An article in Times of India’s on 6th April, 2013 grabbed my attention and has been buzzing in my head since then. The news item informs us that in Mumbai, 85-90% of all organ donations including eye donations are done by Jains and Gujaratis. Coincidentally, both the groups overlap a lot, so I would not be wrong to say that they would be predominantly Jains without doubt. Even if you look at blood donors, the number of camps organized by Kutchi/Gujarati Jains, far outnumber any other community. We also know that Jain community is also one of the bigger philanthropists.
Why is it that all of us have risen out of same Indian cultural ethos, whichever denomination it might be; but Jains, a micro community in numbers, dominates this humanitarian endeavour? I recalled all the religions give call to charity and service to society. Infact, it is enjoined as a duty in all the religions. Is it because Jain brethren follow their religion more positively and follow it in spirit and not just in practice?
The spirit of ‘aparigriha’ is at the heart of Jainism. In Tattvaarth Raajavaartik, Acharya Akalank Dev states that relinquishing animate and inanimate possessions and concentrating on intrinsic attributes of one’s soul constitutes renunciation.
Venerable K. Sri Dhammananda Maha Thera states that Buddhism views charity as an act to reduce personal greed which is an unwholesome mental state hindering spiritual progress. A person who is on his way to spiritual growth must try to reduce his own selfishness and his strong desire for acquiring more and more. He should reduce his strong attachment to possessions which, if he is not mindful, can enslave him to greed. What he owns or has should instead be used for the benefit and happiness of others: his loved ones as well as those who need his help.
Sikhs are also known for their highly dedicated outlook to social service. This spirit of generosity towards your fellow human beings is one of the core beliefs in Sikhi and known as Seva, which literally translates to “selfless service.” Bhai Kanhaiya, a disciple of the tenth Sikh Guru, was, in a sense the predecessor of the modern ambulance. He was often seen serving water to wounded soldiers on both sides, and civilians alike during the Battle of Anandpur Sahib. ‘Kar seva’ is one of the highest duties for the followers of Sikhism.
On occasions of Mahavir Jayanti, (April 23, 2013) Ratan Sharda looks at the charity work by the Jain brethren.
Shri Guru Granth Sahib states - With great effort and exertion, the miser works to gather in the riches of Maya. He does not give anything in charity or generosity, and he does not serve the Saints; his wealth does not do him any good at all.
Traditional Jewish law and practice has included various forms of tithing since ancient times. Traditional Jews commonly practice ma'aser kesafim (tithing 10% of their income to charity). In modern Israel, Jews continue to follow the laws of agricultural tithing etc.
In Christianity, some interpretations of Biblical teachings conclude that although tithing was practiced extensively in the Old Testament. Later it became law and governments charged it while in some cases it was enjoined to be given to the local Church.
All the major European countries still follow the practice of tithe in different ways. In some it is part of government imposed ‘church tax’ to be passed on to various denominations of church, while in some is voluntary and paid by those who profess Christianity. Those who don’t wish to pay it, can opt out by declaring and opting out of Church.
Zakaat or "alms giving", one of the Five Pillars of Islam, is the giving of a small percentage of one's income to charity. It serves principally as the welfare contribution to poor and deprived Muslims, although others may have a rightful share. It is the duty of an Islamic state not just to collect zakat but to distribute it fairly as well. Another mechanism for voluntary charity and support for religious organization in the Islamic States (in the old days) was to take one-tenth of the income or product, which is called ushar (1/10th in Arabic) and give it to a mosque. To date this ushar strictly goes to the local mosques in Islamic countries, such as Afghanistan and the most qualified person for the ushar is considered to be the Imam and his students (Talib). This practice is prevalent as a social obligation even in countries like India which are not run under Islamic governance.
In the Vedas, the earliest tradition of Hindu scriptures, daana is glorified as just as efficacious for God/ Self-realization as the traditional paths of yajna and tapasya. Of the ten niyamas (the observances or practices) that every ideal Hindu should follow, the third observance is daana, giving or charity - giving generously without thought of reward. Though charity work wonders for one’s purification of soul it only happens when does it selflessly without any intention.
The foremost example of highest sacrifice for the society from the earliest times of Hindu society remains Rishi Dadhichi. He is credited with giving up his life in order to allow the Devas to use his bones to make weapon to defeat the Asura Vritra. India's highest award for gallantry, Param Vir Chakra, carries a symbol of Dadhichi’s bones in form of ‘vajra’.
Yajurveda says -
Isha vasyam idam sarvam, yatkimcha jagatyam jagat.
Ten tyakten bhunjitha, ma gridhah kasya swid dhanam.
To paraphrase - Renounce all that is unjust and enjoy all that is pure delight. Don’t covet/grab unjustly the wealth.
While the elevated form of Hinduism quoted above was reduced to personal moksha and limited to worshipping God within one’s four walls during the foreign rule of a thousand years, Swami Vivekananda who gave a social context to Hindu religion all over again. Not even a Sanyasi according to Swami Vivekananda could be permitted to not to take to service of the needy. He wrote to his brother disciple Swami Akhandananda, “It is preferable to live on grass for the sake of doing good to others. The Gerua robe is not for enjoyment. It is the banner of heroic work. You must give your body, mind, and speech to "the welfare of the world". You have read - look upon your mother as God, look upon your father as God"- but I say - the poor, the illiterate, the ignorant, the afflicted - let these be your God. Know that service to these alone is the highest religion.” It is unfortunate that the followers of mainstream traditional Hindu religion have not yet returned fully to the elevating path shown by Vedas and Swami Vivekananda and still cling to practices that lead to moksha for self.
Thus, we find that all the religions in their purest form exhort, motivate and urge human beings to serve fellow human beings and society. Unfortunately, this message gets buried in politics of domination, conversion and imperialism being spread in the name of religion by their so called leaders. Extremist Secularists who believe in ‘irreligious state’ may condemn state’s role in forcing its citizens to shell out ‘tithe’ or ‘zakaat’, but that’s a different point od discussion. The fact remains that these practices helped religions survive and thrive. It is the misuse of religion that has over shadowed the positivity of these practices.
We need to re-learn from Jain brethren, this spirit of sacrifice for the society, the highest form of religion. By going back to noble virtues of religions we may bring back a semblance of humanity in the society wrecked by self-centered consumerism, self-gratification and violence of all kind.