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Wednesday, January 2, 2013

The True Meaning of Charity (Part 3)


As a disabled child, I was angered by people who thought they had the authority to judge who I was. Others who took it upon themselves to define me. To rob me of any claims to individual identity. I know it was wrong of me. However, given the oppressive ideas of who I should be coming from society, I rejected my body and attached myself to a false idea that I was “normal” whatever that word meant. This might be the only way I could escape from sinking into dependence or of submitting to a poor idea of what I could achieve or who I should be. Unfortunately, as we try to deny part of who we are - in my case, the body - we  are also denying to recognise our human reality - choosing instead the safety to an attachment to a fiction that, inevitably, creates dukkha or dissatisfaction.


However, before we can take the step and recognise that what we have taken to be “charity” so far has been largely a monetary exchange to calm our conscience. Our practice of “charity” has often been a way to escape from the reality of life and of human injustice. It may have been a way to avoid facing the person we deem to be “In need”. When, in truth, we are simply distancing ourselves because we think we are better persons and, in some perverse way, may even believe that the people going through hard times somehow deserve it. This isn’t real charity however. It shouldn’t be the intention of performing an act of charity for sure.


What charity means, according to my current understanding, is the act of being there with the other person. Not believing you are in any way better or more fortunate. It’s an act where you give yourself to the other, placing secondary importance to any differences that are imposed by society. It means accepting the person as a unique individual and at the same time you acknowledge the differences where appropriate, charity requires us to look at the other as a human being. Like us, vulnerable to the process of growth and decay, but also singular in his/her expression of humanity. Genuine charity cannot be separated from compassion. For, in a sense, charity and compassion are, in their true sense, manifestations of the human need to love and belong.


While false charity singles out the person in need as someone external to the ideal of humanity, true charity and compassion recognise that the ideal is flawed as it doesn’t exist in the real world. People are not healthy all the time. People get old. people die. And, as for impairment, many people acquire an impairment as they grow older. Thus, it’s the idea of a perfect, healthy and “normal” body which is, in effect, the abnormality here. No such persons who defy the process of nature exist in the physical world we inhabit. And, it’s time that we change our idea of charity from a means to appease our egos and forfeit our human responsibilities to our brothers and sisters, and really practice a compassion that recognises the singularity and uniqueness of the other and, yet, embraces the other as part of his or her own human family.


The meaning of charity is about being fully human and opening our heart and mind to others. Not for the sake of feeling or looking good. It’s about reaching out to the other without the shackles of prejudice and pride and vanity. It means being there sharing in the experience of life without imposing yourself on the other but listening to the heart of the other as a person first.


As HH the 14th Dalai Lama reminds us:


If you want to be happy, 

practice compassion.

If you want others to be happy,

Practice compassion... 


Only genuine charity and true compassion can guarantee long lasting happiness for us and to the world that surrounds us.


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