16.15 – We cannot get pure devotion by mere donation
“This person gives liberal donations for charitable causes.” Statements like these are becoming increasingly common in the public profiles of well-to-do individuals. This trend may inspire more people to become charitable, but potentially for all the wrong reasons.
The Bhagavad-gita (16.15) outlines such a messed up motivation for charity: as a public relations tool to proclaim one’s economic status. Such charity is unenlightened and unfruitful (ity ajnana vimohitah): unenlightened because it ignores the reality that everything that we have belongs to Krishna, and unfruitful because it doesn’t increase our devotion for Krishna, which alone brings life’s greatest happiness.
Of course, what the Gita discourages is not charity per se, but the self-centered, egoistic motivation underlying it. Genuine motivation is critical for external donation to kindle internal devotion. If we want to offer our heart to Krishna, but can’t because it is occupied by wealth, then offering wealth to Krishna is the most real, practical and essential way ahead for us. By such devotionally-motivated donation, we offer a part of our heart to Krishna and thereby offer Krishna a place in our heart. However, if we let the desire to broadcast our financial stature dominate us, then our donation is an offering not so much to Krishna as to our own ego. By such charity, we simply offer one more part of our heart to our ego. Of course, giving donation to Krishna will always benefit us, but the burden of the inflated ego will make our progress towards Krishna slow and labored.
Gita wisdom empowers us with insights and practices to clarify and purify our motivation. Sincere motivation bridges the gap between mere donation and pure devotion, and thereby makes our progress towards Krishna swift and sweet.