Wednesday, December 23, 2009

give dutifully when, where, to whom the need is

it is that time of the year,
the season of giving,
the season of charity, caring, love and kindness!

merry christmas!

those in the snow belt, enjoy the snow.
others, enjoy the sun! but enjoy.

recently, on a reputed online discussion forum, i read a comment in context of why indians (read - hindus) don't do much charity, that other religions stress on charity, even as much as 15% of your income! that is a hefty chunk of charity! surely the trait is giving is shrinking everywhere - with our increased wants and needs, increased population, and increased selfishness, corruption and reducing trust.

it is true that many hindus are wary of charity as a routine, mainly because they are not sure of what happens of the donation. many non-profit organizations exist for the mere task of funneling money in form of expenses. but otherwise, hindus do actually do charity, in many small to large organizations around the world.

but this set me thinking, what does the ancient philosophy say on this? does the 'religion' talk about it? i am including just a few thoughts on the topic of giving, and since the sanskrit is not necessarily simple, i have skipped the language part for them.

the concept of giving was at many levels. the householder sustained a large part of the society via charity. the students begged their food in the village/town as brahmachAri. this ensured they didn't develop egos larger than their hearts! the sannyAsii, poor, wandering monks all depended on the gRihastha (householder) for sustenance. this is still seen among buddhist societies, where monks still take alms.

charity was not reserved for a season, month or week. it was a daily act. special food was cooked for the cow, crow, dogs, ants and offered, then the food for the family was made. a sign of symbiosis. the white rangoli drawn daily in front of houses out of rice powder, was ultimately eaten by the ants. in urban today, food is wasted to begin with, and then thrown away in garbage (specially in urban and western settings) since it is difficult to find cows to give the extra food.

people give to beggars out of pity, but many beggars have made it a profession and people are now wary to give to them, so as to discourage them. this is even mentioned in panchatantra (mitrabheda, shloka 11) that due to fakes and over crowding begging is no more a decent way to live.

anyway, enough digression.
so, lets see, what the scriptures say about charity.

since the fountainhead (source) of these thoughts is the vedas, lets start from there.

  • the givers [surely] drink the nectar (amRita). (rigveda 1.112.6)

  • the gods didn't sentence death for the hungry, and death visits even the one with full belly. the giver never diminishes. one who doesn't give, doesn't even find a forgiver (no one forgives a non-giver) [rigveda 10.117.1]

    i.e. don't let anyone die of hunger! gods have not given a death sentence to the poor, hungry, unfortunate. and it is not as if those who eat full belly, will never die! then why not share your excess, give and live and let live?

  • one who eats alone, is sinful. [rigveda 10.117.6]

  • one who feeds others, becomes sinless. [atharvaved 9.6.25]

  • one who eats before the atithi (i.e. without feeding others), eats away the fame and good name of the family. [atharvaved 9.6.35]

    an atithi is one who is a-tithi (-तिथि), i.e. without tithi e.g. without prior (date-time) appointment.
    so it is not just a regular guest, prior acquaintance. when you invite friends or family to your house for thanksgiving dinner or a wedding party, they are not 'atithi'. feeding them, taking care of them doesn't earn any special merit. because, we feed our family and friends out of sheer need or attachment, love, moha. giving gifts to your customers is not charity and doesn't earn merit.

    when it is said 'atithi devo bhava' i.e. "be [of the thought that] atithi [is] divine". it is meant those wandering monks, sanyAsis, helpless who may come to your door. and there was an elaborate system of charity, giving and taking. e.g. a person who lives off charity (student, renunciate, monk, beggar, ...) should not visit the same house every day, should only ask for till his hunger is met, and a wandering monk should not stick to one settlement (village) for too long (since that develops attachment to and burden on the same houses).

  • the selfish eats sin.
    those who cook (do deeds) only for themselves, surely eat sin. (bhagavadgeeta 3.13) [भुंजते ते त्वघं पापा ये पचन्त्यात्मकारणात्]

and finally, give as if it is your duty.

in geeta, chapter 17, shloka 20,21,22 are defined three types of charity (daana), of which the best and recommended one is the saatvika daan (pure charity) as said in 17.20 -

dAtavyamiti yaddAnam deeyate'nupakAriNe |
deshe kAle cha pAtre cha taddAnam sAttvikam smRitam ||

that giving is called saattvika (pure) which is given with the intent that 'i must give', to someone who can't return the favor; and given in the right place, time and to the worthy/needy recipient.

pause, and think. in the right place, right time, to the right (needy and worthy) person who can't give return the favor anyhow - THAT is the true giving. all else is foolishness or selfishness!

give where it is needed, when it is needed, and to whom it is needed.

if you give out of guilt or shame, that is also not the best. you should give with the attitude, that whatever i have in this world is because of this world only. the things that you use were made by someone else. your very own body is because it found nourishment from this earth. food made by someone. so, you always owe something back, no matter how rich or poor you are.

and if you were to adamantly remove yourselves from society, like a sannyAsI, saying that, hey if i live in the forest, not taking anything from the society, then? then do i owe anything to anyone? if i just eat the roots, fruits off of trees? and for even harder penance, just eat the leaves fallen off the trees on their own! do i owe anything then?

well, your very life in this mortal world depends on the energy from sun! you or most life forms won't survive without sun. we get energy resources (coal, oil etc) from sun's energy. the food we eat that gives us energy, gets it from sun! (photosynthesis).

the whole circle of life is connected.
don't stop it. don't put a monkey wrench in the cog wheels.
understand it. appreciate it. be part of it.

may the nourisher sun,
nourish your body,
remove your illusions [tattvam pUShaNa apAvRiNu]
and direct your intellect on the right path! [dhiyo yo naH prachodayaat]

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and now the language aspects of the shloka -

dAtavyamiti = dAtavyam + iti
dAtavyam = [that which] must be given
iti = thus, this way

yaddAnam = yat + dAnam = that giving [... which]

deeyate'nupakAriNe = deeyate + an_upakAriNe
deeyate = should give
upkAra = favor, help to other
upkAriNI = one who does upakAra, favor
anupakAriNi = one who can't (doesn't) favor [back]
anupakAriNe = to, in that person

deshe = in the [right] place
kAle = in the [right] time
cha = and
pAtre = worthy (needy)
pAtra = container, holder, vessel, receiver

taddAnam = that giving
sAttvikam = pure
smRitam = is known (remembered)

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(c) shashikant joshi । शशिकांत जोशी । ॐ सर्वे भवन्तु सुखिनः ।
Practical Sanskrit. All rights reserved.

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