Adi Moola Ganapathi uvaacha: Annadhānam or bhiksha or the act of giving alms or food has generally been spoken about in superlative terms by celestial hierarchy, devatas, Rishis, Seers and Yogis. It is considered to be the greatest form of charity or dhānam.
Gaja turaga Sahasram, Gokulam koti danam,
Kanaka Rajatha patram Methini sagarantham,
Upaya kula vishuttam, Koti kanya pradanam
Nahi nahi bahu danam Annadanam samanam.
That translates to the great saying that the donation of thousand elephants and horses and donation of ten million cows and donation of innumerable vessels of silver and gold and donation of the entire land till sea, donation of offering the entire services of the clan and helping ten million women in the act of marriage will still never be equal to Annadhānam or feeding of hungry and needy. Even Dhānveer Karna in the Mahabharata has revealed the importance of Annadhānam or the act of giving alms or food in order to transcend celestial planes.
But, what is the meaning of Annadhānam or bhiksha? Is it the act of giving alms and food only? Is it the act of of feeding the poor and impoverished or ascetics? Why is it given such a high position in the scriptures?
Generally, it has been said that it must be done throughout one’s existence for elevated births and for exalted passing. It has been given prime of place by Jeevanmuktas and Jnanis and extolled by Sri Ramana Maharshi of Thiruvannamalai and Sadguru Shree Seshadri Swamigal of Thiruvannamalai.
The important aspect to be seen, understood, realized and experienced in Annadhānam or bhiksha is that it is indeed a fervent appeal to the Supreme Self to see the Self as existing within and outside and all-pervading as only seeing the Self in equanimity or samatā will ensure that a created being will not injure another and thereby attain the Supreme goal or Param Padam.
Hence. annam or rice or food refers to Chaitanya or Consciousness or the seed of all existence known as Avyakta beeja or Unmanifest seed or Supreme Self. Hence, it has been said that food sustains all creation – annad bhavanti bhutani which refers to the Supreme Consciousness or AUM that is the prana or life-force of all creation that sustains this entire Avyakta or Unmanifest and Vyakta or Manifest. This prana or life-force is the Supreme Self or Avyakta beeja or seed also known as Aksharam or Imperishable as everything that is either Avyakta or Unmanifest and Vyakta or Manifest has its origin in Aksharam or Imperishable.
Hence, the purport of Annadhānam or bhiksha is to surrender to the Self or self-luminous akshara or alphabet who is the Guru as It is the Supreme Self. One can realize the Self through the Self. One can understand the Self through the Self. One can experience the Self through the Self. One will be absorbed into the Self by the Self. The Self or self-luminous akshara or alphabet is one’s Guru, one’s teacher or Acharya, one’s best friend or Hiteshi, one’s companion or Sakha or Pārsada, one’s Father, one’s Mother, one’s sibling and one’s child.
Hence, Annadhānam or bhiksha must be done with bhakti and shraddha or devotion and faith with a bhavana or perception of seeing the Self as existing equally within and outside and all-pervading and offering thanks and showing gratitude or kritagyata while dissolving all sense of doership through Self-Surrender.