Friday, December 02, 2005

Charity and its interpretations

Conflicting ideas infect my mind when on the subject of charity. On the one hand there is a strong urge to help the needy in their time of need. But even as I write this very sentence, Bacon’s lines come to mind; He says,

“Charity will scarcely water the ground,

If she must first fill a pool”

It took me some time to first understand the above quote when I first read it. Is charity imperative on a person? Can a person of lesser means be content by feeding himself first before feeding another? Of course, the previous sentence is appalling to many. How can one be expected to donate when in need himself?

Society has her own interests in charity. She interprets the aforementioned ideal based upon context in which it is rendered. I will elaborate on this a little later. I would like to understand charity as a state of the mind. So, is helping the needy in their time of need charity? This brings us to the question of what is the need. The ‘dhoti, kapada aur makan‘on one hand and the other needs of entertainment. Why I said that charity is a state of the mind is because the charitable urges a person has should be what his or her mind dictates rather then those dictated by society.

I started and ended the above paragraph with the word ‘society’ to emphasize the fact that charity today has become a obligation. Let me now write about a wealthier man, whom the society deems fit to be amply charitable. We as elements of society do tend to judge a person by his charitable quotient. If a wealthy man donates, gives, shares a part of his wealth he is considered a good man. A good man in the name of society. But what about a wealthy man who does not give, as required by the society? What if he does not want to share it with others who according to him do not deserve it? He is very comfortably deemed, as a bad man without much thought behind the reasons why he does not lend in the way society wants him to.

Wealth is one aspect. What about a teacher who teaches a group of poor students in his spare time free of cost? Is this charity? Well this is a subject to heated debate. The debate arises out of the question whether the teacher is teaching a subject the society wants him to teach. If a teacher, who is willing to teach for free, but lays certain ground conditions about his methods of teaching or his subject of teaching, he is not immediately accepted to be charitable. A teacher who expects his students to learn what he teaches is not being charitable. Society wants him to teach the weak what the weak want, it wants the weak that are thought to be masters in the subject, but the man who teaches these people is not to be credited for this achievement.

Religion as a faculty is such a society. I can confidently say that there is no religious philosophy, which does not ask its followers to be charitable. I can, with equal confidence, say that there is no religion, which does not decry those who seek the fruits of their charitable endeavors.

…Similarly, all the great religions, including Judaism, Christianity, Buddhism, and Islam, recognize and encourage the duty of materially well-off persons to aid the less fortunate…” quotes the Encarta Encyclopedia in its article on Philanthropy. (The italics are mine). The article says that all the religions recognize and encourage the duty of a materially well off person to aid the less fortunate. I reapeated the above sentence with the italics to emphasize the word ‘duty’. It is this concept of charitable duty of a person, which I called charitable quotient in one of my previous paragraphs. Society judges people based on fulfillment of this duty.

Religion inspires a charity of its own. I would term this ‘blessed charity’. In this form a wealthy person makes donations to his religious organization for its well-being. The religious organization no doubt may or may not divest some of these donations for social welfare specific to its interests. There is no debate on this aspect. But, religion says that for doing this good no fruits should be expected. As a matter of fact religion also says that you will receive the fruits of your good deeds without expecting it (and by not expecting it). This raises a question; why shouldn’t one expect, want something when he will get it? Here we are told that ‘wanting’ is wrong. We are told “when you are born you don’t own anything, when you die you again don’t own anything, why then do you claim something to be yours and expect dividends from it?” This is not correct. When a person dies his material property may still remain but his intellectual property is no more. His mind is no more. No one can claim that a persons mind is not his. Thus when a person’s mind is entirely his own and no one can claim it to be theirs, a persons material property is entirely his as long he is alive, and has every right to claim it to be his.

For people who question about the mind being the sole property of a person and claim that many people only have borrowed minds, or borrowed intellect and have no claim over their own intellect and capacity of vision, I would like to quote Kahlil Gibran,

“For one man’s vision, lends not its wings to another”.

For however much others and their thoughts might inspire one, every person forms his own ideas on the subject. And for this very reason that every man's mind is his and his alone.

Charity is not a duty to be completed for the society or anyone else. Every person should be charitable to his or her own causes, encourage charity that does not blame the poor for their plight, and by doing this and only this, would anybody be really charitable to the society and to his or her own existence.

Note: I wrote this in late 2002 for my older blog, but did not publish it then.

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