Caring for Others
Hindu society recognises and values interdependence. According to Vedic theology, society can meet everyone’s legitimate needs if the various individuals perform their respective duties. These duties embody the ideal of extending God’s shelter to others. For this purpose, the system of varnashrama-dharma allocated specific duties to each varna and ashram. For example, the vaishyas were considered responsible for the animals; women were especially entrusted with nurturing children; kshatriyas were obliged to ensure the physical safety of citizens; and sannyasis were required to remind everyone – especially householders – of their spiritual duties.
The less fortunate were cared for within the extended family. Religious obligations also included various forms of charity. For example, scripture obliges the householder to step outside the front door before each meal and to announce three times “Is anyone hungry? Please come to take your meal!” Only then would the family eat, with or without guests. Today, Hindu families are still renowned for their hospitality. Other acts of generosity include giving alms and clothing, and ritually feeding the poor, holy people and animals. A righteous life, whereby God is perceived in nature, naturally protects the environment. Planting trees and digging wells have long been considered to bestow considerable spiritual merit.
Social change and industrialisation have now meant that Hindus have established charitable organisations to adopt functions previously fulfilled more locally, within the community. These charities are often connected to religious institutions.
Hindu Charities today
- Sewa International
- Food for Life (ISKCON)
- BAPS (Swami Narayana Mission)
- Ramakrishna Mission
- Friends of Vrindavana
Charity given out of duty, without expectation of return, at the proper time and place, and to a worthy person is considered to be in the quality of goodness.