Category Archives: Humanitarian

Miracles Do Happen Even in This Kaliyug.


Myself

By T.V. Antony Raj

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A Mother and daughter in Chennai (This picture was posted on Facebook)
A Mother and daughter in Chennai (This picture was posted on Facebook)

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In  the early hours of August 8, 2015, around 6:30 am,  a  walking group called “Twalkers” saw a mother and her daughter carrying a travelling bag at the Anna University Campus in Chennai,

The Twalkers saw them still standing in the same spot when they came around the second time. They inquired why they were standing there in the early hours.

Thangaponnu, the mother told them that she was a shepherdess from Musiri, a Panchayat town in the Tiruchirapalli district. Her daughter R. Swathi had scored 1017/1200 marks in her Plus Two examinations. After applying for entrance to B.Sc. Agriculture course, her daughter had been asked to come to Anna Arangam, Tamil Nadu Agricultural University, to attend the counseling session ahead of the admissions process to B. Sc. Agriculture, scheduled to start at 8:30 am. She showed the letter received by her daughter from the Tamil Nadu Agricultural University (TNAU).

On scrutinizing that letter,  the Twalkers saw the mistake. TNAU had directed Swathi to present herself at The Anna Arangam, Tamil Nadu Agricultural University, in Coimbatore, but some people had  inadvertently misdirected them to Anna University, Chennai.

When the mother and daughter realized their mistake, they lost hope of reaching Coimbatore in time because the distance between Chennai and Coimbatore by road is 533 km (331 miles) and would take around 8 hours to travel.When the mother and daughter realized the mistake, they lost hope.

Since the counseling was to start at 8.30 a.m. in Coimbatore, the Twalkers decided to help the girl and her mother reach Coimbatore by air flight. The Twalkers decided to share the flight cost of ₹10,500.

Some Twalkers teaching at the Anna University, spoke to TNAU registrar C.R. Ananda Kumar, and explained to him the situation and asked for extra time for the girl candidate.

The Twalkers brought breakfast for the girl and her mother.

Once the flight tickets were booked and confirmed, the Twalkers took Swathi and her mother to the Chennai airport to board the 10:05 am Coimbatore flight.

The flight Swathi and her mother were on landed at 11:28 am in Coimbatore. Arrangements were made to pick them at the Coimbatore airport. They reached the TNAU counseling venue by 12:15 pm.

Around 2:00 pm Swathi got admitted to B.Tech. (Biotechnology).

Swathi and her mother are now planning to visit Chennai again soon to meet the Twalkers who had spontaneously helped and thank them. The mother said that they would return the money the Twalkers had spent to buy their flight tickets.

Isn’t this incidence a miracle in this Kaliyug.

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An Angel Saves a 2-year-old Baby Girl


Myself

By T.V. Antony Raj

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This video of rescuing a child that fell into a borewell may be three years old. It made a great impression and still inspires me.

In the village of Bebera in Romania, a 2-year-old baby girl, Alina, fell into a five meters deep borewell. Rescuers spent almost six hours to save the child. But all their efforts seemed futile.

Then, an angel from the watching multitude, stepped forward. She volunteered to help retrieve the child that had fallen in the borewell. The angel was a teenager named Fornica. Her thin frame just fitted the 15-inch diameter mild steel borewell casing.

After securing her with ropes, the rescuers directed her into the borewell, head first.

The first attempt was a failure.

The undaunted brave teenager volunteered to plunge into the borewell a second time.

While the whole nation was watching and praying, the brave teenager made her second attempt and succeeded in retrieving the 2-year-old Alina, safe and sound.

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John Chrysostom: Part 3: The Second Banishment and Death


Myself

By T.V. Antony Raj

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Statue of St John Chrysostom, at St Patrick's cathedral, New York City. (Source: wikimedia commons)
Statue of St John Chrysostom, at St Patrick’s cathedral, New York City. (Source: wikimedia commons)

 

Even though exiled, John Chrysostom found it possible to correspond with his supporters in Constantinople. He was still able to exert a measure of influence in his cause. His correspondences were discovered. Word came from Constantinople that he was to be removed from Caucasus to an even more remote place at the eastern end of the Black Sea to a so-called castellum, a rectangular fortress with towers at each corner, built by the Romans in the 2nd century AD in Pitiunt, in modern Abkhazia.

Imperial officials forced John Chrysostom to walk in bad weather to his new place of exile. He did not survive the exhausting journey. He died at Comana Pontica on September 14, 407. His last words are said to have been, “δόξα τῷ θεῷ πάντων ἕνεκεν”, meaning “Glory be to God for all things.

After John Chrysostom’s death, people venerated him as a saint. Three decades later, some of his adherents in Constantinople remained in schism. Saint Proclus, the then Patriarch of Constantinople (434-446), hoping to bring about the reconciliation of these Johannites, preached a homily  in the Church of Hagia Sophia, praising his predecessor  He said:

O John, your life was filled with sorrow, but your death was glorious. Your grave is blessed and reward is great, by the grace and mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ O graced one, having conquered the bounds of time and place! Love has conquered space, unforgetting memory has annihilated the limits, and place does not hinder the miracles of the saint.

These homilies helped to mobilize public opinion.

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Coffin of St. John Chrysostom in Komani, Georgia.
Coffin of St. John Chrysostom in Komani, Georgia.

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The patriarch Patriarch of Constantinople received permission from the Emperor Theodosius II, son of Arcadius and Eudoxia, to return Chrysostom’s relics from Comana to Constantinople. On January 28, 438, the relics were solemnly received by the Archbishop Proclus and the Emperor Theodosius II and enshrined in the Church of the Holy Apostles.

The Orthodox and Eastern Catholic Churches commemorate John Chrysostom as a “Great Ecumenical Teacher” and honour him as a saint. They count him among the Three Holy Hierarchs, together with Basil the Great and Gregory Nazianzus. These three saints, in addition to having their own individual feast days, are commemorated together on January 30, a feast known as the  feast known as the honour him as a saint. They count him among the Three Holy Hierarchs, together with Basil the Great and Gregory Nazianzus. These three saints, in addition to having their own individual feast days, are commemorated together on January 30, a feast known as the  feast known as the honour him as a saint. They count him among the Three Holy Hierarchs, together with Basil the Great and Gregory Nazianzus. These three saints, in addition to having their own individual feast days, are commemorated together on January 30, a feast known as the  feast known as the Synaxis of the Three Hierarchs.

There are several feast days dedicated to him:

  • 27 January, Translation of the relics of St John Chrysostom from Comana to Constantinople. Some Lutheran and many Anglican provinces commemorate him on this traditional eastern feast.
  • 30 January, Synaxis of the Three Great Hierarchs.
  • The Churches of the western tradition, including the Roman Catholic Church, some Anglican provinces, and parts of the Lutheran Church commemorate him on 13 September (Western feast day).
  • 14 September, Repose of St John Chrysostom
  • 13 November, St John Chrysostom the Archbishop of Constantinople (Eastern feast day).

The Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria also recognizes John Chrysostom as a saint (with feast days on 16 Thout and 17 Hathor).

Here is an excerpt from one of John Chrysostom’s Homilies on confessing one’s sins:

Are you a sinner? Do not become discouraged, and come to Church to put forward repentance. Have you sinned? Then tell God, ‘I have sinned.’

What manner of toil is this, what prescribed the course of life, what affliction? What manner of difficulty is it to make one statement, ‘I have sinned’?

Perhaps if you do not call yourself a sinner, you do not have the devil as an accuser? Anticipate this and snatch the honor away from him, because it is his purpose to accuse. Therefore, why do you not prevent him, and why do you not tell your sin and wipe it out, since you know that you have such an accuser who cannot remain silent?do you not prevent him, and why do you not tell your sin and wipe it out, since you know that you have such an accuser who cannot remain silent?

Have you sinned? Come to Church. Tell God, ‘I have sinned.’

I do not demand anything else of you than this. Holy Scripture states, ‘Be the first one to tell of your transgressions, so you may be justified.’ Admit the sin to annul it. This requires neither labor nor a circuit of words nor monetary expenditure nor anything else whatsoever such as these.

Say one word, think carefully about the sin and say, ‘I have sinned.’”

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← Previous: Part 2: The Bishop of Constantinople

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John Chrysostom: Part 2: The Bishop of Constantinople


Myself

By T.V. Antony Raj

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Saint John Chrysostom (Hagios Ioannis Chrysostomos) of Antioch. An early Byzantine mosaic from the Cathedral of Hagia Sophia in Constantinople. The mosaic is approximately 1,000 years old.
Saint John Chrysostom (Hagios Ioannis Chrysostomos) of Antioch. An early Byzantine mosaic from the Cathedral of Hagia Sophia in Constantinople. The mosaic is approximately 1,000 years old.

 

On September 27, 397, Nectarius, Bishop of Constantinople, died. There was a general rivalry in the capital for the vacant see.

After some months, to the great disappointment of the rival factions, Emperor Arcadius, at the suggestion of his minister Eutropius, asked the Prefect of Antioch to send John Chrysostom to Constantinople without the knowledge of the people of Antioch, due to fears that the departure of such a popular figure would cause civil unrest.

John Chrysostom was hurried to the capital. On February 26, 398 Theophilus, Patriarch of Alexandria ordained John Chrysostom as Bishop of Constantinople in the presence of a great assembly of bishops.

The life in Constantinople was more turbulent than what John Chrysostom  had at Antioch. As Archbishop of Constantinople, he refused to host lavish social gatherings. This made him popular with the common people, but unpopular with the wealthy citizens. He became unpopular with the clergy for his reforms of the clergy. He told visiting regional preachers to return to the churches they were serving, without any payout.

Here is an excerpt from a homily by St. John Chrysostom on the Gospel of Matthew (Hom. 50, 3-4, PG 58, 508-509). In this homily, he warns against adorning Church buildings at the expense of caring for the suffering members of the Church:

Do you want to honor Christ’s body? Then do not scorn him in his nakedness, nor honor him here in the church with silken garments while neglecting him outside where he is cold and naked. For he who said: This is my body and made it so by his words, also said: “You saw me hungry and did not feed me, and inasmuch as you did not do it for one of these, the least of my brothers, you did not do it for me.” What we do here in the church requires a pure heart, not special garments; what we do outside requires great dedication.

Let us learn, therefore, to be men of wisdom and to honor Christ as he desires. For a person being honoured finds greatest pleasure in the honor he desires, not in the honor we think best. Peter thought he was honoring Christ when he refused to let him wash his feet, but what Peter wanted was not truly an honour, quite the opposite! Give him the honour prescribed in his law by giving your riches to the poor. For God does not want golden vessels but golden hearts.

Now, in saying this I am not forbidding you to make such gifts; I am only demanding that along with such gifts and before them you give alms. He accepts the former, but he is much more pleased with the latter. In the former, only the giver profits; in the latter, the recipient does too.

A gift to the church may be taken as a form of ostentation, but an alms is pure kindness. Of what use is it to weigh down Christ’s table with golden cups, when he himself is dying of hunger? First, fill him when he is hungry; then use the means you have left to adorn his table. Will you have a golden cup made, but not give a cup of water?

What is the use of providing the table with cloths woven of gold thread, and not providing Christ himself with the clothes he needs?

What profit is there in that? Tell me: If you were to see him lacking the necessary food, but were to leave him in that state and merely surround his table with gold would he be grateful to you or rather would he not be angry?

What if you were to see him clad in worn-out rags and stiff from the cold, and were to forget about clothing him and instead were to set up golden columns for him, saying that you were doing it in his honour? Would he not think he was being mocked and greatly insulted?

Apply this also to Christ when he comes along the roads as a pilgrim, looking for shelter. You do not take him in as your guest, but you decorate floors and walls and the capitals of the pillars. You provide silver chains for the lamps, but you cannot bear even to look at him as he lies chained in prison.

Once again, I am not forbidding you to supply these adornments; I am urging you to provide these other things as well, and indeed to provide them first. No one has ever been accused of not providing ornaments, but for those who neglect their neighbour a hell awaits with an inextinguishable fire and torment in the company of the demons. Do not, therefore, adorn the church and ignore your afflicted brother, for he is the most precious temple of all.

In 399, through the intervention of John Chrysostom and the influence of the emperor Theodosius I, Flavian was acknowledged as the sole legitimate bishop of Antioch.

Theophilus, the Patriarch of Alexandria, wanted to bring Constantinople under his jurisdiction. He opposed John’s appointment as Bishop of Constantinople, even though he had ordained him under duress instead of securing the appointment for Isidore, his own candidate. At that time, Theophilus had disciplined four Egyptian monks, known as “the Tall Brothers,” over their support of Origen’s teachings.

Origen (184/185 – 253/254) was a scholar and an early Christian theologian. He was a prolific writer in many branches of theology, including textual criticism, biblical exegesis and hermeneutics, philosophical theology, preaching, and spirituality. Some of his reputed teachings, such as the pre-existence of souls, the final reconciliation of all creatures, including perhaps even the devil (the apokatastasis), and the subordination of the Son of God to God the Father, later became controversial among Christian theologians.

The Tall Brothers fled to Constantinople and were welcomed by John Chrysostom. Theophilus accused John of being too partial to the teaching of Origen.

John Chrysostom made another enemy in Aelia Eudoxia, the Empress consort of the Byzantine Emperor Arcadius. Eudoxia assumed that his denunciations of extravagance in feminine dress were aimed at herself.

In 403 AD, Theophilus Eudoxia, and other of enemies of John Chrysostom held a synod (the Synod of the Oak) to charge John Chrysostom. They used his connection to the four Egyptian monks who espoused the teachings of Origen against him. Eventually, this resulted in the deposition and banishment of John Chrysostom from Constantinople.

The people rioted over the deposition and banishment of John Chrysostom. Also, on the night of his arrest, there was an earthquake.  A frightened Aelia Eudoxia considered it as a sign of God’s anger. She beseeched Arcadius to reinstate John Chrysostom as Bishop of Constantinople.

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John Chrysostom confronting Aelia Eudoxia, in a 19th-century painting by Jean-Paul Laurens (1838-1921).
John Chrysostom confronting Aelia Eudoxia, in a 19th-century painting by Jean-Paul Laurens (1838-1921).

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However, peace between John Chrysostom and Eudoxia was short-lived. A silver statue of Eudoxia was erected in the Augustaion, near his cathedral. John Chrysostom denounced the dedication ceremonies. He spoke against her in harsh terms alluding to the events surrounding the death of John the Baptist:

Again Herodias raves; again she is troubled; she dances again; and again desires to receive John’s head in a charger.

Once again, John Chrysostom was banished, this time to the Caucasus, a region at the border of Europe and Asia, situated between the Black and the Caspian seas.

John Chrysostom wrote an appeal for help to three churchmen: Innocent I,  the Bishop of Rome (Pope);  Venerius, the Bishop of Milan; and Chromatius, the Bishop of Aquileia.

Pope Innocent protested against the banishment of John Chrysostom from Constantinople to the Caucasus. With the help of the western emperor Honorius, the Pope attempted to intervene, but the enemies of John Chrysostom thwarted his efforts. In 405, Pope Innocent sent a delegation to intercede on behalf of John. But the delegation never reached Constantinople.

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Next → Part  3: The Second Banishment and Death

← Previous: Part 1- Where Can You Find God?

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John Chrysostom: Part 1- Where Can You Find God?


Myself

By T.V. Antony Raj

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If you cannot find Christ

 

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Saint John Chrysostom, Archbishop of Constantinople, was an important Early Church Father. He is considered the most prominent doctor of the Greek Church and the greatest preacher ever heard in a Christian pulpit. He is known for his preaching and public speaking. The zeal and his clarity of preaching appealed to all, especially the common people. This earned him the Greek surname “kihrys stymo” (χρυσή στόμιο) meaning “golden-mouthed.” He denounced the abuse of authority by both ecclesiastical and political leaders.

John Chrysostom was born in Antioch in 349 AD to Greco-Syrian parents.

In the fourth century, at the time of John Chrysostom’s birth, Antioch was the second city of the eastern part of the Roman Empire.  Throughout the fourth century, religious struggles troubled the empire. Pagans, Manichaeans, Gnostics, Arians, Apollinarians, Jews, made their proselytes at Antioch. The Christians were themselves separated by the schism between Bishop Meletius and Bishop Paulinus for the bishopric of Antioch.

John Chrysostom’s father, Secundus, a high-ranking military officer died soon after his birth. His widowed mother Anthusa, only twenty years of age, took the sole charge of her two children John and an elder sister. She raised him in piety. Using her influence in the city, she had him study under a distinguished pagan rhetorician, Libanius, the most tenacious adherent of the declining paganism of Rome. Soon John acquired the skills for a career in rhetoric, as well as a love of the Greek language and literature.

About 367 AD, he met the Bishop Meletius. John captivated by the earnest, mild, and the winning character of the bishop frequented the sermons of Meletius. He studied Holy Scripture and soon began to withdraw from classical and profane studies and devoted himself
to an ascetic and religious life.

According to the Christian historian Sozomen, Libanius was supposed to have said on his deathbed that John Chrysostom would have been his successor “if the Christians had not taken him from us“.

About three years later John Chrysostom received Holy Baptism and was ordained lector. Later, the young cleric, desiring a perfect life entered one of the ascetic societies near Antioch.

About 375 AD, John Chrysostom resolved to live as an anchorite in one of the caves near Antioch. There, he followed extreme asceticism. He spent the next two years, continually standing and fasting in frost and cold, committing the Bible to memory. He scarcely slept at all. As a consequence of these harsh practices, his stomach and kidneys were damaged. He returned to Antioch to regain his health and resumed his office as lector in the church.

John Chrysostom was ordained as a deacon probably in 381 AD by Bishop Meletius of Antioch, president of the Second Ecumenical Council. After the death of Bishop Meletius in Constantinople in the same year, Flavian I of Antioch (ca. 320 – February 404) was ordained as bishop or Patriarch of Antioch. The Bishop of Rome and the Patriarch of Alexandria refused to acknowledge Flavian, and Paulinus, who by the extreme Eustathians had been elected bishop in opposition to Meletius, continued to exercise authority over a portion of the church.

John Chrysostom separated himself from the followers of Bishop Meletius, but he did not join Bishop Paulinus.

On the death of Bishop  Paulinus in about 383, Evagrius was chosen as his successor. In 386 AD, John Chrysostom was ordained as a presbyter (a priest) by Evagrius.

Note: Actually, there is a difference of opinion on who ordained John Chrysostom as a presbyter. Some authors claim it was Bishop Flavian I, while others say it was Bishop Evagrius.

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St. John Chrysostom (Source: integrated atholiclife.org)
St. John Chrysostom (Source: integrated atholiclife.org)

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For 12 years, from 386 AD to 397 AD, John Chrysostom became popular for the eloquence of his public speaking at the Golden Church, Antioch’s cathedral. People liked his clear expositions of Biblical passages and moral teachings. The themes of his talks were eminently social. He explained the Christian’s conduct in life. His straightforward understanding of the Scriptures were in contrast to the Alexandrian tendency towards allegorical interpretation.

One incident that happened during John Chrysostom’s service in Antioch illustrates best the influence of his sermons.

Emperor Theodosius I, also called Theodosius the Great ruled from 379 to 395 made Christianity the official state religion of the Roman Empire. He was the last emperor to rule over both the eastern and western portions of the Roman Empire. He was a strong defender of the Orthodox Christian faith and honoured  as a saint.

When John Chrysostom arrived in Antioch its citizens were on a riotous rampage. They   mutilated the statues of the Emperor and his family. The Bishop had to intervene with the Emperor on behalf of the citizens of Antioch.

During the weeks of Lent in 387 AD, John Chrysostom preached 21 sermons in which he entreated the people to see the error of their ways. These sermons had a lasting impression on the citizens of Antioch. This resulted in many pagans converting to Christianity. Due to the conversions, Theodosius’ vengeance on the citizens of Antioch subdued and was not as severe as it might have been.

The most valuable of his works from this period are the Homilies he wrote on various books of the Bible.

He was most concerned with the spiritual and temporal needs of the poor. He spoke out against abuse of wealth and personal property. He particularly emphasized alms and charitable giving:

Do you wish to honour the body of Christ?

Do not ignore him when he is naked. Do not pay him homage in the temple clad in silk, only then to neglect him outside where he is cold and ill-clad.

He who said: “This is my body” is the same who said: “You saw me hungry and you gave me no food”, and “Whatever you did to the least of my brothers you did also to me”…

What good is it if the Eucharistic table is overloaded with golden chalices when your brother is dying of hunger? Start by satisfying his hunger and then with what is left you may adorn the altar as well.

After the death of Evagrius (c. 393), Flavian succeeded in preventing the election of a successor. However, the Eustathians still continued to hold separate meetings.

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Next → Part 2:  The Bishop of Constantinople

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“The Good Samaritan” Narayanan Krishnan’s Actions Speak Louder than Words!


Myself 

 

 

BT.V. Antony Raj

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If you can’t feed a hundred people, then feed just one.
–  Mother Teresa

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Narayanan Krishnan - The Good Samaritan

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Born in 1981, Narayanan Krishnan, a former award-winning chef hails from Madurai, Tamilnadu, India.

In 2002, while working at Taj Hotels, Bengaluru, India, he secured a job as a chef in a five-star hotel in Switzerland. Before heading for Europe, he went to his birthplace to see his parents. There, on his way to a temple, he saw a distressing scene. Narayanan recalls:

“I saw a very old man, literally eating his own human waste out of hunger. I went to the nearby hotel and asked them what was available. They had idli [rice cake], which I bought and gave to the old man. Believe me, I had never seen a person eating so fast, ever. As he ate the food, his eyes were filled with tears. Those were the tears of happiness.”

Narayanan forfeited the job in Switzerland. From June 2002 onwards, using his savings of about $2500, he started distributing around 30 food packets a day for the destitute in and around Madurai City.

Narayanan Krishnan action reminds me of an incident in the Gospel of Mark:

Looking at the man, Jesus felt genuine love for him. “There is still one thing you haven’t done,” he told him. “Go and sell all your possessions and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” (Mark 10:21)

akshaya-logo

In 2003, Narayanan Krishnan founded the nonprofit Akshaya Trust. In Sanskrit, Akshaya means “non-depleting.” In Hindu mythology, Goddess Annapoorani fed the hungry with the never depleting “Akshaya bowl”. Krishnan said that he chose the name Akshaya “to signify that human compassion should never decay or perish … The spirit of helping others must prevail forever.”

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Narayanan Krishnan preparing the vegetables.
Narayanan Krishnan preparing the vegetables.

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Narayanan Krishnan wakes up every day at 4 am and with his team, prepares a simple hot meal. After loading the cooked food in a donated van, the team goes out to feed around 400 destitute, mentally disabled, and elderly people in Madurai. He provides them breakfast, lunch and dinner.

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Narayanan Krishnan shaves a destitute.

Narayanan Krishnan shaves a destitute.

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He not only feeds the needy, he has also acquired the skills of a barber. With the comb, scissors and razor he carries along with him, he cuts hair and shaves those he serves, transforming them into dignified persona. Krishnan says:

“I cut their hair, I give them a shave, I give them a bath. For them to feel, psychologically, that they are also human beings, that there are people to care for them, that they have a hand to hold, and a hope to live. Food is one part, and love is another part. So, the food will give them physical nutrition, and the love and affection which you show will give them mental nutrition.”

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Narayanan Krishnan hugging the destitute

Narayanan Krishnan, born into the Brahmin caste says:

“Brahmins are not supposed to touch these people, clean these people, hug these people, feed these people. Everybody has got 5.5 liters of blood. I am just a human being. For me, everybody is the same. “

Many destitute people do not know their names or where they come from. Some, because of their conditions, are paranoid and hostile. They do not beg, ask for help or offer thanks. Even then, their attitude only helps strengthen Krishnan’s steadfast resolve to help them.

“The panic, suffering of the human hunger is the driving force in me and my team members of Akshaya,” he said. “I get this energy from the people. The food which I cook … the enjoyment which they get is the energy. I see the soul. I want to save my people.”

In 2010, Narayanan Krishnan was in “CNN heroes 2010” list. He was selected among the top 10 out of 10,000 nominations from more than 100 countries.

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Narayanan Krishnan summarizes his goal:

What is the ultimate purpose of life? It is to give! Start giving. See the joy in giving.

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Hugh Herr: The Bionic Man


Myself 

 

 

BT.V. Antony Raj

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Dr. Hugh Herr Phot by Claudia Dreifus( Source: nytimes.com) (Custom)
Dr. Hugh Herr Phot by Claudia Dreifus( Source: nytimes.com) (Custom)

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Hugh Herr, an American, born October 25, 1964, a double amputee is building the next generation of bionic limbs, robotic prosthetics inspired by nature’s own designs. Herr is a rock climber, engineer, and biophysicist.

Herr grew up in rural Pennsylvania, and his only dream was becoming a mountaineer. By the time he was 8, being a prodigy rock climber, he scaled the face of the 11,627-foot (3,544 m) Mount Temple in the Canadian Rockies.

In January 1982, the 17-year-old Hugh Herr, acknowledged as one of the best climbers in the United States, and a fellow climber 20-year-old Jeff Batzer ascended a difficult technical ice route in Huntington Ravine on Mount Washington in New Hampshire. They were caught in a blizzard. Disoriented, they wandered through the frozen wilderness. Eventually, they descended into the Great Gulf and spent three nights in −20 °F (−29 °C) degree temperatures. When rescued, both the climbers had suffered severe frostbite and hypothermia. During the rescue attempt, an avalanche killed a volunteer named Albert Dow.

Months of surgeries followed. Unfortunately, both legs of Hugh Herr were amputated below the knee. His companion, Jeff Batzer lost his lower left leg, all the toes on his right foot, and the fingers of his right hand. He did not climb again. He joined the clergy and is now the director of pastoral care at the Lancaster Evangelical Free Church.

After the amputation and rehabilitation, Hugh Herr focused on academics. He earned an undergraduate degree in physics at the Millersville University, and then a master’s degree in mechanical engineering at MIT, followed by a Ph.D. in biophysics from Harvard University.

Soon, an undaunted Hugh Herr using specialized prostheses that he himself designed, was climbing once again, a feat his doctors told him was unthinkable.

Hugh Herr climbing High Exposure in Mohonk Preserve an hour south of Albany on the cliffs called The Gunks. (Source: jothyrosenberg.com)
Hugh Herr climbing High Exposure in Mohonk Preserve an hour south of Albany on the cliffs called The Gunks. (Source: jothyrosenberg.com)

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Hugh Herr designed and created prosthetic feet with high toe stiffness that made it possible for him to stand on small rock edges the width of a coin. He designed titanium-spiked feet to assist him in ascending steep ice walls. He used the prostheses to alter his height that could range from five to eight feet, to avoid awkward body positions and to grab hand and footholds that were previously out of reach. He created robotic powered ankles because that was the only way for smooth walking.

Using the prostheses, Herr climbed rock cliffs at a more advanced level than he had before the amputation. He became the first person with a major amputation to perform in a sport on par with able-bodied sportsmen.

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At present, Hugh Herr is an associate professor in MIT’s Program in Media Arts and Sciences and at the Harvard-MIT Division of Health Sciences and Technology. As the head of the MIT Media Lab’s Biomechatronics group, Herr focuses on the designing of the next generation of bionic limbs and robotic prosthetics inspired by nature’s own designs. He is developing wearable robotic systems that serve to augment the human physical capability. He is rewriting the laws of physiology by redefining what it means to be human.

TED is a nonprofit group devoted to spreading ideas, usually in the form of short, powerful talks. TED began in 1984 as a conference where Technology, Entertainment and Design converged, and today it covers almost all topics — from science to business to global issues — in more than 100 languages.

TEDTalks is a daily video podcast of the best talks and performances from the TED Conference, where the world’s leading thinkers and doers give the talk of their lives in 18 minutes or less on Technology, Entertainment and Design — plus science, business, global issues, the arts and much more.

In the following video, Dr. Hugh Herr shows his incredible technology in a talk that is both technically and deeply personal. He demonstrates the Biometric technology developed by the MIT Media Lab’s Biomechatronics group with the help of the ballroom dancer Adrianne Haslet-Davis, who lost her left leg in the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing, and performs again for the first time on the TED stage.

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Here is the transcript of the above video:

0:12
Looking deeply inside nature through the magnifying glass of science, designers extract principles, processes and materials that are forming the very basis of design methodology, from synthetic constructs that resemble biological materials to computational methods that emulate neural processes, nature is driving design. Design is also driving nature. In realms of genetics, regenerative medicine and synthetic biology, designers are growing novel  technologies not foreseen or anticipated by nature.

0:51
Bionics explores the interplay between biology and design. As you can see, my legs are bionic. Today I will tell human stories of bionic integration, how electromechanics attached to the body and implanted inside the body are beginning to bridge the gap between disability and ability, between human limitation and human potential.

1:23
Bionics has defined my physicality. In 1982, both of my legs were amputated due to tissue damage from frostbite incurred during a mountain climbing accident. At that time, I didn’t view my body as broken. I reasoned that a human being can never be broken. Technology is broken. Technology is inadequate. This simple but powerful idea was a call to arms to advance technology for the elimination of my own disability and ultimately the disability of others. I began by developing specialized limbs that allowed me to return to the vertical world of rock and ice climbing. I quickly realized that the artificial part of my body is malleable, able to take on any form, any function, a blank slate through which to create perhaps structures that could extend beyond biological capability. I made my height adjustable. I could be as short as five feet or as tall as I’d like. (Laughter) So when I was feeling badly about myself, insecure, I would jack my height up, but when I was feeling confident and suave, I would knock my height down a notch just to give the competition a chance. (Laughter) (Applause) Narrow, wedged feet allowed me to climb steep rock fissures where the human foot cannot penetrate, and spiked feet enabled me to climb vertical ice walls without ever experiencing muscle leg fatigue. Through technological innovation, I returned to my sport stronger and better. Technology had eliminated my disability and allowed me a new climbing prowess. As a young man, I imagined a future world where technology so advanced could rid the world of disability, a world in which neural implants would allow the visually impaired to see, a world in which the paralyzed could walk via body exoskeletons.

3:31
Sadly, because of deficiencies in technology, disability is rampant in the world. This gentleman is missing three limbs. As a testimony to current technology, he is out of the wheelchair, but we need to do a better job in bionics to allow one day full rehabilitation for a person with this level of injury. At the MIT Media Lab, we’ve established the Center for Extreme Bionics. The mission of the center is to put forth fundamental science and technological capability that will allow the biomechatronic and regenerative repair of humans across a broad range of brain and body disabilities.

4:12
Today, I’m going to tell you how my legs function, how they work, as a case in point for this center. Now, I made sure to shave my legs last night, because I knew I’d be showing them off.

4:25
Bionics entails the engineering of extreme interfaces. There’s three extreme interfaces in my bionic limbs: mechanical, how my limbs are attached to my biological body; dynamic, how they move like flesh and bone; and electrical, how they communicate with my nervous system.

4:41
I’ll begin with mechanical interface. In the area of design, we still do not understand how to attach devices to the body mechanically. It’s
extraordinary to me that in this day and age, one of the most mature, oldest technologies in the human timeline, the shoe, still gives us blisters. How can this be? We have no idea how to attach things to our bodies. This is the beautifully lyrical design work of Professor Neri Oxman at the MIT Media Lab, showing spatially varying exoskeletal impedances, shown here by color variation in this 3D-printed model. Imagine a future where clothing is stiff and soft where you need it, when you need it, for optimal support and flexibility, without ever causing discomfort.

5:30
My bionic limbs are attached to my biological body via synthetic skins with stiffness variations that mirror my underlying tissue biomechanics. To achieve that mirroring, we first developed a mathematical model of my biological limb. To that end, we used imaging tools such as MRI to look inside my body to figure out the geometries and locations of various tissues. We also took robotic tools. Here’s a 14-actuator circle that goes around the biological limb. The actuators come in, find the surface of the limb, measure its unloaded shape, and then they push on the tissues to measure tissue
compliances at each anatomical point. We combine these imaging and robotic data to build a mathematical description of my biological limb, shown on the left. You see a bunch of points, or nodes. At each node, there’s a color that represents tissue compliance. We then do a mathematical transformation to the design of the synthetic skin shown on the right, and we’ve discovered optimality is where the body is stiff, the synthetic skin should be soft, where the body is soft, the synthetic skin is stiff, and this mirroring occurs across all tissue compliances. With this framework, we produced bionic limbs that are the most comfortable limbs I’ve ever worn. Clearly in the future, our clothing, our shoes, our braces, our prostheses, will no longer be designed and manufactured using artisan strategies, but rather data-driven quantitative frameworks. In that future, our shoes will no longer give us blisters.

7:07
We’re also embedding sensing and smart materials into the synthetic skins. This is a material developed by SRI International, California. Under electrostatic effect, it changes stiffness. So under zero voltage, the material is compliant. It’s floppy like paper. Then the button’s pushed, a voltage is applied, and it becomes stiff as a board. We embed this material into the synthetic skin that attaches my bionic limb to my biological body. When I walk here, it’s no voltage. My interface is soft and compliant. The button’s pushed, voltage is applied, and it stiffens, offering me a greater maneuverability of the bionic limb.

7:49
We’re also building exoskeletons. This exoskeleton becomes stiff and soft in just the right areas of the running cycle to protect the biological joints from high impacts and degradation. In the future, we’ll all be wearing exoskeletons in common activities such as running.

8:07
Next, dynamic interface. How do my bionic limbs move like flesh and bone? At my MIT lab, we study how humans with normal physiologies stand, walk and run. What are the muscles doing, and how are they controlled by the spinal cord? This basic science motivates what we build. We’re building bionic ankles, knees and hips. We’re building body parts from the ground up. The bionic limbs that I’m wearing are called BiOMs. They’ve been fitted to nearly 1,000 patients, 400 of which have been U.S. wounded soldiers.

8:40
How does it work? At heel strike, under computer control, the system controls stiffness to attenuate the shock of the limb hitting the ground. Then at mid-stance, the bionic limb outputs high torques and powers to lift the person into the walking stride, comparable to how muscles work in the calf region. This bionic propulsion is very important clinically to patients. So, on the left you see the bionic device worn by a lady — on the right a passive device worn by the same lady that fails to emulate normal muscle function — enabling her to do something everyone should be able to do, go up and down their steps at home. Bionics also allows for extraordinary athletic feats. Here’s a gentleman running up a rocky pathway. This is Steve Martin, not the comedian, who lost his legs in a bomb blast in Afghanistan.

9:33
We’re also building exoskeletal structures using these same principles that wrap around a biological limb. This gentleman does not have any leg condition, any disability. He has a normal physiology, so these exoskeletons are applying muscle-like torques and powers so that his own muscles need not apply those torques and powers. This is the first exoskeleton in history that actually augments human walking. It significantly reduces metabolic cost. It’s so profound in its augmentation that when a normal, healthy person wears the device for 40 minutes and then takes it off, their own biological legs feel ridiculously heavy and awkward. We’re beginning the age in which machines attached to our bodies will make us stronger and faster and more efficient.

10:26
Moving on to electrical interface, how do my bionic limbs communicate with my nervous system? Across my residual limb are electrodes that measure the electrical pulse of my muscles. That’s communicated to the bionic limb, so when I think about moving my phantom limb, the robot tracks those movement desires. This diagram shows fundamentally how the bionic limb is controlled, so we model the missing biological limb, and we’ve discovered what reflexes occurred, how the reflexes of the spinal cord are controlling the muscles, and that capability is embedded in the chips of the bionic limb. What we’ve done, then, is we modulate the sensitivity of the reflex, the modeled spinal reflex, with the neural signal, so when I relax my muscles in my residual limb, I get very little torque and power, but the more I fire my muscles, the more torque I get, and I can even run. And that was the first demonstration of a running gait under neural command. Feels great. (Applause)

11:34
We want to go a step further. We want to actually close the loop between the human and the bionic external limb. We’re doing experiments where we’re growing nerves, transected nerves, through channels or microchannel arrays. On the other side of the channel, the nerve then attaches to cells, skin cells and muscle cells. In the motor channels, we can sense how the person wishes to move. That can be sent out wirelessly to the bionic limb, then sensors on the bionic limb can be converted to stimulations in adjacent channels, sensory channels. So, when this is fully developed and for human use, persons like myself will not only have synthetic limbs that move like flesh and bone, but actually feel like flesh and bone.

12:24
This video shows Lisa Mallette shortly after being fitted with two bionic limbs. Indeed, bionics is making a profound difference in people’s lives.

12:34
(Video) Lisa Mallette: Oh my God. Oh my God, I can’t believe it. It’s just like I’ve got a real leg. Now, don’t start running.

12:49
Man: Now turn around, and do the same thing walking up. Walk up, get on your heel to toe, like you would normally just walk on level ground. Try to walk right up the hill. LM: Oh my God. Man: Is it pushing you up? LM: Yes! I’m not even — I can’t even describe it. Man: It’s pushing you right up.

13:11
Hugh Herr: Next week, I’m visiting the center’s —

13:14
(Applause) Thank you, thank you.

13:18
Thank you. Next week I’m visiting the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services, and I’m going to try to convince CMS to grant appropriate code language and pricing so this technology can be made available to the patients that need it.

13:33
Thank you. (Applause)

13:38
It’s not well appreciated, but over half of the world’s population suffers from some form of cognitive, emotional, sensory or motor condition, and because of poor technology, too often, conditions result in disability and a poorer quality of life. Basic levels of physiological function should be a part of our human rights. Every person should have the right to live life without disability if they so choose — the right to live life without severe depression; the right to see a loved one in the case of seeing impaired; or the right to walk or to dance, in the case of limb paralysis or limb amputation. As a society, we can achieve these human rights if we accept the proposition that humans are not disabled. A person can never be broken. Our built environment, our technologies, are broken and disabled. We the people need not accept our limitations, but can transcend disability through technological innovation. Indeed, through fundamental advances in bionics in this century, we will set the technological foundation for an enhanced human experience, and we will end disability.

14:52
I’d like to finish up with one more story, a beautiful story, the story of Adrianne Haslet-Davis. Adrianne lost her left leg in the Boston terrorist attack. I met Adrianne when this photo was taken at Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital. Adrianne is a dancer, a ballroom dancer.

15:10
Adrianne breathes and lives dance. It is her expression. It is her art form. Naturally, when she lost her limb in the Boston terrorist attack, she wanted to return to the dance floor.

15:22
After meeting her and driving home in my car, I thought, I’m an MIT professor. I have resources. Let’s build her a bionic limb to enable her to go back to her life of dance. I brought in MIT scientists with expertise in prosthetics, robotics, machine learning and biomechanics, and over a 200-day research period, we studied dance. We brought in dancers with biological limbs, and we studied how do they move, what forces do they apply on the dance floor, and we took those data and we put forth fundamental principles of dance, reflexive dance capability, and we embedded that intelligence into the bionic limb. Bionics is not only about making people stronger and faster. Our expression, our humanity can be embedded into electromechanics.

16:13
It was 3.5 seconds between the bomb blasts in the Boston terrorist attack. In 3.5 seconds, the criminals and cowards took Adrianne off the dance floor. In 200 days, we put her back. We will not be intimidated, brought down, diminished, conquered or stopped by acts of violence. (Applause)

16:43
Ladies and gentlemen, please allow me to introduce Adrianne Haslet-Davis, her first performance since the attack. She’s dancing with Christian Lightner. (Applause)

17:04
(Music: “Ring My Bell” performed by Enrique Iglesias)
(Applause)

18:21
Ladies and gentlemen, members of the research team, Elliott Rouse and Nathan Villagaray-Carski. Elliott and Nathan.
(Applause)

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What is Ash Wednesday?


Myself 

 

 

BT.V. Antony Raj

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Ash Wednesday Service in Westminster Cathedral

Photo credit: Catholic Church (England and Wales)

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According to the Christian canonical gospels, Jesus Christ fasted for 40 days in the desert, where he encountered the temptations by Satan. So, the solemn religious observance of Lent originated as a mirroring this event. Hence, Christians fast 40 days as preparation for the Easter Sunday, the day of the resurrection of Christ. In Latin, Lent is referred to by the term Quadragesima (meaning “fortieth”), in reference to the fortieth day before Easter.

Ash Wednesday is a day of fasting. In Western Christianity, it marks the start of the 40-day period of fasting, the first day of the season of Lent.

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An 1881 Polish painting of a priest sprinkling ashes on the heads of worshippers by Julian Fałat (1853 - 1929).
An 1881 Polish painting of a priest sprinkling ashes on the heads of worshippers by Julian Fałat (1853 – 1929).

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Ash Wednesday derives its name from the practice of blessing the ashes made from palm branches that were blessed on Palm Sunday of the previous year, and placing them ceremonially on the heads of the participants. The Ash is either sprinkled over their heads or more often  a visible cross is marked on their foreheads to the accompaniment of the words “Repent, and believe in the Gospel” or “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return” based on Genesis 3:19

By the sweat of your brow
you shall eat bread,
Until you return to the ground,
from which you were taken;
For you are dust,
and to dust you shall return.

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Father Ken Simpson burns palms Tuesday as students from St. Clement School in Chicago look on. (CNS/Karen Callaway, Catholic New World) (Custom)
Father Ken Simpson burns palms Tuesday as students from St. Clement School in Chicago look on. (CNS/Karen Callaway, Catholic New World) (Custom)

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In Western Christianity, during Lent, every Sunday is regarded as a feast day to commemorate the resurrection of Jesus  Christ on a Sunday, and so fasting is considered inappropriate on that day. And so, Christians fast from Monday to Saturday (6 days) for 6 weeks and from Wednesday to Saturday (4 days) in the preceding week, thus making up the number of 40 days.

Many Western Christians, including Catholics, Lutherans, Methodists, Anglicans, and Presbyterians observe Ash Wednesday. However, not all Catholics observe Ash Wednesday. Eastern Catholic Churches, do not count Holy Week as part of Lent, and they begin the penitential season on Monday before Ash Wednesday called the Clean Monday. Catholics following the Ambrosian Rite begin it on the First Sunday in Lent.

Throughout the Latin Church, the Syro-Malabar Catholic Church and in the Maronite Catholic Church, the Ashes are blessed and ceremonially distributed at the start of Lent. In the Catholic Ambrosian Rite, this is done at the end of Sunday Mass or on the following day.

Here are readings in the Churches for Ash Wednesday. It  is the continuation of the sermon on the mount. Jesus warns against doing good in order to be seen and gives three examples. In each, the conduct of the hypocrites is contrasted with that demanded of the disciples.

Teaching about Alms-giving

[But] take care not to perform righteous deeds in order that people may see them; otherwise, you will have no recompense from your heavenly Father.

When you give alms, do not blow a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets to win the praise of others. Amen, I say to you, they have received their reward.

But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right is doing, so that your almsgiving may be secret. And your Father who sees in secret will repay you.

–  (Mathew 6: 1-4)

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Teaching about Prayer

When you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, who love to stand and pray in the synagogues and on street corners so that others may see them. Amen, I say to you, they have received their reward.

But when you pray, go to your inner room, close the door, and pray to your Father in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will repay you.

In praying, do not babble like the pagans, who think that they will be heard because of their many words.

Do not be like them. Your Father knows what you need before you ask him.

“This is how you are to pray:

Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name,
your kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth as in heaven.

Give us today our daily bread;
and forgive us our debts,
as we forgive our debtors;
and do not subject us to the final test,
but deliver us from the evil one.

If you forgive others their transgressions, your heavenly Father will forgive you. But if you do not forgive others, neither will your Father forgive your transgressions.

– Matthew 6:5–15

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Teaching about Fasting

When you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites. They neglect their appearance, so that they may appear to others to be fasting. Amen, I say to you, they have received their reward.

But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, so that you may not appear to be fasting, except to your Father who is hidden. And your Father who sees what is hidden will repay you.

– (Matthew 6:16-18)

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Simple Acts of Kindness


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Myself  .By T.V. Antony Raj

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Kindness

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What is “kindness”?

In this video clip we see five acts of kindness by strangers lending a helping hand.

Simple acts of kindness such as these are sure to bring a smile on the face of the persons being helped. Don’t you think that undemanding acts of kindness are sure to brighten the world we live in just a wee bit more?

And, this is what life is all about.

Give it a try!

Who Are We to Judge?


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Myself . By T.V. Antony Raj

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Judge not others

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Judging and condemning others, is an easy task. We come to conclusions based on our observations and interactions with others. Most of us label the people around us: “He’s an idiot”, “She’s a slut”, “He’s an oaf”, etc., etc.

But who are we to pass judgment? What rights do we have to appraise others?

This brings to my mind two sayings in Tamil:

  • “இன்னது மெய் இன்னது பொய் என்று யார் சொல்லலாம்?”

    (Transliteration: innathu mei, innathu poi endru yaar sollalaam?)

    Meaning: “Who can tell which is true and which is false?”

  • “கண்ணாலே காண்பதும் பொய், காதாலே கேட்பதும் பொய், தீர விசாரிப்பதே மெய்..”

    (Transliteration: kannaalae kaanbathum poi, kaathaalae kaetpathum poi, theera visaaripathae mei.)

    Meaning: “the eye can lie, the ear can lie, best is to investigate thoroughly.”

So, we must investigate thoroughly before condemning others. Also, we must learn to forgive those who displease us.

Forgiving

All of us have a right to our justified anger.

Though psychologists tell us that “anger is a human emotion that is completely normal and generally healthy” doesn’t mean that we have the right to take that anger out on our loved ones, friends, neighbors, or any other human being or living creature.

Forgiving is just not an attitude. It involves using our will and intellect to forgive and forget. We should not wait for the feeling to forgive come to us; because that may never happen. And, if you find it difficult to forgive, then pray to God and ask Him for the grace to forgive.

Martin Luther King Jr., said:

First, we must develop and maintain the capacity to forgive. He who is devoid of the power to forgive is devoid of the power to love… Returning hate for hate multiplies hate, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.

Giving

Giving is a spiritual practice and has a spiritual value. All the major religions of the world teach their followers to give, to provide for the poor and the needy.

The pali word ‘dāna‘ and the Sanskrit word ‘daan‘ mean giving or generosity. In Hinduism and Buddhism, it is also used to mean the practice of cultivating generosity.

For the Hindus, there are five important points to keep in mind:

  1. Give with the heart not with the head.
  2. Give with Joy, not reluctantly.
  3. Give only that is useful to the other person, not rubbish.
  4. Give without expecting anything in return. There should be no give and take.
  5. Give with humility, love and compassion, not with pride or arrogance.

For the Buddhists,

  1. Giving (dāna) as a formal religious act has the effect of purifying and transforming the mind of the giver.
  2. Generosity developed through giving leads to being reborn in happy states and the availability of material wealth. Conversely, lack of giving leads to unhappy states and poverty.
  3. Giving without seeking anything in return leads to greater spiritual wealth. Moreover, it reduces the acquisitive impulses that ultimately lead to continued dukkha (sorrow).

In Judaism, traditional Jews give at least ten percent of their income to charity and their homes commonly have a pushke, a box for routinely collecting coins for the needy. Jewish youths continually go door-to-door collecting cash and sundry for various worthy causes. A standard mourner’s prayer includes a statement that the mourner will make a donation to charity in memory of the deceased.

Zakat or alms-giving is the third pillar of the five pillars of Islam. It is the practice of charitable giving by the followers of prophet Muhammad based on accumulated wealth. It is obligatory for all who are able to do so. It is considered to be a personal responsibility for Muslims to ease economic hardship for others and eliminate inequality. Zakat consists of spending 2.5% of one’s wealth for the benefit of the poor or needy. A Muslim rather than to achieve additional divine reward may also donate more as an act of voluntary charity (sadaqah).

True  Christians ought to follow the wisdom of Jesus. He said to his disciples:

“Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.”

“Stop judging and you will not be judged. Stop condemning and you will not be condemned. Forgive and you will be forgiven.

Give and gifts will be given to you; a good measure, packed together, shaken down, and overflowing, will be poured into your lap. For the measure with which you measure will in return be measured out to you.”
 — Luke 6:36-38

Why do you notice the splinter in your brother’s eye, but do not perceive the wooden beam in your own?

How can you say to your brother, ‘Brother, let me remove that splinter in your eye,’ when you do not even notice the wooden beam in your own eye? You hypocrite! Remove the wooden beam from your eye first; then you will see clearly to remove the splinter in your brother’s eye.
— Luke 6:41-42

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