January 5, 2011

Good Giving from the Gita Perspective.

Salvation Army Bell Ringer, image via Library of Congress

Are you guilty of greedy giving?

In my last piece on the art-joy-judgment of giving, I explored the Biblical directives via Jesus Christ’s Sermon on the Mount that related to the matter. The ancient Hindu/Yogic text the Bhagavad-Gita also has some insights to explore regarding the motives behind giving.

Jesus instructed care and awareness in karmic action (giving) Matthew 6 when he said, “So, when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by others…But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing.”

In the Bhagavad-Gita, Krishna also warns of the less than pure intentions we can attach to when we give to others. Sloka 2:49 says, “Work done for the sake of some results is much lower than that done in mental equilibrium. Wretched are those motivated by the fruits of their actions.”

In chapter 3, Krishna offers more insight into Karma Yoga—the “yoga path of action,” that we can associate with giving. Sloka 3:25 says, “The unenlightened do things with attachment (wanting some results for themselves). An enlightened person does things with the same zeal, but without attachment, and thus guides others on the path of selfless action (Karma Yoga).”

When giving/gifting, charitably or otherwise, what might be some of those attachments that we need to be aware of? The obvious would be attachment to receiving something back in material form, a card or “thank you” gift. This is a regular practice by many charitable foundations. Give x amount of dollars and get a tote bag thank you gift, or bump your donation to y and you get the T-shirt. Another attachment could be the hope of verbal gratitude from the receiver or a pat on the back from some other benefactor. Just last holiday I felt special when the Salvation Army bell ringer thanked me for my pot donation (and now I feel special that you know I gave a donation! Well actually, with all the awareness of it I feel weird, but you get the point.) Less apparent are the possible attachments to the inner “warm fuzzies” we might feel when we give, and we may even become attached to relieving feelings of guilt or repenting with giving of goods or action.

Here’s an applicable example…have you ever sent another blogger a gift in hopes of getting a blog post about your gift including a link back and traffic? Guilty as charged!

So what’s the deal…nobody should say thanks, show appreciation, or feel good about giving?? Of course not. But when our motivation for giving is to garner these “rewards,” according to Krishna, we are wretched.

This non-attachment and pure intention thing is hard, and I for one suck at it. I like to give to people because it makes me feel good. I admit, I don’t often give someone a present and purely think/feel/say, “Glory to God!” as Jesus instructed. Even when I give charitably, there is often a snippet of guilt complex relief that I’m sating.

So the good fruits of giving/gifting should stay just that. One plants a pumpkin seed in hopes of growing an orange orb, not a rose. The intent of planting is to grow a pumpkin, and when that happens, cheer and move on. No need to carry the pumpkin around for years hoping that the initial feeling of gardening success resurfaces.

Likewise, one can give with the hope, the intent, of their gift being received. If we hope for our gift to turn into a rose, to grow into a thank you-note or a pat on the back or glory to self…we might get our “rose,” but the garden of our heart is turning into some kind of genetically modified chemical laden field of polluted intention.

But what about giving with the intent of showing gratitude? Where does that fit in? I think acting from pure gratitude is part of the “selfless action” that Krishna was referring to. Maybe the gratitude-action is direct to another being, or maybe in general gratitude for the joy of life. Although there is usually some yuck in the mix, gratitude is something I try to focus my giving goals on, and I think it is a great gauge for measuring personal intent.

So as you give and get during the holidays and throughout the year, sync your purpose to that which is greater by watching for wretchedness and remembering the applicable teachings that speak to your path.

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Clare Polencheck  |  Contribution: 5,200