Anatomy of goodness

An ancient Indian tale centres around a man who was a model of moral uprightness. On his death, he was brought before Chitragupta, the cosmic auditor, who evaluated the deeds of the dead and sent them to heaven or hell. Chitragupta looked at the man's records and found nothing on the debit side. He then looked at his credits and found a complete blank there too. This man had never lied, never stolen and never offended anybody; but neither had he helped anybody or loved anyone. Chitragupta was in a quandary. This man could not be sent to hell, but neither did he qualify for heaven. He took him to Brahma, the creator, and asked him what he should do. Brahma examined the statute book, but found no clue. He advised Chitragupta to consult Lord Krishna. Krishna examined this man's record and found an almost illegible entry, 'Aged six, gave two pies to a beggar.' Krishna then ordered him to be sent again to earth to try again.

This story might well appear to be a mere flight of fancy, but it has deeper dimensions. It shows that goodness is not all of a piece and can be divided into active goodness and passive goodness. Nicholas Winton who, at grave risk to his life, saved 669 children from certain death at the hands of the Nazis explains this concept clearly. 'There is a difference between passive goodness and active goodness which, in my opinion, is the giving of one's time and energy in alleviation of pain and suffering. It entails going out and helping those in suffering and danger and not merely in leading an exemplary life in a purely passive way of doing no wrong.'

Just as good health is not an absence of disease, so goodness is not just the avoidance of bad behaviour. We cannot all be heroes, but every one of us is capable of what Mother Teresa called 'small acts of kindness done with great love.' Who does not remember the warmth of a parent's love, words of encouragement from a teacher or the comforting help of friends in times of distress? Active goodness, as poet Wordsworth pointed out, are 'acts of kindness that form the best portion of a good man's life.'

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