When beggars or others in need of our charity approach us we must try to give them something. If we refuse for some invalid reason other than miserliness (which is a root downfall) we incur a secondary downfall.
If we live in a city, this is probably something we do all of the time. We see others begging in the streets, we judge them in some way with some ridiculous internal comment like “get a job” (as if it were that easy), we come up with some internal justification about how they are going to just spend it on alcohol or drugs anyways, and besides our giving just encourages them to continue to be lazy, so we don’t give. Or we say, “the government where I live already provides for them, so I don’t need to do anything extra. I am a taxpayer, afterall.” Or perhaps we just don’t give them a second thought and keep on going.
Years ago, when Geshe-la would send Gen-la Losang to India to learn certain things, such as how to build the mandalas we now find in our temples, he would always give Losang change so he could hand it out to the beggars. We should do the same with our kids. The worst thing we can teach to our kids is indifference to the suffering of others, and every time we walk by without helping that is exactly what we are teaching. Even if nobody is looking, we should still make an effort to give something to help. Venerable Tharchin explains that it does not matter how much we give, what matters is how frequently we generate the mind of giving. If you have only one dollar to give away, it is better to give one penny one hundred times than one dollar once. If we have no money to give, we can still give people our love and respect. Imagine how hard it is to live on the streets, imagine how many people walk by considering beggars to be scum. We can give people a smile, we can give people understanding, we can give them encouragement. We can also give people our time. Stop, and ask them to tell you their story. Listen to it, learn from it and respect their struggles. Yes, they will expect some money, but so what – give it to them.
If we live in a democratic country, we should elect leaders who actually care about the poor and are willing to do something to help them. Jimmy Carter once said, “if you don’t want your tax dollars helping the poor, then stop saying you want a country based on Christian values, because you don’t!” We live in incredibly unequal times. In America, the top 1% owns more than 40% of national wealth, and the bottom 80% owns less than 10%. Europe and Canada are slightly better, but the rest of the world is more like America. It is true, going to the extreme of Communism would be a mistake, but surely protecting people from abject poverty is not that. There are many studies done which show it is actually cheaper on society to give the homeless shelter and help them get on their feet than it is to leave them homeless. When you add up the costs of policing, crime, mental institutions, prisons, loss of value due to urban blight, etc., it is simply cheaper to do the right thing. Of course we don’t mix Dharma and politics, but this does not mean we cannot use Dharma values to influence our political actions, such as voting. There is no contradiction between a Kadampa not mixing Dharma and politics and them nonetheless engaging in political advocacy for causes they believe in. Democratic citizenship is part of modern society, and if we are to attain the union of Kadampa Buddhism and modern life we need to learn how to unite the two without mixing the two. Just avoiding all political action or thought is not the middle way. If we can vote for those who will help and we fail to do so, then it does not seem a stretch to say we are perhaps committing this downfall. Perhaps I am wrong, but it is something to think about.