Question: Charity is sometimes criticised for being impersonal and patronising and assuaging our guilt. How does the concept of service differ from charity?

Sri Chinmoy: Charity and service are spelled differently and their meanings also are totally different. Whenever we use the term 'charity', there is a feeling of superiority and inferiority. Let us say that I have millions and billions of dollars and you have nothing. I feel that you are an object of pity, so I give you ten dollars. At that time, I feel that you are a beggar and do not deserve even ten dollars. So this is charity, and it is the wrong approach for dealing with others.

If I say that I am helping you, I am also making a deplorable mistake. Who am I to help anyone? If I say that I help the world, then I am the worst possible fool. Only God can help. I can only serve, and I must serve out of a feeling of oneness. If a mother hears her child crying because he is hungry, immediately she comes to feed him. When the mother gives food to the child, she does not think that her child is inferior. No, she has already established her oneness with the child, and she feels the child's hunger as her own.

When we establish our oneness with the rest of the world, we feel the entire world as our very own. When I offer something to you because you are in need, I feel that I am only giving to my larger self. In serving you, I feel that I am serving myself. This is the spiritual approach — not charity, with its feeling of superiority and inferiority, but service, which is based on oneness.