Mother Teresa On Gift Economy

Posted by Nipun Mehta on Nov 21, 2009
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Lynne Twist has raised over $800 million dollars for worthy causes; she's as good a fundraiser as anyone can be. Yet, in Soul of Money, she speaks about a person whom she knew really well, who remains one of her mentors, and who beat to a different drum:

Mother Teresa never kept any cash reserves. When I visited her at her orphanage in India, I asked her if she had any advice about fund-raising. She replied that her method of fund-raising was to pray, and that God had always provided what she needed, never more, never less. She operated with no reserves, trusting that God would always provide, and in her experience God always did. She operated more than 400 centers in 102 countries, and they always seemed to have exactly what they needed. Not excess, not more. But not less, either.

Most of us can't imagine living in that way and I'm not even suggesting it, but the knowledge that Mother Teresa operated a successful multimillion-dollar operation just that way, makes you think anew about money and flow.

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Comments (26)

  • Sahil wrote ... goes way beyong fear and uncertainities

  • supun wrote ...

    I had a crazy math teacher that would yell at us not to just stay home and pray. Ms. Font would tell us that Prayer and Action go together. I've been talking to my mom how sometimes we spend so much time trying to raise money or raise our own spirits before we do anything.  Even though that first step can be the hardest thing, sometimes getting the ball rolling by doing something small can get the ball rolling and provide it's own currency.

    I liked this quote from the Prophet about how prayer can really be self-encouragement bouncing off the inspirations of knowing there are others struggling to get over:

    "...When you pray you rise to meet in the air those who are praying at that very hour, and whom save in prayer you may not meet.
    Therefore let your visit to that temple invisible be for naught but ecstasy and sweet communion.
    For if you should enter the temple for no other purpose than asking you shall not receive.
    And if you should enter into it to humble yourself you shall NOT be lifted: Or even if you should enter into it to beg for the good of others you shall not be heard..."

  • Mike S wrote ...

    "Most of us can't imagine living in that way and I'm not even suggesting it, but the knowledge that Mother Teresa operated a successful multimillion-dollar operation just that way, makes you think anew about money and flow."

    Um, perhaps you could say what you mean, if you actually mean something. You make an observation, tell us you're not suggesting we try it, then you imply there's a hidden meaning. You wrote half of the article, how about finishing it, if you can.

  • rajee wrote ...

    I love Mother Teresa!! Thanks for this. God Bless.

  • Henri wrote ...

     There definitely is something about DIVINE PROVIDENCE.

    I catch myself trying to live outside the providence of this present moment; that's when I'm anxious about the (nonexistant) future.

    My life, right now, in this present moment, is "good enough".

    I need to transfer the effort of wanting more and more into enjoying more and more.

  • Manisha wrote ...

    Well I am sure prayer and faith works, but realize why Mother Mary prayed it was for others to help others. It was not for herself! So off course god will help her, because he wanted to make all his children not just her could get some help. When we pray its usually for ourself our our families, its pretty microscopic. In that case we do need prayer and action.  

  • Lori wrote ...

    Reading with my heart, I found the article inspiring and purely perfect. Not one word was missing. Thank you for writing it.

  • Ron wrote ...

    Bless this humble woman for enriching the lives she served and our lives through her life's example.

  • clare wrote ...

     Divine providence is moved by Divine grace.It is the most powerful force on the universe.It descends and acts when it is invoked by total surrender.It acts from within.The Divine resides in the heart of all beings.Its whisper can be heard in a mind purified by self surrender.It is the voice spoken out of the cosmic silence.It is cosmic will, which can perform authentic miracles under its laws.

  • ORod wrote ...

    MikeS-Stop bringing in the negative aura and when you comment dont refer to "us" because that means you are speaking for all of us. I think this was a beautiful story of inspiration and hope. Thank you Mother Teresa for all that you did while you were here in earth. I try to do all I can for the needy but you went beyond the scope of it all.  

  • Jill wrote ...

    I found myself giggling when I read the comment by Mike S. because, although I tend to be effusively positive, I also appreciate some surly "realism" to balance things out for me.  I found the beauty of the article to have some conflicting messages as well.  I think we just all have to find our way to right relationship with money and spirituality and the place where those two things coincide. It's so deeply personal and often so hard to know the "right" answer.

  • Rational wrote ...

    Prayer has absolutely no value.  Most people want to believe that it has value and that is why they do it.  Faith - which means belief in something without reason - can be equally discarded & rejected without any reason.  Action by itself is the only mechanism by which any change can be brought into being.  Mother Teresa - did help many people, no question about that, but she propagated the same dogma in the minds of many generations to promote prejudice, bias and bigotry. 

  • Faith wrote ...

    Re: Rational

    Most people who are agnostic, I would venture to say all, have not felt the power of prayer. I am sorry that this is so, for the feeling is remarkable. I have faith in God and pray for people to be willing, for just a moment, to believe.

  • Barb wrote ...

    While I respect Mother Teresa's life and work, I do think prayer only goes so far. I think she had many people under her who were fundraising as much as they could to care for all of those needy people. Prayer maybe made her feel better but she had lots of other help. She was also a saavy woman who used language as a tool, as well.

  • Kat wrote ...

    Rational & Barb...Unless you have experienced faith and true surrender in prayer you have no idea what it is like and by your comments you have admitted that you lack both.  It is nothing that one can explain.  It's like having sex.  You can describe the experience but until one has actually experienced it, well you don't really know what it's like and just as in the act of sex there are varying levels of pleasure.  Prayer in humbleness of heart and soul is an amazingly powerful experience.  Faith... I am propelled into action by my faith.  I do crazy things like return to school to complete my bach and then masters and then PhD?  My faith inspires me not to give up and to risk...something...with out fear or chaos.  It's a beautiful thing.

  • Rational wrote ...

    Well, it is one's prerogative to believe in something that doesn't exist.  Using sex as analogy is actually quite absurd because sex is a biological fact (& act!) - a primary means to achieving the end of propagating life.  It can be observed, it can be defined in very definite terms, it can be experienced.  Faith, on the other hand, is like believing in something that one can never observe or define in concrete terms or experience it in concrete terms such that it can be repeated again.  One can choose to be driven by the dogma their parents (or soceity) instilled in them - but that doesn't necessarily become a voice of reason or action.  No wonder, people of faith drop their faith when their child is sick and don't pray so that magically their child will heal.  Instead of faith & God, just substitute the word with "Luck" and believe me everything you say will still make sense to you.

  • Usha Priyesh wrote ...

    Whatever the religion we belong to if we take the path of love and kindness to spread humanity like Mother Teresa, we can still make people keep the faith as well as provide the needs and raise unlimited funds. She has shown us the path that we need to take. Let us instill Mother Terasa in our own bodies and lets walk her way.  

  • Rational wrote ...

    While Mother Teresa's act of humanity is certainly to be admired - it was not free and unconditional.  She wanted all the children to have the christian dogma in their thinking.  By doing that she has contributed to multiple generations of people who will be willing to commit crime under the guise of "faith".  Baba Amte - who probably did even larger work by rehabilitating people suffering from leprosy - did not worry about the faith of the people he was healing.  His work does not carry the mental burden of dogma the individual will carry and propagate in subsequent generations.  Mother Teresa's so called work in return for "surrendering to Jesus" actually eventually made her question her own faith and belief in God because she - deep in her heart - knew that her work was not unconditional and with true love.

  • Allie wrote ...

    Re: Rational

    The belief that only what we can empirically observe & measure is "real" is a dogma too.  Valuing physical or sensory data over other forms of experience a value judgment in itself. 

    As you say, each of us chooses what to believe . . . let's just be fair enough to admit that "only the physical is real" is just as much a belief system as any religion.  

    That said, perhaps we all stand to learn more by discussing our varied viewpoints with open minds and hearts rather than criticizing the beliefs we do not agree with.




  • Maureen Sheridan wrote ...

    As the founder and operator of The Animal House Jamaica (which cares for over 150 of Jamaica's forgotten animals at any given time) I can totally endorse Mother Theresa's belief because we have experienced the same phenomenon. If you have faith there will be miracles.

  • Jill wrote ...

    Thank you Allie and Maureen.  Open minds and hearts, faith and miracles.  Well said. 

  • sheela wrote ...

    What a beautiful article to read first thing in the morning...I always always loved Mother Teresa for her work and for her love towards any being. We are blessed to be born  if not in the same country least in the same world where she walked. Nipun...thank y ou for posting this article. Peace and Love.

  • Ramanand Kowta wrote ...

      A lot of people write or state -- I want to "give back to society". One should want to "give to society". By saying giving 'back', it tends to imply that if society would not have given them something, they would not be inclined to give to society. So it's a quid pro quo type of statement. e.g. "I have benefited so much that I want to give back". Also implying that it's not expected to be done by the poor. etc. vinay Hi and Namaste, Yes, Vinayji, you have hit the nail on the head ! In our culture of 'A-tithee ( without tithee-appointment) Devo Bhava 'ensured that you 'simply' shared your food, drink and lodging with the unexpected 'guest' , after  greet [...] See full comment.


    A lot of people write or state -- I want to "give back to society".

    One should want to "give to society".

    By saying giving 'back', it tends to imply that if society would not have given them something, they would not be inclined to give to society.

    So it's a quid pro quo type of statement.

    e.g. "I have benefited so much that I want to give back".

    Also implying that it's not expected to be done by the poor.



    Hi and Namaste,
    Yes, Vinayji, you have hit the nail on the head ! In our culture of 'A-tithee ( without tithee-appointment) Devo Bhava 'ensured that you 'simply' shared your food, drink and lodging with the unexpected 'guest' , after  greeting him / her with a NAMASTEY - which translates to mean  Na ( not) Mamaha ( me) Tey ( you) ! - the ' yajmaan - host' elevated the status of the guest by humbling oneself - the very essence of 'Seva -service ' and hospitality. Have we not tried to rule over or master Nature instead of serving it thus?  Food and water were only to be shared and never to be traded as commodities - was the Vedic prescription. This is still prevalent in Bhaarat (rural) but becoming less in India (urban).
    Also, after finishing cooking, the householder, traditionally, first gave the freshly-cooked food as 'alms' to a beggar and then sat down to eat. - i.e. you ate the leftover  after doing charity ! He is the giver! He gives you the opportunity to 'give'! A middle-story in the TOI ran thus. A beggar came to the threshold of a busy town -home(in south India) after dusk to collect left-over food .The lady explained that she was busy assisting her husband who had to rush off to his village by the last bus. So, the beggar offers to come back after collecting from the other houses. He returns and sees the bewildered look on the face of the lady. She explains that her husband had to return because he missed the last bus. The beggar resolves her dilemma by saying ' I am used to eating less, but your husband cannot. Please keep the food ' The story ends with the line
    He was the giver!
    The law of Life is 'Give and Receive - not Take'. If you have to ' Take' then you have to ' Give ' much more! Today, man asks' What can I get out of him and give him some money?'. Instead the question should be (and was) ' What will he give me IF I co-operate with/help him?' Moreover the transaction ( of give and take / receive) alters / affects  the transacted object  and the either parties ! So, can we truly ' Give back ' what we took in the first place? - something like saying ' I take back my words '. Can we really ' take back ' any thought, word or deed. A saint described DEV (GOD in Marathi) as ' Denaraa evam ' -  the only giver. His simple advice was- just turn your palm around - from one of receiving to giving. So you will also be DEV, he said! Moreover, when it comes to 'taking' we pass the buck to the ' feeling Heart’ (Dil hai ki maanta nahin etc.!), but when it's time to ' give ' we allow the ' thinking Head ' to call the shots ! The Palms ( willing -action) come together in a NAMASTEY, as a Balance / Meeting   between the Head ( thinking ) and the Heart ( feeling). A balance in thinking and feeling ensured balanced actions! What is more important - Output OR Input' of a machine / system? The sight of beggars at traffic junctions compels my foreign tourist ' guests' to wonder aloud ' should we or should we not give?' and look at me for an answer! It is a tricky situation - by giving one you invite a swarm! Giving only encourages them –is the oft-touted advice. So, we must be ready to get involved in ameliorating their economic status and wean them away? How many of us are?
    So, TO GIVE OR NOT TO GIVE seems to be the perturbing question for a lot of ' thinking ' citizens, humans of a nation still riddled with poverty - even as the ' Globalization Juggernaut ' trundles along ruthlessly !
    Giving ( Action - every thought, word, deed ) and Receiving ( Reaction) always happens -every moment ! Every action has a reaction- is an inviolable Law of Nature and is more simply stated as ' as you sow, so you reap' - KARMA? Nobody can avoid/escape the consequence of Action - said Gautama and the other Buddhas.
    SO, the only choice we have is to be 'AWARE ' of every action- urgently needed and yes, difficult!
    Giving, slowly but surely, makes one more humble –especially when one serves food to those seated on the floor. You have to bend down – physically and also mentally ! Giving-especially to the ‘lesser-haves’ –can dissolve the EGO faster. Only when one is humbled thus, can LOVE begin to flow freely. This is a journey / transition from ‘exclusivity’ to ‘inclusivity’-the very basis of Vasudha Eva Kutumbakam! On the return journey from Elephanta, with some Australian Aboriginal dance artistes, we discussed cultures and lifestyles. It struck me then that ‘I own nothing and nothing owns me ! ‘ . So, I felt ‘I belong to all and all belong to me !‘. Some wise man said’ The hands that give are more pious / sacred than the lips that pray “. So, where should we give – to places of worship or directly to the poor and needy? Only after you give away something, can you truly say that you owned it! Who is a rich person? –One who has nothing / is not afraid – to lose! True giving happens only when there is no feeling - of loss and a sense of expectation of return. Can we ( India) give / live ‘simply’ that others ( Bhaarat) may , at least , ‘simply‘ live ?- is how I would modify Gandhiji’s quote.
    Tum Ek Paisa Dogey, To Woh Dus laakh Degaa - was a famous old song!

    Yours Nature - Ally,
    Ramanand Kowta   Mumbai  
    ph  022 25637996, 9892910023.


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  • Madhu wrote ...

    Great......truly inspiring ,such article make us realise ,that life is more than being a zillionaire.


  • Jennifer wrote ...

    I am sorry to read some people accusing Mother Teresa of spreading prejudice and bigotry. In fact, if you have studied much about Mother Teresa you will know that she was criticized because she did NOT push formal conversion to people or acceptance of dogma. When Mother Teresa wrote about converstion she described the silent sharing of Christ's love with suffering people.  I am sorry that some of the writers are filled with their own prejudice and hate and projecting that onto Mother Teresa.  I also know from living in one of her homes that there was no obvious fundraising activity. She and her sisters did live the faith the way she described it. The only supplies provided to the house were spontaneous gifts provided by individuals in the community.  For example, one man in the community used to bring food for the residents and cook it himself once a week.  Others brought clothing.   Offers of washing machines etc...were refused and everyone washed clothing by hand to live in the true spirit of poverty.  She even turned down offers of church support from various communities where her sisters were housed, including offers of health insurance from a government entity.  Finally, Mother Teresa shut down some of the lay operations when she realized they were getting too organized and moving away from her belief in relying on divine providence and being based on faith and spirituality, not business development.

  • James wrote ...

    Mother Teresa has become one of the most inspiring person for me, her quotes are really powerful and full of love. Along with this comment I attached a link to some Mother Teresa Famous Quotes : Mother Teresa Quotes