Dātā -The Gift Of Giving!

As we are now in Advent and the festive season is nearly upon us, I thought it might be timely to reflect on giving; why do we present gifts? Is there or, should there be a purpose to this giving? Does it really matter what we give and to whom? Surely any gift is better than no gift?

I want to clarify now, that it is not the intention of this short article to judge or qualify anyone’s current position on these matters. I simply want to highlight the true status of Yoga as a wholistic lifestyle practice, encouraging us to reflect on our attitudes and behaviours, to benefit not just the practitioner but all of society.

To begin to address these ideas I want to reference the very earliest texts from which Yoga emerged- the Veda. Here we find reference to the word ‘dātā’ which means, ‘generosity to right person(s)’, (Caraka Saṃhitā, one of the key texts on Ayurveda). This is said to be one of the qualifications of ‘svástha’, that wholistic state of wellbeing to which the practice of yoga can take us and helps us to maintain. This state of healthy wellbeing, in mind and body, allows each of us to realise our own highest potential!

Implicit in this simple phrase is the idea that even when giving we need to have clarity; we all have limited resources so it is implied that we should give where there is most need or where we can most help. This word is one of a number of qualifications listed and concludes by saying that if we can act in this way, we will be unaffected by disease! Interesting to reflect that being generous to others is seen as an important part of improving our own wellbeing!

Chapter Three of the Taittirīya Upanisad also advocates giving, this time the giving of food; to give generously and never deny anyone else food! Again, interesting in a time where sadly many are now dependent on foodbanks to sustain themselves and their loved ones.

In the Bhagavad Gita, chapter 17, sloka 20 we read, “The gift which is given only with the thought “it is to be given”, to a worthy person who has done no prior favour, at the proper place and time; that gift is held to be

sattvic.” This resonates perfectly with the earlier idea from the Caraka Saṃhitā of, ‘generosity to the right person’. So the gift is neither a thoughtless, throw-away gesture with no real care (tamasic), nor to show off or with an expectation of something in return (rajasic), but with a sense of the rightness of the action with no expectation of gain (sattvic).

So, we begin to see that appropriate giving is seen to be beneficial both to the recipients and the giver. A wonderful symbiosis by which we can heal ourselves and help the wellbeing of others and move towards a healthier, happier world!

Finally, it would be wrong to discuss any aspect of yoga without reference to the Yoga Sūtra. In the first chapter, sūtra 33, Patañjali advocates the cultivation of certain attitudes towards others; that which is most relevant here is ‘karunā’, compassion. To be especially thoughtful regarding those who are suffering or struggling, and to show care, understanding and respect for such people. I feel sure that appropriate giving is implicit here, of time or energy or whatever we can offer.

And so, I leave you with these ideas for reflection, that yoga is not, as it has sometimes been misconstrued, a selfish pursuit, a shutting off from the world to find our own peace. From the earliest teachings it is clear that social responsibility was a key part of the teaching; one’s own yoga practice enables a full participation in and an increased ability to contribute to the wellbeing of all. This is especially true if we look at the teachings of Professor T Krishnamacharya and TKV Desikachar; they were householder yogis, living in the world and sharing yoga with the world. We have the great honour of continuing this work, sharing the gift of yoga for the wellbeing of all!

I wish you all peace and wellbeing and the joy of continuing to share yoga.

Andy Curtis-Payne, Senior TSYP Adviser

December 2022

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