In my previous post, Highlights from the Himalayas, I briefly touched on the “Stay and Eat” culture that pervades these mystical mountains, but today I’m hoping to paint a better picture of what it means to give in the Himalayas–and how their generosity differs from that of Western culture.
For starters, I was stunned when during our first conversational Hindi lesson we learned the word for “thank you” doesn’t really exist in Hindi. Okay, so there technically is a word, but it’s really only recognized and used in the cities, where there is more of a Western influence. In the mountains, it is seldom used, and what’s more, people often seemed annoyed when we would try to thank them. They would either turn their heads, or shake their hands at us as if to say, “Don’t, it’s not necessary.”
When we asked our Indian instructors why this is, they explained that giving and generosity are such integral aspects of their culture. In fact, it is part of the religion and culture to view possession as a very fluid thing. Giving is more of a matter of “changing hands” than an act of generosity. In their eyes, the cucumbers and other food they would give us were never really “theirs” to begin with. They see them as having passed along to them and now they are simply passing them along to us.
I believe there is a great sense of generosity in Western culture, but it seems to be more of a secondary thought. In other words, the sentiment seems to be, “If I have ‘enough,’ I will happily donate my surplus.” Whereas in the Himalayas, the villagers were eager to give away their best cucumbers to a passing stranger, and they would have happily given more even when it means less for them. In contrast, people in the U.S. are more inclined to donate old, used, or unwanted items rather than their prized ones.
Interestingly, during a coffee chat a couple of months ago, one of my minimalist friends, Josh Millburn, was telling me about how he donated his favorite clothes and shoes — just for the experience of giving up the possessions he likes most as well as to practice detaching for material things. (You can check out his interview about it on Simple Black Coffee.) So, this is something we as Westerners can certainly do, but it doesn’t come integrated into our culture. It’s something we have to make ourselves consciously aware of and push ourselves outside of our comfort zones to achieve.
This genuine spirit of generosity and non-attachment to material possessions are two aspects of the culture I would most like to emulate. I feel as though the giving must come first. Like Josh, I can practice by giving away the things I value most — yes actual physical possessions, but perhaps even more important, my time and attention. After giving and more giving, I believe the detachment will begin to follow suit.
One final thought to share with you…
The Wise Woman’s Stone
A wise woman, who was traveling in the mountains,
found a precious stone in a stream.
She reverently placed the gem in her bag.
The next day, she met another traveler, who was hungry.
The wise woman opened her bag to share her food.
The hungry traveler saw the precious stone in the wise woman’s bag,
admired it, and asked the wise woman to give it to him.
The wise woman did so without hesitation.
The traveler left, rejoicing in his good fortune.
He knew the jewel as worth enough to give him security for the rest of his life.
But a few days later he came back, searching for the wise woman.
When he found her, he returned the stone and said,
“I have been thinking. I know how valuable the stone is,
but I would like to exchange it in the hope that you can give me something
much more precious. If you can, teach me the secrets about the power you
have within you, the power that enabled you to, without hesitation,
give me this precious stone.”
~Excerpt from The Secret Power of Yoga by Nischala Joy Devi
What are your thoughts on generosity — either in the West or other cultures?
If you enjoyed these insights — be generous and share them with your friends!