Poverty is a terrible plight upon humanity, destroying all goodness and talent. It is the cause of all moral degradation.
Once, when Amma was giving a program abroad, a group of homeless children who more or less lived underground in the city’s subway lines came for darshan. They had drawn pictures for Amma. Most of the pictures were violent scenes of bombs, missiles and battleships. One child drew a picture of Jesus Christ and Mother Mary, but they had guns in their hands. When Amma asked the child why he had drawn Jesus Christ with a gun, he said, “When he’s hungry, won’t he need to eat? If he has a gun, he can pull it out and mug someone.”
Amma asked, “Son, is the only way to get money by pulling a gun on someone?”
The boy replied, “That’s what my dad does.”
“Can’t your father work to earn money?” Amma asked.
The boy replied, “My dad is healthy enough to work. He went for many interviews, too, but no one would ever hire him. No one will hire people like us. That’s why my dad uses a gun. That’s how he is supporting us.”
The personal experiences and situations witnessed by children make deep impressions in their minds. Poverty and the sense of inferiority it creates often manifest as violent tendencies, even at a very young age. This is how the values in society erode. Love and compassion are especially needed in such situations.
Many people are cynical about spirituality. What is spirituality? True spirituality is compassion in action – it begins and culminates in compassion. If we could transform compassion from a mere word into a path of action, we would be able to solve 90% of the world’s humanitarian problems.
The first step to helping others is imparting awareness. In spite of taking regular medication, if a diabetic continues to eat sweet food, their blood sugar level will increase. So, diet control and lifestyle modification are as important as medication.
Amma remembers an incident that happened in one of the villages that we adopted (as part of our Amrita Serve or Live-in-Labs Project). Initially, we taught a core group of people in each village about toilet building, and we left the actual building to them. When we revisited these villages after a while, we noticed that people were not using the toilets. They would open the door of their new restroom, look inside as though they were visiting a temple, then they would close the door and go to the nearby lake to relieve themselves, as usual. At this point, we began educating the villagers, explaining that open defecation leads to water and soil pollution, which further contaminates our food and leads to all kind of parasitic infections, such as hookworm, etc. This helped in creating much-needed awareness in the community.
When we try to love or serve without understanding those whom we are serving, we often end up harming society and ourselves. In order for service to be beneficial, it needs to go hand and hand with discernment. This is the essence of sustainable development.
A fish was splashing about in the river. A monkey that had come to quench his thirst noticed the fish. He thought, “That poor fish is suffering, trapped by the current. I must save it!” In his impulsive sympathy, the monkey rushed over to catch the fish, and placed it on the riverbank. The fish started gasping for air and died soon after.
What if the monkey had tried to understand the fish before removing it from the water? What if he had asked, “May I take you out of the water?” The fish would have replied, “Oh, no! If you do that, I’ll die!” Acting without understanding is akin to the monkey’s attempt to save the fish. The heart and intellect must come together in all of our actions.
Once, a man brought a 10-year-old boy to Amma. He wanted Amma to raise the boy in the ashram and told her the story of how he became an orphan. His father had died two years before, so his mother and sister went to work in a candle factory near their home. Then his mother was diagnosed with chronic kidney disease and was unable to work as she was bedridden. Even though his sister was paid very little, it was just enough to make ends meet.
After a while, laws were established that banned child labor. The owner of the candle factory was arrested, and his company was shut down. All the children working there were let go. Distraught at the loss of their only source of income, the mother sent her son to school in the morning and then she poisoned her daughter and herself.
It is justifiable to shut down such factories, but we often forget the families of the young children who depend on these factories in order to live. In our attempt to resolve a problem, if we only see one aspect and fail to see the other, the repercussions are experienced by people who have no other recourse.
People ask, “What is the significance of spirituality?” Spirituality helps us to develop the discernment to differentiate between what is essential and what is excessive. For example, we need a watch to tell time. Both a $100 and a $50,000 watch will do that. If we buy the hundred-dollar watch and use the remaining money to help the poor, it would be a great service to society. Though we may see a thousand suns reflected in a thousand pots of water, there is really only one sun. Likewise, the consciousness within all of us is one and the same. With such an attitude, we will be able to cultivate a mind that considers others before ourselves. Just as our right-hand rushes to comfort our left hand if it is in pain, may we love and serve others as we would ourselves.
There are two types of poverty in the world. The first type is due to the lack of food, clothing, and shelter. The second type is the poverty of love and compassion. We need to tackle the second type of poverty first. For, if we have love and compassion, we will wholeheartedly serve and help those who lack food, clothing, and shelter.