Vedas on Hospitality
All old scriptures teach that hospitality is a must between living beings. In books written only a hundred years ago, we find that well – to – do families gave shelter to less fortunate relatives or even strangers, who lived in their houses for many years, sometimes their entire lives. Travelers were welcome in every home and gladly taken care of.
Christian hospitality, as given in the Bible, is a sacred process of ‘receiving’ outsiders and changing them from strangers to guests.
“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me…’ “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in,…”The King will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.’
Other religions have a similar approach to hospitality. In many countries of the world, it is a shame not to shelter someone in need. I’ve heard Europeans and Americans saying that in India they have been invited to spend as many days as needed at homes of people they have never even seen before. They would give the guest a spot on the floor next to them in a room with eighteen more people, including the owner of the house and his family.
Vedas are very specific of what one has to provide for a guest. At the same time they describe what penalties one will bear for not respecting a stranger. For instance it is said that if a person is unfriendly and hostile towards someone in need of shelter, that person will end up on a lower level planet type. The specific punishment for that attitude to guests is the meeting with a kind of carrion -craws, which first gaze directly into that person’s eyes just as he or she used to look at strangers and then peck them out.
So Vedas highly recommended being kind to all fellow beings. There was a beautiful tradition which might sound strange to us: to wash guest’s feet. But just imagine how wonderful it feels when your tired feet are washed with warm water and patted dry with a smooth cloth after a long and hard journey. Vedic tradition says that the first thing we should do for a guest is to give him food. I don’t know how else to be helpful. One sure thing I know: I can feed him. Guest should be given the best food you have. It’s sinful to give them poor meal or leftovers, saving better food for yourself. Vedas also describe the specific penalty such a host will be punished with.
If you have nothing to eat you should offer a glass of water. If you don’t have even water you should at least provide a comfortable seat to sit in. If your circumstances are so limited that you don’t even have a chair, you should at least throw a piece of cloth to the ground and ask your guest to sit down and have a rest. If you can’t afford even that much Vedas still have an answer. You should drop down to the ground, cry and complain that you are unlucky not being able to serve your guest properly.
If one living being turns to you for help or piece of advice the parent – child kind of relationship is created for a while no matter how old both persons are. It might be that next time the roles will switch and “father” will be “child” and vice versa. For not being willing to provide such guardianship, one will pay with loneliness.
Vedas highly recommend not just seeing your guests to the door but walking them home. Genteel guest would stop the host and say:”Thank you very much. I’ll go by myself now. Please go back home.” In other case the guest should be taken all the way home. When they part the host should stand, wave his hand and sadly watch his guest go away. It still works in India when the host stands sighing and continuously waving his hand. “Go back home please,”- the guest says. “No!” “Please, go.” “No.”
TODAY’S TIP: However old – fashioned it sounds, just imagining that such attitude is possible and still practiced makes me feel warm inside and long for less “civilization” in our society.