The modern secular approach to philanthropy or charity aims at changing the world by outer reformation. But in the eastern spiritual perspective the outer world is a projection or reflection of our inner world. So, lasting change in the outer world around us can be achieved only by a corresponding inner change in our consciousness. This doesn’t mean outer change, help or reformation has no value or should not be done. But for an enduring change in the world, it must be based on and proceed from an inner transformation, moving from within outward. Here are some insightful dialogues on this perspective with a modern Indian sage (Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj) referred here as “N.M.” Questions and comments from others are indicated in italics.
N.M.:You must begin in yourself, with yourself – this is the inexorable law. You cannot change the image without changing the face. First realise that your world is only a reflection of yourself and stop finding fault with the reflection. Attend to yourself, set yourself right – mentally and emotionally. The physical will follow automatically. You talk so much of reforms: economic, social, political. Leave alone the reforms and mind the reformer. What kind of world can a man create who is stupid, greedy, heartless?
Q: If we have to wait for a change of heart, we shall have to wait indefinitely. Yours is a counsel of perfection, which is also a counsel of despair. When all are perfect, the world will be perfect. What useless truism!
N.M.:I did not say it. I only said: You cannot change the world before changing yourself. I did not say – before changing everybody. It is neither necessary, nor possible to change others. But if you can change yourself you will find that no other change is needed. To change the picture you merely change the film, you do not attack the cinema screen!
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Q: Must I wait with helping the world until I reach perfection?
N.M.: By all means help the world. You will not help much, but the effort will make you grow. There is nothing wrong in trying to help the world.
Q: Surely there were people, common people, who helped greatly.
N.M.: When the time comes for the world to be helped, some people are given the will, the wisdom and the power to cause great changes.
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Q: Are you not at all concerned about the state of the world? Look at the horrors in East Pakistan [1971, now Bangla Desh]. Do they not touch you at all?
N.M.: I am reading newspapers; I know what is going on! But my reaction is not like yours. You are looking for a cure, while I am concerned with prevention. As long as there are causes, there must also be results. As long as people are bent on dividing and separating, as long as they are selfish and aggressive, such things will happen. If you want peace and harmony in the world, you must have peace and harmony in your hearts and minds. Such change cannot be imposed; it must come from within. Those who abhor war must get war out of their system. Without peaceful people how can you have peace in the world? As long as people are as they are, the world must be as it is.
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Q: When we talk of helping humanity, we mean a struggle against disorder and suffering.
N.M.: You merely talk of helping. Have you ever helped, really helped, a single man? Have you ever put one soul beyond the need of further help? Can you give a man character, based on full realisation of his duties and opportunities at least, if not on the insight into his true being? When you do not know what is good for yourself, how can you know what is good for others?
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Q: Our society is based on grabbing, not on sharing.
N.M.: By sharing you will change it.
Q: I do not feel like sharing. Anyhow, I am being taxed out of my possessions.
N.M.: This is not the same as voluntary sharing. Society will not change by compulsion. It requires a change of heart. Understand that nothing is your own, that all belongs to all. Then only society will change.
Q: One man’s understanding will not take the world far.
N.M.: The world in which you live will be affected deeply. It will be a healthy and happy world, which will radiate and communicate, increase and spread. The power of a true heart is immense.
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N.M.: Once you are inwardly integrated, outer knowledge comes to you spontaneously. At every moment of your life you know what you need to know. In the ocean of the universal mind all knowledge is contained; it is yours on demand. Most of it you may never need to know but it is yours all the same. As with knowledge, so it is with power. Whatever you feel needs to be done happens unfailingly. No doubt, God attends to this business of managing the universe; but He is glad to have some help. When the helper is selfless and intelligent, all the powers of the universe are for him to command.
Q: Even the blind powers of nature?
N.M.: There are no blind powers. Consciousness is power. Be aware of what needs be done and it will be done. Only keep alert and quiet. Once you reach your destination and Know your real nature, your existence becomes a blessing to all. You may not know, nor will the world know, yet the help radiates. There are people in the world who do more good than all the statesmen and philanthropists put together. They radiate light and peace with no intention or knowledge. When others tell them about the miracles they worked, they also are wonder struck. Yet, taking nothing as their own, they are neither proud, nor do they crave for reputation. They are just unable to desire anything for themselves, not even the joy of helping others knowing that God is good they are at peace.
Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj