Gita: The Right Kind of Charity

Gita: The Right Kind of Charity

As I was accompanying my daughter seeking donations door to door for her Girl Scouts book drive project, a few thoughts crossed my mind.

I thought of growing up in India where for my every birthday, my parents would donate to an orphanage or to a blind school. If during the year, we found some worthy organizations, we made a note to donate there for the next birthday in the family.

I thought of how much things have changed since then. For birthdays now, we think only about celebrations and gifts. For most of us, thoughts of charity do not cross our minds. We are reminded of charity only when someone knocks at our door for a fund-raiser or when we get mails seeking donations.

Then there are food drives and clothing drives and shoe drives and book drives that are going on during the holidays. Statistics show that around 35% of all giving happens in the last three months of the year and 80% of all donations are made by individuals. It is projected that charity giving will increase in the years ahead even as the trend is shifting from religion, which currently accounts for 40% of all donations, to causes related to environment and human rights.

Even as making charitable donations allows us to give back to the community and/or to the cause which gives us so much, it makes financial sense too. It sounds contrary, but research has shown that the more we give, the wealthier we become. Research has also shown that the wealthier the people, the more they give to charity.

Often times, we give charity to those who do not appreciate it, who are going for a free ride or who already have enough. So when donating, we need to ask ourselves: Are we feeding laziness? Are we giving to someone who is undeserving? Are we giving just because it makes us feel good about ourselves? Are we feeling superior to those we are donating to?

Charity given to undeserving, at an inappropriate place and time, with ridicule or disdain, is in Mode of Ignorance.

Bhagavad-Gita , Chapter 17, Verse 22

If these reasons sound remotely true for you, you need to step back. For if you are thinking that you are incurring good karma by doing so, you are probably not.

Other questions to ask ourselves when giving to charity are – Are we giving because it is expected of us? Are we trying to repay someone for what they have done for us in the past?

Charity given with hope of a reward, a return, an expectation, or is given with hesitation, is in Mode of Passion.

Bhagavad Gita, Chapter 17 verse 21

Even though these are perhaps the most common reasons people give to charity, it calls for self-reflection.

True charity is when you genuinely want to help someone or want to help a cause. It should not be a payback or an attempt to appear charitable.

Ideally, anonymous charity is the best. But putting your name to your donation does have a benefit. It inspires others to follow. So do so without guilt.

Charity given without expectation, at an appropriate place and time, to a person worthy of that charity, is in Mode of Goodness.

Bhagavad Gita, Chapter 17 Verse 20

Charity is also best given when unasked but needed.

This reminds me of a beautiful story of Shree Krishna and his childhood friend Sudama.

Shree Krishna was a king and lived in a palace. His childhood friend Sudama was a poor priest. They both had studied in Gurukul, a school in ancient India where children of priests and royals would live and study under the same teacher or a sage in a forest. They would return to their abodes only after their education was complete.

One day Sudama goes to visit Krishna intending to seek financial help. When he reaches the palace and tells the guard to tell Krishna about his arrival, Krishna rushes out to the gate to greet him. Krishna hugs Sudama, takes him inside and lavishes him with affection and food. Sudama, though delighted with Krishna’s hospitality, finds himself unable to ask for help and takes his leave.

On his way home, Sudama feels angry and disappointed with Krishna that the latter did not ask him if he needed any help even though he could see that Sudama was penurious. As he neared his home, he saw a beautiful house. Rushing forth from it were his family members telling him how Krishna had gotten them a new house and all the riches.

Now this charity was unasked for and given to a person who needed it.

This is true charity – to the needy, at the appropriate time and place. Or true charity can be to a cause, even the one we do not feel strongly about, as long as it is beneficial to the society.

So in this season of giving, and beyond (maybe birthdays?), lets find opportunities to give charity in the Mode of Goodness.


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