‘Giving’ in Sanskrit is called dAna. The English word for it is charity. In the modern sense, mostly unwanted or old items are given away under the name of charity. This kind of charity is not what dAna constitutes. I will stick to the word ‘giving’ rather than the word charity.
Hindu scriptures are replete with words yagya, dAna, tapa etc. In a broader sense, developing a prayerful lifestyle is what constitutes yagya and living in moderation, by never giving in to extremes while carefully treading the path of life with a spiritual goal in mind is tapa. dAna is sharing with others what one has. There has to be someone to take if there is a person to give. Such a give –take relation maintains balance in the social fabric. Torpidity is sure to occur if there is no sharing among people, which is unhealthy for the society and nation. This should not be understood as an encouragement to parasitic dependence. Every individual has some potential; to realize and actualize which he needs to, at times, be on the receiving end.
dAna –‘giving’ has been emphasized in the Taittiriya Upanishad as a compulsory duty. One is asked to give with a certain attitude. The following statements from the upanishad illustrate the mindset of a person who is encouraged to give as his duty.
- shraddhayA deyam , May you give with faith :- The faith here is that, what one puts in, is beneficial to others. Involving oneself in a meritorious deed will result in one’s own emotional maturity and integrity. The purity one achieves, is, in itself the reward apart from having been of help to another.
- ashraddhayA adeyam, May you not give without faith :- Being helpful and concerned for the other is innate to humans, not having faith in this instinct is like having no faith in humanity at large. Know that the very act of giving is the reward in itself, a privilege.
- shriyA deyam, give in abundance :- One is inspired to give in profusion not letting stinginess take over. To be able to give plentifully, one has to be producing bountifully. Indirectly, the upanishad is motivating people to be producers and work for the society.
- hriyA deyam, give with humility :- While giving, the receiver should not be looked down upon. He has to be treated to be on an equal pedestal. Such giving, keeps a check on arrogance. The fact that one is in a position to give is not the privilege, but the fact that there is a receiver to accept what you give is the actual privilege. The former might give rise to arrogance while the latter ensures humility. Eminence is not in affluence, rather, the favorable opportunity of being able to give is in itself a worshipful renown.
- bhiyA deyam, may you have concern :- One is asked to develop sensitivity, if one does not have it already. Firstly, one needs to identify with the problems of the other. Empathy is something that flows in, when the heart is allowed to open up unimpeded by the predispositions of the mind. One needs to be aware that, what one gives is the correct fit in the situation, fulfilling the exact need of the other person and resolving his plight. Being human, it is the moral duty to apportion a good quantity of possessions to the society at large. In fact, not giving is burdensome.
- samvidA deyam, give with understanding of the whole situation:- Giving to a person not worthy of the credentials that he claims to have, is a wastage. Such giving helps none.
In the 17th chapter of the Bhagavad Gita, Bhagavan Shri Krishna talks about dAna given with correct attitude at appropriate place and time (situation) is the right type of dAna. Food given to a satiated person does not benefit him. The big picture must be kept in mind while giving.
‘Giving’ is innate in the Hindu psyche. Many occasions are seen as opportunities to give; for instance, a birth, a marriage, worship of ancestors, birthdays, 60th year birthday celebrations etc. It has to be reiterated that dAna is NOT giving away of old, unwanted goods. For Hindus, it is a worship, to be able to give, how can we insult others by giving old things? On these special days, we extend the worship outside of our altars by reaching out to people in different ways. There are different kinds of dAna – annadAna – giving food; giving clothes, giving cows, giving cash etc. There is also vidyA dAna where one is given free education or a person’s education is facilitated.
Kalidasa in his Raghuvamsha described the kings of the Solar dynasty as tyAgAya sambhRitArthAH – (verse 7, Canto 1) meaning ‘the kings sought wealth so that they might give it’. This speaks volumes about the mindset of the nation since the nation is known to follow its leader by the adage – ‘yathA rAja tathA prajA’. The king’s sole purpose of accumulating wealth by moral means, was, to give it back again. This shows their sense of duty toward their subjects, their empathy by not denigrating their subjects and finally their lack of any expectation. Such was the moral high ground naturally present in kings of yore in India. The citizens revered their king and followed suit.
The social, cultural order was maintained by a constant inflow from those who produce. The general Vedic way was to give more than what one keeps; Produce more than what one consumes. We have stories of great saints who have lived their whole lives in this spirit of giving and renouncing. We had a fair, economically sound, happy society in those times.
We all know that a Hindu’s life is divided into 4 stages;
1) brahmacharya – student-hood;
2) grihasta – householder;
3) vanaprastha – retired life, more involved in study contemplation, prayer, japa etc;
4) sannyasa – formal renunciation in the pursuit of the higher.
What is surprising is that out of the four ashramas, the whole burden of keeping the economy going was on the shoulders of the householder. People in the other three stages never took part in production, growth and economy. They were dependent on householders who bore the responsibility of feeding the other three along with taking care of their other necessities. This was possible only because ‘giving’ was inbred in the minds. They could not even think otherwise, this was the most natural way.
Falsehood has been spread in these modern times that the Hindu way of life asks householders to abstain from pleasures. Yes, moderation in everything is taught but one is inspired to earn more, produce more, for the benefit of the society. It is pointed out that you can earn more and more but be it in a dhArmika way (loosely put righteous way). Additionally, the vedik way of life sanctioned one to enjoy pleasures of life (kAma), again, only in a dharmika way.
Due to the pouring in of offerings from potent, motivated householders, there was always a balance in society.
Such a paradisiacal society was possibly decidedly due to dAna which was spontaneous and unpretentious in the societal framework.
A vedik lifestyle is where values of ahimsa, satya, kshAnti, Arjava etc. are taught. These values are one of the first things a person is taught. Pujya Swami Dayanandaji puts it beautifully- “One should know the values. One should know the value of the values. One should also value the value of values.”