Philanthropy is defined as “love of mankind; the active benevolence towards one’s fellow-man.” Vedic scripture and the great Vaisnava acharya’s take philanthropy to another level, because they have perfect, unconditional love not only for all of mankind, but for all living entities, regardless of the type of body they are presently inhabiting. This state of perfect love and compassion cannot be artificially imitated by a conditioned soul. Without being a spiritually purified lover of God, it is actually impossible to have such love for others, who are all the dear children of the Supreme Soul. And it is also impossible for anyone but a Vaisnava to actually know how to administer eternal benefit to Krishna’s wayward prodigal sons and daughters. Srila Bhaktivedanta Swami described the spiritual vision, love and compassion of the great Vaisnavas in a 1969 talk on the disappearance day of his spiritual master.
A Vaisnava, or devotee of the Lord, his life is dedicated for the benefit of the people. You know – most of you belong to Christian community – how Lord Jesus Christ, he said that for your sinful activities he has sacrificed himself. That is the determination of a devotee of the Lord. They don’t care for personal comforts. Because they love Krishna or God, therefore they love all living entities because all living entities are in relationship with Krishna. So similarly you should learn.
This Krishna consciousness movement means to become a Vaisnava and feel for the suffering humanity. So to feel for the suffering humanity, there are different angles of vision. Somebody is thinking of the suffering of humanity from bodily conception of life. Somebody is trying to open hospital to give relief to the diseased condition. Somebody is trying to distribute foodstuff in poverty-stricken countries or places. These things are certainly very nice, but actual suffering of the humanity is due to lack of Krishna consciousness. These bodily sufferings, they are temporary; neither can they be checked by the laws of nature.
Suppose if you give some distribution of foodstuff in some poverty-stricken country; that does not mean that this help makes a solution of the whole problem. The real beneficial work is to invoke every person to Krishna consciousness. As soon as he comes to Krishna consciousness all of his problems are solved.
The same example, as I have given several times: that a rich man’s son is loitering in the street, forgetting his father’s opulence and property. And somebody, out of sympathy, is giving him some food. But another person comes to him and says, “Oh, my dear boy, I know you. You are the son of such and such rich man. Why you are loitering in the street? Come on, I shall take you to your father.” So if that gentleman takes that loitering boy to his father, the father is glad, and the boy inherits his father’s property, and his whole problem of life becomes solved.
This is a crude example. Similarly, all living entities, they are loitering within this universe in different bodies, in different planets, and from time immemorial, without knowing that he belongs to the kingdom of God, he is the direct son of Krishna (God). Krishna is the proprietor of everything, and he can enjoy his father’s property, and these problems of material conditioned life are automatically solved. Just like if you become a rich man, if you can possess millions of dollars, then your poverty is automatically solved. Similarly, if you become Krishna conscious, and if you act in that way, then all other problems in the material conditional life – they are solved.
… So this Krishna consciousness movement is authorized, very important. Now, you … boys and girls who have taken to this movement, please take it more seriously. That is the mission of Lord Chaitanya and my Guru Maharaja, and we are also trying to execute the will by disciplic succession. You have come forward to help me. I shall request you all that I shall go away, but you shall live. Don’t give up pushing on this movement, and you’ll be blessed by Lord Chaitanya and His Divine Grace Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Goswami Prabhupada.
[Srila Bhaktivedanta Swami: “Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati’s Disappearance Day Lecture” 1969]
Perfect Yogi as Best Philanthropist and Sincerest Friend
The perfect yogi is the sincerest friend of all living entities. He knows that the living being who is conditioned by the modes of material nature is subjected to the threefold material miseries due to forgetfulness of his relationship with Krishna. Because one in Krishna consciousness is happy, he tries to distribute the knowledge of Krishna everywhere. Since the perfect yogi tries to broadcast the importance of becoming Krishna conscious, he is the best philanthropist in the world, and he is the dearest servitor of the Lord. … a devotee of the Lord always looks to the welfare of all living entities, and in this way he is factually the friend of everyone. He is the best yogi because he does not desire the perfection in yoga for his personal benefit, but tries for others also.
[From purport to Bhagavad-gita 6:32]
Watering the Root
As pouring water on the root of a tree energizes the trunk, branches, twigs and everything else, and as supplying food to the stomach enlivens the senses and limbs of the body, simply worshiping the Supreme Personality of Godhead through devotional service automatically satisfies the demigods, who are parts of the Supreme Personality.
[Srimad Bhagavatam 4:31:14]
In his purport to this verse, Srila Bhaktivedanta Swami explains how Krishna must be at the centre of all activities if they are actually going to be of real benefit:
…In Bhagavad gita (15:1) it is said this cosmic manifestation has expanded downward, and the root is the Supreme Personality of Godhead. …the Lord confirms in Bhagavad gita (10:8): “I am the source of all spiritual and material worlds.” Krishna is the root of everything; therefore, rendering service to the Supreme Personality of Godhead Krishna means automatically serving all the demigods (and all other living entities).
… Srila Rupa Goswami states: pure devotional service should not be contaminated by the touch of karma and jnana. Modern society is involved in various types of philanthropic works, humanitarian works and so on, but people do not know that these activities will never be successful unless Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead is brought into the centre.
… by supplying food to the stomach, the senses are automatically satisfied. If one tries to feed his eyes or his ears independently, the result is only havoc. Simply by supplying food to the stomach, we satisfy all of the senses. It is neither necessary nor feasible to render separate service to the individual senses. The conclusion is that by serving Krishna, everything is complete. As is confirmed in Caitanya-caritamrta (Madhya 22:62): if one is engaged in the devotional service of the Lord, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, everything is automatically accomplished.
[From purport to Srimad Bhagavatam 4:31:14]
Real Welfare Work is to Help Conquer Death
… One should not be overly engaged in welfare activities for one’s family members, countrymen, society and community. None of these will help a person to advance spiritually. Unfortunately, in present-day society so-called educated men have no idea what spiritual progress is. Although they have the opportunity in the human form of life to make spiritual progress, they remain misers. They use their lives improperly and simply waste them thinking about the material welfare of their relatives, countrymen, society and so on. One’s actual duty is to learn how to conquer death. …
… After giving up his body, one who is fully Krishna conscious does not accept another material body but returns home, back to Godhead. Everyone should try to attain this perfection. … One cannot conquer death without taking shelter of the Supreme Personality of Godhead.
[From purport to Srimad Bhagavatam 4:28:22]
Philanthropy of Materialists is Based on Misidentifying the Body as the Self
… Those who are attached to the perishable body can hardly enter into the realm of the science of Godhead. The whole material world, based on the conception of the material body as the self, is ignorant of the science of God. The materialist is always busy working for the welfare of the material body, not only his own but also those of his children, kinsmen, community-men, countrymen, etc. The materialists have many branches of philanthropic and *altruistic activities from a political, national and international angle of vision, but none of the fieldwork can go beyond the jurisdiction of the misconception of identifying the material body with the spirit soul. Unless, therefore, one is saved from the wrong conception of the body and the soul, there is no knowledge of Godhead, and unless there is knowledge of God, all advancement of material civilisation, however dazzling, should be considered a failure.
[From purport to Srimad Bhagavatam 2:7:42]
*Altruism is defined as “devotion to the good of others.”
The Devotee is Far Better than the Philanthropist
The following verse from Srimad Bhagavatam is quoted and explained by Srila Bhaktivedanta Swami in the Nectar of Devotion:
My dear Uddhava, any person who takes shelter of Me in complete surrender and follows My instructions, giving up all occupational duties, is to be considered a first-class man.
[Srimad Bhagavatam 11:11:32]
In this statement of the Supreme Personality of Godhead, it is understood that people who are generally attracted to philanthropic, moral, altruistic, political and social welfare activities may be considered nice men only in the calculation of the material world. From the Srimad Bhagavatam and other authentic Vedic scriptures we learn further that if a person simply acts in Krishna consciousness and discharges devotional service, he is considered to be far, far better situated than all those persons engaged in philanthropic, ethical, moral, altruistic and social welfare activities.
[Nectar of Devotion ch.4, p.50]
A person who is engaged in devotional service in full Krishna consciousness is to be understood to be doing the best service in the whole world and to be pleasing everyone in the world. In addition to human society, he is pleasing even the trees and animals, because they also become attracted by such a movement.
[Padma Purana, quoted Nectar of Devotion ch.1, p.8-9]
Philanthropy as a Step Towards Krishna Consciousness
If you cannot practice the regulations of bhakti-yoga, then just try to work for Me, because by working for Me you will come to the perfect stage. If, however, you are unable to work in this consciousness, then try to act giving up all results of your work and try to be self-situated.
One who is not able to practice the regulative principles of bhakti-yoga under the guidance of a spiritual master, can still be drawn to this perfectional stage by working for the Supreme Lord … There are many devotees who are engaged in the propagation of Krishna consciousness, and they require help. So even if one cannot directly practice the regulated principles of bhakti-yoga, he can try to help such work.
… It may be that one is unable to even sympathise with the activities of Krishna consciousness because of social, familial or religious considerations or because of some other impediments. For one who has such a problem, it is advised that he sacrifice the accumulated result of his activities to some good cause … if there are impediments to Krishna consciousness, one may try to give up the result of his action.
In that respect, social service, community service, national service, sacrifice for one’s country, etc., may be accepted so that some day one may come to the stage of pure devotional service to the Supreme Lord … If one decides to sacrifice for the supreme cause, even if he does not know that the supreme cause is Krishna, he will come gradually to understand that Krishna is the supreme cause by the sacrificial method.
[From purports, Bhagavad-gita 12:10-11]
Preaching Krishna-katha is Greatest Missionary Activity
Krishna-katha means narrations about Lord Krishna. This includes narrations spoken by Krishna and narrations spoken about Krishna.
… The qualities of both ignorance and passion strongly bind one to the illusory bodily conception of the self. The best among the fools who are thus deluded are those who engage in altruistic activities under the spell of the material mode of passion. Bhagavad gita, which is direct Krishna-katha, gives humanity the elementary lesson that the body is perishable and that the consciousness which is spread throughout the body is imperishable. The conscious being, the imperishable self, is eternally existent and cannot be killed under any circumstances, even after the dissolution of the body.
Anyone who misunderstands this perishable body to be the self and who works for it in the name of sociology, politics, philanthropy, altruism, nationalism or internationalism, under the false plea of the bodily conception of life, is certainly a fool and does not know the implications of reality and unreality. Some of them are above the modes of ignorance and passion and are situated in the mode of goodness, but mundane goodness is always contaminated by tinges of ignorance and passion. Mundane goodness can enlighten one that the body and the self are different, and one in goodness is concerned with the self and not the body.
But due to being contaminated, those in mundane goodness cannot understand the real nature of the self as a person. Their impersonal conception of the self as distinct from the body keeps them in the mode of goodness within material nature, and unless they are attracted by Krishna-katha, they will never be liberated from the bondage of material existence. Krishna-katha is the only remedy for all people of the world because it can situate one in pure consciousness of the self and liberate one from material bondage. To preach Krishna-katha all over the world, as recommended by Lord Chaitanya, is the greatest missionary activity, and all sensible men and women of the world may join in this great movement started by Lord Chaitanya.
[From purport to Srimad Bhagavatam 3:5:11]
My Lord, the nectar of Your words and the descriptions of Your activities are the life and soul of those who are always aggrieved in this material world. These narrations are transmitted by exalted personalities, and they eradicate all sinful reactions. Whoever hears these narrations attains all good fortune. These narrations are broadcast all over the world and are filled with spiritual power. Those who spread the message of Godhead are certainly the most munificent welfare workers.
[Caitanya-caritamrta Madhya 14:13. Also Srimad Bhagavatam 10:31:9]
O my Lord, great philanthropic souls travel on the earth on behalf of the Supreme Personality of Godhead to show compassion on the fallen souls who are averse to the sense of subordination to the Lord.
[Srimad Bhagavatam 3:5:3]
O Maitreya, O friend of the distressed, the glories of the Supreme Lord can alone do good for people all over the world. Therefore, just as bees collect honey from flowers, kindly describe the essence of all topics – the topics of the Lord.
[Srimad Bhagavatam 3:5:15]
Though mundane philanthropists think that a person cannot be happy unless he becomes materially well-off, we have the examples of numerous great devotees such as Sudama Brahmana, Haridas Thakur, the Six Goswamis of Vrindavan, Jagannath das Babaji and Gaur Kishore das Babaji to name a few, who were experiencing the greatest happiness in pure love of Krishna, while living in situations of great material poverty.
There was a great devotee of Lord Chaitanya known as Kholaveca Sridhara, who was a very poor man. He was doing a small business selling cups made from the leaves of plantain trees, and his income was almost nothing. Still, he was spending fifty percent of his small income on the worship of the Ganges, and with the other fifty percent he was somehow living.
Lord Chaitanya once revealed Himself to this confidential devotee, Kholaveca Sridhara, and offered him any opulence he liked. But Sridhara informed the Lord that he did not want any material opulence. He was quite happy in his present position and wanted only to gain unflinching faith and devotion to the lotus feet of Lord Chaitanya. That is the position of pure devotees. If they can be engaged twenty-four hours each day in devotional service they do not want anything else.
[Nectar of Devotion ch.1 p.13]
In the following story from the life of Lord Jesus Christ, it is clearly taught by Lord Jesus that devotional service to a great Vaisnava is superior to alleviating the poverty of the poor and needy.
Jesus Anointed at Bethany
While he was in Bethany, reclining at the table in the home of a man known as Simon the Leper, a woman came with an alabaster jar of very expensive perfume, made of pure nard (oil prepared from spikenard, an aromatic plant). She broke the jar and poured the perfume on his head.
Some of those present were saying indignantly to one another, “Why waste this perfume? It could have been sold for more than a year’s wages and the money given to the poor.” And they rebuked her harshly.
“Leave her alone,” said Jesus. “Why are you bothering her? She has done a beautiful thing to me. The poor you will always have with you, and you can help them any time you want. But you will not always have me. She did what she could. She poured perfume on my body beforehand to prepare for my burial. I tell you the truth, wherever the gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her.”
[Mark 14:3-9; also Matthew 26:6-13]
Vaisnavas Feel Sorrow at Others’ Unhappiness and Joy at their Happiness
If one is unhappy to see the distress of other living beings and happy to see their happiness, his religious principles are appreciated as imperishable by exalted persons who are considered pious and benevolent.
[Srimad Bhagavatam 6:10:9]
In his purport to this verse, Srila Bhaktivedanta Swami explains what it means to be a religious person. Someone who causes suffering to other living entities cannot be classed as truly religious:
In this verse, real religious principles are explained. Everyone should be unhappy to see others in distress and happy to see others happy. Atmavat sarva-bhutesu: one should feel the happiness and distress of others as his own. It is on that basis that the Buddhist religious principle of non-violence is established. We feel pain when someone disturbs us, and therefore we should not inflict pain upon other living beings. Lord Buddha’s mission was to stop unnecessary animal killing, and therefore he preached that the greatest religious principle is non-violence.
One cannot continue killing animals and at the same time be a religious man. … Unfortunately, at the present moment so-called philanthropists and humanitarians advocate the happiness of humanity at the cost of the lives of poor animals. That is not recommended herein. The verse clearly says that one should be compassionate to all living entities. Regardless of whether human, animal, tree or plant, all living beings are sons of the Supreme Personality of Godhead:
It should be understood that all species of life, O son of Kunti, are made possible by birth in this material nature, and that I am the seed-giving father.
The different forms of these living entities are only their external dresses. Every living being is actually a spirit soul, a part and parcel of God. Therefore, one should not favour only one kind of living being. A Vaisnava sees all living entities as part and parcel of God:
The humble sage, by virtue of true knowledge, sees with equal vision a learned and gentle brahmana, a cow, an elephant, a dog and a dog-eater.
One who is transcendentally situated at once realizes the Supreme Brahman and becomes fully joyful. He never laments or desires to have anything; he is equally disposed to every living entity. In that state he attains pure devotional service unto Me.
A Vaisnava, therefore, is truly a perfect person because he laments to see others unhappy and feels joy at seeing others happy. A Vaisnava is para-duhkha-duhkhi; he is always unhappy to see the conditioned souls in an unhappy state of materialism. Therefore a Vaisnava is always busy preaching Krishna consciousness throughout the world.
[From the purport to Srimad Bhagavatam 6:10:9]
One Should Work for the Benefit of Others
It is the duty of every living being to perform welfare activities for the benefit of others with his life, wealth, intelligence and words.
[Srimad Bhagavatam 10:22:35]
One who has taken birth as a human being in the land of India (Bharata-varsa) should make his life successful and work for the benefit of all other people.
[Caitanya-caritamrta Adi 9:41]
This body, which is eatable by jackals and dogs after death, does not actually do any good for me, the spirit soul. It is usable only for a short time and may perish at any moment. The body and its possessions, its riches and relatives, must all be engaged for the benefit of others, or else they will be sources of tribulation and misery.
[Srimad Bhagavatam 6:10:10]
… In human society there are many institutions to help others, but because philanthropists do not know how to help others, their propensity for philanthropy is ineffectual. They do not know the ultimate goal of life, which is to please the Supreme Lord. If all philanthropic and humanitarian activities were directed toward achieving the ultimate goal of life – to please the Supreme Personality of Godhead – they would all be perfect. Humanitarian work without Krishna is nothing. Krishna must be brought to the centre of all our activities; otherwise no activity will have value.
[From purport to Srimad Bhagavatam 6:10:10]