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Jun 12

Practicing Charity

If you want others to be happy, practice compassion.  If you want to be happy, practice compassion.  ~H.H. the 14th Dalai Lama

As evidenced by the above quote from H.H. the Dalai Lama one of the most important things that you can do to both improve your life and the life of others is to practice charity. Charity is important because it forces you to give something up (time, money, etc.) for the benefit of someone else, which helps you to not only become a better person, but also helps the life of someone else. The importance of practicing charity is an important aspect of many of the world’s religions, for example:

The ministry of Jesus Christ was focused on helping others not only improve themselves spiritually, but also their lives in general. The message of Jesus Christ is full of lessons involving loving one another and helping your fellow man. It is important to note that Jesus was concerned with action, not merely talking about doing good deeds, but actually DOING good deeds. This means actually helping others in your daily life, which will help you become more Christlike. This is reflected by the author of the book of James, who was an early Christian church leader, Become doers of the word and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves with false reasoning. For if anyone is a hearer of the word, and not a doer, this one is like a man looking at his natural face in a mirror. For he looks at himself, and off he goes and immediately forgets what sort of man he is. But he who peers into the perfect law that belongs to freedom and who persists in it, this man, because he has become, not a forgetful hearer, but a doer of the work, will be happy in his doing it.” – James 1:22-25

The concept of charity exists prominently in the Muslim faith. In fact, charity (Zakat) is one of the five pillars of the Islamic faith. Zakat requires that Muslims give a portion of their income to the poor and needy, as well as help spread Islam. The Zakat is mandatory for all Muslims who can afford to do it, and in some predominately Islamic countries a tax is enforced for this purpose. The amount of the Zakat varies, but usually the amount is approximately 2.5% of your income or assets that you have had for more than a year. The Muslim belief in giving charity is derived from the fact that since God has created everything, then everything belongs God. By giving support to those less fortunate than yourself, you are merely redistributing the gifts that God has given to you.

In Hinduism one of the four yoga paths is known as Karma Yoga, which focuses on “discipline of action”. Karma Yoga  is principally concerned with correct action, and is based on the teachings contained in the famous Bhagavad Gita, which is part of the Mahabharata. The goal of Karma Yoga is to reach Moksha (inner peace/enlighenment) through changing your thoughts, actions, and desires to such an extent that you reach self-realization, and eventually Moksha. In order to follow along this path you must give selfless service to humanity and God’s creation as a whole. This means, that you must remove your attachment to the physical world, and do good deeds, without seeking any kind of reward or praise, which serve to only feed the ego. “Therefore, without being attached to the fruits of activities, one should act as a matter of duty, for by working without attachment one attains the Supreme Goal”. – Bhagavad-Gita 18.49

Finally, Buddhism at its core focuses on ending the suffering of all sentient beings. This means that one should not seek personal or spiritual development, for the sake of your own well being alone. Instead, one should take up the path of personal and spiritual development in order to help end the suffering of all sentient beings. This occurs naturally as one progresses down the path of personal and spiritual development, because once you undertake this path you will begins to notice the suffering of sentient beings around you, which naturally leads to compassion and the desire to help alleviate the suffering. The practice of charity, of course, helps to actively alleviate the the suffering of others, which is why it is a central tenant of Buddhism.

While I have only referenced the concept of charity in the above four religions, the concept runs through every spiritual tradition. Charity is important because it forces you to think about others, and actually take steps to help others. It is important to not practice charity in order to gain public or social honors, nor to hopefully gain some sort of favor with God. Seeking praise or honors from your charity only serves to degrade the receiver, because it places you above them, which only leads to psychological and emotional suffering.

Practicing charity does not mean that you have to necessarily give money, because giving time or doing good deeds for others is also practicing charity. For example, My wife and her friend Keely are training for a three day 60 mile walk in Dallas, Texas, this November (2011). Their goal is to raise at least $2,300 apiece prior to the walk, which will be donated to the Susan G. Komen foundation. This money will be used for research that will someday find a cure for breast cancer, which is near and dear to me because of my own mother’s battles with the disease.

Practical Tip: Find ways to be a charitable person in your life. This could mean donating money to worthy causes, giving food or money to the homeless, or simply taking time out of your day to help someone going through a difficult time in their life.

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Also, please check out my book, “The Path: Using the Religions of the World as a Guide to Personal and Spiritual Development.” (Click on the book cover to view on Amazon.com)

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