The Meaning of Charity

by Britta Kantzer

Charity to be fruitful must cost us. ...to love, it is necessary to give: to give it is necessary to be free from selfishness. Mother Teresa of Calcutta


When we hear the word "charity" we think of love towards our neighbour, love made visible as in service. We hear the word everyday; we use it and we may also practise it in different forms. But what does charity really mean?

According to the definition of charity as love towards the neighbour we need to find out first what loving means to us at this very moment.

We are not interested in ideas about love or wish to repeat what we have heard or read about it. The word is so loaded and corrupted that we often don't feel comfortable using it. So let us wash away all the definitions and concepts that have been imposed on us by the outer world. The answer lies deep within us. Love is the essence of what and who we are. This strange flower blooms in the stillness of the mind, but we run around searching for it in the outer world.

If we do not come upon this source, this well of love, within us and start to draw the living force out of its abundance if we are not filled with it the world will continue to stumble along. The task is to consciously let it stream through us unto everyone we come in touch with. We know intellectually that the unity of mankind is essential and that love is the only way to heal the world: but we don't know what love really is, and therefore we cannot put it into action.

The nature of love is always to reach beyond self. It is not satisfied with loving self, but it strives to love others and be united to others. Love acknowledges the differences between people, but is also the integrating force that overcomes separation. You feel another person's joy as joy in yourself. It does NOT mean feeling one's own joy in someone else. That is selfishness, loving oneself; the former is loving the neighbour. These two kinds of love are exact opposites. Both do form a bond, and it does not look as though loving oneself in someone else divides. However, it does separate so much so that someone who has been loved in this way often later comes to respond with hatred. In fact, this bond gradually dissolves of its own accord.

We see therefore how what people often take for love is in fact only using the other to compensate for one's own lack of inner security, whether expressed as dependency, vanity, or desire for personal aggrandizement.

It is similiar with charity. Remember what Mother Teresa said: "To truly give charity, you must be free of selfishness!"

It is pure joy of giving, which includes much more than material things. This givingness can have many faces, like in a warm smile to strangers, a personal thank-you-letter, an encouraging hug, an unexpected phone call, a thoughtful word of appreciation, a bonding with a person in grief, a prayer for the healing of others, a heartfelt forgiving when you are wronged. All this is done not out of duty or responsibility but out of the abundance of warmth and love you feel welling up inside you. And the more you give out, the more flows back in; that is the joy of love in action, the manifestation of charity. As long as you feel compelled to do something because it is your duty or because you want something in return, there is no love.

When one truly loves there must be freedom, not only from the other person but from oneself. Charity can come into being only when there is total self-abandonment. It does not come as the result of any effort. Like a flower that spreads its perfume, it blooms for everybody. Whether one is near or far away, it is all the same to the flower because it is full of that fragrance and shares it with everybody.

Have you ever experienced moments of epiphany in your life? Mostly they happen unexpectedly. You listen to someone talking and you feel that your mind is drifting off to other thoughts, as our mind does all the time. Suddenly something within us seems to ring a bell; we become alert, and in this awareness one sentence we have just overheard pierces our consciousness like a spear and there is an inner response like an influx of light, clarity and beauty. Suddenly you "know" what you just heard is Truth!

Such a moment happened to me when I heard someone saying that "maybe the meaning of our cycling from birth to birth is nothing else but learning the lessons of love". In that instant I knew that I had just been given a most valuable key: the key to the meaning of the annual cycle. It is the great labour of perfecting love in the cycles of a life-time. In the same manner as we witness it in the annual cycle in nature, with the dormant seed resting in the earth in Winter, awakening in Springtime, flowering in Summer, and manifesting the mature fruit in Autumn.

During these cycles, the dormant seed of human nature gradually transforms into higher and higher levels of perfection until finally a spiritual impulse awakes, desire turns into the will to love, selfish thoughts are transformed into greater understanding of what love means, and the fruit of this love is expressed in the manifestation of charity.

However, many lessons have to be learned before selfishness is transformed into the ability to truly love others. There is no greater mystery than the mystery of love itself. Mother Teresa said: "I do not think I have any special qualities. I don't claim anything for the work. It is His work. I am like a little pencil in His hand, that is all. He does the thinking. He does the writing. The pencil has nothing to do with it. The pencil has only to allow itself to be used."

Autumn is the time of harvesting the fruits of our endeavours. Have we been good gardeners? Let us celebrate together as we harvest the golden fruit, which is the manifestation of love in action. And let us not hoard the fruits for ourselves but be ready to share with others not only the fruits of our labours but also what we have learnt of the secrets of good gardening.

The challenge remains for all of us: May our life become a spark in the flame of charity, so that the warmth and light of this loving fire may shine ever more brightly and sustain hope in the hearts of mankind.

Return to Autumn Ritual Meditation