Charity is giving help voluntarily to the person in need or the organization set up for the purpose. The word charity originated in late old English to mean a "Christian love of one's fellows," Charity is done out of compassion.
In Hinduism, various Hindu scriptures such as Puranas, Mahabharata, Ramcharitramanas etc., have highlighted importance of donation or daan. Under Pancha maha yajnas, every householder has to do five offerings to Devatas, Ṛishis, Pitris (departed ancestors), living beings and human beings. These offerings or charities are obligatory as against voluntary offerings done in west.
Sri Vivekananda’s concept of charity is the service of all beings in the spirit of the God. The ideal of service is inspired by reverence and humility. The giver thanks to the receiver and the receiver stand up and permit.
The practice of giving to the needy is Charity. Charity may be in cash or kind; directly or through a charitable organizations. Charitable giving may be as a religious act. Donations may be voluntary or obligatory under the law such as Corporate Social Responsibility. However, private charity has almost come to end after inflation, break down of joint family system, new taxation system and with the rise of the standard of living.
Many social charity institutions are coming up. But the danger of drying up of voluntary charity is always there which increases their dependence on government. Further, the donor misses the spiritual joy of giving and seeing the effect of his gifts immediately or in course of time. The social worker, through whom the donation is given, may not always feel uplifted. The receivers often ‘demand’ things as their right. There is always a danger of misuse in institutionalized donation.
Breaking of joint family system is rendering women and children helpless. A few old homes, Vanaprastha Ashramas (homes), children Ashram (Anathashrama) etc. came up.
Charity in Hinduism:
In Hinduism, every householder was expected to perform five daily duties or sacrifices. These are called pancha maha yajnas. These are offerings to Devatas, Ṛishis, Pitris (departed ancestors), living beings and human beings. These are called as Dev Yajna, Rishi Yajna, Pitr Yajna, Bhuta Yajna and Manushya Yajna respectively.
It was considered to be one of the five main duties. Shree Krishna in Shrimad Bhagavad Gita has explained three types of donations viz. Satvika, Rajsika and Tamsika. The detachment begins by donations and forgiveness. (A comprehensive article on charity named as “Act of giving - Charity, Donation or दान” has been published in this website on 2nd March, 2019 under the category of Puja & Bhakti.)
Service of deity:
During the medieval period, the philosophers such Ramanujacharya, Nibakacharya, Madhavacharya, Vallabhacharya etc. introduced the system of services to be offered to the deity. Service in the form of Navdha Bhakti of the deity (listening, kirtan, meditating, service, worship, salutation, servitude, comradeship, and total surrender) was accepted by Sri Madhavacharya.
Broadly, ten types of worship or service are included viz. Ritual worship of deity, Arti, Bhajan or Kirtan, Darshan or taking audience of a deity, Prasad – offering and eating sacred food, Pravachan – talk or lecture on the scriptures, Havan – the sacred fire ceremony, Japa/Meditation/Prayer – internal practices of worship, Parikram/Pradakshina – circumambulation and Seva – active service, to the deity.
Shri Vallabhacharya, who started Pushti Marga, had introduced Shringar (adoring), Bhog (offering food) and Raag (melody & music) in service of deity. During the day, eight darshan (glimpse) of deity is permitted – after waking up (Mangla), after taking bath (Shringar), after breakfast (Gval), after mid-day meal (Rajbhog), afternoon nap (Utthanpan), after evening snacks (Bhog), bath before evening meal (Sandhya) and after evening meal & before going to sleep (Shyan).
Service of poor & downtrodden:
Swami Vivekananda, the disciple of Sri Ramakrishna, who lived for around thirty nine years (Born on 12th January 1863 & died on 4th July, 1902), wrote
“Who loves all beings, without distinction, He indeed is worshipping best his God”.
He believed that service to the poor, the miserable and the weak is doubly beneficial. If we forget God in the temple the whole service is practically a loss whereas in case of service to poor at least the sufferings will be physically mitigated. Hence, it is more useful.
He said: Service cannot degenerate into charity. A person becomes charitable either to get rid of beggar or to get name and fame or if it is a purer motive, out of sympathy. Altruistic actions are performed for one’s own sake. The ideal of service is inspired by reverence and humility. The giver thanks to the receiver and the receiver stand up and permit. The worshipper can only serve and adore, not pity and help. No service is small, for all work is God’s service and he takes as much care of the means as of the end.
Reference: Vedanta & Vivekananda by Swami Swahananda