Many people tell Amma that in spite of regularly visiting temples and praying, they still have not been able to attain real peace or contentment. Just because someone prays or meditates every day, we cannot say they are living a spiritual life. Spiritual life is when one’s every thought, word and deed are rooted in the spiritual principles. As long as arrogance, selfishness or cruelty remains in our mind, inner peace will continue to elude us. Our condition will be like that of a person trying to learn how to swim with a weight tied around his waist.
We can attain inner purity through actions that are selfless and helpful to the world. Only then will we be able to achieve true mental peace. When we help others, we are actually uplifting ourselves. This is the reason why our faith puts so much stress on charity. In olden times, there was a system where a sixth of one’s household income was set aside for charity. This system has all but disappeared. Also, those who do give charity usually do not understand the principles behind it. When people today contribute even a light to the local temple, the placard they place next to it — stating the donor’s name — is often so big that it blocks the light. Charity should never be done with the intent of achieving name or fame.
Amma remembers a story: The legendary Pakkanar of Kerala earned his livelihood selling bamboo winnows. All he needed to meet his day’s expenses was the money earned from the sale of one winnow. He wanted to give the rest of the money he made to charity. However, he was very particular that no one should know about this. He hit upon a way to make this happen. Pakkanar would make 10 winnows and start selling them. At the first house, he would quote a very high price, which, of course, the people would refuse. Then he would say, “Can you please keep the winnows here for a few minutes? I’ll be right back.” They would agree, and Pakkanar would leave and come back a little later. “I am back for my nine winnows,” he would say upon returning. When the people counted the winnows, they would see that there were 10 winnows, not nine. They would assume that the uneducated Pakkanar did not know how to count. Slyly putting aside one winnow, they would give the remaining nine back to Pakkanar. Pakkanar would play this trick at every house and until he had thus given away nine winnows. Then, at the 10th house, he would sell the last winnow at a reasonable price. Pakkanar was an example of how proper charity should be practised. It does not matter what is given in charity. What matters is the attitude with which it is given and how much sacrifice we endure in order to give it.
There are three qualities that form the basis of charity. The first is the attitude of seeing God in the person to whom the charity is given. The second is giving charity at a great sacrifice to oneself. The third is giving without expecting anything in return. The ultimate charity is when all these three come together. If we are starving and we still lovingly share the food we have gotten with another starving person, that is the highest form of charity. When we give charity thinking of the name and fame it may bring us, it is considered a mediocre form of charity. An example is when a wealthy person who desires fame decides to donate food and clothes to the poor. Giving very little of one’s capacity, with an attitude of arrogance, is the lowest form of charity. A wealthy person throwing a rupee coin at a beggar in disgust is an example of this.
Another important factor to consider is the worthiness of the person receiving the charity. If charity is given to someone who is merely too lazy to work, it will only make him lazier. If charity is given to those who are slaves to vices like alcohol, they may use it to purchase more alcohol. Instead, we should donate food to the hungry, medicine to the sick, and clothes to the needy.
Love, respect and a helpful attitude should be the guiding inspiration behind every act of charity. Understanding the greatness of charity and its principles will lead us to great heights, not only spiritually, but also materially. Selfishness and arrogance will leave the heart of a person practising charity with the right attitude, filling them with peace and happiness.
The writer is a world-renowned spiritual leader