Question: A friend said it is not good to give to the less fortunate who beg in public, as they have to beg due to their negative karma, and thus have to suffer. She also warned that to donate would be giving away one’s positive karma. Is this true?
Answer: It is sometimes hard to tell who genuinely need help. The answers below are based on those who really need help… Your friend’s concept is not proper Buddhism. It lacks of any trace of active compassion. It is true that if one has to beg due to poverty and inability to earn enough wages, it is due to their negative karma ripening. But should this person simply be ignored then, even if he starves to death? If he can be helped, it means his karma is not so negative after all!
Why not be one of the conditions through which he might experience ripening of his positive karma then? Being so happens to personally create positive karma by practising compassion and wisdom too. If your friend herself needed to resort to begging, she too would surely appreciate anyone helping, instead of everyone walking away. It would not make sense to not seek help too. To not help those we can help also creates some negative karma, by going against our Buddha-nature’s natural compassion.
Based on her misconception, no one, not even Buddhas and Bodhisattvas, should ever help anyone for anything, not even by sharing the Dharma! All, including family and friends, should be coldly left to their own devices. Surely, this does not make any sense. Even a con-man disguised as a beggar should be helped – not by giving money to him, but by reporting him to the police, so that he can cease creating more negative karma. The authorities too, help by advising (with or without punishment) to turn over a new leaf. Ironically, note that your friend, in wanting to share the misconception, though out of misplaced ‘compassion’ is actually an attempt to ‘help’ too.
So much said, it might be possible to help in other ways, beyond giving cash, such as giving in kind, and connecting the needy to welfare services. This might prevent potentially funding con-men. A beggar should also strive to end begging, to not simply settle for ‘easy money’. He or she should try to legal sell or offer something that can be appreciated (even if it is music), so as to be of genuine value or help to society, to reciprocate others’ kindness. If possible, a stable job should be secured too.
How Some Might (Mis)Understand Karma