“Be One to whomever the mother is a God. Be one to whom the father is a God. Be one to whom the teacher is a God. Be one to whom the guest is a God.” So advises the Taittiriya Upanishad of the Yajur Veda, affirming the remarkable Hindu reverence for a guest.
One should give his, eye, mind, hear, attention and heart while receiving, feeding and sending back the guest. Also any gift given by the guest to be received with love and compulsorily we should give to the guests including children, some gifts according to our capacity while parting from them. Women should be given by host women the traditional Thambhoolam with Kumkum and the gifts. Treating the guest with love, concern and affection fulfils the requirements of Manyshya Yajna – one of the Pancha Maha Yajnas prescribed in the Vedas , also recommended by Sri Krishna in the Bhagavad Gita for purification of mind through Karma Yoga.
The term Guest refers to both invited or uninvited including enemies. While one can be careful while treating strangers for safety or security but should not deny a drink or food to them.
By not providing hospitality, drink or food to the guests, one adds to his karmic account negatively – caused by the curse or ill feelings of the Guest and the act of he petty mindedness or chicken heartedness of the host.
The sins accumulated by not following the requirements of Manyshya Yagna can result in one or more the following bad experiences in the immediate future of this birth and/ or in the next birth:
1. Not able to enjoy company if our kith and kin at home, even for sharing a meal.
2. Not able to enjoy the food and comforts / affluence with peace of mind.
3. Constant quarrels between family members
4. Discord between relatives and friends
5. Loss of wealth through theft, cheating and bad companies
6. Chronic illness and other diseases due to acidity, stomach problems
7. Decrease in auspicious happenings/ rituals/ celebrations at home
8. Not getting the love and care from near and dear and timely or proper food while traveling.
9. Increase in medical expenses
10. Health issues cropping up during important occasions.
Therefore it is important to be kind and good to guests and add good karmas.
Hindus view everything as permeated by God’s presence, so hospitality becomes an act of worship. God is the only possible guest, encountered inside a temple through ritual worship, and outside the temple through karma yoga or selfless service to others seeing them as manifestations of God. Saints and mystics have experienced the presence of God through both ritual worship and selfless service, attesting to the power and authenticity of these practices.
According to the Dharma Shastras, hosting guests is one of the five obligatory sacrifices or duties of the householder. Anusasana states, “The host should give his eye, mind and agreeable speech to the guest, he should personally attend on him and should accompany him when he (the guest) departs; this sacrifice (yajna) demands these five fees.”
The visit of a holy person is given extra special attention, and for good reason. Scriptures say that if a ascetic or a Guru or an Acharya or a Holy person stays as a guest in a householder’s home for a single night, the latter’s Punya increases greatly and when such an ascetic or holy person takes food at a man’s house, it is Vishnu Himself who is fed.
A story from Hindu mythology:
This story (Swami Tyagananda) from mythology highlights the dual role of God as guest and teacher.
Disguised as a wandering mendicant, Krishna visits a wealthy family, who welcome him warmly and offer him hospitality that matches both their devotion and prosperity. When it is time to leave, he blesses his host profusely, promising him even more wealth and glory. Krishna’s next visit is to a poor widow, whose only possession is a cow. She too welcomes him with great devotion but all that she can offer him is a glass of milk. When it is time to leave, Krishna blesses her and tells her that her cow will die soon. Arjuna, who has accompanied Krishna to both the places, is horrified. He asks Krishna, “Your wealthy hosts lacked nothing and yet you blessed them with even more wealth. Whereas your blessing to the poor devotee accompanied the ominous news that she will lose her cow. This is unfair and unacceptable.” Krishna smiles and tells Arjuna, “My wealthy host is insanely attached to his wealth and his reputation; he has a long way to go before he becomes spiritually awakened. On the other hand, this poor devotee is already far advanced on the spiritual path. The only thing that is separating her from the highest freedom is her attachment to her cow. I removed the hurdle from her path.” The insights that this story provides are obvious. God can enter our lives in any form and at any time, often in most unexpected circumstances. The blessing that the divine guest bestows upon us can be difficult to decipher at first glance.
God as Guest in the Practice of Karma Yoga
The presence of God is encountered not only inside temples but also outside them. Hindu texts have proclaimed that the divine is present in everything and everyone. Helping others can be more than simply “helping others.” It can also include acknowledging and worshiping the presence of God in their hearts. Hospitality thus becomes not merely an act of service but also worship.
When work becomes worship, helping others is transformed into service of God in everyone and in everything. It involves giving of oneself freely without seeking anything in return. Hindu texts categorize “giving” into three types:
The sattvika gift is one that is given with no expectation of return, in a right place and to a worthy person, with the idea that it is good to give. The rajasika gift is one that is given with an expectation of return, or with an eye on the result, or given with reluctance. The tamasika gift is one that is given at the wrong place or time, to unworthy persons, without regard or with disdain.
The satvika gift is the one that qualifies as karma yoga.
Vivekananda spoke glowingly about the spiritual benefits of serving others in the spirit of karma yoga:
Although a man has not studied a single system of philosophy, although he does not believe in God, and never has believed, although he has not prayed even once in his life, if the simple power of good actions has brought him to that state where he is ready to give up his life and all else for others, he has arrived at the same point to which the religious man will come through his prayers and the philosopher through his knowledge; and so you many find that the philosopher, the worker, and the devotee, all meet at one point, that one point being self-abnegation. However much their systems of philosophy and religion may differ, all mankind stand in reverence and awe before the man who is ready to sacrifice himself for others.