By Sheesha He, New Age Islam
04 June 2018
Something quite fascinating that you might
yourself have experienced is how our understanding of some of our basic
concepts can drastically change as we go through more of life. For instance, it
is possible that the way we now understand things like Love, Happiness,
Education, Progress, Development, the Purpose of Life or Religion—issues that
we might regard as really fundamental to our existence—are quite different from
how we used to understand them when we were younger.
One concept on which my thinking has
changed considerably over the years is Charity.
Many years ago, I used to think of myself
as very charitable because I used to generously give away to people who I
thought were poor things that I had but did not want or like: a pair of
trousers that no longer fitted me, perhaps a shirt someone had gifted me that I
would never wear, kitchen things that I would never use—stuff like that.
It didn’t strike me then, but much of my
‘charity’ at that time was self-serving: besides making me feel good about
myself for being ‘kind’, giving away things that I didn’t like or need was like
clearing away unwanted trash and making my cupboard easier to manage.
In this phase of my life, when charity for
me was mainly giving away unwanted things to people I thought were economically
needy, I don’t remember once thinking of spending money to buy something new
and nice for a poor person as a gift. Had that thought occurred to me, I might
have quickly dismissed it as a waste of money.
As the years passed, my understanding of
charity gradually expanded to giving money to people in need and financially
supporting various good causes. But still, even at this stage, charity for me was something that
was basically economic—it was mainly about giving away things to people or
giving out money. A major reason for this was that I saw the world and its
manifold problems and even human life and its purpose in largely economic
terms. To put it in another way, maybe it was because I was
materialistically-minded that I thought that the best way one could be
charitable towards others was materially—by helping them in cash or kind.
The years rolled on and I saw and
experienced more of life. I met some inspiring people and read many inspiring
books. Along with this, my understanding of charity underwent a further
transformation. I grew in my understanding that charity wasn’t just about
helping people with money and material things. Nor was this necessarily the
best form of help. There were many, many other ways of being charitable. I also
came to realise also that charity isn’t something that one can do for only
people who are economically poor. One can be charitable to every person—rich or
poor (in economic terms). In fact, one can be charitable to non-human
creatures, and even to supposedly inanimate things.
Over time, one non-economic form of charity
that I learnt about was what was reflected in the lives of people who offered
themselves (and not just their money or material possessions) in charity you
could say, for the sake of suffering sentient beings (humans and others). These
included the great spiritual Masters—men and women of God—whose ‘charity’ was
to convey spiritual truths to people so that they could lead a truly meaningful
life, in this world and the hereafter. Their example illustrated how sharing
spiritual wisdom with others (while also living it out in one’s own life) is a
great form of charity.
Gradually, I also began to learn that
giving one’s time to others who need it can also be a form of charity. Donating
things one doesn’t want or signing a cheque for a cause may not always be easy,
but sharing even just a bit of one’s time with someone in need is often a much
more difficult and demanding type of charity. Over the years, I’ve had the good
fortune of meeting several people who
are extremely charitable in this sense: among them, an elderly man who helps
children in a slum with their studies, a
volunteer at a home for the mentally-challenged and a visually-challenged man
who worked for free at a counselling centre. And then there is this friend of
mine who generously gives her time to me when I need her help.
As I’ve grown out of my very restricted
understanding of charity, which was defined solely by economics and focussed
only on people who I thought were economically needy, I’m beginning to
understand that charity is a much wider thing than I had once imagined. Human
beings have various types or levels of needs other than just economic or
physical—such as spiritual, intellectual, emotional and psychological
needs. And any service freely rendered
to people with the right intention on one or more of these levels can be a form
of charity. Any good deed that helps another person—even smiling at someone or
greeting a stranger—can be charity.
And charity doesn’t have to stop at human
beings. We can be charitable to other forms or species of life too. Giving a
biscuit to a hungry dog, watering a thirsty plant or picking up an insect on a
path so that no one stamps it are some ways for us to be charitable. Deciding
to eat a little less for one day a week or consciously reducing our electricity
consumption can be an act of charity towards the Earth by consuming less of its
Seen in this way, our every day can be
filled with many charitable deeds, because each day we are faced with numerous
situations where we can be charitable in different ways!
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