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,
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
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
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
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
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
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 while
making the offering.
After the offering, whenever he recalls his good deed, he should rejoice
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
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 accompanied
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 insight
knowledge and Nibbana.
Another important factor is the resolution (adhitthana). Whenever we do
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 four
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
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,
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
the monks can enjoy life and have a good time. Rather they are offering with
"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
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
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
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
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 centres
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
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 building
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
still a sanghika dana as what is important is that the donor has intended
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 whole.
"Miser do not go to heaven;
Fools indeed do not praise liberality
But the wise rejoice in giving
And thereby gain happiness thereafter"