Deeply inspired by the great philanthropists in our times, one often does struggle with the very dilemma of how and what we can do in terms of charity or say social service. Generally such noble intentions do veer toward sending supplies and relief material to the victims of natural disasters, accidents, disease and such. One might also perhaps commit a part of earnings regularly towards charity, as many religious traditions encourage, or one could offer skills to benefit others.
Let us look at this: What part of you experiences joy after an act of philanthropy? Is the joy more complete because of the number of people who benefited? Is philanthropy only about constantly distributing the resources to the needy? Instead, can philanthropy be about offering what you are, rather than what you have?
The entire concept of comparing one’s act of kindness to that of a more resourceful and bigger philanthropists is needless and superficial. Kindness as a virtue, and an act, is not limited by, cannot be gauged by its outcomes. Hence, it has less to do with the quantity of resources that are distributed or variety of actions committed; instead, it is related to the quality of the virtue—its strength plus an unconditional, uncalculated dissemination. So, it totally demands a shift inside oneself.
There are two kinds of joy anticipated with any act of philanthropy. The joy of unconditional giving, with absolutely no expectations, and another joy that is a sense of “feel good,” driven by the ego, which serves as a superficial assurance of self-image because charity appears to be awesome and makes one feel good about oneself and more so to be acknowledged by others.
The catalyses are a deep investigation of what it means to be rather than have. The lack of heart and love, often tainted by actions, especially when overwhelmed with fear—assigned because the task was unsuited or uncomfortable. A glimpse of this tendency is perceived as a distorted sense of one’s own capacity, and of others in the same environment. This very emotion of fear, like any aversion, is itself a message for us to look deeper within ourselves. It does invite us to face the challenge at hand fully, as an opportunity to prioritize what is actually needed, rather than what one would like to do because of convenience or comfort.
The realization that the ability to give does lay beyond the lies of my subjective opinions, fears, and comforts is a brilliant viewpoint. Pushing beyond this required courage, altruism and confidence, this effort captures the true meaning of volunteering, and in it perhaps lies the essence of philanthropy.
The investigation of emotional triggers and fragility is a lifelong one, and one cannot claim to have suddenly changed into a serene being overnight. This investigation is about gently allowing oneself to understand how deeply altruism and self-denial is connected with the mindfulness of one’s own inner state of being.
Let’s hear from revered Buddhist teacher Kyabgon Phakchok Rinpoche:
“The best friend in your life, the best teacher, the best gift you can give yourself or anyone else, is a mind that has the pillar of mindfulness. The mindfulness that knows what it’s thinking, that knows what it’s saying, and knows what it’s doing. The way to accomplish this, is by the diligent daily practice my friends.”
Our true generosity emerges from who we really are, rather than what we have. If we can dare to exercise these human values then life is no longer just about distributing resources, which is admirable by itself. Then there is no limit to offering goodness and exercising a mindful response, especially in times of crisis. This serves as a means to share the best version of ourselves; we can spread hope by actualizing our inner potentials as well. Is there a greater gift one can give to the world? Perhaps it will come about in the form of becoming a better friend, neighbor, co-worker and/or family member.
The wise Confucius often suggested that a human being’s internal harmony is essential for the harmony within our community, within our nation and finally translates between all the nations of the world. Let us consider it to be a glimpse into the deep truth. To be able to embody the values of truth, goodness, beauty and justice in our words, thoughts and actions, practically paves the way for a better society and a better world. This effort may sound lofty, because to fight one’s ego is a tough battle.
Interestingly, the same solution is offered to all of us by contemporary thinkers like Matthieu Ricard and eminent writer Yuval Noah Harari—who agree that all the keys for the complete survival of the human race, for the biggest crises like the pandemic, the ecological crisis, the potential nuclear flashpoint, or the implications of the “digital dictatorships”—are only going to emerge from the harmony, global solidarity and finally cooperation at all levels of humanity. This can only come from the individual keys of love and altruism within the hearts of each one of us.
This makes the joy of giving by being and has everything to do with a higher, eternal part and not dependent on the number of people being helped or the volume of resources one has access to.
The great Albert Einstein concurs;
“Every good thought, every good word, every good emotion, and every act of kindness, is lifting the vibration of your being to new heights. And as you do begin to raise your complete vibration, a new life and a new world will often reveal itself to you.”