Please explain the importance of charity and how It helps us to evolve spiritually. How can we, who are selfish and materialistic, become more charitable?
A charitable attitude is a very pure quality of life, ant it comes combined with transcendental qualities. In English, the word 'charity' means to give. In Sanskrit, it has a different meaning.
Once, a group made up of gods, demons and human beings went to the Creator to ask for guidelines so that they could live their lives in completeness and fullness. The Creator uttered only one syllable, "Da", and said, "Da is the mantra to give happiness in life".
Humans, being very self-oriented people, involved with their ambitions and desires, and in fulfilling their personal needs, considered the mantra 'da' to mean daan or charity, through which they could overcome their selfishness and self-centredness.
As we know, gods tend to live in a dimension where there is only total enjoyment and happiness. They took the mantra to mean daman or restraint of the senses, saying, "That's all right, we live in a world of happiness and enjoyment, but let us not go overboard. Let us maintain restraint of the senses and mind, and not tall prey to the negative effects of pleasure."
The demons, who are the destructive beings, decided that 'da' meant daya or compassion. They said, "Destruction is our nature. If we want to attain fulfilment and happiness in life, then we should become compassionate, instead of giving pain and suffering to other people."
So, these three groups each gave a different meaning to the original syllable which the Creator had given to them. Now, if we analyse this mantra 'da', which can mean restraint, compassion or charity, we find that these three qualities are linked. Definitely, as human beings, we can experience some situations In life where we are attracted towards pleasures, and we tend to ignore the needs, lifestyles and aspirations of other beings. We become indispensable to ourselves. As human beings, we have also experienced the destructive quality in life, which is a very reactive quality of our nature.
The demonic force within us is tamas. The desire for pleasure is rajas. We have to change these two natures. The moment we are able to change the demonic, negative force within us we become compassionate. The negative force is not only projected outside towards other people, but is also projected onto ourselves. We are destroying our own lives by wrong thinking, acting and behaviour, and we can never find the centre, the balance, the harmony in life. If we are not able to find the harmony in life, we destroy ourselves.
We destroy ourselves in the quest for power. This is a tamasic quality of life, which can be overcome by the force of compassion.
Compassion has to be understood in its broad aspect, not in its limited aspect. It is a very special quality. I would even say that compassion is a. quality of a person who is awakened internally. All our thoughts of compassion are motivated by one idea, concept, belief, situation and condition. I think that we would all agree that every expression in our life is coloured by our own egos, desires and ambitions.
Just imagine, if compassion is coloured by ego, ambition and desire, can it ever remain pure? Can compassion be experienced as pure compassion? No.
Compassion is always a quality of a person who is awakened.
The force of rajas, the desire or craving for satisfaction, fulfilment and pleasure in life has to be balanced by restraint of the senses and mind. This ability to restrain the senses and the mind leads us to another dimension where an adjustment is made with life.
A few days ago, when I was in Deoghar in the presence of Paramahamsaji, he was asked about pain, suffering and happiness. Paramahamsaji gave an answer which I feel to be Very accurate. He said, "Look, there is no satisfaction or happiness in the world. The reality of the world is pain and suffering. You cannot avoid pain and suffering at all. But if you can adjust and accommodate to pain and suffering in your life without struggling and fighting with it, you will attain happiness." So I took what he said to mean that happiness or pleasure is just acceptance and adjustment to pain and suffering.
If we analyse this concept in our own lives, we will find it to be true. The moment we find that we have adjusted to our pain and suffering, we feel that we have become happy. We feel that we have attained a state of comfort and we feel good about it: "I have overcome my pain." We have not overcome the pain, we have simply adjusted to it. It does not have any negative effect upon the individual. This adjustment will only come if there is restraint when we are able to control, direct and tame the wild nature of the senses and the mind. I believe that the yogic philosophy is based on the restraint of the senses and the mind, especially pratyahara and dharana. These systems teach us how to observe and harmonise the actions and reactions of the senses and the mind. This was the method described by the Creator to overcome the craving, the desire for pleasure and satisfaction. The natural outcome of restraint is charity.
Charity does not mean to give indiscriminately. Charity means to help a person change his lifestyle and mentality. If I give a beggar one thousand rupees, I will think that I have performed an act of charity. But has it really been an act of charity? Because with that one thousand rupees he will go to the Munger pub and drink away the money in one night. Or he will go to a whorehouse and spend the money. Or he will pick a fight and lose the money. How then has my one thousand rupees helped that beggar? It has not helped in anyway. Two days later the same person will be back at the same spot asking for more. This cannot be the meaning of charity. Therefore, charity must mean something different. It must provide an opportunity for a person to change the limiting and restricting patterns of life and to evolve into something new and different, where the person is more comfortable and at ease with the struggles of life.
So, you have to see not only the need of the individual, but to make a long term plan to help that individual. For example, Sivananda Math is a charitable institution. Charity is defined as the act of giving, but does that mean that we go around distributing money, food and clothes to people indiscriminately? No. When it comes to spending, Sivananda Math, the institution, thinks very carefully, so that people will be uplifted by the spending in the long term. if we provide shelter or employment or education, how will that help the person? Will it improve the lifestyle or not? There is a long stream of thinking before any decision is made. We are not just a social service organisation with a board outside saying, 'Aid granted here'. There are many organisations in the world that have done that, and we do not want to fall into that category. So, we have to define charity in a different way.
Of course, in times of need, calamity and disaster, the act of charity will be different. In 1988, there was a drought in Munger. The water table had dropped right down, and there was absolutely no water in the town. The Government asked us to help. The swamis from the ashram went out into the streets, and with bamboo technology dug tube wells. Within twenty days we had dug forty tube wells, to a depth of about 80 to 120 feet. So, that is also charity, but it is emergency charity.
There was a fire in a village in Lakshmipur, which was razed to the ground. Boatloads of grain, clothes and medicines went to that village and were distributed by swamis and volunteers to help the villagers overcome their immediate needs. That is emergency charity. But emergency charity does not have the same meaning as Charity with a capital C.
If you want to develop a charitable nature, then you must have the ability to assess the needs of another individual on a long term basis, not on a short term basis. You should be able to project yourself to see the future of that person, at least part of the way anyway. You should be able to visualise how their life is going to evolve and in that process of evolution, what their most immediate need is. Whether it is education, employment, shelter, or other forms of social or financial help, makes no difference. Therefore, charity can be defined as understanding the need of another person and acting accordingly.