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Thread: The Buddhist practice of Generosity (Dana) and Charity

  1. #1

    The Buddhist practice of Generosity (Dana) and Charity

    Thus have I heard...


    "I happily rejoice in the virtue of all sentient beings, which relieves the suffering of the miserable states of existence. May those who suffer dwell in happiness."
    -- Śāntideva, The Bodhisattva’s Way of Life
    Generosity and charitable giving have long been part of the Buddhist path. It is spoken of in all Traditions of Buddhism and by countless Teachers.

    Generosity is both a worthy end in itself, to reduce the suffering of others, and also a method of reducing one’s own attachment and ego through letting go of the idea of possession being something fixed rather than objects which can move on when they are needed somewhere else.

    Of course, in addition to being purveyors of generosity themselves, most Buddhist organisations throughout history have relied on donations to temples and gifts of food to individual monks to keep practicing. For lay people whose ability to practice might be limited, giving so that others might lead a life of spiritual commitment was a way to generate their own merit as well as ensure that priests were available for the community when required.

    "And what is the treasure of generosity? There is the case of a disciple of the noble ones, his awareness cleansed of the stain of stinginess, living at home, freely generous, openhanded, delighting in being magnanimous, responsive to requests, delighting in the distribution of alms. This is called the treasure of generosity."
    -- Anguttara Nikaya 7.6
    "The practice of giving 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."
    -- Bhikkhu Bodhi
    The Perfection of Generosity

    “Human beings and earth make offerings. Air, water, plants, animals and human beings make offerings. All things make offerings to each other. It’s only within this circle of offering that we can live.
    Without demanding ‘Give it to me!’ we make and receive offerings. The world in which we give and receive is a serene and beautiful world. It differs from the world of scrambling for things. It is vast and boundless.”
    -- Kodo Sawaki Roshi (1912-99)
    In Mahayana Buddhism, the perfection of generosity (dana paramita) is one of the six perfections which make up the Mahayana path. The perfection of generosity goes beyond pure charitable giving as a result of the way it is viewed and practiced.

    Generosity from a Mahayana perspective is undertaken with the sense that the gift, giver and receiver are all one. There is no separation between those things and the idea of there being someone who owns something to give and someone in need to receive it is paramount. That being said, there are also numerous people in the world who go without food and shelter each day or who die from preventable diseases and other people in the world through fortune of birth or circumstances who have more than their fair share. Sometimes things need a helping hand to move from where they are plentiful to where they are needed.

    “In a world where everything is already given — while nothing is truly ours, not even ourselves — it’s not charity to make sure everyone has enough; it’s justice.”
    -- Zoketsu Norman Fischer
    How to Give

    "The most compassionate form of giving is done with no thought or expectation of reward, and grounded in genuine concern for others."
    -- Tenzin Gyatso, XIVth Dalai Lama
    So, how should we give?

    Giving should be done, as best as one can, with a generous heart and no expectation of reward. Gifts should also be appropriate and with thought of what is needed rather than what is convenient. It is an extension of compassion and stimulated by the suffering of others.

    In the Kannon fascicle of Shobogenzo, Dogen presents a discussion between two Zen monks about the many hands of Kannon (the bodhisattva of compassion, also known as Avalokiteshvara). Daowu describes the compassionate actions of the bodhisattva himself as “like someone reaching back for the pillow at night.” His meaning is that compassionate action flows naturally from our hands without thought after observing discomfort or suffering.

    This is the ideal, at least, but we should not become downhearted if our charitable actions sometimes need a push!

    "These five are a person of integrity's gifts. Which five? A person of integrity gives a gift with a sense of conviction. A person of integrity gives a gift attentively. A person of integrity gives a gift in season. A person of integrity gives a gift with an empathetic heart. A person of integrity gives a gift without adversely affecting himself or others.”

    -- Anguttara Nikaya 5.148
    "When giving, 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 giving. A distinction can be made between giving 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 practised by every Buddhist, and is the first perfection (paramita) practised by the Buddha in many of His previous births in search for Enlightenment. A person performs dana in appreciation of the great qualities and virtues of the Triple Gem."
    -- Venerable K. Sri Dhammananda Maha Thera (1919-2006)
    Charity at Treeleaf

    "Those who regard mundane life as an obstacle to dharma know only that there is no dharma in secular activities; they do not yet know that no secular activities exist in dharma."
    -- Master Dogen
    Giving to charity is a good practice for any human being. It helps us to look at people other than ourselves who need help and assistance. Here at Treeleaf we encourage both financial donations to charities and the donation of one’s own time and skills for worthy causes.

    As students of Zen Buddhism, it is hoped that part of our practice will be to engage in charitable giving where we can and see it as a natural part of the spiritual path. Sitting on the cushion and cultivating compassionate thought is great but we also need to put that feeling into practice in the world.

    Charitable giving can often feel hopeless in the face of the overwhelming suffering in the world. However much we give, it will almost never feel like enough as there is a near bottomless well of suffering and people who need our help. When we have finished feeding a group of hungry mouths in one place, we notice more in another. When we have found solutions for a particular illness, another will come to our attention. However, the fact that we can make a considerable difference to some makes it worthwhile.

    As we chant at the beginning of the Bodhisattva Vow:

    To save all sentients beings, though beings are numberless

    We may never reach the end of sentient beings who are suffering but we can make a start, one sentient being at a time.

    Who else is Kannon’s hands and eyes but we, ourselves?

    Let us put them to good use.


    Last edited by Gojo; 03-04-2018 at 07:25 PM. Reason: Formatted for clarity...
    互助 - Gojo Bodhisattva

    互 - mutually;  reciprocally;  together
    助 - help;  rescue;  assist

    Gojo is no-one. Gojo is everyone. Together we manifest the hands of the Bodhisattvas!

    Please, bear witness and share reports of kindness and compassion in the world:

  2. #2
    Thank you to Gojo for posting the first discussion prompt for the engaged center.

    We will start by looking at Dana and Generosity. Please read the above and share your thoughts on giving and generosity. Also feel free to share other stories or quotes which have helped to shape and guide your feelings/understanding of this topic.


    香道 笑花
    Kodo Shoka

    Please don't take anything I say as anything more than just a normal person's thoughts on the topic. I'm just stumbling through life trying to be helpful, but really don't know much.

  3. #3
    Thank you Gojo and thank you Shoka!

    Generosity is both a worthy end in itself, to reduce the suffering of others, and also a method of reducing one’s own attachment and ego through letting go of the idea of possession being something fixed rather than objects which can move on when they are needed somewhere else

    This seems to contain both the air and the reason for fanning :-) Without our action, intention alone doesn't reduce our suffering or others' suffering. To realize true liberation, we should practice letting go of things the ego deems "ours." The more we cling and grasp--to time, possessions, health, image or perceived identity--the more we suffer.

    清 道 寂田
    I am a novice priest. Any resemblance my posts may have to actual teachings about the Dharma, living or dead, is purely coincidental (and just my attempt to be helpful).

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