Saturday, October 27, 2012
The Importance Of Selfless Giving
The Gita has given a true, precise definition of daan or gift. First, it should be given to a person who deserves it. The recipient need not be one who has the capacity to return such a gift, in which case an element of expected reciprocity creeps into the act of giving. Second, it should be given when the person really needs it -- for a gift given when the need for it has passed is not of much use to the recipient. Third, give at the right place. Perhaps, Krishna had in mind the need for giving to charity, either secretly or without too much publicity, or maybe he had in mind institutional giving. Fourth, the gift would be more of an obligation to the giver, in the belief that it is part of one’s duty to give. There ought not to be any element of expectation linked to the gift -- neither to gain the respect, love or affection of the recipient, nor of any material gain. Only if a gift fulfils all these conditions does it deserve to be called saatvik, true and good.
The Quran carried the concept of voluntary giving to an obligatory tax. Called zakat, it is meant for the poor, the destitute, those whose hearts are to be reconciled, to free those in bondage and those in debt, for helping the stranded wayfarer and to serve God’s purposes. The Gita, too, has stipulated that the gift should be given in the belief that it is duty, that is, it must be given. The Quran also stipulates that the zakat should be given at a fixed rate on all your assets, your wealth, both visible and otherwise. By defining the methodology of ‘giving both secretly and openly’ the Quran has left it to the conscience of the giver to ensure that charity is to be given spontaneously with divine intent and not to earn fame, prestige or power.
Later, I found confirmation of this in the philosophy of C F Andrews, a Protestant clergyman and close personal friend of both M K Gandhi and Rabindranath Tagore. In his boyhood he was a fervent believer in the Second Coming of Christ. His father, who believed in the literal truth of the Book of Revelations, had convinced Andrews that the Second Coming was imminent. But as he grew older the conviction faded and Andrews faced a moral crisis.
Andrews’s spiritual crisis was similar to those faced by saints like Augustine and al-Ghazali centuries earlier. He continued to pray intensely for Divine help. Suddenly, at the age of nineteen, as he prayed beside his bed before retiring, his fervent prayers were answered and his faith was restored. The effect of this conversion which brought him immense joy, was also to send him among the poor. He writes, “ An inner compulsion seemed to drive me towards it; and all through my life the impulse to surrender all for Christ’s sake and to find him among those who are in need has been present with me so strongly that sooner or later everything has had to give way before it...for the happiest moments I have known have always been those when I have been able to find my active work, not in university centres, or among the rich, or even among the middle classes, but among the suffering poor.”
From the author’s new book, ‘In Search of Oneness: The Bhagvad Gita and the Quran through Sufi Eyes’.