Unpacking bulging suitcases after a long trip is something that most of us don’t approach with enthusiasm. As you probably know, Jyotish and I recently returned from nearly four months of traveling and sharing throughout Ananda centers in Europe and India. Upon arriving back home at Ananda Village, we were accompanied by our faithful traveling companions: two very large suitcases, two small suitcases, and a duffel bag.

As we began opening them and digging down layer upon layer like a pair of archeologists, we actually had a wonderful experience of “unearthing” beautiful presents given to us by friends along our journey. Holding each gift, whether large or small, we tried to feel the love that was being expressed to us by the giver, and to send love back to each one of them in return. It was quite an uplifting experience.

In the Western world the holiday season has now begun, with people excitedly (and sometimes frantically) shopping for gifts and eagerly anticipating what they themselves might be receiving. Thus it seems like a good time to remind ourselves of the deeper aspect of giving and receiving. Ultimately, gifts are only symbols of love: sharing our heart’s love is the true essence of gift giving.

I remember a difficult time in our life in 1976 during the first winter after the forest fire which had burnt Ananda to the ground. We hadn’t yet begun rebuilding, so we were all living in whatever dwellings we could find. Money was very tight for everyone. Jyotish and I had saved a little and had one hundred dollars in our checkbook with which to buy gifts for friends.

We had planned our shopping outing, but when the day arrived, I realized that I’d made an error in the checkbook. Instead of one hundred, we had only ten dollars with which to buy presents. Rather than getting discouraged, we stayed positive and realized that we could buy the ingredients for chocolate chip cookies to give to everyone.

With love we made the cookies, and with love we placed two for each person in little plastic bags tied with ribbons. We felt happy in doing what we could, and in doing it with love. This was true for the whole community, and it was one of the best Christmases we’d ever had.

Swami Kriyananda taught us another aspect of the art of giving. Being of an extremely generous nature, he was always gifting others for their birthdays, or weddings, or just because he wanted to share something beautiful. He told us, “When I’m choosing a gift for someone, I ask myself two questions: ‘Would it make the person happy to receive it?’ and ‘Would it make me happy to give it?’ If the answer is ‘Yes’ to both of these questions, then I’ll buy it and give it to them.”

Swamiji also said: “Whenever I find something especially beautiful or unusual, rather than thinking, ‘I must have this for myself,’ I buy it with the thought of giving it to someone else. This reduces any tendency towards attachment or greed.”

Then there is the art of receiving gifts. If we focus on ourselves and our own likes and dislikes, when we open a gift it’s easy to think, “It’s the wrong size,” or “I already have one,” or, “It’s not the color I wanted.” Instead, try to pause before opening a present, and feel the love and care that went into buying and wrapping it. Be grateful for the love that someone is offering you.


On an even deeper level, try to see beyond the individual’s love to feel God’s love coming to you through your friend in the form of their present. Swamiji has given us a beautiful affirmation: “I give thanks to the giver behind each gift, and to the one Giver behind all that I receive. My gratitude rises with devotion’s incense to the throne of Omnipresence.”

So, give with love and receive with gratitude, but also give with gratitude and receive with love. Experience this season of gift giving as an opportunity to go deeper in your awareness of God’s unifying love, which brings all things—giver and receiver—together as one. In a beautiful prayer, Swamiji says, “I thank Thee, Lord, for all Thy blessings. But most of all, I thank Thee for Thy love.” This is the greatest gift any of us can ever receive.

With joy and blessings in God, Christ, and Guru,

Nayaswami Devi