Learning About Compassion and Charity From World Cultures

In Ancient Greece, treating travelers well was mandatory. (Image:  pixabay  /  CC0 1.0)
In Ancient Greece, treating travelers well was mandatory. (Image: pixabay / CC0 1.0)

The development of a civilization can be ascertained by how well it treats its fellow beings. A dog-eat-dog world can make people hate and fear others. It is ideals like compassion and charity that teach us that taking care of the less fortunate is as important as focusing on one’s own survival and pleasure. Here’s a look into the concepts of compassion and charity of four cultures from around the world.

Greece: Treating travelers

Traveling in ancient times was an arduous task. It would take several days or months to reach a destination. And once you reach there, the difference in language, culture, etiquette, etc., would make it tough for people to find footing in a strange place. Ancient Greeks realized that travelers had to face all such troubles to arrive at their land. As such, every Greek was expected to provide food and shelter to any traveler who arrived at their doorstep. To not do so was seen as a violation of the commandment of the Gods. In return, the traveler was obliged to stay only as long as necessary and not take undue advantage of the host. This concept was known as philoxenia, or “love of strangers,” and is depicted in popular Greek works like Iliad and Odyssey. Things are different now and travelers can easily find lodging wherever they go. But if you do find some traveler in trouble, consider helping them resolve their dilemma.

China: Kindness toward neighbors

An ancient Chinese saying states that one of the most precious treasures of a country is to have citizens who are kind to their neighbors. (Of course, this does not apply to the Chinese Communist Party, which bullies, manipulates, and infects their neighbors.) Another popular saying reminds people that to help those who suffer from difficulties and to have sympathy for neighbors is a core way of the Dao and that those who follow these precepts will be blessed. In ancient times, it was very difficult for a common man to regularly find work and feed his family. There would be days when a family couldn’t eat even a single meal. Helping them with food and other essentials was considered virtuous. A society that follows such traditions will inevitably be more tightly connected and have a better chance of surviving adverse conditions.

An ancient Chinese saying states that one of the most precious treasures of a country is to have citizens who are kind to their neighbors. (Image: Public Domain)

An ancient Chinese saying states that one of the most precious treasures of a country is to have citizens who are kind to their neighbors. (Image: Public Domain)

India: Charity toward the needy

In the Rigveda, the ancient spiritual text of India, charity is taught as feeding those who are hungry or aiding those in need. Another text points out that charity should be done with the purest of intentions without seeking anything in return. This reflects the ideal of remaining humble even when you help someone poor, a concept that might sound alien to people obsessed with helping out others just so they can gloat about it on social media. Charity is considered one of the perfections of life, an action that can help one get rid of negative karma and build up virtue, thereby aiding one’s path to spiritual liberation.

Help people sincerely without expecting anything in return. (Image: Pixabay / CC0 1.0)

Japan: Respect and gifting  

Japanese culture, even today, puts great stress on showing respect toward others. Whether you visit a restaurant, cleaner, businessman, or a taxi driver, they will instantly bow to indicate their respect for you. This puts the other party at ease, especially if one is a foreigner. The Japanese also follow a tradition called senbetsu, according to which people provide gifts to those who are leaving for a long time. This would make one’s travels a manageable affair. So if you know someone who is traveling abroad and is in a financially difficult position, try practicing senbetsu to ease their burdens.

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