Right To Beg

Editorial:

RIGHT TO BEG

 

Bharatavarsha is Tyaagabhoomi – the Land of Renunciation. The Vedas declare:

            Na karmanaa na prajayaa dhanena

            Tyaagenaike amritatwamaanashuh 

“Not by work not by wealth, but b renunciation alone, Immortality is attained.”

The all-renounced Shankara is the highest ideal of this glorious land. Seated on the Kailas, on the top of the Himalayas, he is the Ideal Father. Parvati, as Kanyakumari, doing tapas to attain the hand of Shiva, at the southern tip of the land where the three mighty oceans wash Her sacred feet, is the Ideal Mother. The Matsya Puraana says that Shiva in the form of a naked mendicant accompanied by a dwarf who carries a paatra (alms-bowl) wandered about the country as a naked beggar until he reached Benaras where he settled down as Visweswara.

Renunciation of all wealth and glory, and leading a life of a simple living and high thinking have ever constituted the path trodden by the great saints, sages and acharyas of this land. They were all beggars. Begging was not something to be looked down upon nor a crime in this country. Beggars were sought after by the householders – rich as well as poor – and entertained in every home. The Bhagavad Gita emphatically declares that those who cook food for themselves only seek the greatest sin. It was enjoined that one should feed a guest before one sat for his meal. Athithi devo bhava, was the command of the Vedas. When Sudhama, the poor Brahmin beggar, reached the gates of the palace of Lord Krishna, the Lord Himself rushed to receive his guest with all honours. Nachiketas, a daring young Brahman boy, reached the abode of Yama and waited for three days without food. In order to expiate the sin of making the boy starve, Yama granted him three boons, one of which enabled the boy extract the highest wisdom of life after death from Dharma Raja.

Kalidasa narrates in the Raghuvamsa how the great Raghu Maharaja who had himself given away all his wealth in charity after a great horse-sacrifice, received a poor bramin boy, Kautsuka, who came to the King begging for some gold coins to be given as gurudakshina to his master, how the Maharaja took it up as a sacred duty to fulfil the wish of the boy and how he got the gold from Kubera himself. Chanakya, the architect of the Maurya Empire and preceptor of Chandragupta Maurya, himself lived the life of a beggar subsisting on alms. Vidyaranya, the builder of the glorious Vijayanagar Empire lived the life of a mendicant. Samarth Ramdas, who was the moving spirit behind the setting up of Hindu Pad Padshahi by Chatrapati Sivaji Maharaj, was offered the whole empire at his feet by the devout emperor, but he returned it to the Chatrapati and chose to remain a wandering mendicant. The great sages and saints like Kabir, Tukaram and Eknath lived as beggars. Even in the modern period, sadhus and sannyasins like Swami Vivekananda, Rama Tirtha, Maharshi Ramana and Swami Ramdas lived as beggars. Why, in our midst today, we have the greatest Yogi of our land, Yogi Ramsuratkumar Maharaj, who refers to himself as “this beggar”. Lee Lozowick, a great devotee of the Yogi and, in his own right, a leader of a spiritual community in the West, says that in his wanderings in India, he could find only one Master who claimed that he was nothing but a “poor beggar” and Lee calls him “The Yogi”. In fact, the Yogi lived the life of an ordinary wandering beggar, without any caste mark or identification mark of a sadhu on his person, travelling all over the country from Kanyakumari to the Himalayas, for twelve years, following the footsteps of his own preceptor, Swami Ramdas.

The Yogi is intensely pained to see the harassment and injustice meted out to the poor and helpless beggars under the Acts preventing begging in various parts of the country. He vehemently protests against the banning of begging in this country. He says, this is the only land where begging was the pursuit of the highest men. We do not know how many Mahatmas still wander throughout the length and breadth of the country as beggars. It need not necessarily be that all beggars are mahatmas, sadhus or saints. The Yogi refers to the saying of Swami Vivekananda that out of one thousand soldiers climbing up a mountain, even if nine hundred and ninety-nine perish and one reaches the top and hoists a flag, that is a grand achievement. So also, out of a thousand beggars, even if one sincerely aspires for spiritual attainments, that is sufficient. The brahmanas, sadhus, saints and brahmacharis were expected to beg for their food so that they need not waste their time in pursuits to eke out a living and they could concentrate on spiritual sadhana all the time.

The Yogi says, leaving aside the sadhus, saints, brahmanas and brahmacharis, even the ordinary beggar who is forced into this path out of penury and indigence is not a criminal. He begs, because he has no other means. There may be criminals and idlers in the garb of beggars, but that does not warrant the banning of begging as a whole in the country. In every walk of life, there are criminals and scoundrels and why punish the whole community of beggars alone for a few such anti-social elements among them?

Not only Hinduism, but every other religion in the world enjoins upon the preachers to live on alms and the devotees to give alms as a sacred duty. Buddha, immediately before His Nirvana, received Bhiksha from Sujata. Shankaracharya poured out his soul-stirring Kanakadhaara Stotra seeing the penury of a poor mother at whose doorsteps he happened to stand as a beggar. Giving alms is a sacred duty of the Muslims, especially on Fridays and the sacred seasons like Ramzan. Christianity also enjoins charity as a religious duty. Non-possession and charity are among the fundamentals of Jainism. Therefore, even from the point of view of ‘secularism’ it is not right to ban begging. Moreover, in the implementation of the law also there is anomaly. If begging is considered an offence, then not only the beggar, but also the giver is a party to the offence. But the law is directed against beggar only. Is this justice? Even from the practical standpoint, in a poor country like India where the majority of the population is below poverty line and where the Governments cannot take care of all the poor, destitute and unemployed, what justification is there for banning begging? Is it not to satisfy the ego of the ‘haves’ at the cost of the ‘have-nots’?

We are indebted to our ancient law-givers like Manu and Yajnavalkya whose codes have formed even today the foundations of our modern Indian Constitution. When they have ordained begging as a religious duty, no government shall deprive the beggars of their fundamental right and condemn begging as crime or nuisance. What is not in good spirit, is against the spiritual culture and heritage of this land and opposed to natural justice must go. In this land where the Divine Mother Mayee of Kanyakumari and Yogi Ramsuratkumar live, ban on begging must go. This is the land where the community of beggar saints, the Bauls, were nourished and nurtured. Here the right to beg must stand!

 TATTVA DARSANA takes pride in dedicating this Fourth Annual Number, 1988,  at the most sacred feet of our Gurumaharaj, YOGI RAMSURATKUMAR, the Greatest Beggar of the modern Bharatavarsha, as a humble bouquet of fragrant flowers spreading His message and mission all over the world.

 Vande Mataram! Jai Gurumaharaj!

 V. Rangarajan

 (Extract from TATTVA DARSANA, Feb-July 1988 Vol. 5, Nos. 1 & 2)