There is another aspect of how to live advaita philosophy that comes up a lot at study group. I think this is something that we all struggle with, trying to find the right balance.
The woman who writes the blog That Wife put it the best in one of her posts recently:
"How much do I have to give to others and how much can I keep for myself if I want to be a 'good person'?"
The comes up a lot because of pan-handlers. Particularly in America, where the beggars on the street are not as overwhelming as in India, are not being controlled by pimp-like characters, and many have mental illnesses. When they ask for money, should you give nothing? Give a little? Give everything in your wallet?
If you don't believe in giving to beggars, how much do you give to charity? Do you set a "safe" percentage of your income the loss of which won't detriment your family? It feels like we should be doing more, that if we love all people as our brothers and sisters, that we would give everything we have to help them.
But what about our own families? Should we not be keeping back enough to provide for them? How much do our families and ourselves need? Is it wrong to have money to spend on vacations and DVDs and such? Is it our duty to give everything excess away?
There is an Indian story about a man who would take his income and put it out on a table for everyone in his village to come and take what they needed. His wife also had to wait in line to do this. When she complains, he chastises her for it.
But can we really live that way? Should we be living that way?
This is a question that haunts me. It always has.
When I was a kid, I would give away everything I had. I gave my lunch money to other kids who had forgotten theirs, I gave away clothes that I loved because someone else might need them. I drove my parents nuts, but I felt too guilty and selfish and terrible if I didn't. It took to college for me to gain some control and to stop doing that.
I had this book when I was a kid about a little girl who is walking through the woods, I think on the way to visit someone, and she keeps coming across people who need things. There is a man with no shoes, and without hesitation she takes off her shoes and gives them to him. There is a woman freezing to death and the girl gives her sweater, etc. At the end she is completely naked and the stars come down from the sky to clothe her. Stories like this suggest that it is a good quality to be so selfless that you give away absolutely everything you own. Yet you can't really function or live in society if you do that!
Currently I try to be aware of the needs around me, and provide for them if I am able. I don't go "looking for trouble" and I don't give more than I am comfortable with. But I'm not sure which way is best for someone who wants to be a saint (for lack of a better word).