Hindu literature is filled with anecdotes of ordinary people performing extraordinary charitable acts without giving it much thought. This originates from the understanding of shared Divinity among all life forms resulting in a feeling of oneness, so that helping someone is like a person’s hand feeding his own mouth. For simple understanding of the process of charity, the Hindu scripture, Bhagawad Gita (17.20-22), states three categories of giving: 1) A gift that is given without any expectation of benefit or reward is greatly beneficial to both the giver and recipient. (2) A gift that is given with the expectation of some advantage is of lower value. (3) A gift that is given at the wrong place and at the wrong time, causing embarrassment to the recipient, is harmful to both the giver and recipient.
Charity essentially is a gift of useful time and resources. Nowadays, it is easier for many people to give under category 2, with the most common expectation being name recognition and advertisement of their economic success. Although we should all strive for category 1, my personal opinion is that display of wealth is not always bad depending on how you do it. I have been a beneficiary of “display of wealth.” I have received treatment at a hospital which carried the name of the famous Tata family in Mumbai. I used a library which was named after a benefactor who bestowed a large sum to the charitable trust. I have played in a park constructed on a piece of land donated and named after an industrialist. Donating a large sum of money to a charitable cause indicates that you are wealthy. Of course, I do understand that the above gifts to the public by the generous benefactors were for the betterment of the masses, not just display of wealth. But is it not a great way to let everybody know that you have made it by donating to worthy causes? My suggestion to people who want to display their wealth is to donate more. A name on a plaque on a wall of a charitable organization or emblazoned on a hospital or school lasts longer than a latest model expensive car. Further, more people can see it. This display is more magnificent than a rare timepiece or jewelry. A hot meal consumed by a hungry person is nutritious regardless of the intention of the donor. Educational material donated to an underserved area organization gives the same quality of knowledge and career boost to children regardless of the selfish reasons of the donor.
Sense of charity is like a skill. For some it comes naturally. For others, there is a steep learning curve. Small steps till we are comfortable, then one fine day we soar. Initially, perform charitable acts for prestige, self-aggrandization or display of wealth. When you experience the joy of alleviating the misery of a fellow life form, slowly it transforms you. The hubris of self-importance starts getting washed away by the realization of oneness of giver and receiver, and ultimately oneness of the creation.
“Giving without expectation” is the epitome of perfection which we should all try to achieve. But just because a rooster cannot fly as majestically like an eagle, it does not stop trying. Some fortunate beings are born eagles, but for many of us, doing small acts of charity will be the building blocks which one day will result in our metamorphosis into a truly selfless charitable being.