Sunday, June 5, 2011

Charity Begins At Home

Simple phrases sometimes have very profound meaning. The depth of the meaning is different for everyone, and depends on the context in which a saying comes into one’s consciousness. If we let a phrase that resonates with us marinate for a while in our minds, it often resurfaces at pertinent times in our lives and accumulates even deeper meaning.

One such simple quote we hear frequently is “Charity begins at home”. The traditional meaning of charity is giving of one’s time, skills, or money to people in need such as the poor, the ill, or other helpless individuals. Since we are only temporary residents of this world, our stay being measured in years and not centuries, I sometimes wonder what charity means in the context of this temporary sojourn of ours. One may be charitable at a young age, or as when one gets older. Others donate to charity at the end of the year to claim a tax deduction. Some have a charitable frame of mind all their lives, while others may never demonstrate these qualities at any point in time. You might even want to offer help, in some fashion, to people in need, but your current circumstances simply don’t allow you to do so. When it comes to charitable giving, everyone is different.

Few people are fortunate enough to have the ability, as well as the desire in their mind, to be charitable. This might suggest that, even though those on the receiving end of charity benefit greatly from the act, a secondary gift is the happiness the donor gains from the act of giving.  Therefore, as with all noble qualities, being charitable brings with it direct or indirect benefits to one’s psyche. So, which is most beneficial? Is it having the desire in one’s mind to give, having the means to give, or the act of giving itself? From a spiritual point of view, without having a pure desire to give, the other two components mean much less.  

When we donate to charity, it is easy to part with items we no longer want or need. But how easy is it for us to give up things we cherish in order to help someone else? It’s difficult to part with sentimental items, even thought we know they may be of more use to someone else. The money we have worked so hard to earn can be difficult to give to those in need, even when we ourselves have much more than we need.  What about the giving of our most precious gift of all--time--something we can never get back once it’s gone?

We can begin to overcome obstacles such as these by asking ourselves, “What am I giving that is truly mine?” If we look at this question in the context of what we bring with us when we come into the world, and what we take with us when we leave, there is not much that one can say is “mine.” Essentially, everything is borrowed.

The ability of humans to overcome all obstacles to giving is so rare, that the history of mankind remembers those who selflessly spend the majority of their lives in the service of others. These individuals are few and far in between. They are the special ones who recognize that their time spent helping others was not “theirs” to begin with. How and where does one earn “their time?”. If you look at every living moment as an amazing gift given to you from an unseen source, you are merely redirecting this gift to do something great.

Perhaps the one thing we might be able to claim direct ownership of is our mind. The mind is a derivative of how one uses one’s free will and the mind in turn influences your choice of how you use your free will. We could extend the line of argument that “nothing is truly ours” to both mind and free will. One could say that “free will” is also a gift that we receive as we come into the world as humans. If the mind is a derivative of how we use or misuse the gift of free will, then even our minds are not really ours.

Returning to the phrase, “Charity begins at home,” we can define home, in this context, as our loved ones who are near and dear to us. It is easy to give of ourselves to the people we care about. But, when we limit our circle of loved ones to only a handful of people, we start to create boundaries which ultimately result in the differentiation between friends and enemies. We constantly point out differences between people that make it hard for us to feel unified as a human race. However, once we understand that every single person on this earth holds one common desire, the desire to be happy, it becomes easier to expand one’s circle of loved ones far beyond close friends and relatives. When we think this way, “charity begins at home” takes on an entirely new meaning. This line of thinking helps us expand our consciousness and bring about peace of mind.

If charity begins at home, and our home is this beautiful planet, then we should strive to be charitable to everyone. We all have the potential within ourselves to develop positive qualities such as love, compassion, and non-injury towards others. These qualities could be considered a mental form of charitable giving. We all struggle with large and small problems on a daily basis. What if we were to give mental charity to those we come across that are suffering in their problems? A kind word, a nice smile, or a simple offer to help. These things are the products of our good thoughts, and we should give them freely to others. As a result, they will be more likely to pass on mental charity of their own. The mind, like an onion has several layers. As you look within by introspection, the mind will appear to contain both desirable and undesirable traits. Anytime an opportunity arises to help others, even if it is only a kind word, peel away that mental layer that allows you to do this and freely share it with others. In this fashion, let’s share the good parts with others, and compost the rest, so that we can help those who are suffering, to satisfy their hunger for happiness.