The Charity Chromosome of the Nations
The five principles (Yamas) of Indian ethics as we read in Rigveda, Verse5.61.2 are: Ahimsa (Non-violence), Satya (Truth, Non falsehood), Asteya (Non-stealing), Brahmacharya (Celibacy if unmarried and noncheating on one’s partner if married), and Aparigraha (Non-possessiveness). Here, ethics is perceived as a moral restraint, just like that a charioteer has over his chariot. Ethical behaviour is essential to preserve the cosmic order or rita, and it applies to both physical and social worlds. In the modern terminology, ethics and morality of this kind is denoted by deontology (Greek: Deon means obligation, necessity or that which is binding). Classical Indian ethics is thus an ethics of dutiful life.
This is quite similar to the 10 Commandments of Moses given to the Jews in olden times. The ethics in both these systems is act-based and describes moral correctness of certain action or nonaction. Such ethics is practiced in view of salvation (Moksha) of the subject of such action or non-action, which simultaneously ensures the sustenance of the cosmic order. However, here there is no concern over the subject of this action or non-action, namely the other person. Action in disregard of the effect (Nishkama karma) is sought after here. Here, ethics is not driven by love for the person in need. Charity is a foreign concept to such ethics. Everybody has to work alone for salvation, and nobody can help each other or shall not help each other to steer his/her destiny. The destiny of a person is determined by one’s own prior actions, the karma. Charity is irrelevant. Each one has to fend for his salvation, all alone.
Summarization of the 10 commandments into the Law of Love Jesus of Nazareth brought about a paradigm shift in the theory of ethics. The new theory also explains the “why” of ethics. Thou shall love each other, because all humans, the rich and poor, the healthy and sick, the learnt and ignorant are but children of the same Heavenly Father. Mother Theresa, as a true messenger of Jesus of Nazareth, added a new dimension to the existing ethical system of India. She ushered in a new genetic information, the charity chromosome, which was foreign to traditional Indian ethical systems. The charity chromosome will cross with the Indian ethics to give birth to a radically new and human ethical system for modern India. It was a story of great disruption and Mother Teresa was the champion of the same.
Origins of the Mother
Anjezë (Albanian: Agnes) Gonxhe (Albanian: Little Flower) Bojaxhiu was born to Nikola and Dranafile Bojaxhiu on 26 August, 1910 in present-day Skopje in North Macedonia, which was once part of Albania. Her father died in 1919 when she was just eight years old and it was her mother who singlehandedly raised her up thereafter. In 1928, at the age of 18, Agnes left her family to devote her life into social service and missionary work. She joined the Sisters of Loreto in Ireland and started learning English, in preparation to work in India. She came to India in 1929 and remained there till the end of her life. After completing her spiritual training, Sr. Agnes started her career as a teacher at St. Teresa’s School, a catholic school for girls, in Kolkata.
At the same time, she was deeply disturbed by the poverty of people in Kolkata. On September 10, 1946, on her way to the Loreto Convent in Darjeeling from Kolkata, Sr. Agnes received, what she later described, a “Call within the Call”, to serve the poorest of the poor. Sr. Agnes heeded to the inner call and committed herself fully to this call till the end of her life. She started working among the abandoned and the poorest of the poor in the streets of Kolkata and came to be popularly known as Mother Teresa. In the place of the traditional dress of the Loreto sisters, she preferred to wear a simple white sari with three blue stripes on the borders, one thicker than the rest, similar to the sari worn by the women who swept the streets of Kolkata. This habit was to later on become the symbol of the Missionaries of Charity, which she founded in 1950. The members of Missionaries of Charity were to take a special vow “to give wholehearted free service to the poorest of the poor.” The selfless works of Mother Teresa and the Sisters of Charity were appreciated by the people of Kolkata and eminent people of the society came up for their support. Mother Teresa was granted citizenship of India in 1951 and in 1979, she was awarded with the Nobel Peace Prize “for work undertaken in the struggle to overcome poverty and distress, which also constitutes a threat to peace”. Mother Teresa was canonized at a ceremony on September 4, 2016 as Saint Teresa of Calcutta.
The Missionaries of Charity, Mother Teresa founded grew in faith,service and in numbers around the world. In 1997, when Mother Teresa passed away, there were already 3,914 sisters and 363 brothers serving the poorest of the poor, which grew to 5183 sisters and 500 odd brothers in 2018. They feed the hungry and shelter the homeless, naked, lepers and the unwanted in about 140 countries round the globe today.
Mother Teresa was an absolutely disruptive leader. She introduced radical modification to the self-righteous and deontology-based ethical system of traditional India, which rationalized the neglect of the poorest of the poor in the society. She gave birth to an ethics based on the Law of Love, which was preached by Jesus of Nazareth long ago. She successfully broke the existing definition of ethical living, which depended on the observance of certain laws for self-realization. She placed the service to the poorest of the poor as the focus of new Indian ethics. The poor shall not be abandoned to their own destiny, she prescribed. Rather, their lives shall be redeemed through sacrificial love of the ethical people. Thus, Mother Teresa, bore witness to the teachings of her spiritual guru, reincarnating it within the Indian realities.
It was a missionary work with a different flavor! Mother Teresa did not want to convert anybody to Christianity through her works of charity. Rather, she developed a new definition to the missionary work: to make one a better person. She said: “Yes, I convert. I convert you to be a better Hindu, or a better Muslim, or a better Protestant, or a better Catholic, or a better Parsee, or a better Sikh, or a better Buddhist. And after you have found God, it is for you to do what God wants you to do.” It was the perfect statement of her policy, which did not require her to dilute her personal faith and at the same time well synergized with the Indian ethical system, which appreciated unity in diversity. A profound ethical disruption!
Clarity of Mind
Mother Teresa carried a simple and consistent message. She believed in doing something beautiful for God with own life. She said: “Not all of us can do great things. But we can do small things with great love”. She suggested: “Not all of us can do great things. But we can do small things with great love”. She commanded: “If you can’t feed a hundred people, then feed just one”. She reminded: “The hunger for love is much more difficult to remove than the hunger for bread”. In all, she had a singular message: A call to love the poorest of the poor.
She also remained consistent in her message through and through. She gave a legible clarion call for action, which was heard by the people of good will, who joined her in the works of charity.
It does not mean that she was left un-criticized by her contemporaries. She was regularly criticized both by Christians and by Fundamentalist Hindu groups. She was criticized by the Christians for downplaying the meaning of missionary work and espousing universality of salvation. They preferred to believe that salvation requires adherence to the Catholic Church. However, Mother Teresa took a clear stand on this matter, which found expression in her book, Life in the Spirit: Reflections, Meditations and
Prayers.She writes: “Our purpose is to take God and his love to the poorest of the poor, irrespective of their ethnic origin or the faith they profess. Our discernment of aid is not the belief but the necessity. We never try to convert those whom we receive to Christianity but in our work we bear witness to the love of God’s presence and if Catholics, Protestants, Buddhists, or agnostics become for this better men -- simply better -- we will be satisfied.”
Similarly, Mother Teresa took a radical position against abortion, to the great dissatisfaction of the modernists. Mother Teresa reiterated her stand on the issue in her Nobel Prize Acceptance Speech: “Many people are very, very concerned with the children in India, with the children in Africa where quite a number die, maybe of malnutrition, of hunger and so on, but
millions are dying deliberately by the will of the mother. And this is what is the greatest destroyer of peace today. Because if a mother can kill her own child -- what is left for me to kill you and you kill me -- there is nothing between”. An uncompromising voice of the Mother, which modern minds cannot afford to completely sidetrack.
Mother Teresa exhibited everlasting endurance. In fact, she was fighting a constant interior war, to convince her of her own precepts. The Letters she wrote throughout her life manifest her inner struggles. She even doubted the existence of God and frequently felt His absence in her life. She bemoaned the “dryness,” “darkness,” “loneliness,” and “torture” she was undergoing. She was led through the dark valleys of the hell and at one point she even doubted the existence of heaven and even of God. She was acutely aware of the discrepancy between her inner state and her public demeanor. “The smile,” she writes, is “a mask” or “a cloak that covers everything.”
Mother Teresa did not pretend herself as a God-Woman, rather lived the life of an ordinary faithful, a life of doubts, trials and tribulations. Her endurance was awesome and her commitment to the “poorest of the poor” was absolute through and through. Mather Teresa was a Mastermind par excellence!