Mera Asia Mahan 4: Charity is an integral part of humanity |
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Mera Asia Mahan 4: Charity is an integral part of humanity

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All religions advocate charity and donation as a part of one’s duty. It is also the fourth pillar of dharma (truthfulness, tapas, positive thoughts and daan).  Accumulating things (parigraha) is considered bad. The festival of Diwali is observed as a festival of cleaning; we customarily clean our houses during the festival of Diwali. This also means donating or giving away what we have accumulated and do not need.

Islam has both Zakat (help the needy), which is mandatory and Sadaqah (help others as per your wish), which is voluntary.

As doctors, we abide by these principles and do both types of charity every day.

Bhagwat Puran (भागवत पुराण) describes the methodology of dana or charity. In the Bhagwat Puran, Shukracharya advises king Bali against giving all his wealth away. He quotes learned people to recommend dividing ones fund into five equal parts as follows:

  • One part should be used for Dharma (daan)
  • Second for Yash (public work, which brings fame to oneself)
  • Third should be re-invested for generating more wealth
  • Fourth for "Kaam"(काम) or material enjoyment and
  • Fifth for ones family and friends.

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 pṛthivī ca vāyuścāntarikśaṃ cādityaśca dyauśca candramāśca nakśatrāṇi caite vasavaḥ; eteṣu hīdaṃ vasu sarvaṃ hitamiti tasmādvasava iti ||

Meaning: Vasus are those who help others to live

The Chandogya Upanishad in volume 23 of Chapter 2: Vedic concept dharma includes- ethical duties such as charity to those in distress (Dāna, दान), personal duties such as education and self-study (svādhyāya, स्वाध्याय, brahmacharya, ब्रह्मचर्य), social rituals such as yajna (यज्ञ). 

त्रयो धर्मस्कन्धा यज्ञोऽध्ययनं दानमिति प्रथम; स्तप एव द्वितीयो ब्रह्मचार्याचार्यकुलवासी तृतीयो

ऽत्यन्तमात्मानमाचार्यकुलेऽवसादयन्सर्व एते पुण्यलोका भवन्ति ब्रह्मसँस्थोऽमृतत्वमेति ॥ १ ॥[52]

There are three branches of Dharma (religious life, duty): Yajna (sacrifice), Svādhyāya (self-study) and Dāna (charity) are the first, Tapas (austerity, meditation) is the second. Dwelling as a Brahmacharya for education in the house of a teacher is the third. All the three achieve the blessed worlds. But the Brahmasamstha – one who is firmly grounded in Brahman – alone achieves immortality.

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

Bhagavad Gita describes the right and wrong forms of dāna in verses 17.20 through 17.22.

The Adi Parva of the Hindu Epic Mahabharata, in Chapter 91, states that a person must first acquire wealth by honest means, then embark on charity; be hospitable to those who come to him; never inflict pain on any living being and share a portion with others whatever he consumes.

Dāna in rituals

The Hindu wedding has the ritual of kanyādāna (कन्यादान), where the father gives his daughters hand in marriage to the groom, after asking the groom to promise that he will never fail in his pursuit of dharma (moral and lawful life), artha (wealth) and kama (love).

There are other types of charities like donating means of economic activity and food source godāna (donation of a cow), bhudāna (भूदान; donation of land), vidyādāna or jñānadāna (विद्यादान, ज्ञानदान; sharing knowledge and teaching skills), aushadhādāna (औषधदान; charity of care for the sick and diseased), abhayadāna (अभयदान; giving freedom from fear - asylum, protection to someone facing imminent injury) and anna dāna (अन्नदान; giving food to the poor, needy and all visitors).

Zakat and Sadaqah in Islam: [Zakāt" ة‎ zakāh "alms") is giving a fixed portion (2.5% annually) of accumulated wealth by those who can afford it to help the poor or needy, such as for freeing captives or those in debt or (stranded) travellers, and for those employed to collect Zakat. It is considered a religious obligation (as opposed to supererogatory charity) that the well-off owe to the needy because their wealth is seen as a "trust from Gods bounty".

Sadaqah is optional charity, which is practiced as religious duty and out of generosity.

The Quran says: "Spend something (in charity) out of the substance which We have bestowed on you, before Death should come to any of you" (63:10: And spend (in Gods cause and for the needy) out of whatever We provide for you, before death comes to any of you and he says: "My Lord! If only You would grant me respite for a short while, so that I may give alms, and be one of the righteous!).”

One of the early teachings of Muhammad was that God expects men to be generous with their wealth and not to be miserly (Quran 107:1–7)

  1. Did you see him who gives the lie to the Reward and Punishment of the Hereafter?
  2. Such is the one who repulses the orphans away,
  3. and urges not the feeding of the needy.
  4. Woe, then, to those who pray,
  5. but are heedless in their Prayers
  6. those who do good (in order) to be seen
  7. and deny people the articles of common necessity

Accumulating wealth without spending it to address the needs of the poor is generally prohibited and admonished.


Deuteronomy 14:28: "At the end of every third year you shall bring out all the tithe of your produce in that year, and shall deposit it in your town.

Deuteronomy 15:8: but you shall freely open your hand to him, and shall generously lend him sufficient for his need in whatever he lacks.

Job 31:16-22: “If I have kept the poor from their desire, Or have caused the eyes of the widow to fail, Or have eaten my morsel alone, And the orphan has not shared it (But from my youth he grew up with me as with a father, And from infancy I guided her). If I have seen anyone perish for lack of clothing, Or that the needy had no covering, If his loins have not thanked me, And if he has not been warmed with the fleece of my sheep, If I have lifted up my hand against the orphan, Because I saw I had support in the gate, Let my shoulder fall from the socket, And my arm be broken off at the elbow.

Proverbs 19:17: One who is gracious to a poor man lends to the LORD, And He will repay him for his good deed.

Matthew 5:42: "Give to him who asks of you, and do not turn away from him who wants to borrow from you.

Luke 12:33: "Sell your possessions and give to charity; make yourselves money belts which do not wear out, an unfailing treasure in heaven, where no thief comes near nor moth destroys.


According to Buddhism, charity has the effect of purifying and transforming the mind of the giver.

Generosity developed through giving leads to experience of material wealth and possibly being reborn in happy states. In the Pāli Canons Dighajanu Sutta, generosity (denoted there by the Pāli word cāga, which can be synonymous with dāna) is identified as one of the four traits conditioning happiness and wealth in the next life. Conversely, lack of giving leads to unhappy states and poverty.


Dana is described as a virtue and duty. It is considered an act of compassion, and must be done with no desire for material gain.

Four types of Dana are discussed in the texts of Jainism: Ahara-dana (donation of food), Ausadha-dana (donation of medicine), Jnana-dana (donation of knowledge) and Abhaya-dana (giving of protection or freedom from fear, asylum to someone under threat).


Dāna, called Vand Chhako, is considered one of three duties of Sikhs. The duty entails sharing part of ones earnings with others, by giving to charity and caring for others. Examples of dāna in Sikhism include selfless service and langar.

Dr KK Aggarwal

Padma Shri Awardee

President Elect 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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