Category Archives: charity

Mirror, mirror on the wall ….

Here is some interesting food for thought. Do give it some thought and let me know what your thoughts on this are?

One can do service to humanity in many ways. Is there some particular path that is most meritorious?

Everybody has a view of the world. People take to different paths based on their own value system. What would your opinion be, on the best way to perform service to humanity? What is the best way to give back to society?

In this regard let us look at 5 different pursuits of people

The philanthropist and the altruist: These people usually are the benevolent rich. These people serve the society through the millions that they have rightly earned. A large portion of the ills of society like hunger, malnutrition, diseases, clean drinking water, and sanitation needs large funds. The philanthropists create foundations to address the key issues of the society. Some of the notable philanthropists’ are Bill Gates, Warren Buffet, Azim Premji to name a few. Coming from the corporate side they bring a wealth of management techniques besides their large funds

The spiritual leader: Spiritual leaders typically provide wisdom to people. Spiritual leaders provide comfort and advice to people suffering mentally. The words of these leaders provide solace to a large number of people during their darkest hours. The words and advice is like a soothing balm to these tortured souls. They provide ways and techniques to lead a proper life. The Dalai Lama, the Pope, the Shankaracharyas   are example of this class of people.

The Social Worker: This is another class of people. They people put their heart and soul in addressing the evils of society. Whether it is the caste problem, child labor or fighting for the rights of the underprivileged the social worker works relentlessly to bring the injustices of society to light. They toil with their sweat and are tireless in their efforts. Some ardent social workers have also lost their lives in trying to fight the evils forces of society.

The Techno-Scientist: The Techno-scientist are another class of people. They do not work directly for the people. But their creations can impact a large class of people. Imagine a scientist who is able to genetically create varieties of cheap rice or wheat which can reduce hunger or a technologist who invents a technique for cleaner and cheaper sanitation. A cure for cancer or AIDS would save millions of lives. Technologists and scientists whose inventions and discoveries impact a large section of people are another class of people.

Artists,musicians,actors,sportsman: This class provide entertainment and are a major source of inspiration. The musicians through their music, sportsmen through their excellent achievements, the painter with an inspired piece relieve us from the drudgery of human existence. They are a very important class of people.

Which profession is the noblest? Which is the best pursuit in life?

I personally think all pursuits are fine. To some it may appear that a spiritual leader is the highest and noblest of all pursuits because they provide relief to the tortured spirit of humanity, I would like to say that a philanthropist who attacks issues like starvation and diseases is also doing yeoman service. Spiritual solace or wisdom are meaningless to the millions of starving or poverty stricken people in India or Africa. Similarly a social worker who fights for the rights of the downtrodden is as great as the techno-scientist who makes our lives better, more convenient or discovers drugs that solve virulent diseases.

I would prefer to look at this through the lens of utilitarianism which proposes that the best pursuit is one which provides maximum benefit to the maximum number.

What are your thoughts?

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Be self-centered, smart and generous!

We often hear people telling us that we need to be selfless. I would personally advocate a strong self-centered view of oneself in life. Even before “Charity begins at home” I would like to state that “Charity begins with self”.

We need to take a long and hard look at ourselves. We need to look at our personal health and personal wealth, our professional and social standing. If we are lacking in any of these fields then we need to address it.

While a self-centered view may appear selfish, in fact it is the smart way to live life. Unless we are fighting fit, we will never be able to help anyone.

Personal health is of paramount importance, so hit the gym, pump irons, cut the fat and sugar. Make sure that you are healthy.

Then work towards making some real money. Personally I don’t think there is anything wrong in wanting to be a multi-millionaire. Go for it!  Be enterprising and identify ways to make wads of money. Focus on your net worth and make plans to triple or quadruple it in equal number of years or less. It is not sinful to make money as long as you don’t compromise on your principles.

Now focus on your professional health. When it comes to professional matters it really requires street smarts and a savvy to deal with your subordinates, peers and superiors. Make all the right moves.  Invest in the right education. Be career conscious. All your bright ideas will come to naught if you do not have the power to execute them. It is possible to rise in your career in a principled way. Be hungry at your work place and never miss out on any opportunity.

Next determine your social health. Make the right moves to move up the social ladder. In this age of social media there are multiple avenues to network. So network all the way. Become an influencer in the social world.

All of the above checks have to be done regularly. This would only happen if you are sufficiently self-centered. You will need to make progress in each of the above fields through a combination of street smarts, common sense and savvy.

With a reasonable amount of time you should be able to achieve a fair deal of the target you set for yourself.

Finally be generous. Make sure that you use all your achievements whether it is wealth, power or influence for improving the plight of those in need. Your impact to the world will be greater only if you have the necessary resources. You can only build your resources  by being self-centered.

Without creating your own resources of wealth, power or influence you will only be able to do “random acts of kindness”. If you really want to make a consistent and regular contribution to the needy, or get involved in some major philanthropy,  the best way to get started is by being self-centered and smart.

So go ahead and do a “Warren Buffet or a Bill Gates”.

Be self-centered, smart and generous!

The difficulty of altruism

All of us have altruistic urges, to a larger or smaller extent. But there is usually only a small part of us that is kind. However being consistently and uniformly altruistic is rare and fairly non-existent even among so called swamis and holy men.

 

The lopsided altruism: Most of us practice lopsided altruism. There are some who would not bat an eyelid in shelling out money to a charitable organization – to orphans, to the hungry and the needy. Yet these very same people will find it difficult to be charitable in their nature to their relatives or a colleague. They will be unkind, rude and biased. On the other hand there are those who will be generous to their near and dear ones. They will make sure that their family, relatives and dear ones get their full attention. However they will turn a blind eye to the destitute and the really needy.

 

The generosity oxymoron: We are expected to give without even the expectation of gratitude. However we generally tend to feel pleased with ourselves and our own perceived nobility. In fact some people even go to the extent of comparing themselves mentally and feel that they are superior in generosity. This is an oxymoron. There is never more generosity. It is as meaningless as being “more pure”.

 

Ego vs. altruism: This is another bind we typically get into. For e,g. if there is another who is also morally responsible for something then our altruism will depend on whether the other person is equally altruistic as we perceive ourselves to be. For e.g. if there is a village which can benefit from increased funding we will feel that we can give only if all responsible parties also give. Closer to home it is common for a spouse to ignore their child if their significant other ignores the child. In these cases the ego gets in the way and the child or the village suffers. It is better that we get rid of our egoism and give regardless of whether anybody else does or not.

 

While all of us have an altruistic and generous nature out pettiness often gets in the way. Generosity of heart has to be practiced till it becomes a habit. It requires a lot of thought to keep us broad minded and truly generous.

Parallel philosophies of Lord Krishna and Christ

There are many parallels in the philosophies of Lord Krishna as mentioned in the  Bhagavad Gita and Jesus Christ in the Bible. This post highlights some of the parallels below

Christ: Judge not, lest ye be judged. Condemn not, lest ye be condemned.

Lord Krishna: Enlightened men are those who see the same in a Brahmana with learning, a cow, an elephant or a dog. In other words the yogi does not form opinions or judgments about others. A true yogi treats all persons with the same footing.

Christ: Love your enemy. Bless those who curse you. Pray for those who treat you with disdain.

Lord Krishna: A true yogi is unaffected by praise or criticism. By always dwelling in the Atman he is unruffled by hatred, contempt or anger.  According to the Gita, a true yogi is a person who is expansive in his heart. He has risen above the joy that comes from praise or the hurt that comes from bitter criticism

Christ: Thekingdom ofGod cometh not with observation. For behold, the kingdom of the God is within you.

Lord Krishna: Above the senses, the mind, the intellect is the Atman which is within you. In the Upanishad’s this is also mentioned as “Tat tvam asi”, “Thou art that”.  The Atman is inside you and we become aware of it through self-inquiry.

Christ: You cannot serve God and Mammon at the same. Here Mammon refers to the desire for wealth.

Lord Krishna:  Perform niskama-karma or desireless action. Offer all the fruits of your action to God. Rise above desires and passion. Lord Krishna in the Gita enjoins us to rise above the rajasic nature of passion to a sattvic nature of principled living.

Though the words were different Lord Krishna and Jesus Christ were saying the same thing.

A yardstick for life!

Is there a yardstick with which we can measure our lives. In his extremely thought provoking and insightful article “How will you measure your life?” Clayton M. Christensen, the Harvard Business School professor,  provides this extremely useful yardstick. He says “Don’t worry about the level of individual prominence you have achieved; worry about the individuals you have helped become better people.”

What an extraordinary statement to make? We, as individuals, tend to measure our success in life based on achievement of personal glory, power, personal wealth etc. But what is really required for happiness and enduring satisfaction in our lives is in what way we are able to make the lives of those around us just a little better. This is truly a noble endeavor.

It does not mean that that the only way we can influence others is through charity. While charity can help there are possible several other ways in which we can help others. For e.g we could use our learning to educate. We could provide moral support to those who lack in confidence. We could spend some time in making happy those who are terminally ill or have some debilitating  disease. There are several ways that we can extend our help and care for those around us.

But typically what happens is that we lead very self-centered lives. We are in a race to make the most money, grab a chuck of power, look to garner personal glory. We live a life that is self-centered all the time.

We may achieve success by way of fame,power and wealth but in the long run it may not give you as much a glow of satisfaction as helping others lead better lives.

We need to shift the focus of our lives from ourselves to those around us. That way we will lead
a far more fulfilling life!

Sermon on the Mount – Truly sublime

Jesus Christ’s Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:3- 5:48) and (Luke 6:20 – 6:49) is truly sublime in its grandeur. The sermon is awe inspiring and truly majestic in its depth, breadth and philosophical import. The sermon is based on the two fundamental pillars of love and mercy.  Christ says that harboring anger against anyone as condemnable as murder itself.  One does not need to commit an act to transgress righteous behavior. Evil thoughts by themselves are themselves heinous. Hence hatred, lust, contempt or jealousy is bad in itself. In fact Christ goes on to say “Judge not, lest ye be judged!”   We have no right to criticize, pass judgments or opinions about others when we are less than perfect ourselves. There is no point criticizing about the “mote” in another’s eye when you have “beam” in your own eye.

The central point of Christ’s teachings is the need to repay with kindness any act of hatred towards you. This is contrary to the tit-for-tat and the eye for an eye we generally tend to react. For he says “for whosoever smites thy right cheek, turn to him the other also” and give, give freely to anybody who asks anything of you. With regard to charity Christ says “thy left hand should not know what thy right hand is doing”. There is no need to trumpet about one’s generosity and one’s kindness. This is similar to the Gita’s teaching which requires us to involve ourselves in charity without any regard to the expectations or fruits whatsoever.

Where the sermon truly sweeps you off your feet is where Christ asks to instead of loving our neighbor and hating our enemy to “Love your enemies, bless those who curse you, pray for those who despise and persecute you”.  This is truly contrary to mankind’s years and years of conditioning where we react with animosity towards people we hate. We react with anger to insults and contempt. Christ asks to repay with love and kindness all acts of enmity and hatred.

With regard to forgiveness and mercy Christ’s response to Peter who asks him “how many times should I  forgive my brother if he sins against me. Seven times?”  To this Jesus says “Seventy times seven”. This is clearly a figure of speech and the crux is that we have to forgive and show mercy always and as many times as needed, simply because “so likewise shall my heavenly father do also unto you”. As human beings we err many times in our lives and God forgives us always.

What is really inspiring about the Sermon on the Mount is its all encompassing love and forgiveness that it preaches. Rather than behaving with anger and hatred towards people we hate, as we are programmed to react, we are encouraged to show mercy and behave with love and compassion. It really brings forth our human side of nature. The Sermon on the Mount is truly awe inspiring.

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.