Ideals and Values/Charity and Gratitude

From Hindupedia, the Hindu Encyclopedia


What is Charity?

Charity means sharing what you have earned lawfully and ethically with others. Charity is praised as one of the greatest virtues in Hindu Dharma. Hindu prayers ask our Devas to melt the hearts of misers and selfish people so that they share their wealth with others:

O Deva Pushan! Urge even him to give, who does not want to give. Melt even the mind of the miser so that he gives.[1]

Why should we give charity?

Because Bhagavān gives us those very things that we share with others

We can give many types of gifts and each type of gift brings its own benefit to the recipient and reward to the donor. When one practices charity, he does not become poorer due to the loss of his possessions that he has given away. Rather, he becomes richer because his act of donation brings him material rewards as well as earns him religious merit in future lives. In fact, the philanthropist donor often gets those very things as reward that he had donated to the needy person:

Lord Rāma said to Lakṣmana: "Truly it is said that what is not given by us will not be enjoyed by us in the future![2]

"I (God) abandon that person who eats before sharing his food with others. But I never forsake that person who gives food to the hungry before eating himself. I am the Lord of all food.[3] I take away the food of him who eats without giving; and I nurture and give food in plenty to that person who considers giving food as important as feeding himself."[4]

The entire purpose of our life on this earth is to benefit others through one's life, possessions, thoughts and words.[5] He who saves the life of a troubled person obtains three fruits of charity (Dharma, Artha and Kāma. But he who gifts knowledge obtains a greater fruit.[6] The donor of clothes gets bedecked with beautiful clothes himself. The donor of silver acquires a good experience, whereas the donor of gold attains a long life and great wealth.[7] The person who exerts considerably to procure firewood for a needy person in the cold season obtains physical vigor, wisdom, good appearance and good fortune.[8] He who gives medicine, Ghee and food to the sick; and mixes these to offer to the sick attains a good health, happiness and a long life.[9]

Because we can Compensate for our Evil Deeds by giving Charity

Hindu scriptures count giving charity as a means of nullifying out the taint of sins done earlier:

One should give charity to destroy his sins. If a person desires to obtain imperishable religious merits, he should give to others those things as gifts that he himself desires or likes.[10]

Because not sharing our Possessions is Evil Behavior

Not practicing charity, not giving alms to the needy and not helping out others is not a neutral act. Rather, he who does not do good to others actually gets tainted with sin.

"The food of that person who does not share it with others is a waste indeed. I truly say this, that his food becomes his death, not his life. A miser neither feeds the hungry guest, nor does he offer food to God. Eating for himself alone, he becomes a consumer of sin alone!"[11]

That atithi[12] who arrives at one's home with expectation, but is turned away disappointed, takes the religious merit of the householder to whose house he had come and leaves behind for him his own tainting evil deeds.[13] Beggars roaming the streets, naked, grief-stricken, rough and armed with broken bowls point out to the world that the fruits the non-charitable persons reap are like these.[14] The story of King Śveta below shows how a person who does not give alms suffers after his death.

Because true Happiness results from Giving, not from Receiving and hoarding goods

Most of us think that we will be happy only when we get gifts from others or when we accumulate food, clothes, homes, cars and other material goods. But the fact is that a good human being feels more happiness in giving to others than anyone can feel in receiving gifts from others. The story of Ṛṣi Mudgala and Ṛṣi Durvāsa as well as of Swami Vivekananda below give an examples of this principle.

What is a good time to do Charity be available whenever needed

It is never too late to help out a needy person and no time is inappropriate to help a needy person when he really needs our help. Whether an atithi arrives in the morning or in the evening, the host should offer him a seat and water, as well as food to the best of his ability after paying him customary respect.[15]

Who is deserving of our Charity?

Many of us share our belongings with our friends and family who are not in need or who are not poor and think that we have done charity. But, this is not charity. Donating to someone who is one?s own is not called charity. It is merely a form of fulfilling one's social obligations and does not bestow any social merit to the donor.[16] Charity is that which is given to the following worthy recipients:

Exert for the welfare of people of noble families, for the poor, for the scholars of Vedas, for the contended (who do not ask for anything), for the humble, and for all creatures.[17] Mother, father, teacher, wife, children, poor, dependents, one who has fallen upon difficult times, an atithi and the sacred fire ? these constitute the category of ?those who ought to be taken care of[18] One's clan, companions, disabled or injured, orphans, dependents and other poor, these are also included in this category.[19] The householder should cook for all creatures and feed learned scholars. Not doing so causes him to go to Hell.[20]

Therefore, he who desires his own progress should always give alms to the poor, the orphans and distinguished persons such as scholars etc.; for he who does not give alms to these lives on the fate of others i.e., on the good will of others, so to speak.[21] It is quite useless to give charity to a rich man because he has not use for it, just like no one administers medicine to a healthy person. A downpour in the ocean is unnecessary; feeding an over-fed and satiated man is superfluous; a charity made over to an affluent man is unnecessary and the meritorious actions of a base man are futile.[22]

What are the different grades of Charity?

Charity can be done in many ways and all types of charity is not the same. The Gitā therefore grades charity into three classes. The Sāttvik being the best and the Tāmasic being the worst:

A gift that is given, knowing it to be a duty, at the proper place and time to a worthy person, without any expectation in return, is held to be Sāttvic.[23] A gift that is given with a view to receiving in return or looking for fruit again or reluctantly is considered Rājasic.[24] A gift given at the wrong place and time, to unworthy persons, without respect or with insult is called Tāmasic.[25] A noble man makes a gift of charity respectfully and without publicity. Mean men also practice charity, but they are guided by selfish motives and give away with disrespect.[26] A charity that is given in expectation of something is not true charity. It is merely a form of a business transaction.

How much should we give in Charity?

Giving at least something is better than giving nothing. But there is not much merit in off-loading useless and extra stuff from your home. Good charity is the one in which the giver donates things that are precious and dear to him. A good donor gives till it hurts him. But at the same time, our scriptures forbid us from giving away all our wealth in charity. The reason for this is that "charity begins at home." We have our children, spouse, elderly parents etc., who are dependent on us and they have the first right on our wealthy. Only after providing for them can we go ahead and give the rest away in charity. The stories of Karṇa, King Rantideva, Kavi Māgha and the Golden Mongoose below are very instructive in this connection.

How should we give

The verses from the Bhagavad Gitā cited above clearly say that we should give with respect and dignity. The Upaniṣads further say, "Give with faith. Do not give without faith. Give in plenty with modesty. Give with fear knowing that not giving charity is a sin. Give with sympathy."[27] The story of Dokka Sitamma below is an example of a noble lady who practiced charity in this manner.

Is giving Charity always a good thing

Giving charity to evil people, knowing very well that they will use the alms that they have collected for evil purposes is not the right thing to do. The giver of such a charity gets bad Karma. Therefore, we should always try to do a background check on the person who asks us for help.

Secondly, we should not give charity if it is promoting laziness, a feeling of entitlement and lethargy in the society. A normal person feels a bit humiliated while asking for help. And if there is a persistent line of people who need help, then there is something wrong in the entire society which has created a huge group of beggars. The story of King Bali and Yudhishthira below shows how one should try to help people become financially independent (so that they do not have to keep asking for help) instead of just giving to them whenever they come begging. Another story shows how we should be careful and not give charity to thieves and other law-breaking people.

Stories on Charity

Story: The Superiority of Karṇa's Charity One day, Arjuna complained to Kṛṣṇa, "Even though I am your friend, you always praise Karṇa for his charity, Don't I too help and give to people whenever they come and ask?" Kṛṣṇa merely replied, "Yes, you are my friend. But I do not think that you can match Karṇa's ability to give charity."

At that moment, a distraught Brahmana came there and said, "Sirs, my wife has just died and I need some sandalwood to cremate her." Arjuna sent his servants to get some sandalwood from their stores, but they returned to inform him that they had run out of sandalwood. Arjuna turned to the Brahmana and said, "I am sorry, we do not have any sandalwood to give to you." The Brahmana replied, "That is fine, I will go to Karṇa and get some from him." Arjuna got irritated and decided to follow the Brahmana along with Kṛṣṇa.

At Karṇa's palace, the Brahmana got the same answer. But just as he was about to leave, with a sullen heart, Karṇa shouted at him, "Wait, the support beams of my palace are made of sandalwood." And as everyone watched aghast, Karṇa chopped off the beams of a section of his palace, causing that section to collapse. He gave the sandalwood to the poor Brahmana, who praised Karṇa for his magnanimity. Arjuna now felt sheepish and Kṛṣṇa said to him, "Now you know why I always praise Karṇa for his philanthropy. He who wants to give will always figure out a way how to give to a needy person."

Story: The Charity of Dokka Sitamma Dokka Sitamma lived in 1841-1909 CE. The holy city of Varaṇasi is said to be blessed by Annapurṇa Devi, a manifestation of Devi Parvati who gives food to humanity. It is believed by the Hindus that due to Her blessing, no one will ever go hungry in Varaṇasi. In the temple of Annapurṇa Devi in that city, there is also a picture of Dokka Sitamma, a philanthropic widow who lived barely 100 years ago.


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Dokka Sitamma was widowed at a young age, even before she and her husband had any children. She lived all alone in her hut, located in a fertile district in the coastal area of the state of Andhra Pradesh in India. She had inherited several acres of fertile land on which were grown crops of various kinds. Every day, she would cook a lot of food and send out a call for whomsoever wanted to join her for food. She was sensitive enough to understand that the poor and hungry people are sometimes too embarrassed to beg for food. But when she invited all to her door, they felt welcomed to arrive and leave after filling their stomachs. She served food to everyone who was hungry, without regard to whether they were rich or poor, of high or of a low social status, man or woman. This went on for a few decades. Meanwhile, her greedy neighbors and relatives gradually robbed her of the land that she owned. Her wealth went on decreasing day by day. But still, she lovingly continued to call people over for food every day.

So lovingly she fed everyone that those who benefited from her generosity started narrating miraculous stories about her. Someone reported that a person who ate from her hands was cured of some disease. Another person said that he bore enmity towards his family member, but after eating her food, the feelings of enmity and hatred disappeared from his mind. Sitamma continued to feed the poor for a few decades till she became very old, and very poor. She decided that she would now use her remaining money to travel to Varanasi, more than 1000 miles away, for pilgrimage. She also hoped to die in that city, a dream for all pious Hindus.

She hired a cart with a driver and bullocks and set out for Varanasi. A few miles from her home however, when the cart stopped for the night, she heard a family comprising of a couple and their hungry children at the rest-house. The man was saying to his children, "I know you have not eaten today. But I have no money. Let us wait till tomorrow. We will reach Sitamma's home and she will surely have some food to share." The children were really hungry and started crying.

Sitamma immediately woke up the driver and commanded him to rush the cart back to her house. The driver protested, but to no avail! The following day, the family arrived, and Sitamma had food ready for them. She had abandoned her trip to Varanasi, realizing that there were people who needed her. But there was something greater that she had sacrificed her self-respect. She had used up all her money for the trip and had nothing left to buy food. To save the hungry family of the embarrassment of begging, she had gone to her neighbor's home and begged for some food for them!

When Sitamma passed away in her hut, it is said that a bolt of lightning arose through the roof of her hut, and disappeared in the skies. In the Hindu tradition, this is treated as a sign that the person who had died was a great soul. Sitamma surely was one, and a jewel of the Hindu society. Today, she is considered an Avat?ra of Devi Annapūrṇā and her picture is worshiped in Her shrine in Varanasi.

Story: The Golden Mongoose After the great battle of Mahābhārata was over, the victorious Pāndava brothers organized a grand and costly Vedic ritual ceremony called the Ashvamedha. At the end of this ceremony, King Yudhishthira gave costly gifts to the priests and donated very large quantities of food, gold, cattle and other forms of wealth to the poor and needy. Everyone praised the King for his generosity and hailed him as one of the greatest Kings who had ever lived.[28]

Suddenly, there appeared a strange mongoose at the site of the Vedic ritual. Half the body of that mongoose was golden in color and the other half was normal brown. And to even greater surprise, the mongoose said in a human voice, "This Vedic ritual is definitely not as great as the gift of that Brahmana in Kurukṣetra." Everyone was surprised on hearing this, because the King had spent a lot of money in his own Ashvamedha ceremony and had donated a lot of food and money. They asked the mongoose to explain his statement. The mongoose then narrated this story:

Long, long ago, there lived a poor Brahmana with his wife, son and his pregnant daughter in law in Kurukṣetra. One year, the land was stuck with a terrible famine and there was no food for anyone to eat. The poor Brahmana somehow got just enough flour to make four Rotis. As they all started to eat one  Roti each, a hungry beggar appeared at the doorstep and asked for food in a very piteous voice. The Brahmana, though hungry himself, offered his Roti to the beggar. But the beggar's hunger was not satisfied and he requested for some more food.

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The Brahmana's wife thought that it is the duty of a good woman to support her husband and help him in following Dharma. Therefore, she too gave her Roti to the beggar. But the beggar's hunger was still not satisfied. Now, the Brahmana's son gave his Roti to the beggar, saying that a good son must always support his parents in practicing Dharma. Even after eating three Rotis, the beggar was still not satisfied and asked if he could have some more food. Now, the pregnant daughter in law came forward, offering him her own Roti. The Brahmana protested and said that she could not give her food because she was pregnant and therefore must take care of the baby inside her. But the daughter in law said that according to the Vedas, we should see God in our guests and therefore guests must be served. She argued that her unborn child will also get the benefit of her charity to the beggar and therefore she will give her own share of food to the beggar.

As soon as she gave the Roti to the beggar, his hunger got satisfied. But all the four family members, tired and weak from hunger, fell dead. A miracle happened however. The beggar was none other than the Lord of Dharma in disguise. Pleased with the generosity of the Brahmana and his family for giving all of their food even though they were themselves dying of hunger, he brought all of them back to life and took all of them to Heaven in a divine chariot.

The mongoose then said, "I happened to be in the kitchen of that Brahmana, watching all this. I happened to roll on the floor of the kitchen. The particles of flour that the kind Brahmana had used to make the Rotis rubbed against my skin and turned it golden. But there was only just enough particles to make only half of my skin golden. Since then, I have been roaming all over the world to find someone who is as kind and generous as that Brahmana and his family, so that I can rub the other half of my body against their food and turn my entire body golden. Unfortunately, I still have not found someone as great as that Brahmana of Kurukṣetra and his family."

Upon hearing this, King Yudhishthira and his brothers were humbled. Even though they had given away millions in charity, they gave all this money from the billions that they had. Whereas, that poor Brahmana and his family had given all the food they had quietly and without complaining even though they were themselves dying of hunger. The Pāndava brothers realized that the charity is greatest in which we give away something that is irreplaceable and unique, something that is really dear to us. Not just something that we have extra with us. 

Story: The Kindness of King Rantideva Once, there was a famine in the kingdom of King Rantideva. The King was a man of great compassion. He would donate to the needy whatever food and possessions he and his family acquired. Therefore, they lived a life of great poverty and suffering for the sake of others. Once, he gave all his food in charity and did not get to eat anything for 48 days. On the 49th day, as he was starving to death, he somehow obtained some delicious food containing milk, ghee and sugar and some water to drink. Just then, a poor and hungry Brahmana arrived at his doorstep and asked him for food.

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Rantideva saw God Vishnu in all living beings and therefore offered him some food with respect, as if he were feeding God Himself. When the Brahmana left, Rantideva divided the remainder of the food amongst his family members and himself. Just as he was about to eat, a Śudra arrived at his doorstep, asking for food. Rantideva remembered God Vishnu, and again fed the Śudra from his own portion of the food as if the Śudra were the Lord Himself. Now, a Chandāla arrived with his dogs and asked Rantideva for food too. Out of compassion and thinking that God Viṣṇu resides in all the living beings, Rantideva gave all the remaining food to them. Now  Rantideva was left only with water and was just about to drink it when a thirsty  low caste person arrived at his doorstep and begged him piteously for some water. Rantideva forgot his own thirst and hunger and was filled with compassion and love. He said, "'I do not desire from the Supreme Controller the attainment of the eight perfections,[29] nor do I ask for the cessation of a repeated birth; I accept all hardship in my stay among all the living beings so that they may become free from suffering. I am freed from all the hunger, thirst, fatigue and a shaky body, as also from the poverty, distress, lamentation, depression and bewilderment, with my handing over my water to maintain the life of this poor soul desiring to stay alive!"[30]

Saying these kind words, even though dying of thirst himself, Rantideva gave his water to the thirsty low-caste man. As he did this, the Devas manifested before Rantideva to honor him for his supreme sacrifice, for his compassion and love for ALL living creatures. Rantideva gave all that he had, not just for the sake of Brahmana, but even for the Chandāla and his dogs and for the Śudra. Even though he was dying of thirst, he gave the only water he had to another thirsty man, even though that man was of a low caste. This is because Rantideva equally saw God Viṣṇu in all living creatures and he put their suffering and pain before his. Not caring for his own material progress, Rantideva cared only for Lord Viṣṇu. Thinking always of Lord Viṣṇu, he served without any selfish motive anyone who asked for help. And therefore, Rantideva is considered the best of the Yogis and the best of the devotees of Lord Viṣṇu.

Story: Kavi (Poet) Māgha's wife scolds her husband for his niggardliness The great Sanskrit poet Māgha[31] was also a very great man. He was very carefree with his wealth. As a result, he lived in poverty towards the end of his life. One day, a poor man knocked at his door, asking for some money so that he could marry his daughter. Māgha saw that his wife, who was sleeping at that night, was wearing two gold bangles. He quietly slipped off one of them from her wrist and donated it to the visitor. But, his wife woke up, he hesitatingly told her why he had taken her bangle. His wife said, "How can that man marry his daughter with just one gold bangle. Please take off my other gold bangle and given it to him!"

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Story: King Śveta has to eat Garbage Once, Sage Agastya was meditating at the bank of a beautiful lake in a forest. Suddenly, he saw a mysterious sight. A chariot descended from heaven and landed on the waters of the lake. In the chariot was a king, who was dressed in beautiful clothes and jewels. He was being served by apsarās[32] who entertained him with their singing and dancing. After the magical chariot landed on the water, the king got off from it and started walking on the water of the lake towards a heap of garbage on the other side of the shore. The Sage was shocked to see that the king started eating that garbage hungrily.[33]

Curious, the Sage approached the king and asked him "Why are you eating this garbage to satisfy your hunger? It appears that you live in heaven and have a beautiful chariot to travel and many beautiful apsarās to entertain you. Can't you afford to get good food from somewhere else? Don't they give you enough food in heaven? Why do you have to come down to the earth to eat this garbage?"

The king replied, "Respected Sage, let me tell you the story of how I was forced to eat this garbage. When I was a human being living on this earth, I was a good King named Śveta. I took care of all my subjects, punished evil-doers and made sure that everyone in my kingdom was happy. Whatever I owned, I would try to donate or use for my worship. But I never donated any food because I loved to eat. I thought, "Let me keep this food for myself. I am already donating other things. So there is no need for me to donate food now." When I died, my soul was taken to heaven because I had been a very good and spiritual person. But God Brahmā decided that I will not get to eat any food in heaven because I had never shared my own food with others. I had never given any food to the hungry and poor. So God said to me, "When you feel hungry, you will have to go to the earth. There you will get only garbage to eat. You can enjoy only those things that you had shared on the earth with others when you were alive there. But when you meet Sage Agastya, you will be freed of this curse of eating garbage. After that, when you return to heaven, you can start eating all the delicious things that are available there."

The king then said to the Sage, "Holy Sage Agastya, I have realized my mistake now. I have understood that we should not be stingy in sharing anything that we have with others. In fact, we should share with others whatever is dear to us. Please convey my message to everyone that whatever we share with others, the same things alone will be given to us after we die. If we do not share any particular thing with others, that very thing will not be given to us in the future." Sage Agastya blessed him for the wonderful teaching. He freed the king of the curse, as God had promised. The king then ate the garbage for the one last time, and then flew back to heaven in his chariot. Moral of the Story:If we do not share our food with the needy, we will ourselves suffer hunger in the future.

Story: King Bali Mocks King Yudhishthira for Donating Food After the Pāndavas defeated the Kauravas in the great war of Mahābhārata, Yudhishthira was crowned as the king of Hastinapura. To celebrate his victory, he organized a great ceremony called the Ashwamedha Yajna. During the ceremony, King Yudhishthira gave a lot of money by way of charity to the Brahmanas and all other members of his society. Every day while the ceremony was on, thousands of people came to eat in the feast organized by him for free.

Yudhishthira said to Kṛṣṇa, "See, so many people are benefiting from my generosity." Kṛṣṇa realized that Yudhishthira was becoming a little proud of his good actions of donating money and food. So he said, "King Yudhishthira, while I appreciate your good actions, I want you to meet someone who gifts even more food and money than you." Now, Yudhishthira was really eager to meet someone who according to Kṛṣṇa was even more generous than he himself was! So they went below the surface of the earth, where King Bali was meditating.

When King Bali ended his meditation, he noticed the arrival of his guests and bowed to Lord Kṛṣṇa, asking him to introduce the other guest to him. Lord Kṛṣṇa said, "King Bali, this is King Yudhishthira of Hastinapura. He is a very generous king who feeds thousands of Brahmanas, soldiers, farmers and others every day." Upon hearing this, King Bali suddenly looked horrified and he said, "Forgive me Lord, but I do not want to hear any praise of King Yudhishthira. I do not think he is doing a good thing by distributing money for free and giving food to thousands of people every day without any reason. If even the Brahmanas in his kingdom are dependent on him for food, then I am scared to think of the condition of other sections of his society who must be even more lazy or must be even poorer."

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Lord Kṛṣṇa smiled, because King Yudhishthira had learned his lesson. He said to King Yudhishthira, "One gives medicine to a person only when he is sick. Likewise, money and food should be given only to the poor, not to the rich. We should certainly help those who are sick and poor. But we should not just give food and money to people free all the time because then they will become lazy and will never work."

Story: The Joy of Giving Ṛṣi Mudgala and his family in Kurukshetra spent most of their time in worship. He would gather excess grains scattered on the fields after the farmers had already harvested their crops, and feed themselves with this meager food. Despite his poverty, Mudgala was very hospitable. No guest visiting his home left without Mudgala offering him some food.[34]

One day, Ṛṣi Durvāsa came to test him. He asked Mudgala for food and ate everything that Mudgala could gather that day from the fields. This went on for several days in a row, but Ṛṣi Mudgala did not complain even once. In fact, he would give his share of food to Ṛṣi Durvāsa every day. On the seventh day, the latter blessed Ṛṣi Mudgala, saying, "Despite your poverty, you did not give up your hospitality. By my Yogic powers, I will now summon Devatās to take you to heaven." Immediately, Devatās appeared and requested Mudgala to come with them to heaven.

But Mudgala said that before leaving earth for heaven, he would like to know the length of his stay and the more about the pleasures of heaven. The Devatās answered, "You will stay in heaven as long as the fruit of your good karmas last. Heaven is a place full of pleasure? you will get the best food, drinks, clothes, homes and so on. You will be very happy till you live in heaven."

Surprisingly, Ṛṣi Mudgala refused to accompany them to heaven saying, "What is the use of heaven if I cannot stay there forever. And I get greater joy in serving others, than in feeding myself delicious food." Ṛṣi Mudgala then continued on the earth, worshiping regularly and feeding every guest. When he died, his soul reached Bhagavān forever to enjoy complete happiness for all times to come.

Story: Swami Vivekananda gives his own food to hungry kids During his stay in America, Swami Vivekananda generally cooked his own meals. When there were other persons around in his house during mealtime, Swamiji first served food to his guests before taking meals.

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One day when Vivekananda was about to take his meals, a group of boys rang the bell. Welcoming the children in, Swami Ji enquired whether they had taken their meals. The boys told him that they had not eaten anything and were feeling hungry. Vivekananda asked the boys to take meals at his house. However, because he had prepared the food for himself only, nothing was left for him after the guests had eaten. Nevertheless, Vivekananda appeared very happy and satisfied. An American lady, present in the house at that time was surprised at the reaction of Vivekananda. She queried, "When there was not sufficient food why did you invite the boys to take food at your home?" Vivekananda replied, "The need of the soul is greater than the hunger of the body. If I had taken meals myself, while there were hungry persons around me, my soul would never have forgiven me for my selfishness. By feeding these hungry children, I satisfied the hunger of my soul. The memory of satisfaction on the faces of these hungry children after they had taken meals will always make me happy."

Story: Indiscriminate charity of a rich man promotes robberies A rich man was a great philanthropist and loved to donate money to any needy person, without doing any background check on why that person wanted the money. Once, a thief needed some implements to break bank lockers to rob them but he did not have the money to buy these tools. He begged some money from the rich man and brought these tools.

The next few days, there was a spate of bank robberies in the town. Finally, when the bank robber was apprehended and produced before the courts of law, he was asked if he had any accomplices. The robber admitted that he got the money for buying the tools for breaking open the safes from the rich man. The judge ordered that the rich man be produced in the court. The rich man protested that he was ignorant of the motive of the robber, who came to his house and asked for money very innocently, saying that he needed it. The judge ordered the rich man to pay a hefty fine to the court, as a lesson to him that he should not give away money indiscriminately, lest the beggar use it for immoral or illegal purposes. The rich man's reluctance to enquire about the purpose to which his charity will be used made him an unwitting accomplice in the crimes committed by the beneficiaries.

Story: The Charity of Good Habits "the Gift of Knowledge" One day, Guru Nanak and his companion named Mardana passed through a village. The villagers did not greet their visitors and did not offer them any food or place to rest. Instead, they abused Guru Nanak and Mardana. But, the Guru did not feel upset at all. Instead, he left the village promptly and blessed its inhabitants saying, "May your village thrive and its people never get uprooted."

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Then, Mardana and Guru Nanak reached another village, whose inhabitants were very good natured. They welcomed their visitors, fed them and offered them a place to stay. When the Guru left the village, he cursed the people there, "May you all get uprooted and get scattered in all the directions." Mardana was really puzzled when he heard this and asked the Guru for an explanation. Guru Nanak explained, "I wish that the residents of the first village do not spread out and teach their bad mannerisms to others. On the other hand, I want that the good villagers in the second village should spread out in all directions and set an example for everyone."

Story: Give at the right time, and with dignity A rich landlord used to attend the Rathyātra of the Mandir in his village every year. His servant Bhuvan used to hold an umbrella over his master during the event. Every year, the landlord would comment, "The pilgrims who come to see the event have to undergo a lot of hardships. I promise that I will construct an inn for them." Years passed, but he never spent any money, although he would make the comment every year.

A few years later, Bhuvan died. When the landlord attended the Rathyātra later that year, numerous pilgrims and locals came up to him and condoled his death saying, "He was a great man who loved to do good to others." The landlord got curious as to why Bhuvan was liked by everyone. He asked the Pandit of the Mandir to explain the secret to him. The Pandit replied, "A few months before Bhuvan died, he came to me and said that although he was not a rich man, he wanted to use all his life's savings to dig a well near the Mandir so that visiting Bhaktas and pilgrims get a drink of fresh and cool water. We fulfilled his wish and now all these visitors are benefiting from Bhuvan's charity.

The landlord commented, "They are praising him just for a little well? I am going to construct a giant inn for their benefit with my riches!" The Pandit replied, "And when is that going to happen" You have been promising it from decades. People cannot live in an inn that is imaginary. Bhuvan gave his charity with full faith, with love, with humility and promptly. And that is why the people remember him." The landlord felt ashamed. He realized that even though Bhuvan was poor, he donated whatever little he had for the good of the public. Motivated and inspired by his servant's example, the landlord too got an inn constructed for the travelers to the village within the next few years.

Gratitude in return for Charity or Favor

It is our Dharma to give charity and serve others in any way possible. And conversely, it is the Dharma of the beneficiary of that charity or favor or service to repay his benefactor's kindness; and also be kind to others when they are in need. A person who shows no gratitude towards his benefactor is considered worthy of condemnation in Hindu scriptures. The following incident from the noted Hindi scholar and follower of Vaishnavite Hindu traditions shows how we must show our gratitude.

Story: Bharatendu Harishchandra keeps showing his gratitude to his one-time benefactor Bharatendu Harishchandra, the renowned Hindi scholar in the 19th cent. was a very generous man. Soon, he lost all his wealth through acts of charity. He received considerable mail. Bharatendu diligently wrote answers to these letters and placed them in an envelope read to mail. But he never mailed them, because postage was expensive in those days and he did not have money to mail them.

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One day, a dear friend of his purchased postage stamps for Rs 5 (a princely sum in those days) and gave them to Bharatendu so that he can mail his letters. Soon thereafter, Bharatendu's financial condition improved and he repaid the amount to his friend. However, even after that, Bharatendu would give his friend Rs 5 every time he met him. His friend objected saying, "Bharatendu, you are embarrassing me. I did what a friend ought to have done. If you do not stop giving me money, I will stop seeing you again."

Bharatendu replied, "Please do not stop seeing me. You had helped me at a time when I was really desperate for money. I am really grateful for your timely help. Even if I keep giving you Rs 5 every time we meet for the rest of my life, I will never be able to repay your generosity."

Prasādabuddhi: Constant gratitude towards Bhagavān

Some people always keep complaining no matter how much they have and receive from others. This mental attitude is not healthy and it brings unhappiness to oneself and others around us. Hindu scriptures like the Bhagavad Gitā teach that one should always have an even mind in joys and sorrows and must always have an attitude of thankfulness and gratitude towards Bhagavān during all ups and downs in his or her life. This type of a mental attitude of constant gratitude and thankfulness towards the Divine is termed as "Prasādabuddhi", which means believing that everything is a gift of Bhagavān and all that we have and receive is due to Bhagavān's grace.

Having a prasādabuddhi helps us become more happy and contented with life, be at greater peace with ourself, others and with Bhagavān and also enables us to accept severe downturns in our life with greater ease. Such a person lives with the feeling that whatever happens in his life is due to Bhagavān's wish, is Bhagavān's gift, and that since Bhagavān always wishes us well, He has a good long term plan for us. Therefore, that person does not let temporary suffering or downturns in his life upset him. Instead, he keeps his faith in the Divine and continues to do his work in life.

Sources

  1. [- Text 13#Text 13]
  2. Pandit Ram Sharma Acharya, pp. 40-41
  3. Tales and Parables of Sri Ramakrishna. Sri Ramakrishna Math. Mylapore: Madras, p. 5
  4. Chaitanya and Chakra, pp. 670-671

Notes & References

  1. Ṛgveda 6.53.3
  2. Bhaviṣya Purāṇa 4.169.6
  3. Lord of food is called annadevatā.
  4. Yajurveda Taittiriya Brahmana 2.8.8.3
  5. Bhāgavata Purāṇa 10.22.35
  6. Atri Samhitā 1.337
  7. Samvartta Smṛti 52
  8. Samvartta Smṛti 58
  9. Samvartta Smṛti 59
  10. Samvartta Smṛti 45
  11. Ṛgveda 10.117.6
  12. Atithi means guest.
  13. Viṣṇu Dharma Sutra 67.33
  14. Garuda Purāṇa 1.109.24
  15. Viṣṇu Dharma Sutra 67.45
  16. Vyāsa Smṛti 4.27
  17. Bṛhaspati Smṛti 57
  18. Dakṣa Smṛti 2.33
  19. Dakṣa Smṛti 2.34
  20. Dakṣa Smṛti 2.35
  21. Dakṣa Smṛti 2.39
  22. Garuda Purāṇa 1.115.75
  23. Gitā 17.20
  24. Gitā 17.21
  25. Gitā 17.22
  26. Nātidvishashtikā of Sundara Pandya
  27. Taittiriya Upaniṣad 1.11
  28. Mahābhārata 14.92-93
  29. [siddhis]
  30. Bhagavata Purāṇa 9.21.12-13
  31. He lived in 7th cent. CE.
  32. Apsarās means divine dancers.
  33. Vālmiki Rāmāyaṇa, Uttarakānda chapters 77-78
  34. Source: Mahābhārata 3.295