Mother Teresa says to us, ‘Charity to be fruitful must cost us. …to love, it is necessary to give: to give it is necessary to be free from selfishness.’ When we hear the word “charity” we think of love towards those who are in need, love visible as in service. We hear the word everyday; we use it and we may also practise it in different forms. But what does charity really mean? According to the definition of charity as love towards the needy, we need to find out first what loving means to us at this very moment. The nature of love is always to reach beyond self. It is not satisfied with loving self, but it strives to love others and be united to others, and tries to meet the needs to the extent possible without any reciprocal interest.
Charity means the act of giving money, goods or time to the unfortunate, either directly or by means of a charitable trust or other worthy cause. Charitable giving as a religious act or duty is referred to as alms-giving or alms. The name stems from the most obvious expression of the virtue of charity is giving the objects of it the means they need to survive.
The poor, particularly widows and orphans, and the sick and disabled, are generally regarded as the proper objects of charity. Some groups regard charity as being properly directed towards other members of their group. Although giving to those nearly connected to oneself is sometimes called charity — as in the saying “Charity begins at home” — normally charity denotes giving to those not related, with filial piety and like terms for supporting one’s family and friends. Indeed, treating those related to the giver as if they were strangers in need of charity has led to the figure of speech “as cold as charity” — providing for one’s relatives as if they were strangers, without affection.
Most forms of charity are concerned with providing food, water, clothing, and shelter, and tending the ill, but other actions may be performed as charity: visiting the imprisoned or the home-bound, dowries for poor women, ransoming captives, educating orphans. Donations to causes that would benefit the unfortunate indirectly, as donations to cancer research hope to benefit cancer victims, are also charity.
The recipient of charity may offer to pray for the benefactor; indeed, in medieval Europe, it was customary to feast the poor at the funeral in return for their prayers for the deceased. Institutions may commemorate benefactors by displaying their names, up to naming buildings or even the institution itself after the benefactors. If the recipient makes material return of more than a token value, the transaction is normally not called charity.
Institutions evolved to carry out the labor of assisting the poor, and these institutions are called charities. These include orphanages, food banks, religious orders dedicated to care of the poor, hospitals, organizations that visit the home-bound and imprisoned, and many others. Such institutions allow those whose time or inclination does not lend themselves to directly care for the poor to enable others to do so, both by providing money for the work and supporting them while they do the work. Institutions can also attempt to more effectively sort out the actually needy from those who fraudulently claim charity. Early Christians particularly recommended the care of the unfortunate to the charge of the local bishop. In Islam this is called Zakat, and is one of the five pillars upon which the Muslim religion is based.
It is pure joy of giving, which includes much more than material things. This intention of giving can have many faces, like in a warm smile to strangers, a personal thank-you-letter, an encouraging hug, an unexpected phone call, a thoughtful word of appreciation, a bonding with a person in grief, a prayer for the healing of others, a heartfelt forgiving when you are wronged. All this is done not out of duty or responsibility but out of the abundance of warmth and love you feel welling up inside you. And the more you give out, the more flows back in; that is the joy of love in action, the manifestation of charity. As long as you feel compelled to do something because it is your duty or because you want something in return, there is no love.
When one truly loves there must be freedom, not only from the other person but from oneself. Charity can come into being only when there is total self-abandonment. It does not come as the result of any effort. Like a flower that spreads its perfume, it blooms for everybody. Whether one is near or far away, it is all the same to the flower because it is full of that fragrance and shares it with everybody. Likewise, fire heats every one without any discrimination. It is depending on us how we use it. We may ascertain that our life becomes a spark in the flame of charity, so that the warmth and light of this loving fire may shine ever more brightly and sustain hope in the hearts of mankind.
However, many lessons have to be learned before selfishness is transformed into the ability to truly love others. There is no greater mystery than the mystery of love itself. Mother Teresa said: “I do not think I have any special qualities. I don’t claim anything for the work. It is His work. I am like a little pencil in His hand, that is all. He does the thinking. He does the writing. The pencil has nothing to do with it. The pencil has only to allow itself to be used.”
True charity emanates from sound judgment of the intellect rather than a weak emotion of the mind. In its purest form, charity has the distinction of benefiting the receiver as well as the donor.
Victor Hugo in his novel ‘Less Miserables’ highlights the benefaction that charity brings to the receiver. A convict had escaped from prison and sought shelter for the night. The priest obliged, gave him supper and a bed to sleep. In the middle of the night he decamped with the silver plates of the house. The next morning the police who had caught him brought him in. the priest feigned surprise and asked the policeman; “Why did you harass him? I gifted the plates to him last night.” The policeman apologized and left. The convict was astounded. To crown it all, the priest picked up two solid silver candlestick stands from his desk and gave them to the convict with these words: remember, life is to give, not to take. The convict took them and departed. Thence, he was transformed, living a life of service and sacrifice. Such would be the outcome of true charity.
Likewise, the donor is blessed with the effect of charity. Charity is a synonym for prosperity. So is sacrifice for prosperity. So is sacrifice for success. The way to gain anything is to lose it. The more you run after wealth, the more it recedes. You crave for it, and it eludes you. Leave for it, and it eludes you. Leave it alone, and it follows you. Work earnestly, dispassionately; the reward of work shall court you.
The phenomenon of colors illustrates this law of life. Light is constituted of seven colors. When an object appears blue when it actually gives away blue and takes in the other six. It appears in the colour it parts with. An object gains the color it gives away! You gain what you give away, what you sacrifice. Not what you take. Develop the spirit of dispassion, renunciation in life. You turn pure, divine. And when you amass wealth you turn impure, demonic. Oliver Goldsmith wrote: where wealth accumulates, men decay.
Social service is indeed noble trait. But these scattered units can in no way solve the problem of poverty and misery in the world. Hence the world needs not just bouts of social service but education and dissemination of social consciousness among people. That one should empathize, share and live in harmony with fellow beings. The idea of social consciousness needs to be introduced at the level of primary schools for children to grow with that concept and gradually inculcated in families at home. With the dawn of social consciousness the mist of social service disappears and every individual becomes a social worker.
Just imagine a country devoid of literacy barring a group of literates. The residual literates have to choose one of two options: each of them starts teaching people individually. Or start schools for teachers’ training. And these teachers in turn produce more teachers. The former method can provide only a limited satisfaction for educating a few pockets in the country while the latter can gradually cover the entire country to solve the problem of illiteracy.
Similarly, social workers and their social work can only create pockets of relief while the perennial problem of poverty and misery persists. The problem can be solved only through mass education and dissemination of social consciousness. Vedanta, the ancient philosophy of India, educates and inculcates this spirit of social consciousness in human beings. If we help in spreading education amongst the mass, we do charity in right direction like we are donating something to some needy. It depends upon us how we do charity in our life. But it definitely brings happiness in our life as well as for those lives who are helped by us timely.
Be Happy – Do Charity.