In the legendary and epic Masanvi of Rumi, there’s a beautiful, albeit a little immodest, tale of a pauper and a miser.

On a hot Arabic summer day, a frail and an old beggar knocked on a rich man’s door in the hope of alms. Seeing his pitiable state, he was let in by the guards and asked to wait in the verandah.

As soon as the owner of the house came, the beggar pleaded, “Please, sir, can you spare me a piece of bread?”
“What do you think,” the owner scolded him, “this is a bakery?”
“Just one bowl of flour?” he asked with hope.
“Do you see anything here that tells you that this is a flour mill?” the miser mocked.
“Please give me even a leftover piece of meat,” the beggar persisted.
“Get out of here,” the miser shouted. “You think it’s a butcher’s shop?”
“Sorry for troubling you, sir,” the beggar said while leaving, “can I at least have a glass of water?”
“Do you see a river flowing here?”

The owner ordered his guards to throw the old man out.
“Wait!” the beggar waved.
Before they could stop him, he rushed inside the home and began urinating.

Rumi continues poetically:

The owner, almost speechless with shock, shouted ‘hey!’,
‘Since this place is clearly a ruin,’ came the gruff reply,

‘Where nothing is to be found of any worth at all,
It will at least serve to answer nature’s call.

The message here I will make quite clear to you.
Since not a falcon, royally trained hunting to do,

Nor a peacock designed to please and charm the eye,
Nor a parrot gifted with speech that makes one sigh;

Nor a nightingale in the garden making lover’s cry,
Nor a messenger hoopoe, nor stork nesting on high;

Then exactly what quality is it that you possess,
That anyone would wish from you to purchase?

While I appreciate neither the beggar’s nor the owner’s conduct, I quite like the message in the story. Nature is full of beautiful and useful creatures. It has trees, plants, birds and animals that serve a purpose in the divine and intricate play of survival and sustenance. Unlike a peacock, parrot, or a nightingale, says Rumi, we have no special gifts. So, what value are we adding to the world? And, if we have not the heart to part with a tiny portion of what we have then of what good is our life?

My focus today is charity. If you take a somewhat mystical view then it’s not even possible to do charity because whatever we have in possession is something we have taken from someone else. We may call it bona fide earning or a noble exchange, yet, the truth remains that everything we have is simply a private accumulation of what was already there in the society. I’m not suggesting that you are not the rightful owner or that you should give it all away, but at the same time, charity is a deeply spiritual act.

Charity is not just measured in monetary donations. Compassion too is charity as is empathy. When you help someone in any which way you can, you are exercising charity. It could be as simple as helping a lady stow her luggage in the overhead compartment on the plane, or giving that window seat to the child next to you. Giving a smile to the one who hurt you is charity too as is sharing your bread.

Interestingly, not surprisingly though, thesauri list the following synonyms for the word charity. Compassion, kindness, sympathy, kind-heartedness, graciousness, consideration, concern, tolerance, leniency. When you practice or feel any of these, you are exercising charity.

Charity is not an expense or a gift. It is your contribution to the society. If you ask me, it is every person’s social and moral obligation. Besides, what you have stored in you can only be known from what you give out. Whether you have love, money, arrogance, anger, compassion or kindness, you’ll give out what you have in you.

Just like you save money, bit by bit and every penny adds up, similarly, every little act of kindness counts. Every small gesture of compassion boosts your spiritual savings. Because, that’s what charity is: it’s your spiritual savings account. When you need peace and inner strength, you draw from this account. It is where your good karma is recorded.

A man who was born into a very rich family led an extravagant and self-centered life rarely ever giving out anything in charity. From farmhouses to penthouses and everything in between, he owned many properties. When he died and crossed over to the other world, he was allotted a small cell to live in. He could barely lie down in there.

“There must be a mistake,” he protested. “I was born in a mansion and had all the luxuries on earth. Why suddenly this pigeonhole for my living space? Did my good karma exhaust or what?”
“Well,” the angel said, “we built whatever we could from whatever you sent us.”

While your charity may not be funding your mansion in the heavens, it is certainly building your wealth in the other world. And by “other world”, I’m not alluding to some celestial plane but your own inner world of emotions, your spiritual world of blessings. If you can’t donate money, if you can’t tithe, then consider giving away your old clothes, or something. If nothing, at least offer kind words to others. Be gentle.

Here’s charity in a nutshell: Help whenever, wherever, however and whoever you can. With whatever you can sensibly spare.

Make no mistake, charity is not an ordinary act but a position of immense privilege (read here). Reflect on it and you’ll discover what a blessing it is to be able to give something back to our world.

Peace.
Swami


Editorial Note

To anyone wanting to evolve and become a far better version of themselves, spiritual wealth holds much more water than materialistic wealth. And one of the easiest ways to build your spiritual wealth? Charity.

You may have heard of the saying, “Charity begins at home.” While we often picture charity as a grand display of kindness for the world, the truth is that how we treat our loved ones is how we will eventually end up treating the world.

Do you find yourself flaring up at your parents? Or constantly bickering with your spouse? Ask yourself if you are being charitable with your words. Perhaps your house help requires an advance on her monthly salary or wants a raise. Are you willing to part with your earnings for someone who probably has a greater requirement than you?

In these moments, choose charity over disparity. Become an embodiment of love for you are not just performing charity but a deeply spiritual act of mercy.

 

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The FAQs below offer you more perspectives, including an in-depth understanding of how ultimately, in charity, it is not the thought but the action that counts. After all –

The smallest act of kindness is worth more than the grandest intention. – Oscar Wilde

What does it mean to be a truly charitable person?

Many a time, the reciprocation we seek from doing good for others does not come through. Either the other person doesn’t appreciate what you are doing for him or her, they don’t care, or maybe they just don’t know any better. When we feel that we are not being acknowledged for our efforts, charity or nobility, we start to feel annoyed.

Your spiritual wealth 1

What if we turned the tables? Maybe if I changed my perspective on charity, compassion and serving others, most of my problems might disappear. Often, if not always, we are simply the medium.

When you give without expectations (it’s not easy but certainly doable), Nature will bless you without reservations. When you don’t hold back, it won’t hold back either. After all, charity offered with gratitude is a spiritual act whereas charity with expectations is merely a trade.

Such a charitable person is blessed with not just compassion but spiritual richness and spiritual health.

Continue reading about how to give without expectations.

What’s the point of being kind?

We may think how will a little act change the world, but it does. Every action counts. Every drop matters. Every thought matters. We tend to think that to change the world, we need something grand happening at a massive scale. So massive and so grand that it’s clearly beyond one person or a small group of people.

Your spiritual wealth 2

The truth, however, is that nothing would happen if everyone thought that someone else would do it, or what difference would a small act make. It does, it will. Always has. Whether a mound or a mountain of sand, they are made up of tiny grains. If we took away one grain at a time, there’ll be a moment when nothing will be left.

While kindness is not charity, your kind words and actions will certainly help for every kind act is a deposit in your bank account of spiritual wealth and spiritual health, it all adds up. If everyone produces enough compassion, the GDP of kindness will go up automatically.

Continue reading about why kindness matters with the help of a beautiful Tenali Rama story.

What should motivate people to practise charity?

In this transient life, in our temporary world, the only true deal is the deal of charity. It’s the most profitable transaction. Be kind, be selfless. Whatever you embark on will lead to success then. Dust will turn into diamonds in your hands. Your mere touch will turn iron into gold — you’ll become a touchstone.

Your spiritual wealth 3

Your plans won’t fail, your words will come to pass. How come, you may wonder? Because Nature can’t afford, much less dare, to mess with a selfless person.

Life gives you a million opportunities to be selfless and to practise compassion on countless occasions. Trust me, utilize every one of them. That’s all that will matter in the final analysis, that’s all that will go with you — your karma, that’s all that will give you peace, fulfillment and spiritual health.

Continue reading about that most profitable deal of all – charity.

Does charity truly begin at home?

You won’t discover the beauty of your existence or plumb the depths of your heart, until you open yourself up to new ways of thinking. To take a flight into the unchartered universe of consciousness with that heightened awareness, you simply have to look at the world from a different perspective.

And that’s what spiritual attainment is at the end of the day: gaining a new viewpoint so you may live in the same world and yet interpret life differently. It begins by respecting yourself and those around you, by practicing loving kindness, by being humble.

If you cannot be kind to the ones you love, of what use is any other form of kindness? Charity begins at home.

Continue reading Beware of Dogs, highlighting how we treat guests nowadays. Does charity shine a light in our hearts any longer?


What are the different types of charity?

Most of us think that the biggest form of charity is donation through money. But do you know the truth is actually very far from that? The video below highlights the different types of charity and what true charity actually is.

Timeline:

  • 0:09: The basis of charity
  • 1:03: The biggest form of charity
  • 1:53: The three forms of money
  • 2:25: Uttam – Charity (Daan)
  • 3:37: Madhyam – Consumption (Bhog)
  • 10:20: Adham – Destruction (Naash)
  • 13:50: We know where we stand