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Why daan or charity is important?

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Srimad Bhagwad Gita has described four Yugas – Sat Yuga, Treta Yuga, Dwapar Yuga and Kal Yuga - depending upon the nature of the collective consciousness of the people. It describes four pillars of Dharma and they are truthfulness (satya), hard work (tapas), purity of mind (pavitrata) and charity (daya and daan).

Whether a person is a Satyugi or Kalyugi is decided by presence of some or all the four characteristics as mentioned in Srimad Bhagwad: Truthfulness (Satya), Selfless hard work (Tap), positive thoughts (purity) and Daya & Daan (Charity).

  • If all the four characteristics are present, the person is Satyugi.
  • If truthfulness is absent, the person is Tretyugi
  • If both truthfulness and hard work are absent, one is Dwaparyugi
  • When only Daan & Daya are present, the person is Kalyugi.

This indicates that be it any type of person or any yuga, daan is an important component.

The Bhagwad Gita describes various types of daan in shlokas 17.20 through 17.22.

दातव्यमिति यद्दानं दीयतेऽनुपकारिणे |देशे काले च पात्रे च तद्दानं सात्विकं स्मृतम् || 20||

dātavyam iti yad dāna dīyate ‘nupakāriedeśhe kāle cha pātre cha tad dāna sāttvika smitam

Meaning: Charity given to a worthy person simply because it is right to give, without consideration of anything in return, at the proper time and in the proper place, is stated to be in the mode of goodness.

यत्तु प्रत्युपकारार्थं फलमुद्दिश्य वा पुन: |दीयते च परिक्लिष्टं तद्दानं राजसं स्मृतम् || 21||

yat tu pratyupakārārtha phalam uddiśhya vā punadīyate cha parikliha tad dāna rājasa smitam

Meaning: But charity given with reluctance, with the hope of a return or in expectation of a reward, is said to be in the mode of passion.

अदेशकाले यद्दानमपात्रेभ्यश्च दीयते |असत्कृतमवज्ञातं तत्तामसमुदाहृतम् || 22||

adeśha-kāle yad dānam apātrebhyaśh cha dīyateasat-kitam avajñāta tat tāmasam udāhitam

Meaning: And that charity, which is given at the wrong place and wrong time to unworthy persons, without showing respect, or with contempt, is held to be of the nature of nescience (ignorance).

Simply put, daan can be satvik (done and then forgotten), rajasik (done for one’s own satisfaction) or tamasik (done only to show off).

Satvik daan is true daan.  It can be paropkar for welfare of others (according to your will), dakshina (according to what you can afford) and bhiksha (giving to the hungry and needy).

Every religion mentions daan or charity and prescribes that a certain percentage of income should be donated.

Our shastras have described different types of daan: godana (donation of a cow), bhudana (भूदान; donation of land), vidyadana (विद्यादान; sharing knowledge and teaching skills), aushadha dana (औषधदान; charity of care for the sick and diseased), abhaya dana (अभयदान; giving freedom from fear – asylum, protection to someone facing imminent injury) and anna dana (अन्नदान; giving food to the poor, needy and all visitors).

As per the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad:

3.9.3: कतमे वसव इति; अग्निश्च पृथिवी च वायुश्चान्तरिक्शं चादित्यश्च द्यौश्च चन्द्रमाश्च नक्शत्राणि चैते वसवः; एतेषु हीदं वसु सर्वं हितमिति तस्माद्वसव इति ॥

katame vasava iti; agniśca pthivī ca vāyuścāntarikśa cādityaśca dyauśca candramāśca nakśatrāi caite vasava; eteu hīda vasu sarva hitamiti tasmādvasava iti ||

Meaning: Vasus are those who help others to live

5.2.3: तदेतत्त्रयँ शिक्षेद् दमं दानं दयामिति

Meaning: Learn three cardinal virtues – temperance (dam, self restraint), charity (daan) and compassion (daya) for all life.

The Chandogya Upanishad in volume 23 of Chapter 2 has described charity to those in distress (Dana) as among other ethical duties: personal duties such as education and self-study (svadhyaya, brahmacharya), social rituals such as yajna.

त्रयो धर्मस्कन्धा यज्ञोऽध्ययनं दानमिति प्रथम; स्तप एव द्वितीयो ब्रह्मचार्याचार्यकुलवासी तृतीयो

ऽत्यन्तमात्मानमाचार्यकुलेऽवसादयन्सर्व एते पुण्यलोका भवन्ति ब्रह्मसँस्थोऽमृतत्वमेति ॥ १ ॥[52]

Skanda Puran (स्कंद पुराण) says one should earmark 10% of one’s justly earned income for good deeds or works of public benefit.

Islam has Zakat and Sadaqah. Zakat is giving a fixed portion (2.5% annually) of accumulated wealth by those who can afford it to help the poor or needy, while sadaqah is optional charity, which is practiced as religious duty and out of generosity.

Christianity says, “Give to him who asks of you, and do not turn away from him who wants to borrow from you” (Matthew 5:42)

Daan is one of three duties of Sikhs. Examples of daan in Sikhism include selfless service and langar.

Jainism has four types of daan: Ahara-dana (donation of food), Aushadha-dana (donation of medicine), Jnana-dana (donation of knowledge) and Abhaya-dana (giving of protection or freedom from fear, asylum to someone under threat).

There can be another aspect to daan. It can be external daan (what you give) or internal daan.

Internal daan can denote discarding (giving away) all the inner negative thoughts and emotions or desires or as Kama, Krodha, Lobha, Moha and Ahankara, as classified by the Bhagvad Gita. Reducing one’s ego can also be considered a form of daan. This can be done by appreciating others.

Sutra: “Do an act of charity and forget about it, but if somebody does you an act of kindness or helps you, never forget it.”

  Dr KK Aggarwal

Padma Shri Awardee

President Confederation of Medical Associations in Asia and Oceania (CMAAO)

Group Editor-in-Chief IJCP Publications

President Heart Care Foundation of India

Past National President IMA

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