When Lord Krishna played the role of a boy chela in the Avanti ashram of Guru Sandipani, He formed an intimate friendship with His fellow disciple Sudama, a Brahmin boy so impoverished that his clothing was in tatters, and so free of material attachment that he paid no attention. He was affectionately known as Kuchela, meaning “poverty-stricken” or “dressed in rags.”

A true bhakta, Kuchela lived as a wandering sadhu, caring nothing for his own comfort, eating only when food was given him unasked for, singing songs of love for God, meditating reverently on His beauty: “O God beautiful, at Thy feet I do bow.” Kuchela’s friends, concerned for one so oblivious to his own earthly welfare, plotted benevolently to find for him a high-souled woman of devotion and piety, a loyal wife to feed and care for him.

Once married, Kuchela continued much as before, his whole heart and mind absorbed in the Lord, fully trusting that his Beloved would provide—but never thinking to take on worldly responsibilities himself. The care of their growing family fell to the long-suffering wife, forced to beg from neighbors and even strangers to provide for hungry children and blissful husband. Always this good woman put the needs of her husband and children ahead of her own—even to the point of going hungry herself so that her loved ones might eat. Her body became so shrunken and skeletal that she came to be known as Kukshama, meaning “emaciated.”

A loyal Hindu wife, she never complained. Patiently she went about begging a handful of rice here and a handful there—until the day came when the neighbors, themselves struggling to survive, could no longer help her. Days passed without food, or fuel for warmth. The children cried in their hunger and cold. Kukshama began to despair. Unaffected by and unaware of the family crisis, Kuchela continued his inner communion with his Beloved—an uninterrupted stream of love flowing from his heart to the Lord.

Finally, in desperation, Kukshama pleaded with her husband to seek help from his fellow chela Krishna, now known for His wealth and power, and for His generosity. Kuchela was at first horrified at the thought of seeking material benefit from his Lord, the One who already filled heart and soul with bliss immeasurable. How could he be so ungrateful as to ask earthly things as well? Kuchela’s only desire was to love and serve his Beloved in every moment—and never in expectation of reward.

Only when he thought of the joy of being in the physical presence of Krishna did Kuchela agree to his wife’s request. The journey would be a pilgrimage, simply a more outward way of continuing rapt in worship of his Beloved.
But there could be no pilgrimage without an offering to Krishna, the Supreme Lord. Kuchela remembered from ashram days Krishna’s fondness for flakes of beaten rice when Guru Sandipani’s wife prepared the dish for the chelas. And so, once again, Kukshama, though herself weak from hunger, set out to fulfill her husband’s need—this time, a gift for Krishna. Mysteriously drawn to a stranger as she trudged along, Kukshama held out her hand in supplication. The stranger, who was the Lord Himself in this form, dipped into His bag and gave her three handfuls of rice. Ignoring her own hunger, Kukshama lovingly prepared the beaten rice flakes for Krishna, wrapped them in a pitiful rag torn from the tattered sari that was her only garment, and sent her humble gift with Kuchela.

The guards at the gate of Krishna’s palace ignored the beggar at the gate, but inside Krishna rose up in joy. He knew that His great devotee had come to Him, and rushed to greet and honor him. All the palace watched in awe as the Lord Krishna served this ragged beggar with His own hands—washing his feet and anointing them with fragrant sandalwood paste, lovingly conversing with him about their life together in the ashram, feeding him with rare delicacies, even giving him His own bed for his night’s rest.

Ashamed at the poverty of his gift—“’tis shameful so little to give”—Kuchela hid the rice flakes about his person. But Krishna saw through His beloved friend’s embarrassment, sought out the hidden gift, exclaimed with delight and ate with relish, all the time showering Kuchela (and through him, his wife Kukshama) with compliments, appreciation, and gratitude.

When Kuchela returned home, he found not the rundown shanty of before but Krishna’s gift to Kukshama, whose gift to Him had so touched His heart: a palace, fine raiment, a life of plenty for the whole family. The tiniest, shabbiest gift to the Lord, given with devotion, without thought of self, had brought reward without measure.
To Kuchela, who wanted nothing of Krishna but to love Him, Krishna had given Himself, the Friend of all friends; He had fulfilled Kuchela’s heart’s desire, that his soul be ever with the Lord, impervious to the world, immersed always in the Divine Presence.

What we give to God, Swamiji has told us again and again, comes back to us a thousandfold, in ways visible and invisible, and always, most truly, in the expansion of our inner being into divine love and joy, bliss without end.

In divine friendship,

For Ananda’s “Thank You, God” Tithing

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