Monday, September 14, 2009

Be Always Charitable

Sita Devi being charitable “Do you give away jewels to the brahmanas and edibles to the beggars longing for them, and make haste without delay. Confer upon the brahmanas valuable ornaments, excellent clothes, pleasant toys, beds, conveyances and other fine things in your possession and then what remains do you distribute amongst the servants.” (Lord Rama speaking to Sita Devi, Valmiki Ramayana, Ayodhya Kand, Sec 30)

God is most kind to His devotees. They are the one group of people that He never forgets and whom He holds very dear. A great example of this was displayed by Lord Rama many thousands of years ago.

Lord Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, personally descends to earth from time to time in order to give pleasure and protection to His devotees. Thousands of years ago, a great Rakshasa demon by the name of Ravana was ascending to power, killing everyone in his wake. Known for feasting off flesh, Ravana and his band of Rakshasas were harassing the great sages of the world and interrupting their regular worship of God. For this reason, Krishna appeared as Lord Rama, a pious prince and expert warrior destined to kill Ravana and restore the laws of dharma to the world.

As part of His pastimes, the Lord willingly accepted an order from His father to spend fourteen years in the forest as an exile. Maharaja Dashratha, the king of Ayodhya, was forced to give such an order to Rama, His eldest son, due to a promise he had made to his youngest wife Kaikeyi. Lord Rama had no problem with such a request since He was God Himself and possessed the quality of renunciation to the fullest extent. Lord Rama’s wife, Sita Devi, was able to convince Him to allow her to come along to the forest after a lengthy argument. Right before leaving, Rama instructed Sita to give away all of the couple’s valuable possessions to the brahmanas.

Such an incident is very striking due to its timing. The Lord and His wife were in the midst of the most trying time in their lives up to that point. Yet the first thing they thought of was how to please the priestly class of men in society, the brahmanas. For most of us, in times of distress, charity is the last thing that we think about. It’s quite natural for one to focus on one’s own problems and give way to excessive lamentation during such occasions. But Sita and Rama were no ordinary people. They were the same Radha and Krishna, Lakshmi and Narayana, but in the dress of human beings. They saw it as their duty to set a good example for generations to come.

Brahmanas performing marriage ceremony of Sita and Rama Bona fide brahmanas, who are classified as such based on qualities and work, are held in such high esteem because they have abandoned everything and surrendered their life unto Krishna. It is important to note the distinction between qualified brahmanas and those who claim to be brahmanas by birth.

“According to the three modes of material nature and the work ascribed to them, the four divisions of human society were created by Me. And, although I am the creator of this system, you should know that I am yet the non-doer, being unchangeable.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 4.13)

One cannot belong to a caste simply by birthright, for the varnashrama dharma system is based on the qualities a person possesses and not who their mother or father is. True brahmanas are those who have realized the meaning of life, which is to surrender unto God and to love Him. This is the last instruction given by Lord Krishna Himself in the Bhagavad-gita:

“Abandon all varieties of religion and just surrender unto Me. I shall deliver you from all sinful reaction. Do not fear.” (Bg 18.66)

Lord Krishna delivering Bhagavad-gita The lesson here is that we should not be overly attached to our possessions. Material wealth and opulence is only temporary and should be treated as such. We have a tendency to hoard our possessions and constantly hanker after bigger and better things. Special occasions like birthdays, anniversaries, and Christmas bring out these feelings, especially in children. However, the Vedas teach us the right way to celebrate all occasions, good and bad. Sacrifice and charity are the means of purification in this world. One cannot make advancements in spiritual understanding without performing tapasya, the voluntary acceptance of austerities. To live an austere lifestyle, one has to detach themselves from worldly possessions or at the very least limit their possessions to things of necessity. We can take steps towards achieving this goal by acting charitably.

Charity is often associated with acts of benevolence towards those we view as less fortunate. Philanthropists open hospitals and schools in underprivileged neighborhoods, and they give away millions of dollars to the needy. While this is all very nice, the Vedas instruct us to only give charity to worthy individuals. All wealth originally belongs to God, emanating from Goddess Lakshmi, who is Sita Devi herself. She gives wealth and fortune to God through her service, and she kindly provides us some of that wealth in order that we may use it in the same manner, in service to God. The brahmanas are God’s dependents, so all charity should be directed towards them. When wealth is sacrificed in this way, it benefits both the giver and the receiver, whereas charity on the material platform often benefits no one. Lord Rama and Sita Devi are the kindest of all. May we repay that kindness by sacrificing our time, energy, and money in service to them and their devotees.