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Why and where to Give?

The practice of cultivating generosity (Dāna) is an integral aspect of Buddhist practice. Giving with an open and generous heart allows the giver to practice renunciation and letting go of his/her attachment towards possessions, which facilitates the letting go of various ways the mind holds onto self-view. Moreover, generosity when cultivated frequently, with the knowledge that the gift would benefit the recipient, fills the mind with light, wholesome qualities.

One may practice generosity through acts of service, provision of the four requisites (robes, food, shelter, and medicine) to the Saṅgha, or any kind gestures to other beings, etc.

When one gifts, the question of where the gift should be made comes to mind:

Near Sāvatthī. As he was sitting to one side, King Pasenadi Kosala said to the Blessed One: “Where, lord, should a gift be given?”

“Wherever the mind feels confidence, great king.”*

“But a gift is given where, lord, bears great fruit?”

“This (question) is one thing, great king—‘Where should a gift be given?’—while this—‘A gift given where bears great fruit?’—is something else entirely. What is given to a virtuous person—rather than to an unvirtuous one—bears great fruit.

- Saṁyutta Nikāya | The Connected Collection SN 3.24

*The non-offense clauses to Nissaggīya Pācittiya 30 state that, when donors ask a monk where they should give an intended gift, he should say, “Give wherever your gift would be used, or would be well-cared for, or would last long, or wherever your mind feels confidence.” In other words, monks should not tell lay people were to give their donations.

According to the Training Codes of Discipline (the Vinaya), the Saṅgha, or the community of monks referred to by the Buddha as the virtuous ones, depends solely on the support of well-wishing lay supporters for four basic requisites of robes, food, shelter and medicine.

In turn, having committed to fully practicing the Dhamma-Vinaya with morality and virtue, the Saṅgha provides spiritual guidance to the lay community.

Benefits of Practising Giving

Any act of giving is an opportunity for lay supporters to acquire merit and goodness that results from their kind intentions. The benefits of generosity are manifold and are described in detail throughout many parts of the Pāli Canon. One such example is:

Bhikkhus, there are these five benefits of giving. What five?

(1) One is dear and agreeable to many people.
(2) Good persons resort to one.
(3) One acquires a good reputation.
(4) One is not deficient in the layperson’s duties.
(5) With the breakup of the body, after death, one is reborn in a good destination, in a heavenly world.
These are the five benefits in giving.

- Aṅguttara Nikāya | The Numerical Collection AN 5.35

In the Buddha’s Teachings, giving can be practiced in three forms: the gift of material things; the gift of Dhamma, and the gift of non-fear:

The Gift of Material Things

The giving of material things (amisa-dana), refers not only to giving to bhikkhus, but also includes giving to the poor, the starving, and so forth. There is no lack of opportunity to practice this in our highly populated world. Buddhists who have sufficient wealth, clothes, food, shelter and medicine should practice dana bearing in mind that what is given away is truly well preserved while what is kept is wasted.

This practice, running counter to the worldly ways of craving and attachment, is of key importance in the present materialistic society with its emphasis on gain and the accumulation of possessions. Nothing much can be done in Dhamma until one is prepared to open one's heart and hands to the service of others.

The Gift of Dhamma

The giving of Dhamma (dhamma-dana) refers to the gift of beneficial teachings and advice for others. While the material things that we gain can only benefit us in this life, progress made in the Dhamma benefits us now and in future lives as well.

Dhamma is the supreme gift in the world, as said by the Buddha:

All gifts the gift of Dhamma does excel,
all tastes the taste of dhamma does excel,all joys the joy of Dhamma does excel —
the craving ender overcomes all dukkha.
— Dhp. 354

The Gift of Non-Fear

The giving of non-fear (abhaya-dana) means acting in such a way that other beings do not have any cause to fear oneself. This is another name for the practice of loving-kindness (metta) and is based upon good moral conduct (sila), which includes abstinence from harming all living beings.

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