The Many Forms of Giving

Life offers us many more opportunities to give than we take advantage of. Remembering that happiness comes from giving, here are the many forms and ways of giving. Forms of giving include giving money, time and food. Ways of giving include a spontaneous offering, a pledge and a percentage of income. Selfless giving effectively lessens instinctive tendencies of selfishness, greed, avarice and hoarding.

Unedited Transcript:

Good morning, everyone!

Last week's talk was on 'Happiness', as you will recall, those who were here. And, our bottom-line on 'Happiness' was - Happiness does not come from getting, which is the common concept. If we get this, we'll be happy. If we get, we'll be happy. Rather, it comes from giving.

So, I was thinking about that and I said, "Well, maybe this week's talk should be on 'Giving'". Made sense. So, this is for our Mauritius series. We have the opportunity to appear in the monthly religious magazine there, 'Vanakkam'. Thanks to Dr. Pillai, though. This is the style we are using for the magazine which goes through a number of ideas on a topic but always ends with one statement at the end, which is something to take home to do. Now, go home, and do this. Put this into practice. Of all the things we talked about, this is the one to remember.

So, it is in that style, there is something at the end of this talk to do on 'Giving'. Here it goes ...

The Asian Tsunami of 2004 was a disaster of greater magnitude than most people alive today have ever experienced before, a loss of almost 300,000 lives ...

I looked that up this morning. It is amazing. That number keeps growing. It is almost up to 300,000.

... the destruction of entire cities and millions of people left homeless. The aftermath of this disaster has produced the greatest outpouring of help that most of us alive today have also ever seen. This global generosity came and is still coming to the tsunami stricken areas in many forms: donations of money, medical supplies, food and clothing, building materials, as well as the donating of one's services for weeks or months by doctors and other professionals.

Giving, dana, is a very important practice in Hinduism and comes in many forms. I recently received an email from a devotee who is preparing to volunteer her time for a few weeks at an orphanage we work with in Malaysia. When her grandchildren heard that she was going, they arranged with their parents to sacrifice something they would be getting in the future to send $100 now with their grandmother to the orphanage for supplies the children there might need.

Sacrifice is just one of many forms of giving. Sacrifice is the act of giving up to a greater power a cherished possession - be it money, time, intelligence or a physical object to manifest a greater good. It always involves some form of self-denial, a doing with less so that others may have more. This form of giving not only earns the punyam, good karma, that is the result of any act of dana but it also greatly increases our self discipline and control over our instinctive mind especially, when the self-denial is significant.

There is a classic story in our line of gurus about sacrifice which involves a special feast overseen by Paramaguru Sivayogaswami. Yogaswami had a big meal cooked, for thousands of people. When the time came to eat, which was noon, he said, "Let's keep singing." So they kept singing. Then, he had them dig a pit and sing some more. Finally, in the evening around 6 p.m., they still hadn't eaten their noon meal. He had them put the food into the pit in a nicely organized way, all on banana leaves, with a big heap of rice in the middle, curries on the side. It was laid out just like a huge meal. Finally, he had them cover it up with dirt. Yogaswami then told them, "Mother Earth always feeds us. Today, we are feeding Mother Earth in return." That was a sacrifice.

Before moving on, let me just add one more comment about the orphanage we mentioned earlier. A few women devotees have volunteered their time there in the last few years, and all have been surprised by how much they gained from this act of giving. Here is a note from one volunteer that I recently received. "Just a short note to let you know I have returned safely from Malaysia. It was a wonderful adventure, which has filled me with love and opened my heart and mind more than I ever expected. Thank you for your kindness and wisdom in allowing me to experience this karma yoga." Certainly this is an excellent illustration of the principle that happiness comes from giving and not from getting.

Let's look now at some examples illustrating the practice of dana, charity. First example: Near where a family lives there is a Hindu temple where they worship regularly. Every time the family visits the temple they are always sure to put a generous offering into the temple hundi. The family also regularly visits a swami at his ashram that is nearby. Each visit they are sure to bring a cash offering, dakshina, as well as an offering of flowers and fruits.

Second example: A representative of an orphanage visits certain families once a year to ask for a donation to help feed and clothe the orphans who live there. As the request is only yearly, the husband makes an especially large donation to the orphanage.

Third example: A wife is very conscious of the principle that the guest is God and when guests are in her home always invites them to stay and join the family for the next meal.

Fourth example: A Hindu society prints religious literature that it distributes free of charge at all the major festivals. Each pamphlet is sponsored by a different family and has their name on the back. Certain members of the society regularly sponsor these pamphlets each year as a way of spreading knowledge about Hinduism.

Fifth example: A husband and wife both skip a meal every Friday as an act of self-denial and take the money they save and give it to a Hindu home for the aged.

Selfless giving effectively lessens the instinctive tendencies of selfishness, greed, avarice and hoarding. That is important. We are born selfish, and we have to work at becoming less selfish. The less selfish we are, the more spiritual we are. However, there is an innate selfishness in being a human being. We need to overcome that, and one of the ways of overcoming it is in giving things away. There is a tendency to tightly cling to everything we acquire. "It is mine, I may need it." Giving things away helps overcome that instinctive self-centeredness, selfishness, greed, avarice and hoarding.

Here is a story to further illustrate dana. A devotee worshipped regularly at a temple in India. There were always a number of beggars outside the temple, and the man would pass them by, purposely ignoring them. One day he felt compelled to give some money to them. He noticed that afterwards he felt uplifted by this simple act. From them on, he would always be sure to give to the beggars before entering the temple, and each time he felt the same upliftment. The joy that he felt in helping the beggars inspired him to start a monthly mass feeding at the temple which the beggars and others who live near the temple now attend each month.

The Tirukural in its chapter 23, 'Charity', echoes this perspective on the upliftment provided by giving in verse 224. "How unpleasant a beggar's pleading can become, until one sees his face so sweetly pleased." The Kural chapter on 'Charity' describes those who do not give as hard-hearted, bitter men who waste their wealth by hoarding it, and that men of good birth graciously give. The Kural also insightfully describes a key aspect of dana which is giving without any thought of reward : "Giving to the poor is true charity. All other giving expects some return."

Gurudeva also describes the upliftment of the act of giving. He insightfully states that the reward of joy and the fullness you feel is immediate as the gift passes from your two hands into the outstretched hands of the receiver. Gurudeva continues by saying that the fulfillment of giving that wells up within the giver as the gift is being prepared and as the gift is being presented and released, the fulfillment of the expectancy of the receiver or the surprise of the receiver, and the fullness that exists afterwards are all a part of dana.

There are many different forms of giving. Let me describe a few. In our modern world the most common form of giving is a gift of money. We make cash gifts whenever we visit temples and ashrams. We can also make something with our hands that is an in-kind gift. For example, we have a carpentry shop at home and on weekends make furniture that we donate to orphanages and homes for the elderly.

A third form of giving is giving our time. We help out at the local temple by cleaning the floors and other areas once a week. Another form of giving is imparting spiritual teachings. We purchase religious literature and give it away during major festivals.

A fifth form of giving is religious feedings of the masses called anna yajna or simply yagam. We sponsor a monthly yagam at a large temple in our city, covering all the costs. Another form of giving is providing hospitality to guests. We offer them a seat and serve them a beverage and insist they stay for the next meal.

The Kural in its chapter 'Hospitality', speaks of the importance of it. "The whole purpose of earning wealth and maintaining a home is to provide hospitality to guests." The Kural chapter stresses that hospitality yields success and wealth on earth as well as the joys of heaven.

As we can see from this list, there are many forms of giving that don't require any money or require very little money. By giving in those ways, we can afford to give more than if our gifts were solely gifts of money.

Let's look now at the different ways of giving. There are three common ways of religious giving: spontaneous offering, pledge and percentage of income. A spontaneous offering refers to a gift given spontaneously at that moment, simply based on the desire to give and not based on any previous promise to give.

A pledge is when you have made a promise to donate a fixed amount to a religious or charitable organization and are usually monthly or yearly. For example, you have pledged $100 a month to a temple's building fund for a period of two years and fulfill the pledge by mailing them a check each month.

A percentage of income is when you have promised to donate an amount based on your income, such as five to ten percent. This is a larger commitment and usually is done when you have made a commitment to a swami or ashram and are seriously pursuing sadhana and studying their teachings.

Giving outside the home quite often is done by the husband. However, it is important the wife and children also be allowed to do so. Providing the wife with funds she can give away to religion or charity allows her to experience the upliftment that comes from the practice of dana, which then brings more joy into her life.

Children should be taught dana from a very young age. They can be given a small amount of money to give the temple, to holy ones, and to one another. When older, they can be trained to give a portion of any gifts they receive on their birthday or holidays to a Hindu institution their family supports. Besides financial giving, children can also be trained by the parents to give by regularly volunteering their time, perhaps to the same projects their parents do.

It is also important to train children in sacrifice. Two examples are instead of going out to dinner you stay at home or, instead of going on a fancy vacation, the family goes on a budget vacation. Have family discussions beforehand about what you are giving up and the spiritual benefits of this practice. Afterwards discuss how the money saved is being given to a Hindu institution for a project that has special meaning to your family.

In conclusion, life offers us many more opportunities to give than we take advantage of. Therefore, the idea to put into practice is to increase our acts of giving without, of course, giving more than we can afford. Besides money, we can always give by volunteering our time, use our skills to make in-kind gifts in our spare time or through self denial do with less to provide someone else with more. Remember, every act of giving earns punyam, good karma, and increases self control over our instincts and desires.

Aum Namah Sivaya!