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The selfless and the selfish

For any human change, evolution or transformation to take place, elements of awareness and purity are required. They act as springboards for transcending our innate tendencies. In their absence, the good in us is overpowered by evil, leading to self-destruction.

A story by Manoj Das talks about what happens when a village community becomes greedy. Even greed, it seems, is sustainable so long as purity co-exists, but once it exits, there is no hope.

In the courtyard of each household kin a village is the sacred yajnakund where the ancient fire rite is earnestly performed. One day a Brahmin discovers a piece of gold in his kund. His wife informs him that a bull had entered their courtyard while she was sweeping it. Since she was chewing a betel-leaf and it became imperative to shout off the bull, she spat into the kund so she could frighten away the intruder. The Brahmin is outraged at the pollution of a sacred site but his hands are already rubbing the piece of gold which shines brighter with the rub! He protests but his wife snatches the gold from him with a laugh, spitting another mouthful into the kund! The next day she appears before him in a silk sari and the promise of a pair of silk dhotis for him. Soon their humble hut gives way to a fine building, a large number of cows and servants.

The neighbours are envious. The wife who spat into the kund shares her secret with a young woman: “Who is endowed with my merit? I spit and there grows gold!” Soon the young woman too is bedecked in a silk sari and jewellery. The secret spreads and soon, gold emerges in every yajnakund - in all except one.

A village teacher remains true to his swadharma of using the yajnakund only for worship. His wife implores him to allow her to spit betel-leaf into the kund but he resists. Unable to live in poverty in the midst of such opulence, she suggests they move to their daughter’s serene hamlet at the edge of a forest. He reluctantly agrees despite knowing it would prove disastrous. As they walk away they hear a commotion behind them. The village goes up in flames, each house torched by the fire of quarrel and division. Says the teacher tearfully: “This is the catastrophe I foresaw. Wealth earned without toil bred hatred. So long as even one yajnakund remained pure, order prevailed. But with our departure, the village lost all right to peace.”

The yajnakund symbolises divine presence and selfless service. By polluting it we give in to greed, compromise morals and adulate material prosperity. The original strength of simplicity and piety inspired by service to the divine is eroded so insidiously by materialism that a single spark is enough to destroy this weak superstructure. If purity and awareness are undermined or neglected, not only is the macrocosm of community destroyed but the microcosm of the individual psyche is destroyed as well.

Says Kabir in the Guru Granth Sahib: Kabir, pleasant is the saint’s humble hut, but the village of the wicked is a burning oven – May that palace be set on fire where Hari’s Name is not invoked!

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