Practising Charity as a Virtue in Hinduism
(Hinduwebsite Editorial - Exploring Truth Amidst Illusions and Distortions)
Then the humans said to him, "Please tell us (something)." To them then he spoke the same syllable, "Da," and said, "have you under-stood?" They said, "Yes, we understood, you spoke to us about 'datta, to give.'" "Yes," he said, "you have understood." Brihadaranyaka 5.2.2
Virtues are meant for self-cleansing, healing, removing sinful karma and improving one’s chances of liberation. In Hinduism, charity is one of the highest virtues. One can see its importance from the verse from the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad, which is mentioned above.
Recently, there was a news report that two girls from the state of Telangana who were studying in a college were forced by their parents to return to their village and tend the sheep because they did not have enough money to educate them. The girls were eager to continue their education but were feeling helpless. We hope that they found a savior.
Hindu scriptures affirm that transcending selfishness is an important virtue and serving humanity is equal to serving God. While the saying is popular among Hindus, it is not put to much practice. It is true that you cannot help everyone or feel responsible for others’ suffering. However, you can always help others in your limited capacity, without inconveniencing yourself.
The Christian missionaries take advantage of the indifference and uncharitable nature of wealthy Hindus and convert the poor by offering them moral, mental, and financial support. In life, you have plenty of opportunities to help others even if you have not joined any philanthropic organization or club.
One does not have to be rich to help others. Helping others is an attitude or a mindset, which can be cultivated with effort. For that, one requires kindness and empathy which can be cultivated through spiritual effort. To be human and empathetic, one has to think of others and feel empathy rather than always thinking about oneself, one’s family or personal interests.
If you are familiar with human behavior, you will know that suffering greatly influences how people think and act or how they view relationships and social problem. One can see that those who suffer greatly for a long period become too withdrawn into themselves, lose faith in people and their goodness and become preoccupied with their own problems and suffering.
For example, those who went through the days of Great Depression in the last century and their children who witnessed the hardships of their parents tend to have a defensive attitude and mindset towards wealth and financial security.
They value wealth more and tend to save more, since they saw and experienced how difficult life could be without wealth or adequate means of income. They also find it difficult to spend freely or live extravagantly. Life taught them to be self-reliant, prepare for the uncertainties of life and save for the rainy day.
You will find a similar mindset among many present-day Indians who have seen the hardships of poverty, financial insecurity and scarcity. The older the people are, greater is their attachment to wealth and concern for their children and families. Even if they succeed in life and live in opulence, they cannot easily transcend their insecurity and scarcity mentality and willingly help others.
This is one area where a generational change is required. People need to realize that helping others is a great way to practice spirituality and transcend one’s own weaknesses. People can be helped in numerous ways, without any exchange of money for which one needs a generous heart and kindness.
One can see that many are waking up to this challenge and engaging in selfless service. People of Indian origin who live abroad have been showing greater enthusiasm and willingness to engage in philanthropic work as part of their spiritual wellbeing and helping people in India and elsewhere.
Some good souls have been adapting villages or making charitable donations to the local schools and temples to improve their services. Some have even sacrificed their personal careers and returned to India to engage in developmental activities and selfless service
If the wealthy among the Hindu community show compassion and extend a helping hand to others who need help or to those who are engaged in social or community service, it will do a lot of good to the collective karma of all Hindus and the world, besides containing religious conversions and other problems.
Such help does not have to be always by giving money or donations. It can happen in various ways, such as keeping the streets and surroundings clean, volunteering to serve in old age homes and orphanages, nursing injured animals, teaching poor children to read and write, or counseling those who need emotional and psychological support. For that, one does not have to even donate money.
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