Dana (Giving)

By Bhikkhu Visuddhacara

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:
 
Loving words will cost but little
Journeying up the hill of life
But they make the weak and weary
Stronger, braver for the strife
So, as up life's hill we journey
Let us scatter all the way
Kindly words, to be as sunshine
In the dark and cloudy day.
When we bring happiness into the lives of others, we are giving in a very
meaningful way. In this context, giving would mean more than just giving
material things. The attitude involved is also important.
 
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.