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Humanitarian Welfare Work:
An Integral Aspect of Preaching
By Jagadananda das
Several recent articles on Chakra have raised the question of what constitutes appropriate charity for Vaisnavas. Preachers of Krishna consciousness, as we have seen, believe that the ultimate benefit for everyone comes from helping them to awaken their eternal relationship with God. Devotees are said to be compassionate because despite personal difficulty, they try to distribute the knowledge by which this relationship can be nurtured. Those who have been preaching Krishna consciousness know how difficult this is. I would like to propose humanitarian acts as a process both for preaching Krishna consciousness and for developing the compassion that is an integral part of Krishna consciousness.
There are several levels on which humanitarian activity should be seen as helpful in spreading Krishna consciousness. These come to mind immediately. There are probably more:
(1) For propaganda purposes to those who are helped. People who are ill, troubled, or distressed in any way, will remember favorably those who help them. One of the categories of person who becomes a devotee is the distressed. Thus the distressed is a category of potential devotee — not the best source for finding fully committed, full-time devotees perhaps, but certainly for a more generalized, congregational type of devotee. True religious life is only possible for someone whose material needs have been met. Renunciation is only possible for one who has something to renounce. So to work towards the economic uplift of people is not dishonorable. Since most devotees reading this likely come from Western cultures, they should recognize the benefits that have come of their wealth. Our wealth has given us the leisure to consider devotional service after sense gratification failed to give us the fulfilment we looked for.
(2) For propaganda purposes to those who hear about it. This is generally well understood by leaders of the Krishna consciousness movement, but unfortunately abused. I think of the publicity generated in Mayapura many years ago when the cornerstone of a hospital was laid. No hospital was ever built. I think of all the money that was collected for food distribution and went to buying castles in Europe. Without being genuine, this cannot work.
(3) To engage devotees in varnashram activity. Since varnashram in its purest sense is a society in which each individual works for the benefit of the whole, those who cannot engage in "pure" devotional service may be engaged in activities which are of benefit to the poor, the hungry and the downtrodden.
(4) For the development of genuine compassion. How can devotees sustain the aristocratic disdain for human suffering that is such an integral part of caste Hinduism? Being para-duhkha-duhkhi means more than simply feeling vague feelings of sympathy for the suffering masses. Vasudeva Datta wanted to take the sufferings of all beings on himself, and Mahaprabhu assured him that by his simple wish, all living beings were liberated. This is a tough one to accept on faith.
(5) For the development of a genuine service spirit and selflessness. Prabhupada often criticized Vivekananda’s "daridra-Narayana" concept. But can we deny that Narayana is present in the hearts of all living beings? Did not Narayana appear as a beggar to Rantideva to test his charitable spirit? Can we not serve Krishna in man as a consequence of our faith in him? Mahaprabhu says that one can chant the Holy Name only if he "gives respect to all others" (manadena), so perhaps we should see that such compassionate service may contribute positively to our Krishna consciousness.
(6) Help devotees develop an awareness of the misery of the material world (janma-mrityu-jara-vyadhi-duhkha-dosanudarsanam) and detachment. "The intelligent man is always pessimistic," says Prabhupada [see "james.hay" on Folio]. Buddhist philosophy starts with dukkham.
These are just some of the points I want to make. If my suggestions are thought to fall within the category of "conventional morality," I still hope that they will touch some of those who read them. To those who argue that such compassionate activities are misguided, just as it would be to save the coat of a drowning man, I have one question: Could you save a drowning person without his clothes? Would you insist that such a person undress before you would save him or her? Everyone must be dealt with according to his material situation.
How much more honorable it would be to engage in some tangible works of welfare to people rather than arguing about the process of disciplic succession. Tamo-guna, or evil, serves a function: it primes the field. Fighting tamoguna sows the seed of goodness, both in the devotee and in those who are benefitted by him. Humanitarian welfare work should be an integral aspect of any preaching program.
© CHAKRA 2 November 2001
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