns heat has addled you senses a bit, otherwise you wouldn’t have said such a thing! Of all people Karna?? That too you say none exist in the three worlds that can match his generosity? Absolute rubbish and I refuse to accept that statement.
Krishna: My dear Dhananjaya, how quick you are to dismiss Karna! He may have his share of vices, but I still maintain that where generosity is concerned, none can equal him including the gods.
Arjuna: Oh Govindha, I know you are fond of mischief and playing games. But please dont tease me like this. Karna is one person, I will never accept as greater than me in any way, that goes for his so called generosity as well. I feel that I am far more generous than he is and I can prove it to you.
Krishna: By all means Partha, I would love to witness a demonstration of your generosity. In fact, here is an opportunity for you right here, right now.
Krishna signals to Arjuna to notice in the distance a Brahmin walking in their direction. The man looked crest fallen and grief stricken. Krishna with folded hands approached the man and asked him what the issue was.
the Brahmin: Oh lord, last night my wife breathed her last and I have to perform her last rites before sundown today. However, no matter where I looked, I am not able to get any sandalwood for the funeral pyre and the time to sundown is not far and I am at a loss for what to do.
Krishna turning to Arjuna who was standing beside him said to him: Partha, is there something you can do to help this poor man at this hour of need ?
Arjuna: Say no more Krishna, I will see to it that this man is able to get all the sandalwood he needs within the next hour. Its not an issue at all! Saying so, Arjuna signaled to one of the guardsman nearby and orders him to go into the city and bring this man whatever supply he needs at any cost. He then said to the Brahmin: Dear sir, fear not, I will see to it that you are helped and that you have your supply of sandalwood in no time.
Almost two hours later a few representatives from the city approached Krishna and Arjuna and the representatives informed them that despite their best efforts the entire city was completely depleted of Sandalwood and that there was no chance of securing any before the next day or so.
Arjuna turned to the brahmin and with a crestfallen look said to him: Oh brahmin, I am deeply sorry but I cannot offer you assistance at the moment. You saw how hard these people looked for the wood in every corner of the city, but alas it looks like we won’t have any until tomorrow. Please forgive me but I cannot help you at this hour.
Brahmin: Oh great warrior, I thank you for everything you have done to try and help me, its just my misfortune today I guess. Its not your fault. I will go back and see what I can do.
Krishna then turned to the Brahmin and requested him that before he loses all hope that he perhaps should also approach Karna at his residence and make the same request.
Arjuna: Krishna this is madness! This poor man has already wasted his time with us here and you just heard what the city officials said. There is no sandalwood anywhere in the city and that means Karna will also be out of supplies! Why waste this mans precious time like this?
Krishna with a gentle smile, looked at the Brahmin: Sir, like I said, please just approach Karna once before you are ready to give up
Brahmin: Oh Krishna, how can I ever refuse a request from you! I will do as you have asked. I will approach Karna right away.
A few hours passed and it was well past sundown and Krishna and Arjuna got into their chariot and started to head back. On the way Krishna pointed to a distance and they were able to see a funeral pyre burning. Krishna signaled to Arjuna that they should go and take a closer look. Upon reaching the burning pyre, Arjuna noticed the same Brahmin who he had met earlier. It appeared that the man had indeed been successful in procuring his supply of sandalwood. The Brahmin was glad to see Krishna and addressed him thus: Hare Krishna! How can I ever thank you lord. Following you suggestion, I approached Karna and within a couple of hours or so he found me all the wood I needed for the funeral pyre.
Arjuna: This is impossible! The officials definitely told us that the entire city was out of sandalwood! We both heard it…is Karna somehow hoarding a secret supply of sandalwood of all things??
Krishna turned to the Brahmin and requested him to offer them more details on just what had transpired when he Met Karna.
The Brahmin replied: Oh lord, after speaking with you, I went to Karna at his residential palace and made the same plea. Karna then summoned a few people and ordered them to find me the supply of sandalwood I needed. I patiently waited for over an hour after which the men came back and offered the same response we had heard earlier, that there was no more sandalwood left in the entire city and it was impossible to get some before the next day.
Krishna: How did Karna react to the news? As Partha here said a moment ago, did Karna have a private supply of sandalwood which he was happy to share with you?
Arjuna now noticed tears flowing down from the Brahmin’s eyes and with a voice choked in emotion the Brahmin tuned to face Arjuna and Krishna and he replied with folded hands: Upon hearing the news, the great Karna held me by my shoulders and assured me as a son would assure a father in a time of need that he will not let me leave his palace empty handed. He then turned to his guards and asked them to fetch him an axe with a very sharp blade. Upon being handed the axe, Karna turned to me and with a smile on his face said that he was aware that the pillars of his magnificent entrance hall were furnished with sandalwood and that the sandalwood would be put to better use if they were with me rather than adorning his hall. Having said this, Karna started to hack away one by one at two enormous pillars in his hall with his own two hands! Soon the pillars came crashing down and Karna chopped them up into smaller pieces that can be transported. By the end of the hour, I had more than enough sandalwood to pay my last respects to my wife. Long live Karna the great giver!
The Brahmin then went back to attend to his task at hand.
With humility Arjuna turned to face Krishna: Oh Keshava, I now get why you said what you said about Karna. I agree with you, his generosity is indeed unparalleled.