“If one wishes to benefit his fellow brother, he must awaken his dormant Krishna consciousness. The Krishna conscious position is that of pratibuddha, which means "pure consciousness.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Shrimad Bhagavatam, 3.27.25 Purport)Download this episode (right click and save)
“No good deed goes unpunished.” This phrase is usually viewed in a humorous light. The father of a large family decides to take everyone on a short vacation to a place he considers worth seeing. He pays for an expensive hotel room and arranges for excursions to tourist attractions. At the end the family complains about how cheap he is. They chastise him for dragging them out of their homes to a place they didn’t even want to visit.
This is a small deed that seems good, but what about some of the more common acts of kindness? Can those ever go wrong? Can it be a bad thing to feed someone who is hungry? What about healing someone who is sick? Does that ever cross into the territory of adharma?
Dharma is the Sanskrit word for religion. It doesn’t mean religion exactly, since dharma has nothing to do with faith. Sort of like how gravity is not something dependent on believers, dharma is the scientific position of something. It is the defining characteristic. The definition for dharma extends into religiosity and duty since these two things help to maintain the essential characteristic in the individual, who is a spirit soul.
One aspect to duty is charity. In the Bhagavad-gita we get the concept of three kinds of charity. Gifts in goodness go to the proper recipient, at the proper time, and without any expectation of return. Charity in passion is done with a motive. Think of it like remembering the money you gave to someone when they were in trouble. Charity in ignorance goes to the inappropriate recipient, at the inappropriate time.
adeśa-kāle yad dānam
apātrebhyaś ca dīyate
tat tāmasam udāhṛtam
“And charity performed at an improper place and time and given to unworthy persons without respect and with contempt is charity in the mode of ignorance.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 17.22)
If someone comes up to you and asks for food, should you give it to them? What if you feed them and then they go on to commit a crime? What if a beggar on the street asks you for money, which they intend to use to buy a gun to carry out a mass murder? These are examples of charity in ignorance, which proves that good deeds sometimes aren’t very good at all.
The demigods can run into trouble in this area. Though their gifts technically aren’t charity, the exchanges are similar since they involve a benefactor and a beneficiary. The demigods are in assigned posts, which stipulate that they must grant their worshipers whatever material rewards they ask for. The famous villain Ravana asked for so many boons, as did Hiranyakashipu. Both of these characters used their gifts procured from the demigods to harm the innocent people of the world.
There is the example of Vrikasura. This demon worshiped Lord Shiva since he heard that Mahadeva is the easiest to please. Vrikasura asked for the boon to be able to kill someone simply by touching their head. After seeing his great austerity, Lord Shiva became pleased and granted this wish. Vrikasura then proceeded to chase after Mahadeva, in the hopes of touching his head and taking away his wife Parvati. Lord Vishnu finally intervened and saved the day.
His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada says that the best way to help our fellow man is to give them Krishna consciousness. Obviously there is some self-interest served here, as Shrila Prabhupada is an eternal servant at the feet of Shri Shri Radha and Krishna, the original female and male aspects of the Supreme Personality of Godhead. He’s getting what he wants by having others take up the same kind of devotion.
At the same time, there is something unique about this kind of charity. It never comes back to bite you. By definition it cannot go to waste; it cannot do harm. Bhakti-yoga saves someone from a life of crime. There is the Rakshasa on the lowest level of the criminal ladder, and above them is the asura, who only exploits the material nature for his own sense gratification. The Rakshasa openly violates the standards of decency, while the asura merely denies the existence of God while giving a show of being law-abiding.
Bhakti-yoga is pure goodness. Practiced properly and to maturation, it gives the divine vision. The yogi in bhakti sees the Supreme Lord within all creatures. They empathize with every living entity, knowing how difficult the struggle through a material existence is. They have no desire to take anyone’s property since they know that everything originally belongs to God. They don’t hate, since they lack material desires. Hate can only arise from envy and frustrated desires, but in bhakti the only anxiety is how to better serve the Supreme Lord Krishna.
Giving bhakti-yoga is quite safe and it brings benefits that spread throughout the society. The sound of the holy names is the potent elixir for the troubled mind. Having these holy names enter the ear from a devoted soul is the greatest benediction, one that is above the three kinds of charity. The holy names are pure goodness, through and through: Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare.
Charity to help seems right,
But sometimes to come back and bite.
Like when money to one giving,
So that for a crime committing.
Even with demigods the same,
Like Vrikasura who to Shiva came.
But bhakti-yoga never to burn,
Gives to soul for what they yearn.