A wise man discovers his duty and does it at all costs. It is the duty of all to be impartial and to abstain from causing injury to all living things.
– From Excellence in Jainism
Suffering Is Changeable
This touching story of Tara, known in the Jain community as ‘Taraben’ (sister Tara), brings again to light, the importance of service and sacrifice in our lives. Tara told me some time ago, “that to her Service is a joy, there is nothing as wonderful as giving.” Now some years on from this original story, Tara is still engaged in her charity work, and is once more set to visit India.
But many of us do not appreciate that service can be a joy in the way Tara experiences it. Often, we react by feeling quite helpless whenever faced with dire poverty and disease. We may point to the philosophy of ‘karma’- and say, “It’s the will of God.” Of course, this is one way to evade the issue of the down-trodden and suffering of others. ( Although, the question of Karma should not make people’s afflictions more acceptable). Another stand-point is to offer absent healing or engage in prayer which has it’s merits, for all good thought is positive and worthwhile. But there is no prayer, or healing like helping hands that seek no name or reward.
Tara’s way is the path of action,known as Karma Yoga and, by so doing, she is not denying the philosophy of karma which is very much part of her Jain tradition. Instead, she does her best to eliminate the idea of ‘unchangeable’ karmic destiny by her positive and generous actions.
To my mind, the easiest way to accept karmic teachings is from a view that it is ‘collective’, and common to all. By helping each other, in whatever way we can, we are gradually eliminating the darkness of ignorance that engulfs our world.
Tara’s energy and goodwill also embraced our early production of InnerViews Magazine. She has supported us generously over the years with donations, encouraging words and letters. Tara is a Sai Baba devotee, although her visits to Swami’s ashrams are now rare because of her charitable duties. Nonetheless, she is spiritually in tune with all of his declarations; one which I believe suits this story and we present it here:
Make your heart soft, then success is quick in Sadhana (spiritual practice). Talk softly, talk sweetly, talk only of God – that is the process of softening the subsoil. Develop compassion, sympathy; engage in service, understand the agony of poverty and disease, distress and despair; share both tears and cheers with others. That is the way to soften the heart and help Sadhana to succeed.
– Sathya Sai Baba
And So To India!
It was a warm day in May 1992 when many ordinary and distinguished Jains gathered together in a house in Hounslow, West London. The event was the loading of a huge container filled with clothes and foodstuffs destined for Gujarat, India.
The house belonged to Mr. Rajni and Mrs. Tara Shah, an Oshwal Jain couple who were born in Kenya and migrated to the U.K. some forty-seven years ago. For them, the event was a cherished dream come true – a dream to help the poor and the needy in their homeland. There was no expectation of reward, no desire for fame or status. Simply a wish to help others who are less fortunate than themselves in the best way possible.
This was to be the fourth such mission in as many years. By now, Tara had developed some experience of handling the collection of clothes, the clearance through customs, and the final distribution of goods in remote Indian villages. The most distinguishing feature about the project was that the items were to be distributed by Tara herself. In this way, she could personally ensure that the charity reached its final destination.
Although, Tara’s project was not problem-free, she remained undeterred. For her, she had to look after her ‘extended family’ at whatever cost. Each year, she spent her money on fares, custom duties, wheelchairs, etc. in addition to spending six months of her time in organising the programme, and delivering the collection of goods to India.
In the four summer months of 1992, Tara went to three hundred and fifty villages in Gujarat state, often going to very remote and inaccessible areas. Using the Kuvarbaai Dharamsala in Jamnagar as her base, she would, every morning at 6. a.m set out with the lorry driver and the video cameraman. The journey to the first destitute village would normally take five hours of travelling in exhausting conditions of immense heat, dust and on bumpy dirt roads. There was no break in this journey, and the same distance was covered whilst returning in the evening – an average of ten hours travelling a day.
The film captures the people vividly, and it is very difficult to express in words, the conditions these villagers endure. Usually, they lacked any education, health care or sanitation. Often they had to walk several miles to collect water. Orphan children living alone were nothing unusual in the villages. Poor housing, with only the minimum of household goods, was standard. Often villagers could be found living in tents; their dismal life-style frequently left them with little to say. So much hardship had been experienced in their lives that the situation could not get any worse. The clothes and foodstuffs were a boon to their suffering, and the smiles on their faces needed to be seen to be believed.
A Timely Wheelchair
In one village, there was a forty-two year old orphan called Babu. He was so physically disabled that the only thing he could do was to lie in bed all day and night. The only time he left his small hut was when the village children helped him to go to the toilet. This was a difficult exercise, for Babu had to be lifted and carried out of doors. Babu’s parents died caring for him, and he never saw anything beyond his village.
When Tara saw his plight, she decided to order a special wheelchair for his size and disabilities, and made a special trip back to the village to deliver it. This trip was captured on film. When Babu heard that a wheelchair had arrived for him, he could not contain his joy. He wiggled out of bed and rolled his body out of the house, scraping his skin against the dry and stony ground. It was like a young baby crawling without limbs and feet, and getting hurt in the process. When Babu finally was lifted into his wheelchair, he felt like a king being enthroned, and for the first time in his life, he was able to visit his village and the surrounding area.
When we see these pictures, we can understand why Tara calls the villagers her extended family. Another factor that greatly concerns Tara is that when there is work in the summer months, villagers are only paid fifteen rupees a day to dig holes, and earthbanks. And out of that meagre amount, the government officials retain five rupees from each wage earned, leaving very little for the villagers to keep for themselves.
Original story printed in ‘Young Jains’ Jan.-Mar. 1993