The Three Gunas and the Nature of Giving

Many religious traditions focus the concept of good works on “charitable giving”. There is no distinction made as to the underlying motivation of the giving that is occurring. For the seeker of the spiritual realisation, however, every action takes on its importance as part of a systematic development of divine qualities within oneself, and thus, the motivation and energy behind the act must be understood. “Giving” in the sense of the Gita ultimately is about a recognition of Oneness and the pouring of one’s existence into works that are beneficial to the universal manifestation. Giving is not therefore limited or defined to some kind of charitable gift, but includes all manner of self-giving, including thought, emotion, vital energy, physical activity as well as more material gifts. In this sense, teaching someone a skill is a form of giving, as also sharing an emotion. With this understanding, we can then look at the characteristics of giving based on the influence of the three Gunas.

Sri Aurobindo describes them thus: “The tamasic gift is offered ignorantly with no consideration of the right conditions of time, place and object; it is a foolish, inconsiderate and in reality a self-regarding movement, an ungenerous and ignoble generosity, the gift offered without sympathy or true liberality, without regard for the feelings of the recipient and despised by him even in the acceptance.”

“The rajasic kind of giving is that which is done with regret, unwillingness or violence to oneself or with a personal and egoistic object or in the hope of a return of some kind from whatever quarter or a corresponding or greater benefit to oneself from the receiver.”

“The sattwic way of giving is to bestow with right reason and goodwill and sympathy in the right conditions of time and place and on the right recipient who is worthy or to whom the gift can be really helpful. Its act is performed for the sake of the giving and the beneficence, without any view to a benefit already done or yet to be done to oneself by the receiver of the benefit and without any personal object in the action.”

The sattwic form of giving prepares the seeker to take on the complete self-giving of the Divine in His creation. “All this manifold universe comes into birth and is constantly maintained by God’s giving of himself and his powers and the lavish outflow of his self and spirit into all these existences; universal being, says the Veda, is the sacrifice of the Purusha. All the action of the perfected soul will be even such a constant divine giving of itself and its powers, an outflowing of the knowledge, light, strength, love, joy, helpful Shakti which it possesses in the Divine and by his influence and effluence on all around it according to their capacity of reception or on all this world and its creatures.”

Sri Aurobindo, Essays on the Gita, Second Series, Part II, Chapter 18, The Gunas, Faith and Works, pg. 474