There is an old adage that says, “It is better to give than to receive.”  Yet, how many of us actually live by this?  How many of us would give to another before taking for ourselves?  It is not simple sacrifice I am talking about.  Sacrifice implies some level of suffering.  It implies that one is forsaking something one wants out of duty to another.  While there is a great deal of spiritual value in the lessons of sacrifice, this is not what I am talking about.  For, in true giving, there is no suffering.  One does not forsake anything.  The giving itself becomes its own reward.  People talk about cycles of life.  For me, the true cycle is: giving is living, living is learning, learning is knowing, knowing is growing, growing is giving and giving is living.  This is the true cycle of life.

The poet Khalil Gibran said beautifully, “All that we have will some day be given away.  Let us open our hearts and give with our hands so the joy of giving is ours and not our inheritors’.”

This is truly the message to live by.  Embedded within this phrase are many important factors.  The first is the fact that we can take nothing with us when we leave this Earth.  We expend so much time, mental energy and physical energy to acquire material possessions.  Yet, we come into this world with nothing and we leave with nothing but the karma accrued from the lives we lived.  Hence, we must re-evaluate the drastic measures we take and the stress we go through to acquire more and more fleeting wealth.  That which marks our life, that which lives on after we have departed, is that which we gave while we lived.  

The second important message in the above phrase is the idea of the “joy of giving.”  Giving truly is a joy.  We think we will be happy if we get this or get that.  But, that happiness is transient.  

Watch a child with a new toy, for this is a beautiful example of the happiness which is possible through material wealth.  The first minute, the child is ecstatic.  Nothing else matters in the world; he can barely contain his exuberance.  Within a mere few minutes though, you can see the child start to get a little bored.  He looks around; what else does this toy do?  Are there any other parts that came with it? Within a matter of hours the toy is lying behind the couch, and will only be picked up by the child’s mother or father in an attempt to either straighten the house or re-stimulate the child’s interest. 

Yet, when the child’s interest is completely faded, watch the child give this toy to a younger brother or sister.  Watch how he loves showing what the toy can do, how he loves telling everyone that “I gave this toy,” and how he loves watching his sibling enjoy it.

Isn’t this how life is?  The pleasure you get out of an old sweater, or a dress you wore once, or some mechanical appliance that you just “had to have,” is minimal.  Yet, take those clothes or appliances to a homeless shelter; donate them to someone in need―you will then know real joy, the joy of having given to someone else.  

This is a joy that will last.  It will stay with you and never fade.  In fact, it will inspire you to give even more.  So many times we regret having bought something.  “Oh, why did I waste my money?” we ask.  Yet, I have never once heard anyone regret that they gave something to someone in need.  I have never heard anyone say, “Oh, why didn’t I let that child go hungry?” or, “Why did I help that charity?”

So, remember, old adages may have a great deal of meaning for today.  “It is better to give than to receive” is one of those adages.

Swami Chidanand Saraswati  is the President of Parmarth Niketan Ashram, Rishikesh, one of the largest interfaith spiritual institutions in India. Swamiji’s religion is unity, and he is a leader in numerous international, interfaith summits and parliaments as well as guides and directs multifaceted and innovative solutions to address some of our world’s greatest challenges and threats to the environment. He is co-founder/co-chairman of the Global Interfaith WASH Alliance (GIWA), the world’s first initiative to bring together the leaders of all the world’s faiths to enable a water-secure future.