There are many people begging in the streets near where I live. Individuals and groups sit near stores and the pub. Each time I go by, I’m faced with a dilemma. How do I reconcile my desire (my vow!) to be of service, to practice compassion, to alleviate suffering, with the fact that no amount of money I give will make a dent. In addition, my critical voice notices cell phones, to-go coffee cups, dogs, and cigarettes in plain sight and, in many instances, alcohol and drugs not far behind. Sometimes I feel anger arising for being ‘made to feel’ un-generous and privileged.
I’ve watched myself react in different ways: avoiding certain corners altogether; crossing the street in anticipation; avoiding eye contact as we pass, saying hello and gesturing sorry no change; giving a few coins; giving all the change in my pocket; picking up a muffin and offering it on the way back. None of these are satisfactory solutions; often the same person sits at the same spot each time I walk by and there are more people looking for a handout down the street.
I’m at a loss of what to do. How do you handle these situations? What would be ‘right action’ from a Buddhist perspective? I’d be grateful for your advice and insights.