By Ashley Weeres
Webster’s dictionary defines charity as; “a spiritual love for others” or “generosity to the needy” or “alms given to the poor”. When many of us think of charity we think of foundations and charities such as the Red Cross or The Salvation Army. We think of giving to charity as a generous act, and we praise those who choose to do so. This is a Westernized view of charity and this ideology of charity has become quite prominent; its influences can be seen worldwide.
Canadian society is considered as mosaic society, it is comprised of many different cultures, religions and ideologies. For this reason it is important to understand how other cultures and religions view charity and charitable acts. This gives us a greater understanding of the fundamental values and religious beliefs of the members of our society regarding charity and charitable donations. This paper will explore the Hindu ideology of charity and highlight specific examples of this ideology at work.
In Western culture we quite often speak of charitable acts as acts of generosity, however, in Hindu tradition charitable acts are considered prerequisites to its followers. To Hindus acts of giving and charity, better known as Dana, are essential to ones Dharma, or religious duty. This means that Hindus are expected to give freely in order to ensure that they fulfill their Dharma. It is believed that this will ultimately have an effect on one’s Karma. Karma refers to the idea that “all thoughts and actions carry out consequences which must be faced in this life or the life to come”. Since they believe in reincarnation and that their actions in this life will affect their next life, it is made custom to give freely . Giving and charitable acts are thus made an essential aspect of Hindu tradition, culture, religion and life.
For Hindus acts of charity and giving are viewed as responsibilities, not as acts of generosity. Such acts of giving and charity are to first start at home, but of course are not inclusive to home life. The responsibility at home is to ensure that one’s extended family is well taken care of and have everything that they need. It is believed that “the wealth a person acquires is not for him [or] herself but for the wealth of one’s extended family and others”, this also includes the welfare of the state.
An example of charity and giving at home in Hindu tradition would include taking responsibility for one’s extended family members who were having trouble supporting themselves. It is believed that this should be done at just about any expense, such as “give up or compromise [one’s] personal goals for the sake of the family”. Giving for Hindus is not just the giving of monetary things or possessions, but also in extreme cases, dreams and aspirations. It is all for the good of the many, and not the individual.
While giving to the family is first priority for Hindus, this is not where giving is expected to end. Followers of Hinduism are expected to take a vested interest in the welfare of society, as well. An example of this is the sharing of food, better known to Hindus as Anna Dana. Anna Dana is considered to be an essential part of one’s dharma. This tradition calls Hindus to share their food with any unexpected visitors that may show up at their home. However, the Orthodox tradition calls for home owners not to partake in food, themselves, until they have offered said food to their dependants, deities, ancestors and the mendicant. A homeowner is expected to stand outside his or her home and announce, before each meal, ‘is anyone hungry? Please come to take your meal!’. This would be done three times, and only after that is done would the family eat, alone or with guests that have taken the offer of food.
Giving to family and the community are very important to Hindus, they are taught to “Give. Give with faith. Do not give without faith. Give with sensitivity. Give with a feeling of abundance. Give with right understanding.” While Hindus believe in giving to fulfill their dharma, it is important to remember that giving is at the core of their belief system. This is not something that they choose to do, but that they believe they must do, it is their duty.
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