We perform real charity if we can give freely without expecting anything in return in order lo reduce our selfish desires.
The essence of true charity is to give something without expecting anything in return for the gift. If a person expects some material benefit to arise from the gift, he or she is only performing an act of
bartering and not charity. A charitable person should not make other people feel indebted or use charity as a way of exercising control over them. One should not even expect others to be grateful, for most people are forgetful and not necessarily ungrateful. The act of true charity is wholesome, has no strings attached, and leaves both the giver and the recipient free from obligation. Those who have enough to maintain themselves should think of others and extend their generosity to deserving cases. Among people who practise charity, there are some who give as a means of attracting others into their
religion or politics. Such an act of giving which is performed with the ulterior motive of conversion cannot really be said to be true charity.
Those who are on their way to spiritual growth must try to reduce their own selfishness and strong desire for acquiring more and more. They should reduce their strong attachment to possessions, which, if they are not mindful, can enslave them to greed. What they own, should instead be used for the benefit and happiness of others: their loved ones as well as those who need help. When giving, they should not perform charity as an act of their body alone, but with their heart and mind as well. There must be joy in every act of giving. A distinction can be made between giving as a normal act of generosity and dana. In the normal act of generosity we must give out of compassion and kindness when we realise that someone else is in need of help, and we are in the position to offer that help. When we perform dana, we give as a means of cultivating charity as a virtue and of reducing selfishness and craving. More importantly, dana is given with understanding, meaning that one gives to reduce and eradicate the idea of self which is the cause of greed, acquisitiveness and suffering. One exercises wisdorn when one recalls that dana is a very important quality to be practised by every Buddhist, and is the first perfection (paramita) practised by the Buddha in many of His previous births before His Enlightenment. A person also performs dana in appreciation of the great qualities and virtues of the Triple Gem.
There are many things which we can give. We can give material things: food for the hungry, and money and clothes to the poor. We can also give our knowledge, skill, time, energy or effort to projects that can benefit others. We can provide a sympathetic ear and good counsel to a friend in trouble. We can restrain ourselves from killing other beings, and by so doing perform a gift of life to the helpless beings which would have otherwise been killed. We can also give a part of our body for the sake of others, such as donating blood, eyes, kidney, heart, etc. Some who seek to practise this virtue or are moved by great compaision or concern for others rnay also be prepared to sacrifice their own lives. In His previous births, the Bodhisatva had many a time given away parts of His body for the sake of others. He also sacriticed His life for the sake of others and to restore the others’ lives, so great was His generosity and compassion.
But the greatest testimony to the Buddha’s great compassion is His priceless gift to humanity-the Dharma which can liberate all beings from suffering. To the Buddhist, the highest gift of all is the gift
of Dharma. This gift has great powers to change a life. When people receive the Dharma with a pure mind and practise the Truth with earnestness, they cannot fail to change. They will experience greater
happiness, peace and joy in their heart and mind. If they were once cruel, they become cornpassionate. If they were once revengeful, they become forgiving. Through Dharma, the hateful becomes more
compassionate, the greedy more generous, and the restless more serene. When a person has tasted Dharma, not only wiil happiness be experiencd here and now, but also in the lives hereafter.
(Extracted from “What Buddhists Believe” Expanded 4tn Edition by Dr. K Sri Dhammananda)