The Law of Giving and Receiving

There has been a story that has been churning over in the back of mind. It is an old Japanese folk tale about a peasant farmer who becomes rich through the power of giving.

The story begins with the farmer lamenting his lowly position in life and then, shortly afterward, falling asleep in a field. In his dream, God tells the farmer to give away whatever he has to others and, upon waking, the farmer notices that he is holding a piece of straw in his hand.

He keeps the straw, twirling it in his hand, thinking about his dream and wondering who on Earth might want a piece of straw. But after a short while, he came across a mother and child walking together. The child was crying and the farmer began to amuse him by twirling the straw. After a short while the boy stopped crying and seemed to want the straw so the farmer gave it to him.

The mother seemed delighted that the child had stopped crying and she reached into her bag and gave the farmer three oranges. The farmer was also delighted and he thanked the woman. As he was just thinking about eating the oranges, he came across a merchant sitting on a box on the ground. After exchanging pleasantries, the merchant remarked how hot it was and how thirsty he was.

The farmer gave the merchant an orange and the merchant squeezed all of its juice into his mouth saying how much he appreciated the gift. The farmer then gave him the remaining two oranges. After drinking the juice and getting to his feet, the merchant thanked the farmer and then reached into the box. He then gave the farmer a bolt of silk cloth.

After again a short while, the farmer came across a soldier whose horse was lame. The soldier was in a hurry and, at that precise moment, was about to kill his horse. The farmer shouted out to him not to deal the fatal blow. He offered the bolt of silk cloth for the horse and the soldier seemed pleased with the offer. The farmer cared for the horse, eventually managing to nurture him back to full health.

The farmer travelled far and wide together with his horse. Then, one day, he came across a man rushing out of his house. He seemed to be in a great hurry to get somewhere. The farmer offered him the horse and the man gratefully accepted. As he was mounting the horse, he asked the farmer if he would mind looking after the house and the farmer agreed.

As he was riding off, he shouted back, “I may be away for a long time, but if I don’t return within three years, you can keep the house.” As it turned out, the man never returned and the farmer lived a long and happy life there working the land and enjoying a bountiful harvest.

Does the story seem too far-fetched; the whole idea of starting with a piece of straw and ending up with a house? Well, if so, perhaps you have not heard about the guy who started with a paper clip and traded his way all the way up to a house. You can read about it here.

Anyway, here’s what I take away from this story:

  • The act of giving enables a powerful natural law (the law of giving and receiving or karma) that the universe can use in order to return blessings to us.
  • We can’t receive some things until we have given away what we already have and so therefore there are some things that we cannot give until we have given away what we already have.
  • Whatever we do and do not have, God has given us something and whatever it is, that is the thing we must first learn to give.

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