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Is philanthropy outdated in our times?

Is philanthropy outdated in our times?
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First Published: Thu, Jan 20 2011. 11 36 PM IST

Updated: Thu, Jan 20 2011. 11 36 PM IST
Giving and receiving is the basis of all transactions. No interaction can take place without these two. Nowadays, we are constantly trying to elevate one to a place of sanctity and the other to subordination. One is considered superior and the other inferior. Today, we feel we must emphasize the importance of giving only because taking happens in large volumes and giving has become scarce.
In reality, however, there is no giving or taking. With a little deeper perception of life, one can see that there is no such thing as giving and taking. It is just life rearranging itself constantly. Modern science agrees with this today. There is no giving and taking, no adding or subtracting, just a rearrangement of the same energy. If you see everything as yours, you just rearrange as necessary.
When you realize that the essential process of life is a constant transaction, you will realize that for an iota of offering that you make, there are a trillion things to receive all the time. Think of the forces of existence and the zillions of creatures working, knowingly or unknowingly, within your body and outside of it, to make life possible. Everything in the existence is somehow collaborating to keep you alive and well. Only a fool thinks of himself as a giver. Just to be alive is to receive in great abundance.
People who don’t know better may give for various reasons. It may be about ego, or as a means to bury one’s guilt about whatever they did or are doing at present. For some, it is seen as a ticket to heaven. Whichever way, it doesn’t matter; I still would urge them to give, because this process of giving and taking has become so skewed in human societies.
Giving itself is a spiritual process. At an individual level, this simple act enriches and transforms a person, making him more receptive to life. People only need to remember a simple fact: when you open your hands to give, your hands are also open to receive. Just the currency may be different. The receiving is guaranteed.
The process of giving is very significant on a social level also, because the biggest source of instability in any society is the steep economic disparity that exists with it. Because of their ability to manipulate an existing social order, a few people on the planet are becoming obscenely rich, leaving large sections of the population with nothing. This is a ticking time bomb for any society.
Idealists have always talked about breaking down the present structures and going back to the welfare state. All over the world, we have seen that welfare states have led to absolute chaos and no well-being for anybody. Moreover, if you force people to give, what you will end up with is communism.
Communism would be a fabulous idea if people were inclined to share voluntarily. If, as Marx predicted, the richest nations in the world had turned communist, it would be a wonderful world. Ironically, it is the people who have nothing to share who talk about sharing, and not the rich. Communism was about prosperity for all. But unfortunately, it has been misunderstood to become poverty for all. That is why it is such a tragedy.
Spiritual movements can play a large role in addressing this disparity in a manner that is humane and acceptable to all, because any genuine spiritual process at its core is about inculcating inclusiveness in a big way. When people and organizations with a large sense of inclusiveness are empowered by society with financial and material resources, the resultant action is guaranteed to be in the well-being of all and the planet. It is for this reason, historically, that spirituality and philanthropy went hand in hand.
Questions are coming up in some people’s mind as to should one give to a religious body—a temple, church or a mosque—at all, or whether these institutions should concern themselves with welfare at all. This is mostly because of a certain kind of practices followed by some institutions wherein the resources or the funding come from outside a particular society.
In India, the government has been aware of forces outside the country deliberately trying to manipulate the country’s demographics through proselytization and fuelling religious fundamentalism by funding dubious charitable activities. But, like every other institution in society, the activities and accounting processes of these institutions are also subject to the laws of the land, which need to be applied. But the problem with our country is that many a time we have excellent laws but very poor implementation. So what is required is greater scrutiny of their activities rather than curbing them altogether.
Now, is philanthropy the solution to all our problems? When things are really bad, you have to give handouts, but if you want a sustainable solution, in today’s world it has to be a business model, because charity is neither sustainable nor a solution. In this regard, I would say it is more important to build a gentler economy, a more sensitive economy, than to do charity.
Though it is still a reality that 90% of the world’s wealth is being consumed and enjoyed by less than 10% of the population, never before in the history of the whole humanity has wealth been as spread out as it is today. This has been the contribution of private enterprise. It is just that we have to extend the scope of human ingenuity and enterprise to every aspect of life, including philanthropy, and not just to do a particular kind of business. We need to bring in ingenuity into our giving, not curtail it because there has been some misuse.
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First Published: Thu, Jan 20 2011. 11 36 PM IST