By Abby Rolland
Western culture has come to know philanthropy and giving as acts of generosity bestowed upon others less fortunate by those who personally choose to make a contribution to society. The intention of the charitable act is simply to better their community and perhaps improve themselves as individuals in a positive, altruistic way. Those seeking to make such charitable donations, be it personal time or financial aid, are offering it unconditionally, with no expectations for anything in return, but understandably still receive the feeling of gratification that undeniably accompanies such an act.
In the Hindu religion, also known as ‘Sanatana Dharma’ and East Indian culture, the act of giving (called ‘dana’) is part of the belief which teaches that good will come to those who give while here on earth and continuing even after death. The belief is also that philanthropy “brings name, fame, recognition, and prosperity to the giver and his/her family in the here and now and enhances the quality of life for them after death”. ‘Karma’ is commonly referred to in the teachings of generosity in Hinduism. ‘Karma’ means that all thoughts and actions, both positive and negative will have consequences in this lifetime or another.
Dharma, religious duties, includes giving of food to help others in need. This particular form of giving is referred to as ‘anna dana’. Any unexpected guest should be offered food on any occasion, not to mention special occasions where anna dana is practised on a more bountiful extent. In some cases, a special meal is prepared for the less fortunate, or a donation is made to a charity in memory of a passed loved one.
For the most part, North Americans have other reasons for giving to those in need. These reasons are not as much religious or cultural expectations or obligations as they are personal and moral choices. These usually include understanding the needs of others and true compassion and empathy toward those who go without, as well as the idea that if roles were reversed, they would like to know others would reach out and help them in their time of need.
It seems that though Hinduism and its cultural expectations may be just as charitable and may even have higher demands of their people to give, their intentions aren’t necessarily selfless as those of the Western world.
Perhaps, however, the obligation to give, which is embedded in those of Hindu cultures, results in a greater number of charitable acts than the amount of donations resulting from the mere hope that individuals will give out of the good of their hearts, as Westerners hope and pray for. Though the freedom to choose what, when, and who to support is something Westerners value, perhaps too many individuals choose not to offer their time volunteering or financial aide at all, since there are no expectations or obligations.