One should read (Bani) with intelligence, and then understand its real
essence (i.e., assimilate it). Also, one should use intelligence in giving charity.
Says Nanak, this is the true Path; other things lead to Satanic life (sggs 1245).

From a material standpoint, the charity is generally thought of giving Dan (pronounced Daan) — wealth, alms, gifts, donations, etc. No doubt giving in charity is good, meritorious or virtuous; but the problem arises when it becomes an obstacle to one's spiritual progress (Unfoldment). How can performing charity become useless, or even worse, impedance to one's search for Truth? How can such outcome be avoided? Why one should give in charity in the first place? How one should give? Is charity the end or panacea for spiritual Realization? What are the Gurbani's (Gurmat's) Instructions in this context?

The Gurbani's edict is that a charity must be performed with discerning intelligence (Bibek Budhi, ਅਕਲ). Otherwise — if performed ignorantly or foolishly — the effects will come back to haunt you! You cannot escape. When performed unintelligently (lack or absence of spiritual Wisdom), the act of charity inflates our false ego-sense or Haume (false pride, stubborn mindedness, envy, attachment, lust, greed, anger etc.). It is this false ego-sense which then begins to think that by giving it has become noble or virtuous. The Gurbani alerts us as follows:

  • ਅਕਲੀ ਪੜ੍ਹ੍ਹਿ ਕੈ ਬੁਝੀਐ ਅਕਲੀ ਕੀਚੈ ਦਾਨੁ ॥ ਨਾਨਕੁ ਆਖੈ ਰਾਹੁ ਏਹੁ ਹੋਰਿ ਗਲਾਂ ਸੈਤਾਨੁ ॥੧॥: Aklee parh kai bujheeyai aklee keejai daan. Nanak aakhai raah eho hor gallan saitaan ||1||: One should read (Bani) with intelligence, and then understand its real essence (i.e., assimilate it). Also, one should use intelligence in giving charity. Says Nanak, this is the True Path; other things lead to Satanic life ||1|| (sggs 1245).
  • ਤੀਰਥ ਬਰਤ ਅਰੁ ਦਾਨ ਕਰਿ ਮਨ ਮੈ ਧਰੈ ਗੁਮਾਨੁ ॥ ਨਾਨਕ ਨਿਹਫਲੁ ਜਾਤ ਤਿਹ ਜਿਉ ਕੁੰਚਰ ਇਸਨਾਨੁ ॥: Those who make pilgrimages to sacred shrines, observe ritualistic fasts and make donations to charity while still taking pride in their minds — O Nanak, their actions are useless, like the elephant, who takes a bath, and then rolls in the dust (sggs 1428).
  • Charity should be performed without desiring fruitive results (Gita).
  • But when thou doest alms, let not thy left hand know what thy right hand doeth (Bible, Mat 6:3).

To understand the Gurbani's injunction, let's look at it through the eyes of the Gurbani from an another angle. Every cause has its effect — each action is followed by a reaction. On account of this infallible law, we suffer the consequences of not only Paap (sins), but we also pay dearly for our so called Punn (Punya or meritorious deeds) performed in false ego-consciousness or Haume.

  • ਤਟਿ ਤੀਰਥਿ ਨਹੀ ਮਨੁ ਪਤੀਆਇ ॥ ਚਾਰ ਅਚਾਰ ਰਹੇ ਉਰਝਾਇ ॥੨॥ ਪਾਪ ਪੁੰਨ ਦੁਇ ਏਕ ਸਮਾਨ ॥ ਨਿਜ ਘਰਿ ਪਾਰਸੁ ਤਜਹੁ ਗੁਨ ਆਨ ॥੩॥: thatt theerathh nehee man patheeaae || chaar achaar rehae ourajhaae ||2|paap pu(n)n dhue eaek samaan ||nij ghar paaras thajahu gun aan ||3||: On the banks of sacred rivers, the mind is not appeased. People remain entangled in good and bad deeds. ||2|| Paap and Punn are both the same. In the home of your own being, is the Philosopher's Touch Stone; renounce your search for any other virtue (sggs 325).

Simply put, indiscriminate charity or daan is shunned by the Gurbani (Gurmat). Why? Because there is no spiritual advancement of the giver or the receiver in such charity. We often hear explanations such as, "Well, once I have given charily, I care less but the receiver does with it." This is a great fallacy, which is totally refuted by the Gurbani. If the receiver is not worth giving charily or if the receiver is unworthy, then you have involuntarily become instrument, accessory or partner in whatever the receiver does with your charity. That is, in truth, charity performed unintelligently (ignorance, passions...) injures both the giver and the receiver! This is how the statement "Paap and Punn are both the same" comes true.

Whenever imprudent or defective form of charity is offered to unworthy people or unworthy places, you can be sure they will certainly utilize it for nefarious activities to spread trouble in the society or the world. It's like casting pearls before a frog or a crow!

Thus, unintelligently or imperfectly motivated charity gives encouragement to "satanic life". Wealth in the hands of fool is worse than the poverty of the learned.

The majority of us give in charity in hope for sanctifying dishonest living or ill-gotten wealth. For example, first we dishonestly accumulate wealth with corrupt means. Then, in a futile bid to sanctify it, we give some of it to charity institutions, to build Gurdwaras, to open hospitals, to Langar or free food distribution, and so on. Bigger the charity or donation, bigger the corruption behind it! These are the signs of one in the mode of ignorance-passion (Taamas-Raajas), which covers one's wisdom (Aatam Giaan). In this mode whatever one does is neither good for him nor for anyone else. So charity given in a mode of ignorance-passion is simply a waste of money.

  • ਸਤੀ ਪਾਪੁ ਕਰਿ ਸਤੁ ਕਮਾਹਿ ॥: Satee paap kar sat kamaahi: Men of charity gather wealth by committing sins, and then give it away in donations to charity (sggs 951).
  • ਤਿਸਨਾ ਅਗਨਿ ਜਲੈ ਸੰਸਾਰਾ ॥: Tisnaa agni jalai sansaaraa: The world is burning in the fire of desire (sggs 120).
  • ਅਭਿਆਗਤ ਏਹ ਨ ਆਖੀਅਹਿ ਜਿਨ ਕੈ ਮਨ ਮਹਿ ਭਰਮੁ ॥ ਤਿਨ ਕੇ ਦਿਤੇ ਨਾਨਕਾ ਤੇਹੋ ਜੇਹਾ ਧਰਮੁ ॥1॥: Do not call the wandering beggars holy, if their minds are filled with doubt. Whoever gives to them, O Nanak, earns the same sort of merit.  || 1 ||   (sggs 1413).

Any duty or charity performed for material benefit, or for the sake of false pride are also in the mode of Raajas-Taamas (ignorance-passion, Maya, Doojaa Bhaav or duality, etc.). Charity offered by a person in such corrupt intellect (ਮਾਇਕੀ ਬੁਧੀ, ਅਕਲ...) are out of foolishness, performed at wrong time and wrong place, and to unworthy receivers.Therefore, any charity, pilgrimage, ablutions or devotion performed in Taamas-Raajas mindset are in expectation of some return such as respect, honor, homage, merit and material gains. They are generally performed with self-torture, in hope to destroy or injure others, etc. Such act of devotion or charity is unstable and fleeting. Owing to our faulty thinking, we become an easy prey to swindlers in the garb of guileful saints, priests, Bhais, Baabaas, Swamis, Raagees, Parchaarak, Gurus, Paathees, corrupt institutions, etc. One of the things the Gurbani wants us bear in mind is that the Undeceivable God that is ever present within cannot be fooled by our material trickery!

  • ਸਤੀਆ ਮਨਿ ਸੰਤੋਖੁ ਉਪਜੈ ਦੇਣੈ ਕੈ ਵੀਚਾਰਿ ॥ ਦੇ ਦੇ ਮੰਗਹਿ ਸਹਸਾ ਗੂਣਾ ਸੋਭ ਕਰੇ ਸੰਸਾਰੁ ॥ ਚੋਰਾ ਜਾਰਾ ਤੈ ਕੂੜਿਆਰਾ ਖਾਰਾਬਾ ਵੇਕਾਰ ॥ ਇਕਿ ਹੋਦਾ ਖਾਇ ਚਲਹਿ ਐਥਾਊ ਤਿਨਾ ਭਿ ਕਾਈ ਕਾਰ ॥: Sateeaa mani santokh oupjai denai kai veechaar....: In the minds of the givers, contentment is produced by thinking about their giving. They give and give, but ask a thousand-fold more, and hope that the world will honor them. The thieves, adulterers, perjurers, evil-doers and sinners - after using up what good Karma they had, they depart; have they done any good deeds here at all? (sggs 466).
  • ਪੁੰਨ ਦਾਨ ਅਨੇਕ ਨਾਵਣ ਕਿਉ ਅੰਤਰ ਮਲੁ ਧੋਵ ॥: Punn daan anek naavan kiyu antar mall dhov: How can giving donations to charities and countless cleansing baths wash off the filth within the heart? (sggs 243).
  • ਇਸਨਾਨੁ ਦਾਨੁ ਜੇਤਾ ਕਰਹਿ ਦੂਜੈ ਭਾਇ ਖੁਆਰੁ ॥: Isanaan daan jaetaa karahi doojai bhaai khuaar: People take their cleansing baths, and give to charity again and again, but they are ultimately consumed by their love of duality (sggs 34).
  • ਮਨ ਮੂੜੇ ਦੇਖਿ ਰਹਿਓ ਪ੍ਰਭ ਸੁਆਮੀ ॥: Mann moorre dekh rahio prabh suaamee: O foolish mind, God is watching over you (sggs 616).

Charity implies we contribute to the society out of our "truthful" earnings (also called Dasaan Nohaan Dee Kirat Kamaaee). Additionally, it is also to be applied to the home and work scenarios. Thus, real charity makes for a more harmonious relation with the external world — society, home, workplace etc.

  • ਸਲੋਕ ਮਃ ੧ ॥ ਗਿਆਨ ਵਿਹੂਣਾ ਗਾਵੈ ਗੀਤ ॥ ਭੁਖੇ ਮੁਲਾਂ ਘਰੇ ਮਸੀਤਿ ॥ ਮਖਟੂ ਹੋਇ ਕੈ ਕੰਨ ਪੜਾਏ ॥ ਫਕਰੁ ਕਰੇ ਹੋਰੁ ਜਾਤਿ ਗਵਾਏ ॥ ਗੁਰੁ ਪੀਰੁ ਸਦਾਏ ਮੰਗਣ ਜਾਇ ॥ ਤਾ ਕੈ ਮੂਲਿ ਨ ਲਗੀਐ ਪਾਇ ॥ ਘਾਲਿ ਖਾਇ ਕਿਛੁ ਹਥਹੁ ਦੇਇ ॥ ਨਾਨਕ ਰਾਹੁ ਪਛਾਣਹਿ ਸੇਇ ॥੧॥: Slok Ma: 1|| Giaan vihoonaa gaavai geet ..: Slok Ma: 1. The one who lacks spiritual wisdom sings religious songs (for the sake of earning bread). The hungry Mullah turns his home into a mosque (or he also goes to mosque for the sake of bread!). The lazy bum has his ears pierced to look like a Yogi. Someone else becomes a panhandler, and thus loses his self-respect. Someone calls himself a guru or a spiritual teacher, while he goes around begging for bread - don't ever touch their feet. One who truthfully works for what he eats, and gives some of what he has - O Nanak, he knows the path ||1|| (sggs 1245).

Clearly, charity should be given not only without any consideration of return or expectation, it should be given to worthy receiver to promote Truthfulness (i.e., God-consciousness, Gurmukhtaa or Pure Awareness) in the world. In other words, the receiver should use it for a noble purpose (humanity's true progress) without diverting it to his personal welfare or misuse. Also, giving must be voluntary and out of a genuine feeling.

A great fallacy is to assume that giving charily is a panacea. But, as indicated in the Gurbani, it's not. Charity is good, but the instance we begin to think it is an end in itself, we sink in Maya-consciousness. As Vivekanand puts it:

"Charity is great, but the moment you say it is all, you run the risk of running into materialism. It is not religion. It is no better than atheism.....".

According to the Gurbani, nothing is "equal" to the Naam-Simran (Shabad-Vichaar, Jap, Bhagati... ) for one's holistic development.

  • ਅਸੁ ਦਾਨ ਗਜ ਦਾਨ ਸਿਹਜਾ ਨਾਰੀ ਭੂਮਿ ਦਾਨ ਐਸੋ ਦਾਨੁ ਨਿਤ ਨਿਤਹਿ ਕੀਜੈ ॥ ਆਤਮ ਜਉ ਨਿਰਮਾਇਲੁ ਕੀਜੈ ਆਪ ਬਰਾਬਰਿ ਕੰਚਨੁ ਦੀਜੈ ਰਾਮ ਨਾਮ ਸਰਿ ਤਊ ਨ ਪੂਜੈ ॥: Asu daan gaj daan sihjaa naaree bhoomi daan eso daan nit nitahikeejai. Aatam jaou nirmaail keejai aap braabar kanchan deejai Raam Naam sar taooo n poojai: Someone may give away horses, elephants, women, bedstead, or land; he may give such gifts over and over again; he may sacrifice himself, and give away in charity his body weight in gold; (O my mid, still) none of these is equal to the Divine Name - Naam (sggs 973).

In truth, charity is replacing the greed — it is giving up of one's inflated ego (Haume); for the greed is the fault of this false ego-sense. In other words, if giving charity does not replace our greed, then it's counterproductive thus worthless. In nutshell, if charity is a fire, then our material consciousness (Manmukhtaa, Mayaic intellect...) must become the offering in it.

  • ਲਬੁ ਲੋਭੁ ਪਰਜਾਲੀਐ ਨਾਮੁ ਮਿਲੈ ਆਧਾਰੁ ॥: Labu lobh parajaaleeai naam milai aadhaar: O Lord, burn away all my cravings and greed, and give me the Support of the Divine Name (sggs 790).
  • ਝੂਠੈ ਲਾਲਚਿ ਜਨਮੁ ਗਵਾਇਆ ॥: Jhoothai laalach janam gavaaiaa: In false greed, human life is being wasted (sggs 1342).

We often hear the term "Nishakaam Sevaa". What does it really mean? It simply indicates performing selfless service or doing duty without expecting any reward, without any ulterior motive of transient benefits. This is Pure Consciousness or Gurmukhhood. Given that human beings are inflicted with anger and harbor desires, such a lifestyle will not be easy to follow. Then what are we supposed to do?

The Gurbani wants us to live intelligently without superimposition when we response to worldly situations. In this regard, the Gurbani emphasizes that we must become Gurmukhs (Spiritual Beings who live the Divine Life). For only the Gurmukh possesses a "discerning intellect" (Bibek Budhi)! Without becoming a Gurmukh, one would not know how to live "intelligently" and give "intelligently".

The Gurmukh also knows how to give an another type of charity that is spiritual in nature — sharing of Spiritual Wisdom (Divine Knowledge) or Spiritual Treasures!

  • ਗੁਰਮੁਖਿ ਗਿਆਨੁ ਬਿਬੇਕ ਬੁਧਿ ਹੋਇ ॥: Gurmukh giaan bibek budh hoi: The Gurmukh is blessed with spiritual wisdom and a discerning intellect (sggs 317).
  • ਗੁਰਮੁਖਿ ਬੁਧਿ ਪ੍ਰਗਟੀ ਪ੍ਰਭ ਜਾਸੁ ॥: Gurmukh budh pragattee prabh jaas: Upon becoming a Gurmukh, your intellect will be awakened, and God's praise (sggs 232).
  • ਗੁਰਮੁਖਿ ਨਾਮੁ ਦਾਨੁ ਇਸਨਾਨੁ ॥: Gurmukh naam daan isanaan: The Gurmukh is blessed with the Divine Name, charity and inner purity (sggs 942).
  • ਦੁਰਮਤਿ ਮੇਟਿ ਬੁਧਿ ਪਰਗਾਸੀ ਜਨ ਨਾਨਕ ਗੁਰਮੁਖਿ ਤਾਰੀ ॥: Duramat meti budh paragaasee jan Nanak gurmukh taaree: The Gurmukh's evil-mindedness is eradicated, and his intellect is enlightened; O servant Nanak, the Gurmukh is thus saved (sggs 495).
  • ਮਤਿ ਨਿਹਚਲ ਅਤਿ ਗੂੜੀ ਗੁਰਮੁਖਿ ਸਹਜੇ ਨਾਮੁ ਵਖਾਣਿਆ ॥: Mati nihachal ati goorree gurmukh sahajae naam vakhaaniaa: Gurmukh's intellect is steady, deep and profound; he naturally chant the Divine Name (sggs 569).
  • ਵਡਾ ਦਾਤਾ ਗੁਰਮੁਖਿ ਜਾਤਾ ਨਿਗੁਰੀ ਅੰਧ ਫਿਰੈ ਲੋਕਾਈ ॥: Vaddaa daataa gurmukh jaataa niguree a(n)dh firai lokaaee: The Great Giver is revealed to the Gurmukh; without Him, the world wanders in darkness (sggs 912).
  • ਸੋ ਗਿਰਹੀ ਜੋ ਨਿਗ੍ਰਹੁ ਕਰੈ ॥ ਜਪੁ ਤਪੁ ਸੰਜਮੁ ਭੀਖਿਆ ਕਰੈ ॥ ਪੁੰਨ ਦਾਨ ਕਾ ਕਰੇ ਸਰੀਰੁ ॥ ਸੋ ਗਿਰਹੀ ਗੰਗਾ ਕਾ ਨੀਰੁ ॥ ਬੋਲੈ ਈਸਰੁ ਸਤਿ ਸਰੂਪੁ ॥ ਪਰਮ ਤੰਤ ਮਹਿ ਰੇਖ ਨ ਰੂਪੁ ॥: So girahee jo nigrah karai, Jap tap sanjam bheekhiaa karai. Punn daan kaa kare saareer. So girahi Gangaa kaa neer. Bolai eesar sat sroop. Param tant mahi rekh na roop:  He alone is a householder, who restrains his passions (demands of his senses) and begs (from God) for Jap, Tap and Sanjam. He makes his body a charity (i.e., he makes his nature that of a selfless service to the entire mankind etc.) ; such a householder is pure as the Ganges' water - that is, he posses Pure Awareness. O Yogi, if you meditate on the True or Ever-Present God, then you merge in the Formless (sggs 952).
  • ਨਾਮੁ ਹਮਾਰੈ ਪੂਰਨ ਦਾਨੁ ॥: Naam hamaarai pooran daan: Naam is my perfect Daan (sggs 1145).

— T. Singh