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Are you helping the right person in the right way? || Acharya Prashant, on Bhagwad Gita (2020)
Author Acharya Prashant
Acharya Prashant
18 min
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दातव्यमिति यद्दानं दीयतेऽनुपकारिणे ।

देशे काले च पात्रे च तद्दानं सात्त्विकं स्मृतम् ।। 17.20 ।।

dātavyam iti yad dānaṁ dīyate ‘nupakāriṇe

deśhe kāle cha pātre cha tad dānaṁ sāttvikaṁ smṛitam

“To give is right” – gift given with this idea, to who does no service in return, in a fit place and to a worthy person, that gift is held to be Sāttvika.

~ Shrimad Bhagavad Gita, Chapter 17, Verse 20

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यत्तु प्रत्युपकारार्थं फलमुद्दिश्य वा पुन: ।

दीयते च परिक्लिष्टं तद्दानं राजसं स्मृतम् ।। 17.21 ।।

yat tu pratyupakārārthaṁ phalam uddiśhya vā punaḥ

dīyate cha parikliṣhṭaṁ tad dānaṁ rājasaṁ smṛitam

And what is given with a view to receiving in return, or looking for the fruit, or again reluctantly, that gift is held to be Rājasika.

~ Shrimad Bhagavad Gita, Chapter 17, Verse 21

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अदेशकाले यद्दानमपात्रेभ्यश्च दीयते ।

असत्कृतमवज्ञातं तत्तामसमुदाहृतम् ।। 17.22 ।।

adeśha-kāle yad dānam apātrebhyaśh cha dīyate

asat-kṛitam avajñātaṁ tat tāmasam udāhṛitam

The gift that is given at the wrong place or time, to unworthy persons, without regard or with disdain, that is declared to be Tāmsika.

~ Shrimad Bhagavad Gita, Chapter 17, Verse 22

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Questioner (Q): Whenever it is possible, I do my best to be of any help to the ones who are in need. How do I know to which category of charity my offering lies?

Also, how does charity help in the path of spirituality? Please also help me to understand, to identify what is not the wrong time, place, and person for charity.

Acharya Prashant (AP): Good. So, here in these verses, Shri Krishna is outlining three categories of Dān or charity.

Anything that is happening in the domain of the ego, anything that involves a doer, is in the domain of Prakriti. And since it is in the domain of Prakriti, therefore, it will be circumscribed by the three guṇas of Prakriti. There is nothing that is happening in Prakriti and does not display attributes related to sāt, rāj and tām.

So, for example, if your love is prakritik, as attraction happens in Prakriti, then this so-called love will fall under one of the three categories—sat, rāj or tām. And then there can be a transcendental love as well, that is beyond Prakriti.

Similarly, in chapter 17, yagya, tap and dān, all these have been elaborated to have sāttvika, rājasika, tāmsika properties, or attributes, or guṇas. And Sri Krishna has gone on to describe what the Sāttvika kind of charity is, what the rājasika one is, and what the tāmsika one is. This question pertains to that.

The questioner is saying, “Whenever it is possible, I do my best to be of help to the ones who are in need. How do I know which category of charity my offering lies from the above verses?”

You see, when you think that somebody is in need, first of all, it is not the other one that you should look at. First of all, you should be cautious of your value system, your decision-making process that tells you that ‘the other is in need’, because the very definition of ’need’ is quite subjective. You are the subject, not the other one. The other one is the object of your perception. The very definition of need depends on you, not on the other person. If you change and your definitions change, then the object of your charity too would immediately change.

How to know what kind of charity are you exhibiting? As Shri Krishna says here, “Are you giving with no concern for results at all?” Then, it is Sāttvika charity. You are just giving; you are just giving.

I will repeat the particular verse, “To give is right; gift given with this idea, to one who does no service in return, in a fit place and to a worthy person, that gift is held to be Sāttvika.”

The only thing that drives you is the knowledge that ‘to gift is right’. It is in fulfilment of your Kartavya, or Dharmā, or duty that you are giving without any expectation of any returns that you will get from that person.

And, “In a fit place and to a worthy person, that gift is held to be Sāttvika.”

In the Sāttvika category, knowledge rules. So, first of all, you have the knowledge, as the scriptures have taught you, that giving is a great thing. So, you give. And the scriptures have taught you, you must not be looking for any kind of returns from the person who has been just gifted by you. So, you don’t expect anything from that, and all credits to you, because it is a prakritik tendency to think of something in return when you are offering something to somebody. And if you overcome that tendency, then it’s a wonderful thing you have done already.

And then, “In a fit place and to a worthy person.”

In the sāttvika domain, fitness of a person is again determined by the scriptural injunctions. The scriptures will tell you that such and such person is fit. For example, if a warrior is there who wants to collect your charity for the sake of being able to fight a worthy war, a Brahmin is there who wants to support so that he can further his education, or a general person who is in need of some money, some food, some general help, you offer that, and all that is called sāttvika. You offer whatever help you can, and then you just move on without caring for what that person does with your money, or whether that person comes to you and offers gratitude or any returns. That is held to be sāttvika.

If you are expecting something in return, if you are choosing the object of your charity with an eye on what the charity would fetch you in return, then it is called rājasika charity. You probably are making the right choice in terms of the one you are giving to, the person is a worthy candidate, but you are also ensuring that this worthy one gives you something back in return, that this worthy one is able to enter a deal where that which you offer him results in a gain for him ,and then you partake in the gain. The donor partakes in the gain that the receiver makes from the donation. This kind of thing is rājasika.

So, ask yourself, “Am I just giving, or am I giving with one eye on the benefits that my donation or my charity would bring to me?” If yes, you are indeed looking for some benefit. Even recognition is a benefit. Even to expect gratitude is a benefit. If you are looking for some benefit, then your charity, your dān belongs to the rājasika category.

What is tāmsika dān? You have no concern for the worthiness of the receiver. You just throw away stuff. That is tāmsika dān.

Let’s see what’s been said here. “The gift that is given at wrong place and time, to unworthy persons, without regard or with disdain, that is declared to be tāmsika”.

What is your attitude towards the one receiving your gift? What is your relationship with the one receiving your gift? It is almost like dropping a ten-rupee note in a beggar’s bowl. There is no heartfelt connection. In fact, it is an act of disrespect. The beggar has been knocking at your door, and you just pull down the glass, drop a coin, and quickly speed ahead. Do you see the disdain here? Even as you are dropping the coin, you ensure that your skin does not come in contact with the beggar’s skin; just want to complete a formality and run away somehow. That is tāmsika dān.

Now, “How does charity help in spirituality? And what is not the wrong place, time and person for charity?” Both these questions are one, we will understand.

You see, the ego loves to hold. It is very difficult for the ego to give up. Even if the ego indeed does give up, it gives up in a very business-like way. It says, “If I am giving up two units, I want three units in return.” The ego is accumulative. The ego is forever afraid of its littleness and therefore, continuously looking for aggrandization, expansion, accumulation. “I want more because I continuously dread that I am small and less.” That’s the ego.

That is the reason why in all streams of religions charity, or dān, or zakāt, or gifts, they hold a very important place. And related to this is also the concept of ‘tyāg’ or renunciation. All these concepts are based on a very concrete realisation of the nature of the ego. The ego is an insufficiency. The ego is an incompleteness. The ego, therefore, is a constant fear. “I am inadequate, unworthy.”

The ego is not only inadequate, it feels very afraid of going against itself. Now, that’s a very peculiar situation. On one hand, the ego does not like itself; on the other hand, the ego cannot go against what it does not like. The ego does not like itself, and the ego cannot go against what it does not like.

Usually, if you do not like something, you’ll want to delete it, eradicate it or correct it. But what if you do not like yourself? That’s what the ego is, a continuous dislike towards oneself. But because the dislike is towards oneself, therefore, nothing can be done about it.

“I dislike myself precisely because I do not have the power to get rid of what I dislike.” That’s the ego.

“I dislike myself and I don’t have the guts to correct the one that I dislike, so I dislike myself even more.” That’s the ego.

That’s why it is so difficult for most people, almost everybody, to go against themselves. See, to go against something, you have to be sure of your strength. If I want to go against you, for example, I must have some confidence in my strength. Only then I can go against you.

Now, if I have to go against myself and I know that I want to go against myself precisely because I am weak, then how will I go against myself? Had I been great, would have I needed to go against myself? Who wants to go against a great thing? If I am already perfect, and great, and beautiful, why would I want to go against myself? So, I want to go against myself precisely because I am diseased and weak. But I am diseased and weak—so what can I do? So how can I go against anything? Do you get this?

I am diseased and weak, so how can I do anything? I can do nothing, including going against myself. I cannot go against myself because I am thin and weak. And that’s the ego’s predicament.

Therefore, spirituality invariably consists of pushing the ego to go against itself. You have to fight against yourself; you have to win the inner battle. You don’t like to give because you already feel short of everything. Charity is about challenging this perception of deficiency.

You say, “I am so deficient”; the concept of charity says, “Give, give and keep giving.” Now, the ego retaliates forcibly; very strongly it reacts. It says, “I am already so short and deficient, and you are asking me to give and distribute—how do I do that?” The wise answer is, "It is when you give without having much that you realise that you have much."

You must give from empty pockets. It is only then that you realise that your pockets are not empty. You have to fight without strength. It is only then that you realise that you are not without strength. It is magical!

If you keep waiting for strength before getting into the fight, then you will never have the strength to put up any fight. If you keep probing your pockets to feel sure that you have enough to give, then that sureness will never come.

It is when you give without having, that you magically start having much unexpectedly, unreasonably; you wouldn’t even realise where all that booty is coming from. That’s the power of charity.

It’s not quite unreasonable. You see, you have a tremendous reserve of a lot of goodness within, so you don’t need to obtain much; you only need to unlock it. And that unlocking is precipitated in times of need. Unless you need your inner richness, why would the doors of that richness open up at all?

First of all, Arjuna presents himself on the battlefield, right? Now he has invited a critical situation; now he has invited a difficulty upon himself. So, therefore, now the Gita will be offered to him. Had Arjuna never made himself available to the battle in the first place, would the Gita ever have come to him? That’s the thing.

You do what is right. Don’t think so much of your capability or your resources. Once you start doing what is right, you find that the resources have been unlocked for you. They have not really been given to you; they were already there within. They have just been unlocked. Who and what has unlocked the resources? Your decision to fight the battle, your decision to give even without having, has unlocked your inner treasure. That’s why charity is a great way to defeat, disarm, disassemble the ego. Charity defeats the entire logic of the ego.

So, that would also now tell you who is a worthy person, and what is a worthy place, and what is a worthy time to give or to give to. If the one you are giving to doesn’t challenge your ego, then the charity is not worth it.

Remember, it’s not the charity that’s important. Charity is a way to challenge the ego. The charity is a way, we said, to disassemble the ego.

So, who is it that you are gifting something to? Gift something to the one who is not dear to you, because the one who is dear to you is actually dear to your ego. In gifting something to your dear one, you are just gifting something to yourself in a backhanded way, just indirectly. It’s almost like gifting your wife a car. You very well know that the car is yours. Now the car is yours, and additionally, you have the pleasure of having done your wife a good favour, and you will demand returns from her. So, don’t give something to the one who pleases your ego.

A gift is a gift only if it is made to someone who murders you in the psychological sense. Now that’s the challenge to undertake; now that’s the difficult battle to win. It’s very easy to gift something to the one who pleases you. Gift to the one who finishes you off. It is in that, that the ego is challenged. It is in that that the real spirit of charity is upheld.

Are you getting it?

And that also settles the question of what a wrong place is and what is a wrong time. The wrong place for charity is the place that makes you happy. The wrong time for charity is the time when you have much to give. If you have a lot to give, what’s the point in giving at that time?

Gift when you have little. Gift beyond your capacity. Gift to the Truth—because, you have to remember, gift to the one who slays you inwardly. It is the Truth that slays us in the psychological sense.

And now you know what is the meaning of the word ‘gift to the needy’. Your foremost need is to be finished off; you don’t want to continue as you are. Therefore, fulfill your need. If you are the ego, if you are the false one, then who is it that would slay you? The Truth! Your charity must be to the one who brings the Truth to you. Incidentally, the Truth needs no charity. Truth is already self-sufficient.

And that also now tells you that whenever you are being charitable, it is yourself that you are donating to, because if the one you are giving to is really a deserving recipient, he doesn’t quite need it. You are the needy one in the real sense. That other person may appear needy, but inwardly he is already quite fulfilled; outwardly he may have the need for money, resources, whatever you have. On the contrary, you may have a lot of things on the outside, but inwardly you are quite needy.

If you have comprehended this, you would also know what it means to help others.

To help someone, you have to realize what that person’s need is. Remember, for every embodied person, the central need is just one and common. That central need is to gain fulfilment or be dissolved, the two being the same. That’s the need. All the help that you offer someone must ultimately be towards the fulfilment of this central need.

Even if you are offering clothes to someone—let’s say there is somebody who desperately needs clothes. Even if you are offering clothes to someone, ask yourself, “Ultimately would these clothes lead to an inner fulfilment, or at least a possibility of inner fulfilment for this person or not?” Even something as external as clothes must be probed for its potential to contribute to the inward growth of the wearer. That’s the yardstick.

Giving money to someone, find out what is it that this person is going to do with this money. Even if the fellow says that, “I need the money just to have one full meal,” ask yourself, “What is it that he is going to do after that one full meal? Is he going to again put himself in a position where he has to beg for money, or is my contribution possible to be made in a way that gives him not only food but also some direction in life?”

Remember his real need—it’s not the stomach, it’s beyond that.

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