“It is the duty of every living being to perform welfare activities for the benefit of others with his life, wealth, intelligence and words.” (Shrimad Bhagavatam, 10.22.35)
Charity is typically viewed as a noble activity; something worth taking up. Those who are charitable and enjoy the activity will naturally try to encourage others to follow suit, with the rewards for giving being peace, tranquility, and self-satisfaction. Though surely some will take to charity for the wrong reasons, those who expound on the gloriousness of the service do so because it has brought them great joy. If we find something in life that makes us happy, we like to share our experiences with our friends and family. It is precisely this desire, that of wanting to spread the greatest joy and wealth, that drives the ultimate welfare workers to perform the greatest benefit to all of society. While there may be differences of opinion as to which activities are enjoyable and what are not, the key distinction between a self-satisfied person and a perpetually frustrated one is consciousness. The most potent welfare activity is to use all our wealth, intelligence, and words towards helping others elevate their consciousness.
According to Vedic information – that sublime knowledge system passed down by Shri Krishna Himself in the illustrious Bhagavad-gita – charity can take on three different natures. Regardless of the mode, the act of giving remains unchanged, but the differences lie in the motivations of those doing the giving. The modes of charity match up directly with the modes of nature: goodness, passion, and ignorance. These modes can be thought of as mindsets, driving forces behind specific activities. If a person takes to charity for absolutely no good purpose, or worse, a nefarious one, that giving is deemed part of the mode of ignorance. It is titled as such because there is no benefit provided to anyone, either the giver or the receiver. A simple example of this type of charity is the donation of alcohol or intoxicants to a destitute man who is himself an addict. Such charity proves harmful to the receiver because it keeps them bound to their addiction, and it is equally as harmful to the giver because they have served as the impetus for the further drowning of the addicted man.
Charity given in the mode of passion has a desired personal benefit in mind. This practice is most prevalent in the business world. In order to impress a client or give their company a good image, a CEO will donate a large sum of money to a specific charity. In return, they will receive a plaque, t-shirt, or general recognition from the community which will boost their stature. In many instances, a large donation can get you a seat at the table with other key players in the business field. Since this behavior isn’t really much different from any other kind of fruitive activity belonging to the mode of passion, there is really no tangible benefit received by the giver.
“That gift which is given out of duty, at the proper time and place, to a worthy person, and without expectation of return, is considered to be charity in the mode of goodness.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 17.20)
Charity in the mode of goodness is given to the proper recipient, at the proper time, and without any expectation of reciprocation. Though one would be tempted to equate this type of charity to the monetary donations given to worthwhile causes such as disease research and aid for the downtrodden, there is another vital aspect to charity that must be present in order for the donation to be classified in the goodness category. The actual gift being given must be worthwhile to the receiver. For the gift to have a tangible value, the receiver must also be worthy of the charity offered to them.
To understand these concepts more clearly, we can go back to the example of giving alcohol to the addict. Initially we may think that such and such a person is not well off and thus any charity will be helping them. But in fact, our generous giving only makes their condition worse. A diseased patient is restricted from partaking of certain foods. If we were to think, “Oh, I will be magnanimous and kind to this person by giving them the nicest food. That will show that I am kind and compassionate.” While the attitude may be nice, the giving of prohibited foods can kill the patient. In this way, our so-called charitable nature can prove to be lethal.
So how do we determine who is a proper recipient and what they should be given? To decipher this, we must first understand who we are, the nature of our current predicament, and what steps are required to escape from it. The Vedas, the ancient scriptures of India, state that the root cause behind the existence of the material world is the desire of the wayward spirit souls to separate from their supreme loveable object: God. Though God is described in different terms depending on geographic location and spiritual tradition, His properties never change. He is all-encompassing and all-powerful in every area, especially enjoyment. Perfection in life is achieved when one realizes that God is the best friend of the living entities, the original owner of all worldly objects, and the ultimate enjoyer. This last aspect is the most important. For God to enjoy, He must have others around who give Him pleasure. This is where our services are best rendered.
As individual sparks emanating from the original powerhouse, we are meant to always be in association with the Supreme Energetic. Since this most powerful entity is the greatest enjoyer and one who gives the most pleasure to others, His original name is Krishna. Lord Krishna has a transcendental form which is full of bliss and knowledge. The material world, a realm where the tiny fragmental spiritual sparks known as individuals are separated from the Lord, is considered a miserable place. The aim of life thus becomes to remove oneself from the temporary separated status by rekindling the dormant love for Krishna. The key to achieving success is changing one’s consciousness.
Religion and spirituality are often associated with dresses, functions, rites, rituals, and regulations. While these aspects certainly do help the conditioned soul return to the spiritual world, the glue that holds everything together is consciousness. More than anything else, it is one’s mindset that determines their happiness and their fate in life. We can think of it in this way: Let’s say we have two people who are in the same position. They are both sitting on a couch inside of a room. From our perspective as an outsider, we can only see each person sitting down and nothing else; we can’t see their surroundings. One person is in an empty room, while the other is sitting in front of a television. After a few hours, we’ll notice that one person looks quite unhappy and agitated, while the other looks very content. They are both in the exact same situation, but one person is being entertained by television, while another is not. Since their physical dispositions are exactly the same, we can conclude that the only difference is in consciousness. One person’s mind is being stimulated and entertained by visual images and sounds, while the other’s is left to ponder the emptiness of the surrounding room.
This one example can be expanded out on a larger scale to show that the key to happiness and enjoyment is consciousness. We may be able to remove obvious sources of distress such as disease, poverty, and family infighting, but the individual will still be left with their mind and time. Time is the greatest agent for change, for it is always working at diminishing whatever favorable or unfavorable conditions we find ourselves in. Even if we have accumulated the greatest amount of wealth and material possessions, we can still be left unsatisfied, as the mind will always want more and more. Thus we see that in any and all situations time and consciousness remain the predominant forces.
The key to enjoyment is to shift to a permanent consciousness, wherein one can perform any activity, at any time, and still remain satisfied. For the mind to be satisfied, it must focus on something which provides the greatest amount of pleasure. Not surprisingly, that person is Krishna, or God. This brings us to the ultimate activity in life, the only discipline worth taking up. Bhakti-yoga, or devotional service, aims to keep one’s consciousness always fixed on Krishna. Through acts of hearing, remembering, worshiping, and offering prayers, one can remain in steady contact with Krishna. For the people of this age, the easiest and most effective method of purifying consciousness is the regular chanting of the holy names of the Lord, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”.
The effectiveness of chanting is multi-faceted. For starters, it can be performed anywhere and at any time. Secondly, it takes care of the hearing process at the same time; a practice which is the most effective for acquiring knowledge and intelligence. Knowledge and renunciation are two byproducts that automatically come with bhakti. Whatever information we need to help us in life can be automatically gained through taking to bhakti. The same holds true for renunciation from those activities which are deemed the most harmful to us, such as intoxication, illicit sex, and meat eating.
Since chanting can be performed out loud, anywhere and at any time, the person doing the chanting essentially becomes a giver. In order for there to be a donor, there must be a receiver. Since the effectiveness of chanting lies with hearing, the receivers are those who hear the sweet transcendental sound vibrations emanating from the chanter. Simply hearing the sounds of Krishna’s names is enough to bring one to the transcendental plane of consciousness. In this way, we see that the greatest welfare activity is to bring the fallen souls of this age to the platform of Krishna consciousness through steady chanting and dedication to bhakti-yoga.
Since the material world is full of frustration, there are times when we will not want to be charitable. For example, if we have a bad experience with a rude person or someone who cheats us, we might be tempted to voice such sentiments as “I hate people” to ourselves. This simple phrase sums up the attitude of frustration and the isolation that results from it. The “I hate people” mindset results in less interaction with others, and thus less of a chance for helping our fellow man.
“That knowledge by which one undivided spiritual nature is seen in all existences, undivided in the divided, is knowledge in the mode of goodness.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 18.20)
If we apply a little intelligence, however, we’ll realize that one or two bad apples shouldn’t skewer our view of everyone else. In the grand scheme of things, everyone is the same, for we all are spirit souls who are meant to be lovers of God. Sometimes it is difficult to take to charity because we may not want to help our fellow man. Either we feel that everyone is mean, or that they have enough to get by on their own. Even if we do help them, maybe they won’t be grateful for our service.
To those whose angle of vision has been corrected through ascension to the Krishna consciousness platform, everyone in society becomes eligible for rescue through the sound vibrations of Krishna’s names. No other welfare activity carries this property. Helping the downtrodden in a material sense is certainly nice, but not everyone is destitute. Moreover, ordinary charitable activity requires a means test, wherein the donor must take stock of which persons are needy and which ones aren’t. Similar tests for eligibility are also present in other ventures such as finding cures for diseases and helping those who are pushing a political cause.
Since bhakti-yoga is the natural disposition of the soul, everyone is eligible to adopt it as their way of life. Only the sweet, benevolent, and liberated devotee of the Lord adopts the “I love people” mindset and truly means it. What to say of ordinary people, the lover of Krishna is even benevolent to the animal kingdom, including the cows and ants. The devotee benefits others with their words by only speaking about Krishna and bhakti-yoga and by regularly chanting His names. The bhakta, the sincere servant of the Supreme Pleasurable, utilizes their knowledge towards serving others by regularly speaking of the supremacy of the sublime engagement of devotional service and by cutting down the bogus philosophies of the gross materialists who take their paltry enjoyment to be superior. The Vaishnava, the devotee of Vishnu [Krishna], benefits society by using their wealth only for the satisfaction of Krishna. Money is required to do anything significant in life, so the devotee doesn’t shun wealth or monetary gains. Rather, they use everything at their disposal towards furthering the cause of universal brotherhood, peace, and love brought on by the bhakti mindset.
“For one who explains the supreme secret to the devotees, devotional service is guaranteed, and at the end he will come back to Me. There is no servant in this world more dear to Me than he, nor will there ever be one more dear.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 18.68-69)
As mentioned before, charity must be given to the right person and at the right time. The objects being given must also be of value to the recipient. Under the “I love people” mindset, the bhakta takes to charity that is always in line with the scriptures. For those who are not yet firmly convinced of the supremacy of bhakti-yoga and the futility of life without Krishna, helping out the noble servants of God, the dedicated preachers, is a great way to take to charity. Such sacrifice is always timely and never goes in vain. Since the Vaishnavas are the representatives of the Lord in this world, they are like a giant tree from which branches of knowledge, intelligence, and good fortune sprout. Therefore anyone who regularly waters this tree will surely be benefitted, for the Lord will take very kindly to such a person.