Dāṇaṁ sīlaṁ ca tavo bhāvo, evaṁ cauvviho dhammo| Savvajiṇehiṁ bhaṇio, tahā duhā suacaritehiṁ\
- Saptatisthānaprakaraṇa, verse 96.
All Tīrthaṅkaras have propounded the four-fold religion comprising charity, righteousness, penance and right volitional disposition. The same religion has been said to be of two kinds as scriptural (Śruta dharma) and practical (Cāritra dharma).
Here, it is worth noting that the first duty amongst the four religious duties prescribed is charity.
“Anugrahārtha svasyātisargo dānaṁ|”
- Tattvārtha sūtra, 7.33.
To give away our things for the sake of grace is charity. Defining grace it has been said that “Svaparopakāro anugrahaḥ|” or to do well by oneself and the other is grace.
“Parānugrahabuddhyā svasyātisarjanaṁ dānaṁ|”
- Sarvārthasiddhi commentary.
To give away our own things for the benefit of the others is charity. Renunciation has been said to be dharma in the Jaina tradition. Therefore, charity is dharma. Being dharma it is the way to spiritual emancipation and liberation.
Durgatiprapatajjantudharaṇād dharma ucyate| Dānaśīlatapobhāvamedāt sa tu caturvidhaḥ\
- Triśaṣṭiśalākāpuruṣacaritaṁ, 2.1.
Dharma is what supports and saves a person from falling into bad destinies and it is four fold by way of charity, righteousness, penance and right volitional disposition.
Thus charity also saves a person from falling into bad destinies and supports his lofty ideals. Therefore, charity is dharma.
Charity has two main ingredients – 1. Giving away and 2. Benefit. Giving away is the soul of charity and benefit is its body. Giving up denotes the destruction of the feeling of possessiveness over our things. The destruction of possessiveness denotes the destruction of the feeling of enjoying those things, which in turn denotes the destruction of selfishness. The destruction of selfishness results in generosity and the practical form of generosity is beneficence or the tendency towards general weal. This is the second fundamental element of charity.
It is well known that an indulgent person is selfish. He considers his own pleasure as everything no matter how much he pains or torments or harms the others in trying to get his pleasures. On the other hand a giver up is generous. He feels pleasure in giving away the objects of his pleasure to others and to see them happy. An indulgent person is a slave to his senses. The slavery to the senses indicates animal behaviour. One who is a slave to the senses is always selfish. Therefore, selfishness is also indicative of animalistic behaviour. A selfish person is heartless. He is inert and insensitive. He is not endowed with the feelings of sensitivity, cooperation and benevolence. The only difference between insentient and sentient is that of sensitivity. One who is insensitive is inert or insentient and one who is sensitive is sentient. The development of sensitivity itself is the development of consciousness or sentience. It is in the sensitive person that the feeling of charity can arise. Therefore, the arising of the feeling of charity is indicative of developed consciousness.
The feelings of kindness, compassion, affection, friendship, etc are indicative of sensitivity. Charity, benevolence and service are its practical forms. The feeling of affection (vātsalya) is a part of right vision, which is dharma. Therefore kindness and compassion are also dharma. Feelings of mercy, kindness, compassion, friendship, affection, etc., are not due to fruition of any earlier bonded karma but they arise in a person naturally and are, therefore, his basic nature. Whatever is natural is dharma and dharma can never be a cause of karmic bondage. On the other hand it is a cause of karmic destruction and separation. Therefore, not to accept the feelings of kindness etc., as causes of karmic destruction and separation is an error; as has been said by Ācārya Siddhasena Divākara –
Kiñca dānena bhogāptistato bhavaparamparā|
Naiva yatpuṇyabandho’pi dharmahetuḥ śubhodayaḥ|
Vahnerdāhyaṁ vināśyeva naśvaratvāt svato mataḥ\
- Prathama Dvātriṁśikā, 7.
Query – Charity results in the gain of worldly pleasures, which results in increase in worldly transmigration while liberation is gained through practicing dharma and decrease of adharma. Therefore charity should not be desirable for those desirous of liberation.
Reply – It is not so, because bonding of merit or puṇya is also a cause of dharma and is due to the rise of auspiciousness. As the fire perishes itself after burning the fuel, so does the merit after destroying the sins. That is, due to piety of charity the worldly transmigration reduces and does not increase.
The reality is that as the spiritual aspirant advances in his spiritual practice his attachment for material things reduces and whereby he is able to use those very things for the benefit of others and his feeling of generosity keeps increasing. This feeling of generosity itself is indicative of his charity. Therefore, as the spiritual aspirant advances in his spiritual practice his qualities of generosity and charity also develop. This generosity or the quality of charity is the natural attribute of the soul and being the nature of the spirit it is its dharma. It is for this reason that when the feeling of possessiveness is fully destroyed and the totally detached state is reached then no feeling of myness for anything remains and everything that one has – his body, mind, speech, etc do not remain for one’s own self only but become everyone’s. It is so because such a detached soul has nothing to gain and nothing to enjoy from anything around him. In such a state all his activities become devoted to general weal and the feeling of infinite generosity manifests itself. That is why the fully detached omniscient Lords Jina are said to be infinitely charitable.
If the feeling of generosity or charity were to be karma-bonding, the progressive spiritual accomplishments of any aspirant, which result in greater and greater giving, would be more and more karma bonding and the ultimate infinite spiritual accomplishment of the fully detached Lords Jina would be infinite bonding and they ought never to have liberated. If charity resulted in the destruction of any of the natural attributes of a spirit, then it would have prevented the detachment of the aspirant forever.
If there is a difference between an animal and a human being, it is in respect of generosity only. Where there is generosity, there is humanity. One who is devoid of generosity and humanity may be a human look alike but by nature he is an animal only. Therefore, where there is no humanity, there is no human being either, and the one who is not a human being is not entitled to liberation itself. Only human beings are entitled to liberation. The reason being that in the absence of humanity the qualities like righteousness, restraint, penance, right knowledge, right vision, and right conduct are also not possible. As a seed cannot grow without soil so the plant of dharma cannot grow without the soil of charity signifying the generosity and humanity. It is for this reason that charity has been assigned the first place in the order of importance of the four constituents of dharma.
Another reason for according primacy to charity is that all other saintly virtues like righteousness, restraint, penance, right knowledge, right vision, and right conduct benefit only the practitioner but the quality of charity benefits both – the giver and the receiver. Especially the poor, the deprived, the miserable, the orphans, the sick, and the disabled, etc., are benefited by charity only. It is the charitable that create a good family and a good society. There are families in which such selfish persons are there that do not care for the comforts and pleasures of the other members of the family but always care about their own comforts and pleasures. Such families are always ridden with quarrels, conflicts, struggles and tensions. Such families live in veritable hells. On the other hand the families in which there are people who care about others’ comforts and benefits overflow with love and affection and the pleasure that exists in such families is beyond all descriptions. A truly heavenly environment exists there.
Like this, the generous people only constitute a good society. Such people glorify the society. They are the ornaments of the society and the society develops because of such people. The development of the human beings and the human society depends on the noble quality of charity or benevolence.
‘Tyāgo dānaṁ’ (Tattvārtha – Sarvārthasiddhiḥ) means that to give up own things meant for own enjoyment for the benefit of others is charity. Charity purifies the soul. Whatever purifies the soul is said to be pious and that is also said to be dharma. Among nine types of pieties the giving of food, water, clothes, pots, etc., are said to be pious activities. All this charity is done with a feeling of kindness. That kindness is dharma is an edict accepted by all. Therefore, charity is pious as well as dharma. It is a well-known principle of the doctrine of karma that pious activities also reduce the intensity and duration of sinful karmic bondages. Therefore, being an agency of karmic destruction, charity is dharma only. Thus, the prevalent belief that charity is only piety and not dharma is misplaced.
The fully detached Lords Jina are infinitely charitable, the monks are also charitable because they keep giving knowledge about dharma. Even for the householders the importance of charity is not any less. As has been said in the Padmanadi Pañcaviṁśatikā –
Nānāgāhavyati – karārjitapāpapuñjaiḥ,
khañjikātāni gāhiṇo na tathā vratāni|
Uccaiḥ phalaṁ vindadhatīha yathaikadāpi,
prītyātiśuddhamanasā kātapātradānaṁ\ 2.13\
That is – the excellent result that is obtained through charity given by pure hearted householders is not obtained by those who devote themselves fully to their household affairs and whose backs bow at carrying their unbearable weight. It means : charity is best even for a householder; it yields better result than that obtained through other mundane activities.
In charity, the importance is what is given is not that much as it is of how and with which kind of volitional dispositions it is given. The result of charity is always commensurate with the nobility of the inner thoughts at the time of giving and with greater or lesser degree of good thoughts accompanying the charitable activity. As has been said – “Yādāśī bhāvnā yasya, siddhirbhavati tādāśī”. That is – the result of any activity is commensurate with the inner thoughts accompanying that activity.
The dharma in the form of charity is at the root of all virtues, therefore, from the spiritual point of view cultivating the charitable quality is sowing the seeds of other good qualities and from the practical point of view it is the basis of reconciliation of the human system.
Dullahā u muhādāī, muhājīvī vi dullahā|
Muhādāī muhājīvī, dovi gacchati soggaiṁ\
- Daśavaikālika sūtra, 5.1.100.
That is – It is rare to find those that give without any expectation and those that take with similar disposition. Both – one that gives without any desire and the one that takes without it – go to good destinies.
Charity benefits both – the one that gives and the one that takes. The benefit to the giver lies in the detached disposition that he develops as a result of giving and the resultant renunciation of the things that are given in charity. Besides, it also develops the much-desired virtue ofgenerosity in the giver. The benefit of the taker lies in the fact that he feels well by the satisfaction of his needs, that he develops a liking for the generosity of the giver and that eventually similar generosity also germinates in the taker, which goes to develop all good qualities in him.
The fully detached Vītarāga Kevalīs are infinitely charitable. The question that arises here is that they do not possess even a grain to give, so, what can they give? How are they infinitely charitable? In answer to this question we will have to say that when a detached Vītarāga Kevalī sees the worldly creatures bound by the slavery of sensory pleasures and by the shackles of dependence, His heart melts at their miserable condition and he is moved to preach the right knowledge to all such miserable creatures so that they may realise their precarious condition and make effort to come out of it. This is their infinite charity.
Charity is the practical form of merciful nature of the charitable person. The Vītarāga Kevalī preaches to all, even to those that are not liberatable. While preaching he does not distinguish between the good and the bad. Had there been a distinction between the good and the bad, the non-liberatable ones would have been turned out from the presence of the Vītarāga Kevalīs, but such a thing does not happen. In the act of charity the goodness and badness is inherent in the taker. If the charitable person gives a good thing in charity and the receiver puts it to bad use, the giver cannot be blamed for it. The giver gives for the benefit of the receiver and this giving is for the welfare of both – the giver and the receiver. Charity being a means of liberation is a form of dharma. The Digambara scholars Jinendrakumar Varni and Yugalkishor Mukhtar have said that service and charity are parts of dharma and it is quite so. Piety is associated with dharma in the same way as the shadow is associated with the body.
Another aspect of the Vītarāga Kevalī being infinitely charitable is that whatever He has – the body, organs, mind, speech, etc., are for the benefit of the world at large and not for their own benefit. They do not have anything to gain from the world, only to give.
If we do not accept the charitability of the Vītarāga Kevalī for the benefit of the others, then we will have to consider it as useless. However, it is not possible that the omniscient Vītarāga Kevalī should indulge in a useless activity, therefore the assumption is fallacious. Thus, it is quite clear that whatever activities that the Vītarāga Kevalīs undertake are for the benefit of the world at large and, therefore, they constitute charity. That is why they are said to be infinitely charitable. The charitable activities are part of positive non-violence. If the Vītarāga Kevalīs did not have the thought of giving then they could not have been called infinitely charitable. They would have been referred to as infinitely renounced instead. However, their renunciation is associated with charity and in the case of Vītarāga Kevalīs the adjective of ‘infinitely charitable’ is perfectly justified.
Where there is attachment, there are enjoyment and selfishness also. When we are attached to anything, we develop a feeling of myness for it and we start feeling a need for it. We cannot part with it and, therefore we cannot give it away in charity. Therefore, an attached person cannot be fully charitable. He tries to save those things to which he is attached. However, the fully detached personae in the case of Vītarāga Kevalīs just do not have any attachment for anything and, therefore they do not need anything – their bodies, thoughts, words, etc., for themselves and they incessantly give them for the benefit of the others. All their activities are for the benefit of the worldly creatures at large. Therefore, this is infinite charity. This is the best form of non-violence.
In the tenth part of the Jaina canonical work, Sthānāṅga sūtra, ten forms of charity have been mentioned amongst which kindness and compassion have also been included within the definition of charity. The Jaina canonical works are full of instances of charity, for example – all Tīrthaṅkaras give freely to all that come to take for a whole year just before they leave for their monastic ordinations. King Pradeśī got a charity house opened; householders Revati and King Śreyāṁsakumāra earned the merit of becoming Tīrthaṅkaras in their subsequent rebirthsby giving a citrus jam (Bijorāpāka) to Bhagvān Mahāvīra and sugarcane juice to Bhagvān ṛṣabhadeva respectively; Candanabālā also earned great merit and fame by giving food in charity to Bhagvān Mahāvīra.
Jaina tradition describes nine kinds of pieties such as giving food, water, residence, bedding, clothes, and pious employment of body, mind and speech and bowing. Out of these nine kinds of pieties some very important forms of charities have come to the fore in the present times. For example earlier one could only render service through one’s body, but now a days one could even donate one’s organs such as blood, eyes, kidney, and even the whole body, as cadaver, during one’s life time and after. By donating blood precious life/lives can be saved. Therefore, it is like donating life as such.
By donating blood one does not become weak and one does not suffer any other harm as well. Thus, through blood donation one can give life to others without any harm coming one’s way. Any healthy young person can donate blood.
Eye donation is also no less important. As the saying goes, ‘without the eyes the world is dark’. That is, life is incomplete without the eyes. At night if the power supply breaks down and we have to work even for some time how difficult it feels? Then how difficult it must be for anyone who has to spend the whole life without any light in his life? After death the eyes do not serve any purpose for the dead except yielding a few grams of ash whereas those very eyes may bring light to some blind man’s life and yield immense happiness in an otherwise miserable life. Looked at from this standpoint even eye donation is like giving a lease of life.
Like this, in both – blood donation and eye donation one does not have to give anything from one’s possession that may harm him but both these donations are of immense benefit to the recipients. Other charities like giving food, medicine, etc benefit only for some time but the charities of blood and eyes benefit for life. It should be our sacred duty to earn such great merit by giving such great benefit at no considerable cost to us.
Similarly, the giving of knowledge, education, medicine, land, labour, wealth, prosthetics to the disabled, and working for social reforms and public service as well as serving the parents, etc., are different forms of charity.
The purpose of mentioning various forms of charities here is to indicate that anyone whether rich or poor, whether educated or uneducated, whether learned or ignorant, whether young or old can give something in charity and become happy himself and make others happy too.
Underlining the importance of giving assurance of safety to someone whose life is threatened, it has been said in the Sūtrakātāṅga sūtra, ‘Dāṇāṇaseṭṭhaṁ abhayappayāṇaṁ’. That is – to give assurance of safety is the best of charities. To give assurance of safety is to free someone, who is under threat, from fear pain and misery. By saving someone from some illness is to free him from the fear of death; giving medicine is to save him from the fear of illness and to give food is to free someone from the fear of hunger. Similarly, to free others from other kinds of fears is also abhayadāna. Like this assurance of safety from fears is an all-inclusive form of charity.
In the Jaina tradition the charity to the ordained ascetics has been termed as a form of renunciation or a vow (atithisaṁvibhāga vrat) that is a means of karmic stoppage. Therefore, it is the duty of the householder believer to set aside and give away a portion of his earnings for the purpose of meeting the monastic necessities of the ordained ascetics. This aspect of charity has been emphasised to the extent of saying that one who does not so set aside and give a part of his earnings cannot liberate (asaṁvibhāgī na hu tassa mokkho).
Jaina tradition classifies charity in many ways such as –
1. Tyāgo dānaṁ tatrividhaṁ āhāramabhayadānaṁ jñānadānañceti|
- Sarvārthasiddhi, 6.24.
That is – To give is charity. Charity is of three types – 1. Giving food, 2. Giving freedom from fear, and 3. Giving knowledge.
dānena vaiyā-vātyaṁ bruyate caturātmatvena caturasrāḥ|
- Ratna-karaṇḍaśrāvakācāra, 117, Vasunandiśrāvakācāra, 233.
That is – The Gaṇadharas, endowed with four kinds of perceptions say that the charities in the form of giving 1. Food, 2. Medicine, 3. Monastic equipage and 4. Monastic residences are variously called as service-penance.
There are many adages that support the concept of charity. These are as follows: –
1. Satramapyamanukampyānāṁ sājedanujighākṣayā|
- Sāgāradharmāmāta, 2.40
That is – Like the hospitals if the householder believers also get the places like charity houses, parks, ponds, etc., for the benefit of the people at large, there is no harm.
Jahajoggaṁ dāyavvaṁ karuṇādāṇanti
bhaṇiūṇa| Upavāsa – vāhi – parisamakilesa – paripīḍayaṁ muṇeūṇa,
Patthaṁ sarīrajoggaṁ bhesajadāṇaṁ pi dāyavvaṁ\
- Vasunandi Śrāvakācāra, 235 and 239.
That is – To give food, etc., to very old, children, deaf and dumb and the blind is charity of compassion. Therefore, proper medicine should be given for the sick, the fasting, the tired and the miserable.
3. Mittaṁ bhuṅkte savibhajyāśritebhyo,
Mittaṁ svapityamittaṁ karmakātvā|
Dadātyamitreśvapi yācitaḥ san,
That is – the calamities do not touch the self-realised one who eats the little that is left after giving to those that depend on him, the one who rests a little after working a lot and the one who gives even to one’s enemy when asked.
4.Gītā considers detachment as different from activity and non-activity. It considers activity as a kingly quality or Rajoguṇa, inactivity asquality of darkness or Tamo-guṇa and dharma as the quality of life as such. Due to ignorance of this fact in India detachment is generally misinterpreted as inactivity. (Vinobā Bhāve: Āśram Digdarśana)
5. Je eṇaṁ paḍisehati vitticcheyaṁ karati se| - Sūtrakātāṅga
That is – One who forbids compassionate charity denies livelihood to the helpless.
6. Je puṇa lacchiṁ sañcati ṇa ca dedi pattesu|
So appāṇaṁ vañcadi maṇuyattaṁ ṇipphalaṁ tassa\
One who accumulates wealth and does not give it to the needy cheats his own self. His human life is in vain.
7. Dānena satvāni vaśībhavanti|
Dānena verāṇyapi yānti nāśaṁ\
Paro’pi bandhutvamupaiti dānāt|
Tasmāddhi dānaṁ satataṁ pradeyaṁ\
- Dharmaratna prakaraṇa – Saṭīka
That is – Through charity the others become favourable; through charity even the enmity is destroyed; by charity the others become like own brethren. Therefore, charity must be given regularly.
8. Kasmāt sa eva paramo dharma iti cet,
- Paramātmaprakāśa Āīkā, 2.111.
That is – If the question is asked as to how charity etc., are the supreme duties for the householders, we will have to say that the householders generally indulge in sensory enjoyments and passions whereby they beget despondent and angeral contemplations. Therefore, they have no occasion for thinking about the absolute supreme dharma in the form of trigem (Ratnatraya) and the best they can do by way of supreme dharma is to practice charity etc., which are the practical forms of supreme dharma. This also implies that the activities of charity, service, etc., also help in considerably reducing passions.