Charity means voluntarily helping those in need as a humanitarian act by giving money, goods, etc., to the poor and needy either directly or through 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 the 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 verses 20, 21, and 22 taught us about what Charity means:
datayam iti yad danam diyate nupakarine
deshe kale cha patre cha tad danam satvikam smritam.
Charity is 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 sattvic in nature.
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.
adesha-kale yad daanam apatrebhyash cha diyate
asat-kritam avajnatam tat tamasam udahritam
The Charity which is given at the wrong place and wrong time to unworthy persons without showing respect or with contempt is held to be tamasic 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 or anything in kind 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 Mahabharata, Pandavas performed a Vedic ritual called Ashwamedha Yaga. In the end, king Yudhistira gave a good feast, costly gifts,. Gold, Cows, etc, to the priests and donated huge quantities of Gold, Silver, Cattle, food, etc., to the poor. Everyone 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 color and the remaining half in its original color. 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”. Everyone was surprised to hear this and Yudhistira asked the Mongoose to explain 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 anyone to eat. All the family members were starving for food for 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 doorstep and asked for food in a low and piteous voice. The brahmin though hungry gave his roti to him. But the hunger of that beggar was not satisfied and he asked for 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, the beggar’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 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 beggar ate the Roti, his hunger got satisfied. But all the four who were starving for so many days fell dead due to hunger. The beggar 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 someone 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 that 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 rolled on the food particles fell on the ground here my other part of the body did not turn in golden color to my great disappointment.
Upon hearing this Pandavas humbled. Then Pandavas realized that real charity is when we give away something 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 Hell through the gentle entrance at the East. The sinners devoid of charitable nature(Misers who do not help the poor and needy on their request despite having resources) pass through the terrible path strewn with sharp thorns, and full of pebbles sharp like the razor edge, etc., and enters through the southern gate.
Most of us think that we will be happy only when we get gifts from others in the functions viz., Birthday parties, Marriages, Marriage anniversaries, Retirement functions, 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 in 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, the earth would be a Heaven and Hell a fable.
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