By Bhikkhu Visuddhacara
3. Belief in Kamma
5. Sharing of Merits
6. The Receivers
7. The Gift
9. Result of Dana
10. Walking the whole Path
11. Sanghika Dana
"May the Dhamma last as long as
My sons and grandsons,
And the sun and the moon will be
And may the people follow the path of the Dhamma,
For if one follows the path, happiness in this
and in other world will be attained. "
- King Asoka -
DANA is a Pali word that can be translated as giving, generosity, charity, and liberality.
It occupies an important part in the Buddha's teaching, which is often formulated under three headings - dana, sila, bhavana (giving, morality, meditation or mental cultivation). That dana is one heading underscores its importance. Buddhists should take heed and cultivate a good spirit of dana.
It is a first step towards eliminating the defilement of greed, hatred and delusion (lobka, dosa, moha), for every act of giving is an act of non-greed, non-hatred, non-delusion. When you give you have loving-kindness (metta) and compassion (karuna) in your heart. So at that time greed, hatred or ill-will, and delusion would be absent.
"Giving" is a word that has very wide connotations. It does not mean that you give only to monks. It does not mean that you give only expensive things. And it does not mean that you give only material things that cost money.
For you can give many immaterial things which may count even more than material things. What I mean is that when we are kind to each other, we are giving kindness, gentleness, comfort, peace, happiness, etc. So we can give by being kind. For example, we can lend a sympathetic ear to a troubled person, listen to him (or her) with compassion and give him comfort and encouragement.
To the troubled person, your giving time to listen to him is
more important than if he were to receive a material gift. So when we are living
in a community, we should cultivate care and concern for each other, reaching
out to help whenever we can. Then we give more kindness by speaking gently,
soothingly, not harshly or angrily. This can bring much cheer to people, as the
following poem shows:
For example, during the time of the Buddha, there was one, Prince Payasi, who established a charity for ascetics and Brahmins, wayfarers, beggars and the needy. And he gave such food as broken rice and sour gruel and also rough clothing. A young Brahmin called Uttara was put in charge of the distribution.
One day Uttara made some uncomplimentary remarks about Prince Payasi. The Prince called him up and asked: "But why did you say such a thing? Friend Uttara, don't we who wish to gain merit expect a reward for our charity?"
Uttara replied: "But Lord, the food you give-broken rice with sour gruel-you would not care to touch it with your foot, much less eat it! And the rough clothes - you would not care to set foot on them, much less wear them!"
Prince Payasi then asked Uttara to arrange to supply better food and clothing, and the latter did so. When Prince Payasi died he was reborn in an empty mansion in a low heavenly realm. Uttara was reborn in a higher heavenly realm in the company of the 33 gods.
This was because Prince Payasi had established his charity grudgingly, not with his own hands, and without proper concern, like something casually tossed aside. But Uttara had given the charity ungrudgingly, with his own hands and with proper concern, not like something tossed aside.
This account from Payasi Sutta of Digha Nikaya shows the importance of having true care and concern. So when doing dana, we should take care to cultivate a heart of true loving-kindness and compassion. Buddhists are taught to offer food, robes, medicine and monastery buildings to monks. Monks are considered a field of merit and worthy of support.
It is understandable that Buddhists should give full support to the Sangha, for the monks are the ones who are in a position to study, practice and safeguard the Dhamma for the present and future generations. Without the Dhamma, Buddhism would be lost. The monks too keep 227 precepts, which restrain them from indulgence in sensual pleasures.
Lay Buddhists thus consider monks to be in a better position to cultivate mental purity. So monks generally receive good support from lay Buddhists and this is as it should be. But in the true spirit of dana, Buddhists should not confine their giving to monks only They should relate well with their fellow Buddhists, showing care and concern and sharing what they can.
Whenever somebody is in trouble and needs help, they should respond if they are able to. Furthermore, they should extend the same loving-kindness to society at large, to people of all races and creeds. They can donate liberally according to their ability to hospitals, old folks' homes, handicapped institutions and all worthy causes. They can also get together and set up such institutions, Such a broad attitude will make life meaningful and rewarding.
In doing dana, such as offering of food to monks, the donor should be happy before, during and after the offering. This means that before the offering, during the preparatory stage, the donor should go about the planning and preparation happily.
He should realise and appreciate that what he is thinking,
planning and doing is very commendable and wholesome. He should be glad on that
account. Then when offering the food he should be happy, mindful and aware of
what he is doing. He should not be absent-minded and think about other things
making the offering.
After the offering, whenever he recalls his good deed, he should rejoice and be glad. Some people may not have such an attitude. For example, they may have the intention to do dana but failed to carry it out. Or when doing dana, they may not be mindful and are thinking of something else. And after making the offering, some may even regret doing so. In this way, the result (vipaka) of the deed varies.
There are instances in the Buddhist text where a person who regretted making an offering to a monk, was later reborn with wealth which he, however, was unable to enjoy because of miserliness. So we should take care to have purity of mind before, during and after the deed.
3. BELIEF IN KAMMA
Furthermore, dana should be done with understanding of the law
of action and result (kamma-vipaka). We understand that we are the owner of our
deeds. Whatever we do will rebound back on us. Good will beget good, and bad
will beget bad. Dana when done with the belief in the law of kamma is
So when we enjoy the results such as wealth in later or future
lives, it will be accompanied by wisdom. Not understanding and believing in the
law of kamma is a setback to the practice of meditation. Being strongly attached
to wrong views, it will be difficult to make progress and attain higher
knowledge and Nibbana.
Another important factor is the resolution (adhitthana). Whenever we do any good deed we should make an aspiration for the attainment of Nibbana - the cessation of all suffering. In the Myanmar tradition, one wishes that one may be healthy, wealthy, happy and attain Nibbana.
Good health is needed to aid us in our meditation practice.
Wealth enables us to do dana and provides supportive conditions for the
practice. In the case of monks, it means that he will not be short of the
requisites-robes, food, medicine, lodging-needed for his survival.
A long life is also desired in the sense that one can make use of it to acquire a lot of merits to help us make an end of suffering. Finally, we channel all these supportive factors towards the attainment of Nibbana. When the mind is thus "programmed" with such a resolution, it heads straight for the goal without delay, and deviation.
Conditions conducive to practice of meditation will arise and during practice, progress will be fast and easy. So it is important to have the aspiration for the attainment of Nibbana whenever we do good deeds, such as dana and observance of sila (precepts).
Longing only for wealth and heavenly rebirth is being short-sighted, for as long as we are in samsara we cannot avoid birth, sickness, old age and death, together with a multitude of problems while living. Even if we get a heavenly rebirth, we are still in danger, for on expiry of our life span, we may be reborn in a woeful state. Nibbana is the highest wisdom and supreme happiness. Right-thinking Buddhists would resolve to attain it.
When Nibbana is attained, mind and matter (body) come to cessation. The cessation of mind and matter means the cessation of all suffering. It is a great relief like the lying down of a heavy burden we have been carrying for innumerable lifetimes. It is like the extinguishing of a flame: "Nibbanti dhira yathayam padipo" (The wise go out like a lamp).
So to make the proper aspiration, we can recite the Pali formula: Idam me danam nibbanassa paccayo hotu. It means:
"May this dana of mine be a condition
for the attainment of Nibbana.
Whenever we do any good deeds, we make punna (merits)"
So we can also say:
"Idam me punnam nibbanassa paccayo hotu (May this merit of mine be a
condition for the attainment of Nibbana)"
So too when we observe precepts, we can say Idam me silam Nibbanassa paccayo hotu (May these precepts of mine be a condition for the attainment of Nibbana).
5. SHARING OF MERITS
After the performance of dana or any good deed, we should share the merits gained with all beings. This is very beneficial, as sharing of merits is in itself a good deed. The mind enjoys a wholesome state associated with loving-kindness and compassion as we share the merits of our good deeds.
Then, beings including those present, departed relatives, petas and devas who are aware of our good deeds and rejoice with our sharing of merits with them, will also benefit. By rejoicing they attain wholesome states of mind which can lead them to good rebirths.
So whenever we do dana or any good deeds, we should mentally or verbally share the merits with all beings, parents, spouse, children, relatives, friends, petas and devas. The Pali formula is:
"Imam no punnabhagam sabba sattanan ca
sabba mittanan ca sabba natinan ca sabba petanan ca sabba
devatanan ca bhajema. Sabbe satta sukhi hontu."
It means "We share these merits of ours with all beings, relatives, friends, petas and devas. May all beings be happy." The Myanmars add another line: "May all beings take a share of these merits. Sadhu sadhu sadhu."
6. THE RECIEVERS
Monks who receive food and other requisites from devotees also have a duty to fulfil. The monks should realize that those who are offering them food are not their relatives.
The people do not owe the monks anything. They are not offering food so that the monks can enjoy life and have a good time. Rather they are offering with the wish:
"May the good monk be of good health to pursue a holy life, practice meditation and be liberated from samsara. May we, the person who offers, also benefit from these good deeds." Therefore the monks as receivers can only repay the devotees by striving hard, studying the Dhamma and practicing meditation to purify their minds. In this way, the devotees will gain great merits by virtue of the purity of the monk or his earnest efforts to attain that purity.
In the days of the Buddha, donors had been known to attain heavenly rebirths by offering even a spoonful of rice to the Buddha and arahants. When eating the food too, monks are exhorted by the Buddha to do so mindfully and not with greed. They should eat not with attachment to taste but only with a desire to stay healthy so that they can study and practice the Dhamma.
Similarly when they use their robes and other allowable requisites, they should do so with the proper attitude. Monks, after a suitable period of study and practice, will teach the Dhamma according to their capability to devotees. In this way, devotees will learn the way to practice, the way to live peacefully and to attain Nibbana.
The Buddha's teaching will also endure long. Thus, the relationship between the Sangha and lay devotees will be meaningful and fruitful. Teaching and helping to spread the Dhamma is one of the highest forms of dana. This is borne out by the oft-quoted verse from the Dhammapada - "The gift of Dhamma excels all gifts (Sabba danam dhamma-danam jinati)."
When offering food, the Buddha said, the donors are actually offering five things - long life, beauty, strength, happiness and knowledge, for without food, we cannot live. Lack of food will affect our complexion and looks. Food gives us strength. If we are hungry we cannot have any pleasure, happiness or enjoyment in life. And only when we have food can we carry out study to gain knowledge or meditation to gain wisdom.
Just as donors of food give these five things-long life, beauty, strength, happiness and knowledge-they will gain the same kind of results in this life or in future lives by virtue of their offering. This is in accordance with the law of kamma. We reap what we sow.
7. THE GIFT
In giving, one can only give what one can afford. Those who have fewer resources have to accept that they are not in a position to give as much as they may like to. But in giving, it is not only the value that counts, but also the heart that gives. If one gives with strong volition, a pure mind with loving-kindness and compassion, and the gift has been acquired from money honestly earned, then that gift though small will surpass that of another who gives disdainfully or who gives what has been acquired through dishonest or wrong livelihood.
In this regard, a dollar given by a poor honest man can match, so to speak, a million given by a rich but dishonest man. A verse from the Samyutta Nikaya illustrates this point:
Righteous his act who, though he lives by scraps Gleaned here
and there, though he maintains a wife,
Yet from his scanty store finds gift to give Of thousand donors hundred thousand (gifts). Are not in value equal to his mite.
Why is their offering, abundant, lavish
Not equal to the poor man's righteous gift?
How isn't the thousand gifts of thousand donors
Are not in value equal to his mite?
Some give with inconsistent ways of conduct,
First smiting, murdering and sorrow-causing
These offerings (besmirched by) tears and blows,
Have not the value of the righteous gift.
'Tis thus the thousand (coins) of thousand donors.
Are not in value equal to his mite.
Furthermore, there are other factors to be considered such as the care and trouble one takes in preparing food for offering. Coming to the monastery and making offerings personally can make a difference.
So donors who have to take a lot of time off and trouble to do dana should realize that they are making no small merits. When their kamma-vipaka (effect) ripens they will enjoy the result of their good deeds.
Giving too should be accompanied by wisdom and understanding of the monks' rules. As Theravada monks are not allowed to eat after mid-day, devotees should not be offering food to monks in the afternoon.
Monks who should perchance be seen in shops eating in the afternoon or even at night, smoking, etc. are not conforming to the monks' rules and are doing a disservice to the Buddha Sasana. They cause right-thinking people to criticize monks and to think that all monks behave in such unbecoming manner. As such those monks who are earnestly trying to keep the vinaya rules get a bad name and get looked down upon through no fault of their own.
Devotees should learn about the monks' rules and exercise wisdom in doing dana. For example, offering cigarettes to monks would be improper. Monks who ask for cigarettes would be asking for something not appropriate. In fact, a devotee could go up to a monk who is smoking publicly and say politely:
"Venerable sir, with all due respect allow me to point out that you are depending on the lay-devotees for your support. You are unable to earn any living except to live on alms and depend on the charity of the people. Is it proper then for you to burn away the good devotees' hard-earned money by smoking? Would it be in keeping with the monks' rules? Would it not reflect poorly on the Sangha and tarnish its name? Would it not set a bad example to others, especially the younger generation?
"Venerable sir, it has been soundly proven that cigarettes are bad for the health. In addition to affecting your own health, the health of your devotees and others would be adversely affected by having to breathe in the harmful side-stream smoke of your cigarettes. Venerable sir, we urge you to take this admonishment in the right spirit and to refrain from smoking in future."
The Buddha also forbade monks to tell fortunes, sell charms and talismans that are all considered as wrong livelihood (miccha ajava) for monks. In Buddhist countries such as Myanmar and Thailand there is a Sangka council which has government backing and authority to check errant monks.
In Thailand the Sangl2araja (head of the Sangha Council) had been cracking down on certain errant monks and had them disrobed. In Malaysia there is no such Sangharaja council can act against "rogue" monks. Devotees would thus have to be even more discerning and have some understanding of monks' rules.
Performing services such as sweeping the monastery, cooking,
serving, washing dishes, cleaning up, taking care of the garden, is also a form
of giving. In Pali it is called veyyavacca. In Myanmar this practice is
very prevalent. Devout Buddhists would go to monasteries and meditation
to offer their services.
During school holidays, boys and girls would go to meditation centres to meditate. Some would shave their heads and become temporary monks or nuns. After their practice, they would remain or continue to come regularly to serve in various ways. While staying in Myanmar, I once met a group of elderly Myanmar devotees who told me their group had every Sunday without fail for the past 30 years, contributed cleaning services to a meditation centre.
On another occasion there was some land leveling work being done at the Centre where I was staying. A group of young ladies, who had come dressed in their best, promptly joined in when they saw the work going on. They carried on their shoulder pans containing earth. They seemed unconcerned about soiling themselves, their make-up and their beautiful dresses.
The Buddhist tradition in Myanmar is, of course, very strong.
People are very conscious about making merits. And veyyavacca is also considered
as a very meritorious deed. There are stories in the text of how people
had got rebirths in heavenly realms because of performing services such as
roads and bridges.
The Myanmar people being steeped in the Buddhist tradition are thus cheerful about offering services. Sometimes when they are told that it is not necessary to do such and such a service, they would protest saying, "Please, Venerable sir, you must give us a chance to make merits." The dana spirit is, indeed, deeply embedded in them.
So offering services and assistance is a kind of dana and one should go about that with enthusiasm too. For those who have been serving, they have cause to be happy when they reflect on the time and labour they had spent in helping people. They should understand that what they had done is not a small thing but something very laudable.
9. RESULT OF DANA
The immediate result of dana is that one will be popular and well-liked by people. This is natural. People feel good and happy when they receive something. Their face lights up with a smile when they receive a gift. They feel gratitude and a desire to reciprocate the kindness. The generous person would thus find that he has a lot of friends some of whom will help him in his time of need.
According to Buddhism, the result of giving is that one will become wealthy in this or future lives. The person who is generous may find himself advancing in his career or business, and making even more money. Furthermore, after death he may be reborn in the heavenly world and enjoy celestial pleasures. If he is reborn as a human being he will be wealthy.
Even if he is reborn as an animal (because of some bad kamma-vipaka) he may still find himself well cared for like some pets we see nowadays. People who are wealthy now must have done a lot of dana in their previous life or lives. If there had been no kammic support, they would not have become rich even if they had worked very hard to make money.
Also we can see for ourselves that some children are born into rich households, enjoy a luxurious upbringing and eventually inherit their parents' wealth. Material-wise, they are never wanting in anything. On the other hand, some are born poor and remain so all their lives. This is because they had done very little dana in their past lives.
Wealth enables us to fulfil our material needs and to do charity. It is a great blessing when used wisely. The poor generally undergo more privations and suffering. (Though, of course, they can be happy when they have the right Dhamma attitude.) Therefore, we should cultivate the dana spirit together with the aspiration to attain Nibbana, the cessation of all suffering. Monks, who had done dana in their past lives, will find themselves not lacking in requisites.
However, one should have a noble motive when giving. If one does so only to gain recognition and fame, it is called hina (inferior) dana. If one does so because one wants to get good worldly results such as rebirth as a deva (celestial being), it is majjhima (middle-level) dana.
The highest panita dana is done by one who has no mundane or worldly motive. He gives because he sincerely wishes to alleviate the suffering of others. He thinks "Charitable deeds are wholesome and should be done by a dutiful person; therefore I will do it."
Such a person may have as his aim the supramundane i.e. to gain enlightenment or wisdom. We should do dana with a sincere desire to help people and with the aspiration to attain Nibbana so that we can eliminate all suffering and help others to do so too. We want to end the vicious cycle of birth and death and wish the same for our fellow-sufferers in samsara.
Understanding the benefits of dana, one should always strive to be kind and generous. Even the smallest kindness can yield abundant fruit one day. The Buddha said that even throwing away some food with the idea of allowing small creatures to feed on it is a noble gesture that can yield some remarkable kammic result one-day.
Emphasizing on the merits of giving, the Buddha said: "Monks, if beings knew, as I know, the ripening of sharing gifts, they would not enjoy their use without sharing them, nor would the taint of stinginess obsess their heart and stay there. Even if it were the last bit, they last morsel of food, they would not enjoy its use without sharing it, if there were anyone to receive it.
But in as much, monks, as beings do not know, as I know, the ripening of sharing gifts, therefore they enjoy their use without sharing them, and the taint of stinginess obsesses their heart and stays there." If we are unable to give now, it may be because in our past lives we have been obsessed by the taint of stinginess.
So if we don't want to have the same habit again in the future
we should start to cultivate the habit of giving now. The Buddha praised
one who is accomplished in generosity (caga-sampada). Such a person, the Buddha
said, "dwells with heart free from the stain of avarice, devoted to charity,
open-handed, delighting in generosity, attending to the needy, delighting in the
distribution of alms." So let us share, each according to our ability. Let us
cultivate the spirit and joy of giving, bringing happiness and cheer
into the lives of our fellowmen.
10. WALKING THE WHOLE PATH
Dana is the first stage in the three-fold training of dana, sila and bhavana (giving, morality and meditation). We should not stop at dana but should go on to observing precepts and practicing meditation. Then only will our development be whole.
Observing precepts will give us joy and satisfaction in that whenever we reflect, we will be happy that we have led a moral life and refrained from hurting anybody.
Furthermore, we will be assured of a good rebirth. Practicing meditation will give us peace of mind and ultimately attainment of the supreme happiness, Nibbana. The Buddha wants us all to reach the end of suffering. That is the real inheritance he wants to hand to us. Thus we should strive our utmost in dana, sila and bhavana, and thereby make an end of suffering.
May all beings be well and happy. May they walk the path of dana, sila and bhavana and reach the journey's end in Nibbana.
11. SANGHIKA DANA
There is sometimes a misconception that a minimum of four monks is required for a sanghika dana, that is a dana intended for the Sangha, the Order of monks. In point of fact, even one monk is sufficient to represent the Sangha. What is important is the intention of the donor.
In such a case, the donor approaches the monastery and informs the head monk or the monk-in-charge of accepting dana invitations, that he or she wishes to hold a sanghika dana, and the number of monks he wishes to invite for the occasion. Since it is a sanghika dana, he should not specify the names of any monks, otherwise it would become an invitation to individual monks and not to the Sangha as a whole.
Thus, the donor should leave it to the Sangha to decide which
monk or monks they wish to send to represent the Sangha. If the Sangha is able
to send only one monk, then that one monk too can well represent the Sangha. It
is still a sanghika dana as what is important is that the donor has
the offering for the Order as a whole. Thus, it is the intention, or the state of mind, that counts.
In the Commentaries, there is an account of one monk being sent
to represent the Sangha and how the merits made by the donor were considered
considerable, as the donor's intention was to donate to the Sangha as a
"Miser do not go to heaven;
Fools indeed do not praise liberality
But the wise rejoice in giving
And thereby gain