Question: Is donating “blood” correct according to the shastras? Nowadays there is a lot of encouragement for blood and organ donation. How should we look at these from a Vedic perspective?
Romapada Swami Answers: There are no specific injunctions for/against blood donation. However, in principle such acts are generally understood to be within the category of material or bodily compassion, which is not only temporary but also superficial in that it does not address the real issue.
An exception to this rule would be the recent event of one devotee, Gopinath das, being a liver donor to Srila Prabhupada’s beloved disciple Syamasundara Prabhu, thus saving his life, allowing him to now complete his transcendental service of writing a book on his experiences with Srila Prabhupada as his secretary.
Compassion for the body is not wrong or unwarranted; it has its place when guided by proper knowledge. The Vedic perspective is to extend compassion first to the soul, and based on knowledge of soul and his eternal relationship with God, to then extend other aspects of compassion for the individual’s overall well-being. (For detailed discussion on material vs. spiritual compassion, see Digests 137, 213)
Those who are not so evolved or awakened to a spiritual conception of life are still encouraged in the Vedic system to do pious acts such as charity for some good cause, social welfare etc. — as a stepping stone to gradually elevate their consciousness from total self-absorption to selfless service and further higher towards a soul-centered and God-centered perspective of service. (See BG 12.11) Because such material pious acts (punya karma) are ultimately guided by scriptures and learned brahmanas, they act favorably, or at least not against the long-term spiritual interests of both the donor and the recipient. Typically such welfare work would involve acts like planting trees, digging wells, distributing sanctified food (prasadam) and offering charity to highly qualified & enlightened souls who in turn can effectively utilize it for the welfare of people in general.
However, without higher guiding principles, simply offering bodily amelioration without spiritual education does not necessarily relieve and uplift the recipient, and could even prove harmful. According to Bhagavad-Gita, charity is beneficial when it is offered as a matter of duty with proper consideration of spiritual purpose and to a worthy person. Indiscriminate charity to unworthy persons is in the mode of ignorance and is not beneficial, rather it is likely to encourage sinful persons. (Cf. Bhagavad Gita Chapter 17 Verse 20)
A blind person may be given vision, but without awakening to a higher purpose in life, consider how and for what purpose they would use that vision? It involves the same principle as giving money to an alcoholic or a gambler. Without purification of heart, such charity simply gives them greater facility and impetus to engage in more sinful activities – and without a higher aim, even an apparently simple or innocent person’s life is invariably involved in sins and is therefore bound to be towards degradation.
It is important to have conviction that the root cause of suffering is not external factors such as poverty or disease, but in fact it is the sinful tendencies in the heart of living entity, or stated differently, the lack of spiritual qualities. Doctors that I am acquainted with admit their helplessness, that they can only bring a patient’s health back to balance, but because the patient soon returns to the same lifestyle as they had before, very soon they return to the same condition of ill-health that was ailing them. Thus unless a person’s ‘consciousness’ is uplifted and transformed, all philanthropic efforts will be cosmetic at best.
One might argue that one can only give with good intention and it is then left to the recipient what they do with it. However, we do have to bear responsibility and share the karma for how our charity is used or misused, and therefore it behooves one to offer appropriate charity with due consideration.
The purpose of these considerations should certainly not make us hard-hearted and callous, in the name of spiritual vision, towards the suffering we see around us — rather it is meant to deepen and heighten genuine compassion and knowledge of how it should be applied. And there is in fact a transcendental method of donating blood for spiritual upliftment. Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakur appealed, “I wish that every selfless, tender-hearted person of Gaudiya Math will be prepared to shed two hundred gallons of blood for the nourishment of the spiritual corpus of every individual of this world.”
Srila Prabhupada personally exemplified this principle. “Gallons of blood I have spilled, gallons!! For each one of you to come to devotional service! This is the sacrifice of the devotees,” he would say. We can just consider the staggering sacrifices Srila Prabhupada made for the ultimate all-around welfare of humanity, to educate and convince each person about their true eternal welfare and how to achieve it.
In summary, blood and organ donations are not quite scripturally recommended as an act of public welfare work, neither are they forbidden – which means that if at all necessary, it should be thoughtfully done based on higher considerations; indiscriminate donation is not recommended. Furthermore, a more sublime form of welfare work is to offer our best efforts and resources for the purpose of spiritual education of others, following in the footsteps and according to the sagacious instructions of acharyas, just as Srila Prabhupada showed by his personal example.