Charity means voluntarily helping those in need as a humanitarian act by giving money, goods etc., to the poor and needy either directly or by means of a Trust or Organization. Most forms of charity are concerned with providing basic necessities such as food, water, clothing, health care, shelter, education etc.,
Charity further means sharing what we have earned honestly and ethically with others. It is praised as a greatest virtue in Hindu Dharma.
Real happiness results from giving and not from receiving. It is our Dharma to give charity and serve the poor and needy in any way possible.
In Bhagavath Githa Lord Krishna, in Chapter 17 versus 20, 21 and 22 taught us about what Charity means:
20:- datayam iti yad danam diyate nupakarine
deshe kale cha patre cha tad danam satvikam smritam.
Charity given to a worthy person simply because it is right to give without expecting in return, at the proper time and place it is stated to be satvic in nature.
21:- yat tu pratyupakarartham phalam uddishya vaa punah
diyate cha pariklishtam tad daanam rajasam smritam.
But charity given with reluctance with the hope of a return or in expectation of a reward is said to be rajasic in nature.
22:- adesha-kale yad daanam apatrebhyash cha diyate
asat-kritam avajnatam tat tamasam udahritam
The Charity which is given at wrong place and wrong time to unworthy persons without showing respect or with contempt is held to be thamasic in nature.
The highest form of charity is that we must help the poor and needy in such a way that when we give money with our right hand, our left hand does not get to know about it. People who really do charity without publicity are the true selfless ones as they do that on observing their heart's feelings.
Some people often do publicity of their charity when they donate Fans, Chairs, Water coolers, Air coolers etc., to some Schools, temples, hospitals, charitable institutions by making their names got written on the articles to create a good image in the public.
If we donate money to a drunkard with contempt, what he will do? He goes and consumes alcohol and when questioned by his wife, he will beat her. The giver of such a charity gets bad karma. So one must check as far as possible that what is given by him as charity is used for good purposes.
In the great Indian Epic Mahabharath there is a story relating to Charity which runs in brief as follows:-
After the great battle of Mahabarath, Pandavas performed vedic ritual called Ashwamedha Yaga. At the end king Yudhistira gave good feast, costly gifts,. Gold, Cows etc, to the priests and donated huge quantity of Gold, Silver, Cattle, food etc., to the poor. Every one praised the king for his greatness and generosity.
Suddenly there appeared a strange Mongoose at the site of the vedic ritual. Half portion of its body was in golden colour and remaining half in it's original colour. To the surprise of all the Mongoose said in human voice "the gifts given in this vedic ritual definitely not as great as the generosity shown by the brahmin and his family in
Kurukshetra". Every one was surprised to hear this and Yudhistira asked the Mongoose to explain about the reason why the Mongoose said like that.
Then the Mongoose narrated that Long ago in Kurushetra, a poor brahmin with his wife, son and his daughter-in-law were living. One year there was a terrible drought and there was no grain for any one to eat. All the family members were starving for food since so many days. The poor brahmin somehow secured some flour hardly sufficient to make four Rotis. When they prepared and ready to eat one Roti each, a hungry person appeared at the door step and asked for food in a low and pitious voice. The brahmin though hungry gave his roti to him. But the hunger of that begger was not satisfied and he asked some more food. Then the wife of the brahmin offered her Roti thinking that it is her duty to support her husband in following Dharma. Still begger's hunger was not satisfied. Then the son of the brahmin gave his Roti, feeling that a good son must always support his parents in following Dharma. Even then the Begger's hunger was not satisfied. Then the daughter-in-law of the Brahmin offered her Roti, though protested by the brahmin that she should not do like that because she was pregnant and there was a baby inside her stomach. She argued that her unborn baby also will get the benefit of charity and so she gave her Roti. As soon as the begger ate the Roti, his hunger got satisfied. But all the four who were starving for so many days fell dead due to hunger. The begger was no other than the Lord of Dharma and as He was very much pleased with their generosity, gave life to them and took all of them to Heaven.
The mongoose further said as I happened to be in a hole in the kitchen, i came out and rolled on the floor where there were some particles of flour fell on the ground while making Rotis. Surprisingly on one side of my body turned into golden color when the particles of flour came into contact with that portion. Since then I have been roaming all over the places to find some one who is as kind and generous as that of Brahmin's family so that I can rub the other part of my body against the food particles fell on the ground while he was generous to give food to the poor. Unfortunately still i did not find such a person till now. Though I roled on the food particles fell on the ground here my other part of the body did not turn in golden colour to my great disappointment. Upon hearing this Pandavas humbled. Then Pandavas realised that the real charity is when we give away that is really dear to us and not just something that we have extra things with us.
It is mentioned in Mahasiva Purana that all living beings after death must go to Hell. Men who have performed auspicious rites and who are of gentle minds endowed with the quality of compassion go to the Hell through the gentle entrance at the East. The sinners devoid of charitable nature(Misers who does not help the poor and needy on their request despite having resources) pass through the terrible path strewn with sharp throns, and full of pebbles sharp like the razor edge etc., and enters through southern gate.
Most of us think that we will be happy only when we get gifts from others in the functions viz., Marriages, Birth day parties, Marriage anniversaries etc., or when we purchase houses, lands, cars and other material goods. But the fact is that a good human being feels real happiness not only in giving and helping others but also serving other beings like animals, birds etc.,
We also share our belongings with our relatives and friends who are not actually in need or who are not poor and think that we have done charity. Donating to our own relatives and friends is not at all charity. It is merely a form of fulfilling one's social obligation and does not bestow any social merit to the donor. Giving at least something is better than giving nothing. But there is not much merit in donating useless and extra stuff from our homes. Good charity is the one in which the giver donates the things that are precious and dear to him.
The best type of charity is to give without even being asked to do so and the second best type is to give happily upon being requested for a donation.
Charity develops the attitude of service, it expands the heart and makes us
compassionate towards others. Hindu Dharma says 1/10th of our honest earnings shall be given in Charity which pleases God. There is a saying "Did universal charity prevail, earth would be a Heaven and Hell a fable.