By Roozbeh Gazdar
charity begins at home. all religions have the concept similar to tithing: giving back to the universe or society
Freely ye have received, freely give. (Matt. 10:8)
So you are well-settled, drawing a good income. Self-made, a loving parent and responsible spouse, you also provide for your aging parents. Finally, as a productive, law-abiding citizen, you are prompt in paying taxes. Your account is clear, all dues settled.
But think again. Seen from the perspective of an existence where each event is a result of countless dependent processes supporting and arising from each other, your arrears go far beyond family and friends. How can you close your account before settling your debt with the universe that has �provided� for you till now, even when many others are not so favoured?
It is for the repayment of providential generosity and goodwill, that most religions preach charity. While Judaism and Christianity impose the �tithe,� a kind of �spiritual tax� constituting 10 per cent of one�s income to be donated to the needy, Muslims similarly have the zakat. Hinduism, Buddhism and others deem it meritorious to offer alms to monks and support spiritual and charitable activities.
Explains Suresh Padmanabhan, whose money workshops take care to incorporate the spiritual angle in a very material pursuit: �All religions have this concept of donating for God�s work. Since God cannot himself come down, this work is done through other people.�
He explains the rationale: �We don�t pay for the universe, the beautiful gifts that come to us from the earth. When we enjoy these, isn�t it our duty to give something back? By doing so, not only do you get God�s blessings, the energy centres of your heart open and you feel wonderful. It is also significant of abundance. Besides, we are reminded of the law of interdependence. The rich-poor divide is great and this is an expression of your gratitude for the privileges that you enjoy.�
In fact, formal religions may even be very explicit about it. Explains reformist and scholar, Asghar Ali Engineer, about the zakat: �Islam considers it obligatory to give away two and a half per cent of your income in charity in the form of zakat, normally leviable on the wealth in your possession at the end of the year.�
The holy Koran, he informs, specifies eight different heads under which the zakat is given, including the poor and needy, orphans, widows, people in debt and liberation from
slavery. He feels the decree is relevant even today, but concedes that time has necessitated certain modifications. �Devout Muslims still distribute the specified amount to various scholarships, education, orphanages, etc.,� he says, �but, while earlier it might have been in camels or other accepted units of wealth, today it is paid in money. Also, slavery being no longer valid, for instance, donations under that category may go to education as liberation from mental slavery, or a similar cause.�
He asserts that other forms of charitable service�though they may be carried on alongside�cannot substitute zakat, which, while purely voluntary in India, is even enforced in certain countries, as former President of Pakistan Zia�ul-Haq tried to do in his country.
Religion notwithstanding, many people regularly give according to individual inclination and capacity. Homemaker Deepa Kodikal says: �We don�t have a specific routine, but we donate in charity as and when the occasion arises.�
While institutional charities are generally attended to by her husband, she prefers to help people she knows, such as her driver or gardener. �It may not just be handing them an amount, but could be in the form of loans they cannot repay or paying for their medical expenses, children�s education, etc. In fact, it need not be financial at all.� �More than money, I believe in giving them my time. Often, they only require only some advice or a kind word and I try to counsel them, give solace or guide them towards God.�
Describing the urge to help others in one way or another as a natural human instinct, she adds: �One does know that what goes out always comes back. However, while giving we don�t philosophise, or expect returns.�
Fashion designer Wendell Rodericks also prefers a more hands-on approach. �I feel time from professionals is more valuable. Money is too easy to part with, � he says, adding, �I support causes where I know my contribution will be superior to anyone else�s. If an antique garment is to be restored, I know I will do it best.�
Considering it hypocritical to do social work for publicity, he says:� �Those who have benefited from my social causes know my contribution and that is enough. I also try to do long-term benefits or a project that continues rather than a one-off enterprise.�
Others, such as writer Rohini Gupta, believe that giving money is good way for those who otherwise cannot actively involve themselves with social work. While she contributes to certain orphanages and other causes, a lot of her charity is also related to animals.
Generous giving and sharing, also as a model for social development, emerges in the form of the Swadhyay Parivar, an exemplary spiritual movement that embraces nearly one lakh villages across India.
Each villager donates time, money and service to run collective farms, orchards, etc. Part of the income generated by selling the produce is then given to a needy individual�always very discreetly and with no obligation to repay it�while the rest is used for common good.
Giving, as an expression of their bhakti (devotion to God) checks the arising of any feelings of superiority or inferiority between the villagers. Pandurang Shastri Athavale, the pioneer of the movement, espouses the example of trees, which offer food and numerous other services without expecting anything in return.
Unfortunately, earnest charity often makes easy picking for the unscrupulous and, while people give what they can, many are justifiably careful about whom they give to.
Deepa maintains that she takes precautions to see that the money given in charity does go to intended beneficiaries, often preferring to donate through her community guru and other trusted causes. And Wendell, while working with an organisation, personally ensures that the end result is visible.
But then, from another viewpoint, who are we to judge at all, when all we are doing is paying off a debt? These beautiful lines from The Prophet by Kahlil Gibran, are Almustafa�s response to Giving:
��You often say, �I would give, but only to the deserving.
The trees in your orchard say not so, nor the flocks in your pasture�
And who are you that men should rend their bosom and unveil their pride, that you may see their worth naked and their pride unabashed?
See first that you yourself deserve to be a giver, and an instrument of giving.
For in truth it is life that gives unto life�while you, who deem yourself a giver, are but a witness.
And you receivers�and you are all receivers�assume no weight of gratitude, lest you lay a yoke upon yourself and upon him who gives.
Rather rise together with the giver on his gifts as on wings; for to be overmindful of your debt is to doubt his generosity who has the freehearted earth for mother, and God for father.�������
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