(Today’s article is by guest writer Shahreen Quazi. Brief bio is provided below.)
Giving from the heart has many forms and names, but at some point, humanity started considering it as a way for attaining spiritual rewards. This could indeed have started with indigenous cultures but one of the first known recorded words for giving for spiritual reward or purification, was and is “dana”.
Dana is a word from the Pali language, used in ancient Buddhist scriptures. Dana represents giving for spiritual rewards. Dana also means a tiny seed, but it has the meaning as vast as all the trees put together in a forest. According to Bhikku Boddhi, when giving lessons, the first topic discussed when faith, dhamma, was described by Buddha was danakatha, which literally means “talk on giving”. After prospective disciples understood what dana meant, then further teaching about dhamma was provided by Buddha. In that sense, to understand spirituality itself not just spiritual rewards, you had to first understand giving from the heart to yourself and others.
A closed heart or mind is not steady and able to understand spirituality and its beauty. Dana was and is seen primarily as an individual act, but in ancient times, the Greeks looked at giving as a family act.
The often-used word, philanthropy comes from the ancient Greek word philanthrōpía, which literally means love for humanity. According to Team Give, philanthropy was practiced by the wealthy families in the ancient world, to help the poor with long-term solutions; charity was done when a calamity hit.
This philosophy of philanthropy and charity carried through to Abrahamic religions in text and practice, just as dana has continued in Asia to represent acts of giving, philanthropy and charity were both seen and still are seen to bring good karma and blessings to the donor and their family.
In Judaism, there is tzedakah, which translates from Hebrew into English as justice, and before prayer, it is recommended that sharing your wealth with the poor is done. There are at least 16 Biblical verses just about kindness and among them if you read Luke 6:35, that specifically refers to a spiritual reward for kindness towards humanity.
In Luke 6:35 of the Bible, it is written, “But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High; for He Himself is kind to ungrateful and evil men”.
While most religions have mentioned kindness, charity and philanthropy as something that one should discuss or do, there is one religion that has made a form of charity obligatory in practicing faith.
Islam has obligatory charity, which is called zakat and then voluntary charity, which is called sadaqa. The reason for both types of giving is simple, it is for spiritual reward. In the Holy Quran, it is stated that “ establish prayer and give zakat, and whatever good you put forward for yourselves – you will find it with Allah.” (2:110, Quran).
Do you see a pattern here? To start the teaching of religion, Buddha taught dana first. Before starting prayers, Judaism recommends doing tzedakah first. In ancient societies and in the Bible, love of humanity is integral to having a spiritual life. In Islam, you must give zakat then sadaqa if you can.
What does all this tell us about the bond between giving charity and spirituality? Does it not tell us that in all societies and religions, ancient and modern, understanding charity is the first step to understanding spirituality?
The Spiritual Naturalist Society works to spread awareness of spiritual naturalism as a way of life, develop its thought and practice, and help bring together like-minded practitioners in fellowship.
SNS strives to include diverse voices within the spectrum of naturalistic spirituality. Authors will vary in their opinions, terms, and outlook. The views of no single author therefore necessarily reflect those of all Spiritual Naturalists or of SNS.
Bio: Shahreen Quazi is based in Natick, Massachusetts. She co-founded Tins, Trunks & Trousseau Inc. with her mother Sophia Huq in 2019. She tries to teach that giving back to humanity can be done in many forms and has many rewards.
Links for on Charity:
Meaning of the Pali Word “Dana” – Dharma Wisdom
The Gift of Generosity – Dharma Wisdom
Dana: The Practice of Giving (accesstoinsight.org)
What is philanthropy? Understanding the concept, history, and benefits of giving – Give’s Blog
Tzedakah: Charity – How to give, how much to give, and the uniquely Jewish perspective on charity – Chabad.org
16 Bible verses about Acts Of Kindness (knowing-jesus.com)
Zakat: purifying and blessing your wealth – Islamic Relief Worldwide (islamic-relief.org)