The Essence of charity

If there is one quality that is essential to the character of man it is the virtue of charity. Nothing is more important than the ability to give and give wholeheartedly. Charity truly elevates the giver.

There is an interesting tale in the Mahabharata, an ancient Indian epic, which highlights the essence of charity. When King Yudhistra was appointed king he performed great acts of charity by giving food and gifts to the poor and needy besides performing great rituals. People spoke very highly of the charitable acts of the king. One day while the king was performing these acts of charity a mongoose whose one half of the body was golden came to the assembly and rolled on the ground. After some time the mongoose gave up and said that the charity of the King was not all that great. This brought about a stunned silence in the court.

When the mongoose was asked why it had made such a statement it recalled its experience a few years back. The mongoose told the story of an extremely poor family, whose members had not eaten for a few day, had one day received a small bag of wheat flour. The wife made some bread for the family and just when they were about to eat a guest comes to their house. When the father of the household learns that the guest is hungry, he gives away his portion of the food to the guest. Since the guest is still hungry the mother and the son also give away their portions of bread to the guest. The guest goes away satisfied but the entire family dies due to hunger. It appears that the mongoose which was around this area happened to roll on the ground where there were a few grains of flour. The flour was so sanctified by the charitable act of the family that half of the body of the mongoose turned a golden color.

The mongoose said that since then it has been roaming the earth to witness an equally charitable act to turn its other half of the body golden. When the assembly heard they were dumbstruck and realized the value of true charity.

Generosity does not depend on the monetary value but more on the intention to help and serve.

There is another interesting tale of Bodhidharma, a Buddhist monk, who lived during the 5th/6th century and transmitted Zen. Once he was asked by the Emperor Wu “What is the karmic merit I have earned for building monasteries and performing other charitable acts?”. To which Bodhidharma was supposed to have said “Absolutely none, whatsoever. Good deeds done with selfish intent bring no merit.”

By far the greatest act of charity is the virtue of forgiveness, the ability to pay back with goodwill to an act of transgression. As Shakespeare states, “Mercy is twice blest. It blesses him that gives and him that takes”

Charity must be done without any expectation. We should not even expect gratitude.
We should not feel that we are doing something noble. Charity does not mean only mean monetary assistance. It could also mean sharing of knowledge or giving moral support.

The virtue of charity requires us to be selfless while the performing the act. We should give from our hearts and expect nothing in return.

Charity is not determined by its magnitude but the magnanimity with which it is delivered.

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One thought on “The Essence of charity

  1. vegburger October 22, 2011 at 2:16 pm Reply

    Thank you. Great blog post! Speaking of the virtue of charity, please check out my latest post, Ode to Olive Oil 🙂

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