Written by Hsiu-lien Chu and Ching-chun Lin | India

Villagers attentively watched Stories Told by Dharma Master Cheng Yen. | Photo courtesy of Pei-ling Lu | Bakraur, India | 2024/03/15

The first of the Six Paramitas, "generosity," encourages us to benefit others through giving. Many people think of generosity as simply giving money or material goods—what is known as "material giving." However, this is a narrow understanding of generosity. There are other forms as well, such as "dharma giving," which involves sharing teachings to help others develop right understanding, and "fearlessness giving," which involves offering support to help others overcome fear and difficulties.

Are there other ways to practice generosity? Especially for impoverished villagers in India who struggle just to survive, how can they possibly give to others? The answer is: "Yes, they can." So, what can these villagers, who seem to have nothing, give? Let’s listen to Stories Told by Dharma Master Cheng Yen to find out!

Giving Without Spending a Dime

On the afternoon of March 15, 2024, the charity team from the Buddhist Tzu Chi Foundation arrived at Niranjana Public Welfare School in the village of Bakraur, India. They brought with them a portrait of Master Cheng Yen, banners, and audio equipment. Upon a phone call, the nearby school principal, Rakesh Kumar, promptly arrived to open the gate.

It was a Friday, and the school was already on break until April 1, when the staff would return to prepare for the new term starting on April 2.

Kee-Hong Sio (left) shared the video for the day with Principal Rakesh Kumar (right) at Niranjana Public Welfare School in Bakraur Village. | Photo courtesy of Pei-ling Lu | Bakraur, India | 2024/03/15

Kee-Hong Sio who is now leading the Tzu Chi team in India had developed a good relationship with Principal Rakesh, decided to hold the upcoming "Stories Told by Dharma Master Cheng Yen" event in the school’s multimedia room. Local volunteers Vivek Kumar and Amit Kumar began setting up the venue, with assistance from Gain Manjhi and Devnarayan Paswan.

Meanwhile, Sudha Kumari, a local volunteer from the charity team, went to invite villagers to the event. Before long, nearly seventy villagers of all ages gathered, filling the venue to capacity.

The storytelling event was opened by local volunteer Vivek Kumar. | Photo courtesy of Pei-ling Lu | Bakraur, India | 2024/03/15

The event kicked off with Vivek introducing the founder of Tzu Chi, Master Cheng Yen, and sharing inspiring stories of Tzu Chi’s efforts of charity, medicine, education, and humanistic culture in Bodh Gaya. This was followed by a screening of the video "Seven Kinds of Giving without Money," with Sudha providing simultaneous interpretation in Hindi.

The video tells the story of a poor man who visited Jetavana to seek guidance from the Buddha on how to practice generosity and escape the cycle of poverty. The Buddha taught him seven ways to give without spending money:

1. Use kind eyes to guide those with poor vision.

2. Treat others with a warm and friendly demeanor.

3. Speak kind words and praise others.

4. Use your physical strength to help those who are weak.

5. Maintain a kind heart and see everyone as good and approachable.

6. Treat everyone with respect and kindness.

7. Extend love to all living beings.

These teachings resonated with the poor man, who joyfully accepted them and decided to put them into practice.

Starting with Caring for the Elderly

Local volunteer Sudha Kumari (right) interacted with villagers after the storytelling session, with both adults and children eagerly answering questions. | Photo courtesy of Pei-ling Lu | Bakraur, India | 2024/03/15

After sharing the story, Sudha engaged with the villagers, inviting them to share their thoughts. The villagers eagerly shared, and Sudha presented tokens of appreciation to the speakers.

Khushbu Devi, a villager, is the mother of Mithun Kumar, a student at Niranjana Public Welfare School and a recipient of Tzu Chi's medical assistance. Both mother and son attended the storytelling event, where Mithun's respectful demeanor and eagerness to learn impressed Principal Rakesh. Inspired by the tales shared that day, Mithun aspires to emulate Tzu Chi volunteers, demonstrating kindness and compassion.

Meanwhile, Khushbu was touched by Tzu Chi’s humble beginnings and the spirit of the Bamboo Bank Era, which emphasizes the value of small contributions for the greater good. This prompted her to contemplate ways to give back, particularly through caring for the elderly in their community.

Ram Kumar Raman, another villager, is one of Tzu Chi’s care recipients. In early December of 2023, he sought aid from Tzu Chi, explaining that his right leg had been experiencing pain and swelling for seven months. After seeking medical help elsewhere without success, he was diagnosed with filariasis, a parasitic disease. The prescribed treatment helped alleviate the symptoms, but the cost was beyond his means, and he couldn't work. Despite seeking treatment at a government hospital, his condition worsened.

Ram, aged fifty, and his wife have two sons, one in eleventh grade and the other in sixth grade. They barely make ends meet with his wife's monthly income of around 3,000 rupees (approx. 36 USD) from domestic work. The family of four sleeps in a tiny room costing only 500 rupees (approx. 6 USD) per month. They had fallen six months behind on rent, and their landlord had been pressuring them to move out. After assessing the situation, the team decided to provide a one-time grant of 2,600 rupees (approx. 31 USD) to help them through this difficult time and include them in long-term care.

Moved by the story of generosity, Ram, who is still searching for a new home, said, "Many people think you need money to give, but I didn't know there are ways to give without spending money. I like it because I'm not a wealthy person." He expressed his intention to start helping the elderly in the village with whatever means he had.

Vivek believes that not all villagers would have fully understood the story's message, but if they are willing to listen, change can happen. Accepting charity, such as when foreigners come and distribute food or supplies, should eventually give way to self-sufficiency, leading to gradual improvements in their lives.

Despite the limited number of charity team volunteers and the numerous cases requiring one-time assistance or long-term care, along with monthly charity distributions and relief efforts during disasters, such as last winter's large-scale blanket distribution, the volunteers work tirelessly. Vivek doesn't complain about the workload as he explained, "The people in Bodh Gaya have already accepted Tzu Chi. As long as we have the capacity, we can continue to assist them." He believes there will be more and more people joining Tzu Chi’s rank to give themselves for the needy.

Watch the story “Seven Kinds of Giving without Money”