Generosity, the first step of a long journey | Daily News

Generosity, the first step of a long journey

Dana is a Sanskrit and Pali word that connotes the virtue of generosity, charity or giving of alms in Indian philosophies. The practice of dana is universally recognized as one of the most basic human virtues, a quality that testifies to the depth of one's humanity and one's capacity for self-transcendence. In the teaching of the Buddha, too, the practice of giving claims a place of special eminence, one which singles it out as being in a sense the foundation and seed of spiritual development.

Dana, or generosity, is one of the 'perfections' (parami) that all sincere Buddhists seek to cultivate. It is also one of the foundations on which the continuity of the Buddha's teachings has depended down the centuries.

The Buddha explains that there are many benefits of dana, both in this world and beyond. The most iconic future benefit that can be realized from dana in Buddhism involves the Buddhist concept of Karma. Buddhists believe that what is given is not lost, but is actually returned to the giver in the form of karmic rewards, most notably, wealth and happiness.

The karmic rewards of dana are considered to be a more preliminary reason for the practice, but nonetheless its benefits shouldn’t be overlooked. While gaining wealth doesn’t sound stereotypically Buddhist, wealth does indeed have its uses in Buddhism.

The Buddha himself describes numerous benefits from having wealth, and Buddhism itself grew to global prominence thanks largely to the patronage of numerous wealthy benefactors such as Anathapindika, King Bimbisara, and Emperor Ashoka. Such patronage is even more important when you consider the fact that the Buddhist clergy relies solely on the gifts of others to sustain themselves.


Buddhism is known for its emphasis on letting go of desire and craving, so obviously there is more to dana in Buddhism than just karmic rewards. What’s most important when dana in Buddhism is the intention, and although it is still technically good to give with the intention of gaining worldly karmic rewards, it is not ideal.

More important than the karmic benefits of dana are the benefits dana has on the mind. In order to further one’s spiritual practice in Buddhism it is necessary to train the mind to abandon numerous obstructions, or fetters.


Explaining dana, Buddha once said: “The recipient of the dana is like the land; the donor the farmer, the offerings are the seeds sown. The benefits accrued later throughout samsara are the fruits that are borne from the plants.”

Let us elaborate its meaning.

* In agriculture, the type of soil whether good or bad, determines the yield. Similarly, the integrity and nobility of the recipient determine the nature of beneficial results.

* Just as vitality of the seeds sown determined the growth and productivity of the plants; the purity of offerings, gifts, whether they are procured through right livelihood or not, and the quantity, determine the nature of beneficial results.

* Just as farmers will reap harvest in conformity with their skill in farming and efforts, so also donors will enjoy results depending on their level of intelligence, appreciative joy and their sincere effort in offering Dana.

* Farmers have to prepare to till and plough their fields properly, before sowing the seeds to ensure a good yield. Likewise, donors must have pubba-cetana before giving Dana. Result will depend on the intensity of their pub- cetana. It is this cetana that produces beneficial results here and in the next existences, not the material things that are offered. This mental attitude which is projected onto the offertories determines the good results in future existences.

* Farmers need to weed and water their fields; only then the plants will flourish. In the same way donors need to recall their charity and feel satisfaction for the meritorious deed. This apara-cetana of the donor determined the nature of beneficial results.

* If farmer, through folly, destroy their sprouts and seedlings they cannot enjoy the product of their labor. Similarly, if donors feel that they shouldn't have done the almsgiving and regret for it afterwards, then they fail to enjoy good results due to their feeble apara- cetana.

* Even though the land and seeds are all in good condition, the sowing should be done in the right season, the right time so as to get a healthy crop. In the same way one should give alms to the needy, at the suitable time and place. Such charity brings about the best results.

There is a valuable lesson we can learn from this simple example. Therefore, in offering dana, the correct choice of recipient, the appropriateness of the time and place are very important.

The Dana must be done with a blissful mind. Moreover, one should not practice Dana with a view to getting worldly wealth because such a wish is associated with greed and craving.

First component

However, dana does not appear in its own right among the factors of the Noble Eightfold Path, nor does it appear among the other necessities of enlightenment (bodhipakkhiya dhamma). Buddhist scholars believe that it is because the practice of dana does not by its own nature contribute directly to the realization of the Four Noble Truths. Of course, although it does act as the first component of the process of attaining nibbana, it serves as a basis for preparation and support for the endeavor to free the mind from the defilements.


Dana can include offering material help to people in want or giving spiritual guidance to those who seek it and loving kindness to all who need it. However, one's intention for dana is important as what is given.

What is right or wrong intention? Venerable K. Sri Dhammananda Maha Thera in his book “What Buddhists Believe,” says, “When offering dana, a person should not perform charity as an act of his body alone, but with his heart and mind as well. There must be joy in every act of dana. A distinction can be made between dana as a normal act of generosity and dana. In the normal act of generosity, a person gives out of compassion and kindness when he realizes that someone else is in need of help, and he is in the position to offer the help. When a person performs dana, he gives as a means of cultivating charity as a virtue and of reducing his own selfishness and craving”.

“He exercises wisdom when he recalls that dana is a very important quality to be practiced by every Buddhist, and is the first perfection (paramita) practiced by the Buddha in many of his previous births in search for Enlightenment.”

“There are many things which a person can give. He can give material things: food for the hungry, and money and clothes to the poor. He can also give his knowledge, skill, time, energy or effort to projects that can benefit others. He can provide a sympathetic ear and good counsel to a friend in trouble. He can restrain himself from killing other beings, and by so doing perform a gift of life to the helpless beings which would have otherwise been killed. He can also give a part of his body for the sake of others, such as donating his blood, eyes, kidney, etc.”

“But the greatest testimony to the Buddha's great compassion is his priceless gift to humanity -the Dhamma which can liberate all beings from suffering. To the Buddhist, the highest gift of all is the gift of Dhamma. This gift has great powers to change a life.

Valuable practice

Giving dana serves as a way to eliminate one’s greed and ill-will. By giving away what is valuable, you reduce attachment by letting them go. By using your possessions or time to benefit another, you develop altruism towards others. Dana helps to rid your mind of the defilements by conditioning the mind to let go of attachments and extinguish ill-will.

However, dana alone cannot eliminate all of the fetters of the mind and therefore cannot alone lead to enlightenment. Regardless, it is still an extremely valuable practice to help you progress. 

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