Charity, alms: Grey areas in the scriptures?

Published: 22nd July 2013 11:23 AM  |   Last Updated: 22nd July 2013 11:23 AM   |  A+A-

All religions advocate charity and lending a helping hand to those in need. Almsgiving has its roots in religious doctrines, associated as it is with many after-life benefits and spiritual uplift of the giver. However, over a period of time, people seem to have forgotten the subtle difference between helping the underprivileged and almsgiving perhaps of the grey area in between. For, religions never profess offering alms to a person who is physically fit to work.

In Hinduism and Buddhism, begging is advised only for those who take to ascetic life. The scriptures say that it is the duty of the householders to provide food to monks who are supposed to live by ‘bhiksha’. The objective is clear: since sadhus are expected to renounce everything to realise godhood, it is society’s responsibility to take care of those who have a spiritual calling.

The puranas - Vishnu Purana, Agni Purana, Brahma Purana and Padma Purana - prescribe a very long list of articles that are to be donated and the benefits one can reap out of the donation in this world and after death. That list includes cows, shoes, toothbrush, gold, silver, food, land, jaggery, ghee, blanket, iron, black sesame, mustard oil, clothes, fuel, medicines, oil and grains. If the donation is in the form of knowledge, the donor becomes ego-less. And donating fuel would increase your digestion power. That’s a gem of an idea for those with fatty liver who can’t seem to digest anything, isn’t it?

In Islam, giving alms is one of its basic tenets. As all things belong to the Almighty, Islam asks its followers to give alms to the destitute, poor, those unable to pay off their debts, stranded travellers and others who are in need of help.

Look at it differently and you could say it is a prescription for sharing wealth among the privileged and the underprivileged. Since people are ready to go the extra mile in the name of God, religions might have incorporated the art of giving in their doctrines over time. In Christianity, almsgiving to the poor is regarded as one of the highest duties of a believer. The offertory is a traditional moment in every Roman Catholic mass, when alms are collected.

In most Christian forms of worship, a collection is made of ‘tithes and offerings’ for the support of the church and for the relief of the poor. In the Bible, Mathew 6:1 warns: “Be careful not to do your acts of righteousness in front of others, to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven.”

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