Generosity is abandonment of fear; fear on the part of the giver as well as on the part of the recipient. I am hugely blessed to be a constant beneficiary of the generosity of strangers.

My most memorable experiences of receiving generosity across cultures and continents happened during my 8,000-mile walk for peace. My friend E.P. Menon and I walked from the grave of Mahatma Gandhi in New Delhi to the grave of John Kennedy in Washington DC to promote peace, and from Tokyo to Hiroshima to pay homage to the victims of the first atomic bombs. It was not just a journey on foot, but also a journey without money. I had to let go of my fears and I had to have trust in my heart that people I had never met would give me food and shelter, love and blessings, day after day during our long walk.

On the day we said goodbye to family and friends, we stood at the border of India and Pakistan. One of my most dear friends, Kranti, came to me, offered me some packets of food and said: “At least you should take some food with you. You are entering Pakistan. India and Pakistan have fought three wars over Kashmir. We are still in a state of war. In the minds of many Indians Pakistan is an enemy country. So, take some food, take some money, in case you need it.”

But I was in a different state of consciousness. I said: “My dear friend, one of the purposes of my pilgrimage is to make peace among enemies and experience the generosity of ordinary people. If I carry food to Pakistan, then effectively I am carrying fear in my heart. Fear leads to wars. To make peace, I have to trust. The packets of food you are giving me are not just packets of food. They are also packets of fear and mistrust.”

Kranti burst into tears. Sobbing, she said: “You are going to Muslim countries, Christian countries, communist countries, capitalist countries, unknown places, unknown languages, high mountains, vast deserts, fierce forests and shivering snow! How are you going to survive without money and without food? I don’t know if I will ever see you again!”

Reassuring my friend, I said: “People are people everywhere. And people are generous. But if occasionally I don’t get food, then I will treat that day as an opportunity to fast. I will enjoy hunger! If sometimes I don’t get shelter for the night, I will sleep under the million-star hotel, surely better than a five-star hotel! But I have faith in people.”

After bidding farewell to our friends in India, we entered Pakistan. As soon as we came out of border control, to our utter surprise we were stopped by a young man, who said: “My name is Gulam Yasin. Are you the two Indians who are walking for peace and coming to Pakistan with a mission of goodwill?”

“Yes, we are,” we said, “but how did you come to know about us? We don’t know anyone in Pakistan. We have written to no one. And here you are – you know about us and about our walk for peace!”

“Your fame has travelled ahead of you,” replied Gulam Yasin. “I heard about you, so I thought, ‘I am for peace too. I want to offer you my hospitality.’ I have come to greet you and receive you. Welcome to Pakistan.”

This was a genuine gesture of generosity. We were being welcomed by a complete stranger. Earlier my friend Kranti had been frightened of Pakistanis. And here we were, being greeted by someone of different nationality and different religion whom we had never met before.

We were standing under a lush mango tree, laden with fragrant fruit. Green mangoes with touches of red. They were about to ripen into sweet and delicious gifts of Nature.

Gulam Yasin said: “I live in Lahore, sixteen miles away. I would like to host you tonight, and as many nights as you wish. Please come in my car and be my guests.”

“Thank you very much for your generous invitation,” we replied. “We would be glad to be your guests tonight. Please give us your address. But we must walk. We cannot travel in your car.”

As promised, he met us at the gate of the beautiful Shalimar Gardens. The evening sun was a ball of fire setting behind the majestic Friday mosque. The air was filled with the fragrance of jasmine flowers. The generosity of Nature was in competition with the generous heart of Gulam Yasin.

During the day Gulam Yasin had been busy inviting his friends: “Two idealistic Indians who have set off to walk around the world for peace are staying with me.” So some of his friends and family members gathered at his house for a wonderful feast of vegetarian food, even though the Yasin family was not vegetarian. Saffron rice with sultanas, almonds and cardamoms, naan freshly baked in a tandoor oven, peas and potatoes cooked in onion, garlic and tomato sauce, and other delicious dishes were served. This superbly generous hospitality we received on our very first day in a so-called enemy land.

During the following 28 months, while we were on the road, we were looked after with the utmost kindness by strangers in their yurts at 11,000 feet in the Hindu Kush mountains of Afghanistan, in the mud huts of small villages set around oases in the deserts of Iran, in the snow-covered country cottages of Armenia and Georgia, in the farmhouses of Russia, in the high-rise apartments of Moscow and the bustling cities and suburbs of western Europe. Whether we were in Berlin or Bonn, in Paris or London, in New York or Tokyo, it was the innate generosity of the human heart that sustained us in all these places, in spite of the fact that we were walking during the height of the cold war! We were hosted in private homes, in youth hostels, in hospitals, in police stations, in churches and in student dormitories. Everywhere we were offered generous hospitality by people we would never see again. Those who gave us hospitality never expected anything in return. This selfless giving was not an exception, but the rule. Trust begets trust. Love begets love. Generosity begets generosity.

Gifts and generosity come in many forms. Are we all not blessed by the generous gifts of painting, poetry, music, culture and wisdom coming to us from all corners of the universe? We are grateful recipients of the generosity of our ancestors, who have left us treasures of crafts, arts, architecture, literature and philosophy.

When I was born, I was totally naked and vulnerable. But the benevolent universe in its generosity put milk in the breast of my mother. My mother was a hero. Every mother is a hero. For me motherhood and generosity are synonymous. All mothers are a living example of selfless generosity and they are an embodiment of unconditional love. Instead of criticising, complaining or judging them, we need to express our gratitude to our mothers and pay homage to them by acknowledging their generosity of spirit.

Generosity is not only a human quality. Every day I am amazed to witness the generosity of Nature. I planted an apple seedling 30 years ago. That tiny plant has become a beautiful tree and has been giving me hundreds and hundreds of apples year after year for the past 25 years. The tree never asks me anything in return. I learn lessons of unconditional love and generosity from trees.

Fruit, flowers, grains, herbs and vegetables of thousands of varieties, colours, aromas and shapes feed us and nourish us day after day. They all grow out of the generosity of the humble soil. We humans, either in our ignorance or in our arrogance, take Nature for granted. But more and more people are realising the truth of Nature’s generosity and expressing their gratitude. I am one of them. Thank you, trees, thank you, soil, thank you, rain, thank you, sunshine, thank you, Mother Nature, thank you, goddess Gaia.

Mutuality and reciprocity are the foundation stones of the house of generosity. As I have received so much from strangers, from my ancestors and from Nature, I wish to be generous to any strangers who come my way. I wish to be generous to coming generations and leave some good things for them. And I wish to return something to Nature by planting trees, building soil in my garden and practising regenerative forms of food production such as permaculture and agro-ecology.

May all living beings upon this Earth, humans and other than humans, live well, live peacefully, find fulfilment and be self-realised. May I cultivate such generosity of spirit in my heart for the whole of humanity and for the entire planet Earth.

Satish Kumar’s new book, Pilgrimage for Peace: The Long Walk from India to Washington, is published by Green Books and is available from March 2021 in the Resurgence shop

Satish Kumar is Editor Emeritus at The Resurgence Trust.