One of the most common myths about Hinduism is that it considers this world a maya or illusion and, therefore encourages Hindus to shun this material world and become ascetics. This is just not true. “Enjoy the resources, the gift of God; do not covet what belongs to others,” say the scriptures (40-1 Yajur Veda). For Hindus, acquiring or producing wealth is a legitimate human activity. Even the Sanskrit word for prayer, prarthana, means “to seek wealth.” Thus, in ancient India, praying was synonymous with seeking some kind of wealth.
Hindu teachings suggest one should live one’s life in four ashrams or phases: the learning, householder, retirement and wandering ascetic phases.
The first quarter of one’s life should be single-mindedly dedicated to learning: acquiring life skills and formal education. This stage of life is termed the brahmcharya ashram, meaning celibacy.
In the second stage, the grihastha ashra, one should work towards obtaining a job, getting married, having children and establishing a household. This phase of life is considered extremely important for the development of society at large. The duty of a householder is to create wealth in order to satisfy his own desires, offer a good standard of living to his family as well as to prepare himself to discharge broader social obligations. Back when these teachings evolved, educational institutions were operated with community donations, retired parents and grandparents had to be supported and wandering ascetics were to be fed by householders. In this manner, the wealth-producing householders supported the entire social structure.
Hindu theology legitimizes acquisition of wealth. According to Hindu belief, the main goal in life is to attain moksha or salvation – release from the cycle of reincarnation and a return to the original universal spirit. One pursues this through virtuous living or dharma. It is also recognized that it is very difficult, if not impossible, to achieve this supreme goal until all legitimate worldly desires and cravings, called kama, are satisfied. It is therefore necessary to follow the path of artha, meaning economic activities or producing wealth. However, it is cautioned that during the process of producing wealth, one must not deviate from the path of dharma, that is one must produce wealth only through virtuous, irreproachable practices and behaviour. Hinduism also promotes contentment and moderation: The Vedas exhort Hindus to not gamble but to earn money by hardworking, honest means and “whatever you get, be satisfied and content with it, for contentment is the basis of happiness; greed, on the other hand, is the source of misery and envy.”
Ancient Hindu literature also hints at rudimentary socialism. After satisfying one’s own desires and family’s needs, one’s remaining wealth belongs to society; the household is merely its custodian. Since surplus wealth can help bring about social justice, Hinduism encourages adherents to share their bounty with the less fortunate by donating to religious and humanitarian causes. “In the hands of generous man, wealth is like a medicinal tree whose gifts of healing help all” (22-217 Tirukural).
The best type of charity is that given with love and humility, without robbing the receiver of his or her self-respect. The highest charity is the one given, according to Lord Krishn, without any expectations in return, ulterior motives or to boost one’s personal pride (Gita, 17.20).
Hindu Canadians donate funds for temple building and other religious causes, but appear not as generous toward social causes. Since they are among the more affluent new Canadians, they can certainly afford to share their wealth with the less fortunate. This, too, is their religious obligation.
This is how charity is emphasized in Hindu scriptures, “Give with devotion; give with dignity; think, consider and then give; give, even, if out of embarrassment; give, even if out of fear. (Taittiriya Upanishad: 1-11).
Article By: Ajit Adhopia
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