Sunday, 9 October 2011

Essence of charity

India for long had a tradition of charity. Several hospitals, rest-houses, ponds and temples were built by business houses for the benefit of the poor. We need to bring back that sense of social responsibility, says Sri Sri Ravi Shankar

Money gives us a sense of freedom and ownership. The general feeling is that with money, we can own anything or put a price tag to other people’s services. Ownership of something means total control of its existence. When we pay for a piece of land, we feel that we own it, although the land continues to exist even after the owner is long gone. How can you own something that outlives you? Money also gives the idea that you are powerful and independent, blinding you to the fact that we live in a world of interdependence. We depend on farmers, cooks, drivers and the services of so many other people around us. Even a surgeon cannot operate on himself; he depends on others. Why are most rich people arrogant? It is because of the feeling of independence that money brings. The awareness of dependence, on the other hand, makes one humble.

These days, we go to a great extent of measuring people in terms of their net worth on the money scale. Can money reflect the worth of a person? Calling someone a millionaire or a billionaire is not a compliment. You cannot assign a monetary value to human life. When people lack faith in divinity, in their own abilities and in the goodness of society, they suffer from a deep sense of insecurity. Then all that appears to provide security is money. In other words, money can provide an illusory sense of security. It is due to these notions that money is considered a part of maya. The truth is that human values erode when you put a price tag on all that cannot be measured, like love, truth, wisdom and life itself.

On the other extreme, there are those who criticise money and blame it for all ills in society. There are others who even consider it evil. Not only does possessing money bring arrogance, rejecting it does, too. People who renounce money take pride in their poverty, just to draw attention and sympathy. However, the ancient sages never denigrated money or maya. In fact, they honoured it as a part of the divine and thereby transcended the grip of its illusion. They knew the secret that when you reject or hate something, you can never transcend it. They honoured wealth as Goddess Lakshmi, the consort of Narayan. She is born out of yoga. It is yoga that transforms the bad karma and brings out latent skills and talent. It also brings up ashtasiddhis — the eight perfections, and nava nidhis — the nine gems. It is this wisdom of yoga that helps one transform arrogance into humility, the burden of dependence into the realisation of interdependence, craving for freedom into recognition of unboundedness, a limited ownership into oneness with the whole.

In the 11th chapter of the Bhagavad Gita, Lord Krishna says, “Win the war with enemies and enjoy a prosperous empire.” Krishna’s advice was not for a recluse but a prince. The entire Bhagavad Gita is focussed on the prince who had to shoulder a huge responsibility, encounter complex situations and deal with complicated human relations to make the country prosperous. Any business empire has to perform all these functions. The Dharmashastras advise a man to divide wealth into five portions: One portion for spiritual and religious purposes; the second for charity and society; the third portion for the growth of the wealth; the fourth for oneself and one’s own comforts; and, finally, the fifth portion should be kept for one’s family.

The most intelligent thing would be to undertake all the charitable works during one’s lifetime. However, when you write a will, you must give a substantial portion for charitable work. Certainly, you can’t conduct business with a charitable mindset, but when it comes to enjoying the fruits of your business, you should have a charitable mind. The charity, however, should be self-sustainable. It should create more wealth instead of perpetuating the cycle of poverty and dependence. Governments alone cannot do this; it is a social partnership with NGOs and business organisations. If every business undertakes corporate social responsibility of investing 10 per cent of its profit in developing rural areas, this planet will have no hunger, disease and illiteracy.

It is said that the GDP of a country should be now measured with GDH, Gross Domestic Happiness factor. So whether it is economy or politics, social entrepreneurship or any other activity, everything is centred around one fact: Welfare of the society. Ethics form one of the backbones of wellness and business forms its wings. India for long had a tradition of charity by business houses. Most hospitals, dharamshalas (rest-houses for pilgrims), talaabs (ponds) and temples were built by the moneyed classes. We need to bring back that sense of contributing and taking pride in giving.

Spirituality is recognising the truth that a divine power is managing creation and your life. Integrity, charity and compassion are all virtues that are essential by-products of spirituality. The extent of calm and dynamism, compassion and shrewdness indicates the depth of your spirituality. Instead of thinking – “what can I gain from this world?” — think “what can I do for the world?” When everyone will think about contributing to society, we will have a divine society.

So, we have to educate and culture our individual consciousness to expand in that direction. There should be spirituality in politics, corporate social responsibility in business and secularism in religion. This value shift has to happen.

Copyright: Exotica, the wellness and lifestyle magazine from The Pioneer Group, available in all rooms of select five-star hotel chains across the country

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