Bearing gifts, bearing fruit
I’ve been gifted with three mothers: my birth mother, my mother-in-law, and my adoptive Indian mother, Sarla Sharma. How Sarla and I met is a long story, but she is a precious gift in my and Eileen’s lives, and she embodies devotion to the divine, to the divinity. We learn so much from her - mantras, prayers, stories about the gods. One of her stories is about Krishna. Sarla always tells us ancient stories, but gives them a modern spin.
At the time when Krishna had taken a body and walked on Earth, there was a very poor man. As a child, he grew up with Krishna, playing happily in the forests outside Vrindavan. But over time they were separated. Krishna become King of Mathura, and this man became poor. He lived in a small and run down apartment with his wife, who always chided him and blamed him for their poverty. He struggled to find work and barely had any food for his family. He was so very unhappy!
Then, one day, word came that Krishna had returned from his adventures. People came out in droves to give gifts and receive his blessing! This man was too ashamed of his poverty to see his friend, Krishna. He had nothing to give. But his wife knew that the only way out of their hardship was to petition the Lord. She packed up a handful of chana (dried chickpeas) and sent him off, saying she knew that Lord Krishna would be glad to see his old friend and would help them.
So he went, but was ashamed. How could he give the Lord of the Universe a handful of dry chickpeas? His gift was as unworthy as he felt himself to be. So, when he came into Krishna’s chamber, he stayed to the back, behind the crowd. He would tell his wife that there were too many people, that he didn’t get a chance to approach Krishna. His shame was consuming him.
But Krishna, the Lord of All, of course, knew that his friend had come to him. He received a few more guests, accepted their gifts and gave them darshan (the blessing of being seen by the divine) and then dismissed everyone. As the crowd began to file out, Krishna raised his voice and shouted, “Nikhil, is that you? Come! Come! I’ve missed you. Come to me! How long it’s been.”
Of course, Nikhil (for this was the man’s name), was embarrassed, and he hid the chana in his hands behind his back. But Krishna, who knows all things, came forward and continued. “What, you brought me a gift? What is it? Let me see!” And so Nikhil had no choice but to give Krishna the dried peas. He wanted to die from his shame, he was so embarrassed by his gift. For, who in their right mind would give a handful of dried peas to God? But he held out his hands and offered them.
“Ah, Chana! You remembered how we used to eat chana masala out my auntie’s house when we were children and you brought these so we could have our favorite meal again!” Krishna called to his servants to go and take the chana to the kitchen and prepare them along with a feast for his friend and devotee. And so Krishna spent hours with Nikhil. They talked and laughed and recounted their favorite memories of one another. At last Krishna said he had to return to his duties, but that his friend was always welcome and should come often.
Nikhil walked back home so happy! He walked as if on clouds! He was filled with the blessing of his friend, the Lord of All, and been blessed by his presence and attention. But now he was confused. His hovel was gone and a beautiful tall apartment building was there. There was even a doorman! He must have been so happy in his walking that he had taken a wrong turn. But the doorman called out: “Sir! Welcome home. Have you had a good day? Come, I’ll call the elevator.” So, Nikhil followed along as if in a trance, and rode the elevator up to the penthouse. When the door opened, his wife rose up off of a beautiful couch to meet him. She was dressed in a fine sari and adorned in gold and jewels. “Well?” she asked. “Did you enjoy visiting your friend, Krishna?”
At first Nikhil thought he was dreaming! How could this be true? But day after day his dream remained. He lived in a beautiful home, with a loving wife, and had wealth to spare. He spent his days in meditation, helping others and praising Lord Krishna’s benevolence.
That’s where Sarla stops the story. Her point is that if you are humble and offer what you have, it pleases the gods and they take care of you. They will help you in all things. But I have realized that there is more to hear in this story. Whatever we, pitiful humans, bring to the Divine is insufficient. There is nothing to give that is not already in possession of God, the Divine, Spirit, the Self. Whatever we offer is always too little. But, if we give what we have and we do it with devotion - if we offer it up to what is greater than our limited self, it is received with joy. We are never turned away. We are poor when we keep to ourselves, when we don’t turn to Krishna and make offerings. We are rich when give our meager possessions and open our hearts to Krisha. He takes our dried peas and makes a sumptuous meal. He is always glad to see us and always welcoming! And we cannot help but to come away carrying the divine within us, filled and blessed, out into our lives. And that blessing always manifests, even if not always in ways we can anticipate.
Whatever you have, whatever you have in you that is not enough or insufficient, bring your poverty (physical, mental or spiritual) into the divine presence. And then, to quote Sarla precisely, “God takes care, honey! God takes care.”