The Highest Charity

By Gautam Saha - 16.5 2024

Every civilized person is familiar with the concept of seva or service. Service can be of different types and of different qualities. At home, every member of the family is serving everyone else. Traditionally, the father traditionally earns for the family and is therefore known as the “breadwinner,” while the mother takes care of the home itself by cooking, cleaning, and creating a comfortable and congenial atmosphere. The children obey their parents and perform basic chores or run minor errands, according to the desires of the parents. This kind of seva is at the level of interdependence, each family member is taking care of basic needs based on the principle of partnership. It is material seva. This sort of service, in varying degrees, is also observed in animals, aquatic creatures, birds, and so on.

When we serve our employers or, as a businessman, serve our customers, this type of service is perforce carried out by circumstance and need; it is not voluntary. In the broader society, locality, or community, recognizing common material goals, we sometimes serve on local committees, advisory bodies, NGOs, or otherwise engage in activities whose outcomes are intended to affect the community at large.

This principle can apply to the much larger national and international arena as well. Those who are of a charitable bent of mind, having sufficient disposable money, freely donate materials, money, time, and efforts to those in dire want, or institutions that take care of such needy persons, in the spirit of seva, without expecting anything in return.

And yet these activities concern doing good for the body, either of those who are near and dear or those who we are not directly concerned with but still feel sympathy for. Such service is considered also to be on the material platform. Activities of this sort do not provide any lasting benefit to the soul the actual, eternal person because we all are separate from our temporary material bodies.

This brings us to the question of whether the good we think we have done is going to benefit the recipient temporarily or permanently. Service on the material platform is certainly noble when seen in the context of present social norms and pervasive economic disparities. If we consider things dispassionately, however, we can see that the suffering and happiness of every creature in the material world is preordained, being the fruit of its past karma. Acts of charity may help us obtain pious credits, but they will not help the recipient in his or her spiritual evolution towards liberation. It is therefore better that we serve others in a way that will help them reach the highest perfection, the supreme destination.

Facing the Crucial Moment

At a deeper and more fundamental level, at the spiritual level, we need to nourish the well-being of the spirit soul in order to ensure that it does not again obtain a material body and remain enmeshed in the throes of material nature, which is attended by birth, aging, disease, and death. A living entity’s best interest lies in reconnection with the Supreme Lord Krishna, or Vishnu, the only true benefactor and friend to all living beings and the only one who can grant us liberation from this debilitating condition. At the time of death, the living entity’s salvation lies in recognizing Lord Krishna’s supreme dominion over the entire creation by total surrender to that Supreme Person (Gita 7.30). Whatever form of being we think of at the time of death, that form or body we shall receive in our next birth. In a similar vein, the Lord has promised that if at the time of death we think of Him alone, we shall attain His nature without fail (Gita 8.5–6 ).

Every human being is responsible for his or her activities and consciousness in this life. Although the gross material body is left behind at death, the living entity’s desires, as well as the reactions to his past activities, accompany him after death. However, the Lord guarantees protection to all those who surrender unconditionally to Him. Surrender to the Supreme Lord Krishna is very pleasurable, especially when we see His eternally youthful and beautiful face and His enchanting smile, which can dispel all the miseries of the material world. As Bhishma lay on his bed of arrows, suffering the pangs of pain due to mortal injuries, Lord Krishna appeared at his deathbed and gave him darshana. As a result, all of Bhishma’s pain vanished, and he smiled in anticipation of his glorious future.

Most of us hold very dear to us our spouse, children, pets, possessions, house, money, and so on; if we make the mistake of hankering for any one or more of these at the time of death, in our next incarnation we will get an appropriate body to fulfill our longings, thus continuing the cycle of birth and death. Sadly, we have no one to blame but ourselves for this mammoth blunder. After all, we came into the material world because we did not wish to be subservient to the Lord and instead wanted to enjoy separately from Him.

Lord Krishna is so magnanimous that even if we lead a life of indulgence and sin but think of Him only at the time of death, He will overlook all our sins, and our disrespect and indifference to Him, and consider us His pure devotees. This concept is exemplified in the story of Ajamila in the Srimad-Bhagavatam. When a person, however materialistic or ignoble he might be, approaches the Supreme Lord with sincerity, he is gradually purified as a result of this association, since everything about the Lord is transcendental, untouched by the three modes of material nature, just as all unclean things are sterilized by the powerful rays of the sun. If we spend even a small portion of our life in loving service to the Lord, the reward will be the sterilization of our consciousness of all unclean thoughts, words, and actions.

Since none of us has any inkling when and in what situation we shall quit our body, we should always be prepared to think of the Lord and we should do so as often as possible so that we do not forget Him at the instant of death, which can sometimes be very painful or distracting and hence prevent us from remembering Krishna.

Service to the Soul – Sharing Krishna Consciousness

The Srimad-Bhagavatam (8.9.29) says: “In human society there are various activities performed for the protection of one’s wealth and life by one’s words, one’s mind, and one’s actions, but they are all performed for one’s personal or extended sense gratification with reference to the body. All these activities are baffled because of being separate from devotional service. But when the same activities are performed for the satisfaction of the Lord, the beneficial results are distributed to everyone, just as water poured on the root of a tree is distributed throughout the entire tree.”

Hence the highest welfare activity anyone can perform for any other person is to bring him to Krishna consciousness; induce him to associate with devotees, encourage him to read the authorized scriptures, such as the Bhagavad-gita and Srimad- Bhagavatam, and listen to the discourses of advanced devotees and spiritual masters or acharyas, and also invite him to join in the congregational chanting of the holy name of the Lord Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare/ Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare. By one or more of these processes, anyone can be purified and steadily progress as a sincere and loving devotee of the Supreme Lord Krishna, firmly established on the path to salvation and eternal spiritual life. Since the Lord and His name are non-different, when we chant His name, Krishna actually dances on our tongue, cleansing it of all sinful propensities, just as He danced on the hood of the giant serpent Kaliya, thereby subduing and cleansing the demon of his evil and spiteful nature and paving the way for his salvation.

The Lord Himself states in the Gita (18.68–69), “For one who explains this supreme secret to the devotees, devotional service is guaranteed, and at the end, he will come back to Me. There is no servant in this world more dear to Me than he, nor will there ever be one more dear.” This shows how much the Lord loves us and wants to liberate us all from this enslavement by maya, His external illusory potency, so that we may join Him in a blissful and eternally lasting reunion. It is only our ignorance or indifference that comes in the way. Many times preachers face hostile audiences and sometimes even the threat of violence by persons inimical, even though devotee preachers have nothing but love and sympathy in their hearts for the fallen creatures of Kali-yuga. Hence those who go around explaining the glories and pastimes of Lord Krishna and the substance of the scriptures to the common man should be considered the most magnanimous and munificent persons. Those saintly souls have taken up the transcendental mission of bringing the Lord’s message to the common man, who is so deeply engrossed in material life, by bringing Krishna to his doorstep, thus empowering him to inculcate all the qualities required to cross over the ocean of material life, never to come back to this miserable world. Thus no person can show his love or charity for others in a better way.