I like the Buddhist principles of the 4 types of giving. It is an ideal that I think we would all benifit from applying. It talks about 4 levels of helping others.
First is to provide necessities. People can’t do spiritual practices if …they are starving and have to spend a large proportion of their time on survival. So the first step is to help provide the necessities of life to others. For me this involves not only “feeding the poor” but setting up laws and institutions to ease the burden of survival from others. In Canada we have a group called “Make Poverty History” which is working to that end.
The Second type of giving is to provide Confidence. This means to reinforce in others minds their own BuddhaNature and, if you break that down to something non-Buddhists can relate to by being specific about what Buddhanature means, then what we are trying to do with the second kind of giving is to remind people of their inherent knowledge and skill. This means their own capicity to know their situations and their problems and what solutions will work best. For me, this also means education – showing them that they can learn techniques that will help them work better within their situation.
Third is to provide Relative understanding – This is to understand interdependence, Action and Result – to teach others about the effects of their actions. Again, this needs to be done not just on “spiritual” levels, but on physical, and societal levels, on top of the emotional and moral levels.
The final type of giving is giving ultimate understanding – This can be interpreted many ways, but, if we interpret it in the widest possible way, it means promoting peace and joy and wisdom and compassion both internally and externally.
However – this teaching emphasizes that our work on the 4th type of giving wil only be partial unless the other types of giving are satisfied first. – I think this is a principle that we should all try to follow.