Hindus and Charity

Hindus and Charity December 9, 2015

Editors’ Note: This article is part of the Patheos Public Square on Charitable Giving. Read other perspectives here.

For December Patheos has asked us bloggers to write about charitable giving and why we do it. They say this is the time of year for gifts and giving. There aren’t really gift-giving holidays in December for Hindus but charity is something for all year round and it’s always a good time to talk about giving.

Just as some people in America see Christmas as becoming too commercialized, there are many in India who see the same thing happening to Diwali (in November). The religious festival is being turned into a time to be pressured to shop and gather material things. I think in both cases it’s important not to get sucked into the hype but to remember that gift-giving is not about being a consumer slave but about making others happy. Physical gifts are one way to bring joy into someone else’s life and we shouldn’t dismiss that action.

But, as I said, there’s opportunity all year round for giving of various kinds. Charity is a natural fit for Hindus because of our belief that all people, all living things, are integral parts of God. We share a Self, a soul, each of us having only a part of it. Those who are truly wise (enlightened) see their own soul in other people. Giving to others is giving to ourselves. It makes no sense for us to turn our back on any being’s suffering or struggle. Helping them is like helping our own foot or lungs.

Charity is one of the four pillars of Dharma. Daana is the cultivation of generosity and charity and it is a valued quality in Hindus. Many of our stories talk about the surprise rewards of feeding strangers and giving to beggars. Giving without expectation of praise, thanks, or rewards is one of the main interpretations of Krishna’s instruction in the Bhagavad Gita of acting without attachment to the results. Seva is a word meaning selfless giving and is a branch of many Hindu temple activities. Hinduism also has a long tradition of treating every guest as God Himself.

HH Sri Bharati Tirtha points out that God has nothing He has to do and nothing to accomplish, yet He chooses to incarnate on earth as avatars and experience suffering for the sole purpose of helping people. “What is the use of a man who does not help others both when he is living and when dead!…Our ancients dedicated their lives to the task of helping others…Their blood flows in us. In spite of this if we do not help others, we are just wasting our lives.” –Golden Words of The Glorious Guru, page 77-79

As you can see, selfless giving and charity are integral parts of Hinduism. So in honor of this prompt, I wanted to highlight some Hindus who are helping others and giving to the world…

Sringeri Math: The home of my guru, His Holiness Sri Bharati Tirtha. Whenever we visit I am so amazed at the charity work happening there. The cafeteria is open to anyone and feeds hundreds of people a day for free, both visiting pilgrims and local people from the village. They have a hospital and schools that they run free of charge.

The Rang De team: This is one of the micro lending sites that allows poor people to get loans to start and grow businesses that will sustain them and their families. This particular one is focused on India specifically. Once the person pays back the loan, you can use the same money (as little as Rs. 100) to invest in someone else and keep on doing that. I’m a big fan of this type of organization!

Sathya Sai Baba: His followers maintain schools and hospitals in India. Here in the states each chapter runs community service projects as part of their overall mission. Near us the Baba devotees work in a food kitchen and a nursing home.

And I must add this inspiring article about the selfless goodwill of strangers helping one another through the recent flooding in Chennai: http://indiafacts.org/chennai-rains-what-the-world-must-learn-from-india/ We should all be so generous.

Here are some of the charity organizations that people on Twitter recommended to me…

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