When people are distressed, should we think philosophically or should we just help them?
Transcribed by: Sudeep Naik
Edited by: Keshavgopal Das
Question: When people are distressed, should we think philosophically, or should we just help them?
Answer: It is natural for a compassionate heart to want to help people. At the same time, we must see how best we can help someone since we all have limited resources. We also must think what is the most effective way in which we can help others. Suppose there is a hospital and next to it there is a medical college. There are people in the emergency department of the hospital and somebody needs to treat them. If some relative of the person in emergency department comes running to the medical college and says, “What you all students are sitting here in this classroom? Somebody is dying there, go and help them.” It may appear that the students are sitting for hours reading something, and when so many people are dying, they should do some practical help. However, for them to do something practical they need to learn medical science. It may appear that the students are stone hearted. However, the medical knowledge equips the students to help people in a more effective way. If they just run to emergency, they may be able to offer some basic help like bandaging or first-aid but if they become qualified doctors they can offer much better help.
When I was in college, I was a part of a social service organization where I would go to slums near my college and offer free tuitions to children. I found most of the kids came from dysfunctional families. Their fathers were alcoholics, they would suffer from domestic violence etc. Slowly as the children started to open to me, I felt that by teaching them Mathematics or English, how much am I really going to help them. Their lives were in such a mess that they needed help at a different level. Then after talking to our organization leaders, we decided that we will help people break free from alcohol. I used to go to slums, my friend would go to a nearby village. We worked together, and we succeeded in making one village dry (free from alcohol). At that time, it was a big achievement for us. One evening my friend came back from that village and he looked shattered. He told that previous week there were local elections and one of the candidates freely distributed three truckloads of alcohol. To his surprise not only the fathers but even their kids were drunk.
We thought that through education we can open doors for people. We also thought that by helping people to leave alcohol we are helping them to walk through those doors. But then we realized that there is something within people which sabotages them. I realized that not only those people but something within me also is self-destructive. I was very short tempered at that time. In fact, I was infamous for my anger. There is something within me which made me work against my best interests. I wondered what it was and how can that be combated. It was then I started reading Bhagavad-gita, where I found answer to this question, “What makes us act self-destructively?” Bhagavad-gita gives a complete psychological and spiritual analysis which explains that there are self-destructive forces within us and we need to deal with them by purification. This purification comes by spiritualization of our consciousness.
If we look at the major problems of the world today, all of these have a psychological basis. For example, problem of corruption is primarily caused by greed. Sexual violence is caused by lust. Violence is caused by anger. Environmental problem of pollution, global warming etc. are primarily because of greed. Greed, lust and anger are the three forces which are primarily the causes of most of the problems. If we could help ourselves do the inner cleansing by which we can decrease the level of lust, anger and greed then we can significantly help ourselves. We can significantly change the world to become a better place.
If people are starving we can give them some food, if somebody is sick we can give them medicine. These are all very good. If we have the capacity and inclination to do such a help we may do so, but is that a lasting solution? If somebody has certain habits which are self-destructive, will providing food or medicine really help? When I was helping those kids by teaching Math or English, I felt that the help I was offering was like filling water in a leaking bucket. The material education I gave to people, they were not really benefitted. The material education did not help in their inner purification.
If we can empower people internally to push back negative powers within them then they can help themselves. This happens by providing them spiritual education. Materially we can help anyone to a finite degree only. However, if we can equip someone to help themselves then that is a far greater help. By ourselves becoming spiritual and by sharing spirituality with others, we are equipping people to become the best that they can be. Equipping people to fight negativities within themselves through spiritual education is the best help. It is good to have the desire to help others, however, we should use our intelligence, to see what the best way is to contribute.
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