The photo shows Swami Vivekananda (third from right) in Calcutta with his brother disciples (from left) Trigunatitananda, Sadananda (sitting on floor), Shivananda, Turiyananda, and Brahmananda.
A monthly letter from Ananda Palo Alto, in which we share stories of personal growth and material success through tithing, charity, service, and expansion of the heart. Do you have a story you’d like to share from your life, the lives of others, or the lives of the saints? You can send it to firstname.lastname@example.org.
When Swami Vivekananda was a young man, his family fell into severe financial difficulties.
Vivekananda practically wore out his shoes, searching for employment in the streets of Calcutta.
Because he knew that Ramakrishna had daily visions of the Divine Mother, he asked him to pray that she help him find work.
The next day, Vivekananda asked Ramakrishna if he had asked Divine Mother for her intercession.
Ramakrishna replied, “I forgot to ask.”
The next day, he received the same answer: “I forgot to ask.”
Finally, Ramakrishna urged Vivekananda to pray to Divine Mother himself.
Vivekananda went to the spot where he knew that Ramakrishna had had visions of the Mother, and sat to meditate, whereupon he, too, had a vision of the Divine Mother.
When Ramakrishna asked Vivekananda if the Divine Mother had responded to his prayers for help, Vivekananda said, “I forgot to ask.”
The more conscious we are of the Divine, the less we think of ourselves and our problems. Any spiritual practice that dissolves the delusion that we are separate from God will bring us closer to the perfect happiness that the masters and saints enjoy.
In my experience, the practice of tithing has no equal for instilling a feeling of closeness to God. I have looked for loopholes and deficiencies in this spiritual law, but so far I have found none.
I’ve given a lot of thought to the mechanics of tithing, and how it works. For example, when the value of the dollar begins to fall, should we give more, or less?
In my research on tithing, I discovered that people commonly tithed in ancient India. There’s even a Sanskrit name for the practice: dashamamsha.
(When you send in your tithing check, you can say, “Dash it all, I’m dashamamshing!”)
The word seems to have its roots in the ancient Vedas, specifically the concept of dana, “to give without thought of a reward.”
The Vedas were written roughly in the period from about 6,000 to 8,000 B.C. That would place their origins in late Satya Yuga to mid-Treta Yuga – a much more spiritually elevated time than the present.
In some more recent Hindu writings, I discovered an interesting definition of tithing:
“Tithing is the spiritual discipline…of giving one tenth of one’s gainful and gifted income to a religious organization of one’s choice, thus sustaining spiritual education and upliftment on Earth….
Tithing is given not as an offering, but as ‘God’s money.’ In olden days it was a portion of one’s crops, such as one coconut out of ten. Immediately setting aside the tithe as soon as income is received sanctifies the remaining portion and reaps the greatest punya (merit earned through right action). It is an acknowledgement by faithful Hindus of God’s providential care, bringing a greater awareness of God’s power in the world. Because tithers are thus uplifted to a purer, spiritual consciousness, abundance naturally floods into their lives.”
The process of developing our faith in God’s loving help requires a steady, continuous commitment. It can be a little frightening, because God expects us to take the first step.
But over time, our faith begins to plant roots and occupy and ever larger portion of our minds and hearts.
Tithing brings a deep sense that we are stewards of our possessions, not their owners, that God is our sole source of sustenance and the owner of all our worldly goods.
Giving back one-tenth of our resources to God simply reflects our faith that He is their source, and that He will take care of our needs.
People wonder, “With the constant rise in the cost of living, should I stop tithing if it becomes a burden?”
It’s a very valid and honest question. But from my experience, I find that when I try to do my best in difficult times, praying to be able to hold fast to the right attitudes and give my life more fully into God’s hands, that at the end of the test I feel more joy.
Having allowed God to take greater control over my life, I feel a bit more free.
In hard times, there’s nothing like buying something for yourself to make yourself temporarily “feel better.” But thenwhen I do this I invariably seem to find debts magically piling up, usually to an extent where there seems to be no way out of them.
This can create despair and fear, and a panicky sense of separation between ourselves and the source of our inspiration and help.
In light of a recent decrease in our family income, I recently recalculated what ten percent of our income would be – it seemed a practical, step to take, in view of how our income had fallen in recent years.
I decreased our tithing accordingly. But then I realized that I was beginning to feel a subtle increase in my fears about money.
After a couple of months, I increased our tithing again to the previous level, and I immediately felt calm and protected.
This experience reminded me that it’s a very good idea to watch how our heart responds to our actions. The heart is a wonderful barometer for knowing if we’re harboring attitudes that will bring us joy, or if we’re inviting a “happiness disaster” through our contractive attitudes and actions.
As devotees, we’re seeking ways to find joy in whatever we’re doing. I’ve found no better way to invite joy into my life than by tithing.