Charity

Munmi Buragohain

This pandemic has taught us many lessons, one of them being – generosity and compassion towards the less fortunate is the need of the hour. Love and kindness are never wasted as they empower both the giver and the receiver. When the nation came to a standstill during the lockdown, it also unearthed the weak chain on which the poor thrive in this country. If we are to believe the nation fought this virus on war-footing, the painful images we saw and the accounts heard were no less gory than a war. While we are still recovering from its spiraling effects – financially, mentally as well as physically, it brings a sense of oneness as people in general are now more sensitive and empathic to others. A lot of people had gone out of their way to help the migrant workers, daily wage earners and the flood-affected people in the past months – directly or indirectly.

Every holy scripture has upheld Charity as the utmost service to humanity.

The Bhagavat Gita says –

‘Charity given to a worthy candidate at a proper time and place without expectation of returns is Sattvik; Charity given unwillingly or with the expectation to get something in return is Rajasik ; Charity given without respect to an unworthy person at the wrong time and place is Tamasik’ (Chapter 17 Verse 20,21 and 22)

So, charity which is unconditional is of utmost value as this creates neither expectation nor obligation. Even the Holy Bible says – ‘Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.’

Daan (charity), dakshina (fees) and bhiksha (alms) are different as per holy texts. While dakshina is usually in return for a service and free ourself from the obligation, bhiksha is done in expectation of blessings or respect or admiration, but daan (or charity) remains above the two as there is no expectation of returns. Both dakshina and bhiksha are considered rajasic forms of daan while daan in itself can be either emotional or material or intellectual in nature. There are multiple stories in the Mahabharata and the Bhagavat Purana to understand the differences among them.

  The first story is about the childhood friends Dronacharya and Drupada from the Mahabharat. Drona, the son of a brahmin, and Drupada, the son of Panchal king, were educated in the ashram of a great sage Bharadwaj and grew into the best of friends. They were inseparable and on the last day, amid tears, Drupada said, ‘Dear Drona, I will never forget you. Whenever you shall need me, come to me and I will share everything that I have with you.’ Young Drona was touched and replied that their friendship was more valuable than all riches in the world. Each went their way, Drupada became the king of Panchal and Drona proceeded to study warfare with Parashurama, the scholar warrior. Over the years, Drona married and had a son Ashwatthama, who was the apple of his eyes. Though poor, they lived happily; until one day his son came home running and asked his mother, “Mother, what is milk? My friends say it tastes like nectar, is that true? I want to taste it too.”

The poor mother mixed some flour and jaggery in water and gave it to Ashwatthama, who danced in joy after drinking it and ran out to the street to tell his friends that he now knew what milk tasted like. The mother wept quietly at her helplessness and Drona who saw it all was deeply hurt. Determined to provide a better life for his family, Drona remembered the promise made by his old friend Drupada, now a royal, and made his way to Drupada’s court expecting his assistance. But proud Drupada ,though recognized his childhood friend, refused to acknowledge Drona in the royal court, fearing being mocked by his courtiers. Drona offered to help the king Drupada with his vast knowledge in warfare and asked for half of the kingdom in return, much to the amusement of the court. Drupada mocked him saying that friendship is only possible between equals and such expectations of charity was improper. He then asked Drona to collect alms as bhiksha from the royal treasury like the usual brahmins and lead a comfortable life. A furious Drona left the court, seething in revenge, and determined to become Drupada’s equal. The arrogant Drupada was blinded by his throne while, a doting father, Drona was too consumed by his poverty. Drona goes on to become the Guru of the Pandava and Kaurav princes, henceforth called Dronacharya, and at the end of their tutelage asks for a Guru dakshina (fees) to complete his revenge – to defeat the king Drupada and bring him as a captive. The Pandavas drag the defeated and embarrassed Drupada to their guru Drona, who demands for half of his kingdom and says that they are now equal. But, it creates a long chain of revenge which eventually led to both being killed in the Kurukshetra war. We need to introspect if anything is stopping us from becoming generous emotionally, materially and intellectually like Drupad because this leads to further entrapment in our own actions.

On the other hand, Sudama, the childhood friend of Lord Krishna and also a poor brahmin, comes to the doorstep of Krishna’s palace at the bidding of his wife. Both Sudama and Krishna has studied in the ashram of sage Sandipani however Sudama doubts whether Krishna would recognize him after so many years. He has no hunger for riches but was hoping to seek financial help owing to his extreme poverty. Even in his penury, he carries a packet of puffed rice for his dearest friend. Krishna immediately recognizes Sudama and receives him with utmost love and respect and personally looks after his comfort. So touched was Sudama by Krishna’s love and affection, he never mentions the purpose of his visit or makes any demands. He cheerfully returns home, only to realize he is given more than he ever imagined to lead a comfortable life till he renounced all to attain moksha.

Hence, there cannot be a vast difference between charity and love. By definition, compassion and generosity towards the less fortunate or those in need is charity while love is the deep sense of care, affection towards another. But charity done with love is of supreme nature and charity sans love is futile. Let’s practice love and compassion, charity will follow easily. After all, charity does not always have to be financial help, we can be charitable by offering a piece of bread to a stray dog or watering the neighbor’s plants in their absence and better still, by practicing forgiveness. Last year during my visit to Varanasi, I had witnessed the morning Ganga aarti on the Assi Ghat and observed the yagna they conducted for world peace; for the well-being and prosperity of each and every organism in this world. This feeling of emotional generosity liberates us from drawing the hard lines between me (or mine) and you (and yours) and teaches us the lofty ideal of ‘Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam’. This entire world is a family…

In the present day, there is no dearth of charitable institutions or NGOs who work tirelessly for various noble causes. Then there are multi-millionaires donating money to help the needy – some do it discreetly while some like to blow their own trumpet. Surprisingly, some institutions spend huge sums of money to promote themselves and reach to the masses instead of using these funds for their main cause. This COVID pandemic has left us in a vulnerable spot where we can be easily carried away by our emotions or the guilt of not having done enough. Recently, I came across a news about a poor couple in their 80’s, making a living out of a small makeshift food-stall, who were made famous overnight in social media for the delicious food they cooked yet the meagre income they earned. Sympathy poured in from across the country and people reached out to help them financially. A few weeks later, the couple had approached police, they alleged the person who had offered to help them had siphoned of the major share of donation meant for the couple. While these allegations are still being investigated and we are yet to know the truth, it raises a lot of questions. There is no denying a lot of content in social media is absolute hogwash and we have to take them with a pinch of salt. What is appalling here is that the well-meaning people who wanted to help an octogenarian couple would feel cheated and demotivated and eventually, in future, someone in similar circumstances might be deprived of financial assistance they deserved. So, the question remains who is deserving of charity. Well, at the end of the day. we need to find the deserving candidate (as stated in the Gita) and continue lending a helping hand – because every bit counts.

‘The best charity is that given by one who has little.’

•Prophet Mohammed

**মহাবাহু**
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