By Krsnanandini Devi Dasi

Some thoughts on fulfilling our obligation, given by Krsna Himself, to perform acts of charity.

I have vivid memories of the many times my mother took my siblings and me to church—the heartfelt gospel singing, the soul-stirring preaching, the supplications for lost souls to join the church. I remember the passing of the baskets to collect money to support the church and its many activities, and I recall well the song that generally accompanied these collections. Its famous, oft-sung lyrics still echo in my mind today:

“You can’t beat God giving, no matter how you try. The more you give, the more He gives to you. Just keep on giving; you’ll find it’s really true.”

As Vaishnavas, we are instructed to give in charity, because the act of giving assists our spiritual progress in various ways. Especially for householders, or grihasthas, the injunction to give in charity is a strong one. Srila Prabhupada writes, “For the grihasthas, or householders, performance of sacrifices, distribution of charity, and action according to prescribed duties are especially recommended.” (Srimad-Bhagavatam 3.32, Purport)

Sometimes many of us struggle with how, to whom, and even why to give in charity. But just as sincere devotees are committed to eating only food offered to Lord Krishna, they should be committed to regularly giving in charity some portion of their income. In this way, devotees can become examples to others of how to get money honestly and distribute it for the satisfaction of the Lord.

Our giving should be connected to Krishna in some way. For example, when we contribute to ISKCON programs, we’re supporting Krishna’s desire that His teachings be spread everywhere. The Supreme Lord is atmarama, or self-satisfied. He does not need our offerings. He is completely full in Himself and is served by hundreds and thousands of eager, enthusiastic, pure-hearted goddesses of fortune. Yet He instructs us to give in charity to Him. Why? Because it purifies and strengthens us spiritually. Giving in charity to Krishna is one way we acknowledge that everything belongs to Him. “If by the grace of the Lord we get such opulences as material wealth, fame, power, education, and beauty, it is our duty to consider that they are all gifts of the Lord and must be used for His service, not our sense enjoyment.” (Krishna, Chapter 81)

The Benefits of Giving in Charity

Giving in charity purifies the heart because it helps us become detached from material things and cleanses the desire for fruitive results. Giving in charity purifies our finances and accumulated wealth. Envision the vast universe as a bank. The charity we give is like a deposit in that bank, the dividends being the purification of our hearts or the unexpected provision of our needs.

Giving in charity allows us to put our money where our heart is. If our heart is in becoming Krishna conscious, in supporting Lord Chaitanya’s mission, in knowing that sincere practice of Krishna consciousness is good for the whole world, then we can show it by how we faithfully and regularly give and do our part to ensure that this mission spreads and is maintained.

Finally, giving in charity pleases Krishna and increases our faith.

Barriers or Obstacles to Giving

“I just don’t have enough money to give in charity” is a refrain we hear often. Sometimes devotees feel they don’t have enough income to maintain their families, so why should they give in charity? One reason is that giving charity to the right persons increases our faith. By the simple act of following the instruction to give in charity, we will see how Lord Krishna continues to provide for our family.

Frequently, devotees want to do something big for the Lord and wait until they “get in a better position.” But the better position may never come. An anonymous person has stated this succinctly for us: “Between the big things we cannot do and the little things we will not do, the danger is that we may never get anything done.” Steadiness and dedication in giving charity are more important than giving huge amounts.

Another obstacle may be that the giver doesn’t trust the recipients of his or her charity. When I was younger, my grandmother and grandfather (a Baptist minister) emphasized that one should sincerely tithe (give ten percent of one’s income) after identifying a worthwhile recipient and then trust God for the results. In other words, God Himself will deal with anyone who misuses charity meant for Him.

Giving in charity may often mean some sacrifice. The Supreme Lord suggests this in the Bhagavad-gita (18.5) when He tells us, “Acts of sacrifice, charity, and penance are not to be given up but should be performed. Indeed, sacrifice, charity, and penance purify even the great souls.”

Three Kinds of Charity

In the Bhagavad-gita Lord Krishna instructs human beings how to live a peaceful, God-conscious life and then go back home, back to Godhead. He tells Arjuna that all activities fall into three categories, according to the three modes of nature: goodness, passion, and ignorance. Thus, foods are classified as good, passionate, or ignorant, and so are activities such as giving in charity.

To get real spiritual and material benefit, charity should be wisely given. Srila Prabhupada writes, “In the Vedic literature, charity given to a person engaged in spiritual activities is recommended.” (Bhagavad-gita 17.20, Purport)

Arjuna heard from Krishna about charity in the three modes:

· Charity in the mode of goodness is given out of duty, at the proper time and place, to a worthy person, and without expectation of return. (Bg. 17.20)

· Charity performed while expecting some return or in a grudging mood is said to be in the mode of passion. (Bg. 17.21)

· Charity performed at an improper place and time and given to unworthy persons, without respect and with contempt, is in the mode of ignorance and yields negative results or consequences. (Bg. 17.22).

The Charity Dilemma

The concept of regularly giving a portion of one’s income in charity intimidates many devotees. Although we may know that giving regularly in charity is a goal for which all householders should aspire, still we are sometimes confused about how to apply this principle. Given their financial situation, some devotees can’t decide how or when to give in charity.

In The Nectar of Instruction we learn that simply following rules and regulations without understanding their purpose or goal can cause falldown. So let’s try to grasp the purpose of the charitable principle:

· Everything belongs to Krishna; therefore, when we offer something in the service of the Lord, we’re just returning the property to its rightful owner.

· Giving—gifts, prasadam, money, time, talent—is a way to show love. It is one of the six loving exchanges between devotees. Spiritual life is a culture of giving.

· Giving charity is a sacrifice that purifies one’s wealth. If wealth is not purified, it will often be taken through legal fees, medical bills, taxes, theft, and so on.

· Even a little given in the service of God rewards the giver hundreds and thousands of times.

· Srila Prabhupada said that the Krishna consciousness movement is creating people who are “independently thoughtful.” He wanted us to use our intelligence and creativity in carrying out scriptural instructions in cooperation with other devotees.

The idea is to begin to consistently give a certain percentage to support the mission of Krishna consciousness, and we can plan to gradually increase this percentage. For householders this is a blessed and necessary duty.

When the Lord sees our steady commitment to giving in charity, He will help us do so, from within and without. Srila Prabhupada wrote in a letter (January 24, 1977), “Krishna will give you intelligence how to engage in honest, brilliant, glorious work on His behalf. There is no need to engage in anything dishonest. Krishna has given enough money. Now earn by honest means.”

To Whom Should You Give

The International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON), a branch of the Chaitanya tree, has many causes, projects, and people focused on Srila Prabhupada’s mission. Imagine what would happen if thousands of devotees committed to giving in charity to regularly support these initiatives.

For example, the Temple of the Vedic Planetarium in Mayapur is being built based on Srila Prabhupada’s vision and instruction. It is moving forward because caring and faithful devotees are giving in charity to make that stupendous project happen.

Many sannyasis and other mature devotees travel to make sure Lord Chaitanya’s message is spread. Many rely on donations and charity to do their selfless service.

Temples and Nama Hatta programs need support to steadfastly distribute prasadam and spiritual knowledge. Particularly, we should support the local Hare Krishna establishment where we are nourished and enlivened.

One senior Vaishnava on a small, fixed income has chosen to support Srila Prabhupada’s first temple at 26 Second Avenue by donating $51 per month from her checking account.

“I want to support Prabhupada’s great work in every way I can,” she says.

She has given in charity to support sannyasis, book distribution, the care and upkeep of cows, senior devotees like herself, and more.

A husband and wife, both professionals, don’t have children but have chosen to support many devotee preachers and causes. Their charity is regular, focused, and persistent. They told me they work to be able to give charity and fulfill this very important service in the grihastha ash rama.

Vaisnava Care, the Grihastha Vision Team, the Festival of Inspiration, Srila Prabupada’s book archives, cow protection—so many worthy endeavors need our support, and we can support more than one at a time.

Ultimate Benefit

Ultimately, giving in charity is good for the soul and gives much benefit to the giver. As Srila Prabhupada writes in Krishna (Chaper 81), “What the devotee actually offers to the Lord is not needed by the Lord. He is self-sufficient. If the devotee offers something to the Lord, it acts for his own interest because whatever a devotee offers to the Lord comes back in a quantity a million times greater than what was offered. One does not become a loser by giving to the Lord, but he becomes a gainer by millions of times.”