Selecting an ideal birthday gift: Guidance from the Gita

Lord Krishna’s guidelines on “the kinds of charities” in the Bhagavad Gita (XVII: 20-22) characterize a gift for a fellow being on the basis of the thoughts that occupy our mind as we select the gift. Because all our thinking processes derive their functioning from a combination of the three gunas (modes) of nature, namely sattva (goodness or purity), rajas (passion or attraction), and tamas (darkness or ignorance), the mode that predominantly exists inside us as we choose the gift and offer it decides the quality of our gift. In the context of spirituality, as one would expect, the feel in our mind is more significant than superficial features of the gift, such as the price tag or a stylish packing of the gift.

If we select a birthday gift for a friend’s child without any consideration of how it may affect him or her, we are working under the mode of ignorance. Such a gift, say a toy that is potentially dangerous or inappropriate for the receiver’s age group, is unaccompanied with any wisdom of the giver and can be classified as a tamas gift. If we have searched for a suitable gift but are giving it due to peer pressure or expect a return for this favor, say praise from the kid’s parents, the gift classifies as rajas. If we purchase a giant gift only for show off at a party, it also classifies within the same rajas group. Finally, if our gift is perfect for the child in terms of safety and usability and is given because we care, understand our responsibilities, or would just like to see a smile on the child’s face, our gift can be labeled as “good” (sattva).

According to Hindu spirituality, every thought counts; even the most trivial actions of our lives influence our advancement towards the Divine. The Bhagavad Gita cautions us that all karma, including sattva ones, can temporarily bind us to the universe and delay our liberation. The good gift, though better than the gifts of the other two categories, can temporarily slow down our spiritual evolution if we forget the real doer — God — and credit ourselves for the smile on the child’s face.

Last edited on May 3, 2019.

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