Like many of the Biblical teachings, this phrase in its simplicity is overlooked, yet like most simple teachings, it is profound, reaching into the roots of Being.
In some instances, charity is associated with bazaars, rummage sales, soup kitchens, doles, the "give a dime" programs, drives of all kinds, and highly complex organizations and institutions. But is there not a better and simpler way to help each other? By probing deeper we find that all these methods are manifestations of an almost total lack of charity, rather than an abundance of it.
One is reminded of the young zealot who went to a remote tribe of aborigines in the South Seas to show them a better way of life, and acquaint them with the Christian God. On the surface, many ills were discovered and remedied, but as to the fundamentals he was startled to find some of their standards higher than our so-called civilized ones. For one thing, he discovered no institutions for orphan or aged care! Why? There were no orphans, because children bereft of parents were made blood-members of some village family. There were no old-folks' homes, because the elders were provided for — not as aged burdens, but as respected and loved members of the family. Thus, the young missionary found no need for organized relief as we know it, for through unsophisticated ideas of shared responsibility, every villager was clothed, fed and provided for — without examination of motive, but purely on the basis of love for one's neighbor.
It is a human frailty that in times of depression, in cycles heavily laden with suffering, we band together through fear for the common good, such experiences bringing forth the best in human nature, and raising ordinary emotions into the field of compassion and courage. Why can we not arrive at the same high level through real brotherhood, like the simple villagers of the South Seas, instead of through fear and hate?
Many today feel that Charity has become simply a robot, spilling itself around by an unthinking push-button method. Whatever we give or do, must be accompanied with rewards in the shape of stickers, buttons, badges and other adolescent paraphernalia. We want the world to know we have "given our share." We thus feel a selfish pride in being in degree at least a philanthropist, a good Samaritan, a benefactor. There are others, however, who recognize this as the negative pole of true charity, which in the final analysis is truly a moral sensibility to our brother's feelings, his heartfelt needs, his self-respect, and his inner dignity as a human being. With recognition that every man is a Child of God, who is superior, who inferior?
The great humanitarians, thinking naught of self or reward, help whenever and wherever they can. When such souls become the rule rather than the exception, then the world will change from a field of suffering to one of peace and happiness.
In the personal emotional field, charity runs all too often into the realm of martyrdom; not in that spiritualized form of those who die for an ideal or give up their life for mankind; but the ordinary run-of-the-mill martyrdom — an exalted form of self-pity. How often in family or neighborhood life do we hear the dirges of self-pity, when the "do-gooder" meets with rebuff or indifference? But was the motive really to help, or more to satisfy some personal need of self-expression? Too often good deeds and charitable gifts are the fruits of emotional satisfactions, the desire to implant our own living habits, desires, and ideas into another's way of life. Naturally one is met with rebuffs. Seldom does the giver put himself in the place of another and view the circumstance or need through the recipient's eyes, and thus help him to help himself in his own way.
In psychology, we recognize how closely love and hate are bound together, through intolerance, the love in one cycle turning to hate and wars in another. Who wants to be "tolerated" under some form of compulsion? No one of us wishes to be merely accepted by some "holier-than-thou" person or group. Tolerance implies forbearance, a suffering of moral endurance, robbing any relationship, whether individual, group, national or international of all respect, love, and beauty. Were the simple heart-warming virtues lived instead of used either as an intellectual pursuit, or emotional abstraction, it would be impossible for love to turn to hate. Instead tolerance would transmute itself into mutual understanding, doing away with bigotry, dogmatism and wars.
In the field of ethics how often we hear the phrase "We must feel charitable toward him." Analyzed, this denotes a smug, self-righteous inner feeling, separating the judge from the judged in an uncharitable manner. No individual knows until certain moral or other traps are met with face to face, just what his own reaction will be. In such instances, would anyone wish friends and loved ones to feel 'charitable' toward him? Is that not the time we long for understanding, for the good friend just to stand by, without criticism, in the hour of need? It will not pay for any one of us to judge another, or feel too sure of our ethical strength — at least until we have gone through some similar temptation, and triumphed over it.
In religion (not religions, the great dividers, but religion per se, the field in which the spiritual life of all peoples meets at the hub of the wheel) we seldom run into the charity Jesus had in mind. More often our good works are merely a bribe, or exchange of commodity. It becomes a system of barter wherein cast-off clothing, worn-out household goods, and often a Bible, are exchanged for a promised change of concept. In dealing with the so-called pagan peoples, food, shelter, medical relief, education and other material benefits are offered, provided the recipients agree to cast off old ideas and adopt new creeds and beliefs. Seldom is the value in the recipients' own spiritual concepts searched for. Seldom is friendship fostered by an interchange of idea and ideal. Seldom do we hear of a courteous approach toward learning the other peoples' way to God — or Truth. And in the Christian Scriptures many parables give wisdom and right action along this line, and real religion, real charity breeds a mutual self-respect, and calls forth help with no strings attached.
Have we in our mechanized life and wrong sense of values missed something along the way? Many of today's leading thinkers are beginning to feel we have. All realize we are witnessing the death of one cycle and the birth of a new one. How to meet this great change with its destruction of old forms, worn-out ideas, useless concepts, and lack of charity, is the great problem. They all agree that we must overcome restricted, uncharitable, non-understanding attitudes of one race or culture toward another. We must become global in our thinking and humanitarian in our hearts, if mankind is to survive the present and future changes.
In an attempt to regain lost ground new schools of thought are rising up to help us out of our world-wide predicament. The Humanist philosophy which recognizes the innate Divinity of Man, and hopes to restore mankind to his true dignity, is one such. The school of Universalism, which seeks to uncover the identity beneath all the Great World Religions is another. In higher educational circles, we find a synthesis of science, religion and philosophy becoming more popular. This is the age-old type of education, taught for centuries in the Mystery Schools of old, forgotten for a time, and now being reborn. This method gives the student through science an understanding for the intellect, through philosophy light for the mind, and through religion love for the heart, all of which, when integrated make for a balanced life, and a "whole" person, in the sense of being completed, perfected. This science of "wholes" is another of the new schools of thought gaining in popularity.
In many colleges, oriental and religious departments are instituting liberal courses in an effort to understand the Inner life of other peoples. They are breaking through the old misconceptions into a new Universalism. This doctrine of "wholes" now being revived shows that we must develop not only the psychological-emotional-mental fields of energy, but also begin to live in the higher spiritual centers of our being in order to be a perfect "whole."
To the Higher Self, there are no distinctions of race, creed, color, modes of life or religious concepts. To its vision all men are brothers, all Children of God. It sees humanity as a whole, slowly on the march to becoming a mental-spiritual Man, instead of an emotional-mental creature. Thus, not being aware of any barriers, but only of the call of one human heart to another, true charity can begin to manifest itself.
This is what the Great Ones down the ages have practiced. Did Jesus or Buddha turn aside from the wrong-doer, or shudder at the diseased or morally weak ones? The type of love that the Great World Teachers have for mankind is Charity in its truest innermost meaning. It is sympathy, placing oneself in another's shoes, and knowing instantly, by intuition, by the inner voice of the spirit, how to act. It is compassion, which gives all men another chance, and another chance, and still another chance to rise again. It is the mercy which hears the cry of anguish from a tortured world, and sends a Message of Hope.
This message has from time immemorial been the same, regardless of whether it came from the heart of Confucius, the Buddha, Krishna, or Jesus. It is that all men are children of the Divine. It is that the Kingdom of Heaven is in the heart of each and every one. It is that there are within each human being channels, doorways and avenues, by which we can contact this Light of the Spirit, and use it to benefit all that breathes. If we follow their simple, yet profound injunctions, ordinary charity would cease to be, for the causes would be removed.
(From Sunrise magazine, September 1952; copyright © 1952 Theosophical University Press)