Question: What is charity?1

Sri Chinmoy: Charity is a form of self-giving. If we have ten dollars and give five pennies, then we feel we have done an act of charity. In charity, we usually give just a little. Although we have a large quantity of something, we give just a portion of it and feel that this is more than enough. We justify ourselves by saying, "We have given only this little portion, but who has the right to tell us to give more? We did not have to give anything at all!"

When we give something with charity, we have a kind of inner feeling that the world will come to know of our kind action and appreciate and admire us. We tell others that we are giving and then we wait like a beggar to see who is appreciating us or who is acknowledging our charity. So always there is some expectation or condition associated with our gift.

There is a great difference between charity and self-offering. In the spiritual life, when we speak of self-offering, it means that we are trying to give what we have and what we are unconditionally to God or to mankind. Self-giving is a giving of the entire, integral being; it comes from the body, vital, mind, heart and soul. What we have and what we are, we are giving wholeheartedly to a divine cause. Charity is also a form of self-giving, but in only a very, very limited measure; it comes from an infinitesimal portion of our existence. It is by no means complete self-giving. Complete self-giving comes only when we have the capacity to identify ourselves with the infinite light and the infinite Vast. In real self-giving, we feel that we are giving to our own expanded self. In fact, we do not feel that we are the givers; we feel that it is the Divine in us who is giving to the Divine in others.

  1. MUN 366. June 1978.