The Urban Dharma Newsletter - December 16, 2008


In This Issue: Dana in Buddhism

1. Dāna - From Wikipedia
2. The Offering of Dana
3. Dana - Portland Buddhist Priory
4. Buddhist Way of Life (Dãna) Written by Dr. Chuen



This newsletter deals with the idea of generosity in Buddhism, Dana.

On a personal note, I must say I have been touched over the years by the kindness and genrosity of many people, making it possible for me to share the Dharma.

Just this year I have receive small donations from kind and interested people wanting to support the Dharma and my work... Donations of $5, $10 and $20 help me keep UrbanDharma.org up and running without advertisements of any kind... Donations help me update hardware and software, post audio and Video, help me share my practice and teachings with folks around the world.

A special thanks to International Buddhist Meditation Center for supporting me, my work and the animals I take care of... I couldn’t have done it without you.

To all of you who supported me in 2008 with time, money, advice, cat food and human food... A Big Thank You.

May 2009 be your best year ever, may you find peace, joy and happiness in the present moment experience of your life.

Peace... Kusala

1. Dāna - From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia


Dāna (Sanskrit: dāna) is a Sanskrit and Pali term meaning "generosity" or "giving". In Buddhism, it also refers to the practice of cultivating generosity. Ultimately, the practice culminates in one of the Perfections (paramitas): the Perfection of Giving (dana-paramita). This can be characterized by unattached and unconditional generosity, giving and letting go.

Giving leads to being reborn in happy states and material wealth.[1] Alternatively, lack of giving leads to unhappy states and poverty.

The exquisite paradox in Buddhism is that the more we give - and the more we give without seeking something in return - the wealthier (in the broadest sense of the word) we will become. By giving we destroy those acquisitive impulses that ultimately lead to further suffering.

* 1 Bodhisattva and the Art of Giving
* 2 Gifts in the Dharmaśāstras
* 3 See also
* 4 Notes and References
* 5 External links

Bodhisattva and the Art of Giving

The quality of giving is believed to be one of the virtues perfected over numerous lifetimes by Shakyamuni Buddha in his bodhisattva phase, before the final culmination into Nirvana, after he had purified obscurations and released attachment. This is symbolized by the sacrifice of his own body when he has nothing else to offer an unexpected guest in the Jataka folktale entitled 'Shasha Jataka' (story no. 316). Shakyamuni Buddha is born as a rabbit, and unable to present any other food to a Brahmin come home, roasted himself in a fire. A similar message is given by the story of King Shibi in the Jataka Mala, who having given away all his wealth, was still moved enough by small insects hovering around him, and inflicted several wounds on his body to feed the mosquitoes. In another narrative from the same text, the bodhisattva throws himself in front of a hungry tigress, who, otherwise, was on the verge of consuming her own cubs. This is however not the only instance of the Buddha-To-Be sacrificing his physical body partly or fully and numerous tales abound in Buddhist Canonical literature illustrating this theme.

In the ancient Samadhiraja-Sutra, Shakyamuni Buddha's principal disciple Ananda asks how a bodhisattva can cheerfully suffer the loss of his limbs etc and not feel any pain when he mutilates himself for the good of others.

Shakyamuni Buddha explained that intense compassion for humankind and the love of Bodhi (spiritual awakening), sustain and inspire a bodhisattva towards heroism, just as worldly people are inclined to enjoy sensual pleasures even when their bodies are burning with fever.[2]

Gifts in the Dharmaśāstras

Like other parts of Hindu law, the giving and receiving of gifts is broken down by caste. Each cast has their own rules and regulations on the topic of religious gifts. Manu explains that the reason for this is to ensure the protection of all creation, of how things should be. Brahmins can both receive and give gifts. K atriyas are allowed to only giving gifts, and the same goes for the Vaiśya as well. Manu does not even speak of the Śûdras as being related to giving gifts in this part of his text, but rather states, “A single activity did the Lord allot to the Śûdras, the ungrudging service of those very social classes.”[3] Brahmins can accept gifts, but only under the right circumstances and from the right people. If a Brahmin has enough to sustain himself and his family, he is then not to ask for gifts. If, however, he finds himself in a time of trouble and he anticipates struggling for his maintenance, he may seek gifts from the King. It is the duty of the King to supply proper livelihood for a Brahmin in distress. Brahmins would not, however, seek gifts from a king that was not of the K atriya lineage, nor from any greedy king, or a king who disobeys the śâstras.[4]

Manu makes it clear under his section on “Accepting and Giving Gifts” that the acceptance of gifts is a special occurrence, and should not be gotten used to. If a man, a Brahmin, becomes accustom to this, his vedic energy will eventually become extinguished.[5] Kane surprisingly puts this more clearly when he states that, “though entitled to accept gifts, a bramana should not again and again resort to that method, since the spiritual power that he acquires by vedic study is lost by accepting gifts.”[6] It is crucially important to know the law on how to accept a gift, which is why Brahmins are the only ones to be able to do so, since they are learned in the Vedas. It is said that when a man who is not learned accepts certain gifts, he is then reduced to ashes, like a piece of wood. These certain gifts have the ability to burn up different parts of the ignorant man’s life, such as his land, his sight, his offspring, and his life-force, to name a few. In this way, an ignorant man should fear any gift, for it has the ability to make him sink ‘like a cow in the mud.’ In the same way, the donor must be weary of who really is leaned and worthy of accepting his gifts.[7] It is important also that both the giver and the receiver share the same respect when giving and obtaining gifts. “When due respect is shown in accepting and in giving a gift, both the receiver and the giver go to heave; but when the opposite happens, both go to hell.”[8]

Beyond accepting gifts, a man should tirelessly give sacrifices and offerings daily in the spirit of generosity. If a man gives every day with the right spirit and from his justly earned wealth, he will become boundless. He is to pick a worthy recipient, a Brahmin, and give as often as he can to this man. Doing this religiously solidifies hope that one day he will encounter this recipient, who will then save him from all that is.[9]

When it comes to the gifts that are being given, each item brings the donor something to his own life. For instance, he who gives sesame seeds obtains desirable offspring, he who gives food obtains inexhaustible happiness, he who gives an ox obtains bounteous prosperity, he who gives land obtains land, he who gives a bed obtains a wife, and the list goes on. This gift of the Veda, which only a Brahmin would be able to give, far exceeds any other gift, however.

It is important that the giver is truthful about what or how he has given a gift or sacrifice. Sacrifices are lost by telling a lie about it. In the same way, a man must not flaunt his asceticism, for by doing so, this too will be lost.[10] The Nāradasm ti also touches on the topic of gifts in the Dharmaśāstra, but only briefly. This smrti takes on a different approach to giving and receiving gifts than Manu. It is a more concise advance on the subject. Here we find that there are specifically four kinds of gifts in legal procedures: what should and should not be given, along with legitimate and illegitimate gifts (NMS 5.2) Going further into these stipulations, it says that there exists “eight kinds of things which should not be given, one kind of thing which may be given, seven kinds of legitimate gifts, and sixteen kinds of illegitimate gifts.”[11] The Nāradasm ti is easy to read in this way, because it has a funnel effect. The topic of gifts starts out rather broad with the four classifications of gifts, and gets narrowed down into lists of examples of each of the types of these former classifications.

P.V. Kane focuses much of its literature on penances. This different subject, however, has much to do with gifts. It is said that on the day of commencing penance, the sinner must, among many other things, give dana (gifts such as gold, cows, etc.) to the Brahmanas and feed them.[12] Earlier in this volume, Kane references other sm tis that write on this same act. Gold, a cow, a dress, a horse, land sesamum, clarified butter and food are all gifts that destroy sin. Also, the gifts of gold, cows, or land can quickly exonerate sins, even those committed in a previous life. It is understood that gifts are the principle expiations for Hindu men.[13]

Once accepted, a gift is irrevocable. “What is promised should be given and what has been donated should not be taken back.”[14] This means that if the donor promised a gift to someone, he must give that gift, or he will become a debtor. The only time that a gift transaction need not be completed is when the donee is guilty of irreligious or improper conduct. Otherwise, any gift given cannot be revoked, and any gift promised could result in debt.

The knowledge of gifts in Hindu Law is important because gifts are used also under the topics of varna, food, sin and penance, duties of the King, and so on.

2. The Offering of 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 and liberality. Buddhist should take heed and cultivate a good spirit of dana. Its 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 and non-delusion.

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 preparation happily.

He should realize 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 and be glad. Some people may not have such an attitude. For example, they may have an 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 of the deed varies.

Furthermore, dana should be done with understanding of the law of action and result (Karma-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 Karma is accompanied by wisdom.

Resolution is an important factor. Whenever we do any 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, and happy and attain Nibbana.

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.

Monks who receive food and other requisites from devotees also have a duty to fulfill. The monks should realize that those who are offering them food are not their relatives. 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 that purity.

In giving, one can only give what one can afford. But in giving, it is not only the value that counts, but also the heart that gives.

The immediate result of dana is that one will be popular and well-liked by people. This is natural, people feel good and happy when they receive something. 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 reborn in the heavenly world and enjoy celestial pleasures. If he is reborn as a human being he will be wealthy.

3. Dana - Portland Buddhist Priory


The monastics who live at the Priory are those who have left the householders life and taken a vow of poverty, celibacy and follow Preceptual guidelines as they practice the Way of Buddha Dharma. These monks also offer the teaching and services related to the practice of Buddhism. Every few months, as part of their Buddhist practice they do a traditional Alms Round. This practice has been an integral part of Buddhist monastic life for the last 2500 years and has recently been introduced into the American culture. Historically, by going on alms rounds monks have been able to live, teach and survive, in that when they would take up the homeless life of a monk, they would offer or give up all their worldly possessions and begin Buddhist practice depending on the lay followers (Sangha) for their well being and support. In return the monks would offer the Buddha Dharma (the teaching) to all those who would ask and who made offerings to the monks. This is so to the present day as is evidenced right here in Portland, Oregon. The alms round has and does teach Buddhist monks the virtues of humility and gratitude, and reminds us that we are completely vulnerable to others and are making ourselves available to the generosity of others, rather than looking to receive offerings. It reminds us that we are permitted to live in this society due to the goodwill and tolerance of others.

There is a public benefit to this Buddhist practice of alms round. It is believed that the presence of monastics in society is a sign of blessings and merit (goodness and well being) for the country and its citizens. Making an offering of food during an alms round benefits the donor. It is an opportunity for any person to make an offering and have that offering dedicated to a good cause, whether it be a wish for their well being, or a memory for a loved one or as a prayer or wish for peace, the eradication of poverty, etc. The opportunity to see monks in public is something that many people find encouraging in today’s world It also serves as a gentle reminder that there are people dedicated to practicing loving-kindness and peace in this world.

It is important to remember that this religious practice is not begging. It involves no solicitation or proselytism of any kind. The monks walk silently in a meditative way ringing a bell, and then will chant an alms verse when something is being offered. This verse offers gratitude and blessings for what has been received. In doing an alms round the monks wish not to disrupt the daily routine of the City and its citizens, nor call attention to themselves for any purpose other than to simply perform the traditional alms round quietly and with dignity and then return to their temple.

4. Buddhist Way of Life (Dãna) Written by Dr. Chuen,


Buddhist Way of Life (Dãna)

Buddhist way of life consists of three steps or three parts according to the training from the beginning to the end of life or from lower one to the higher one. For Buddhist scholars we have no problem to understand about these three level of training, but for our friends in general it does not so easy to understand, to make sure our young generation and friends getting a correct and clear understanding and for benefits of all learners. The Council of Thai Bhikkhus in the USA by Special Committee chair by Venerable Dr. Chuen Phangcham work out the Hand Book of Buddhism entitled “Introduction to Basic Buddhist Practice” Basic Buddhist Practice consisting of Generosity, Morality, and Mind Training (Dãna, Sila, and Bhãvnã). These basic training for lay people or householders, we also have others training for monastic life known as Sila, Samãdhi, and Paññã

Here we will go for householders training from the easy one to the higher one.

Dãna / Thahn means generosity or giving some things to some ones who are in need, giving good suggestion good guidance also was named Dãna, Dãna is one of ten perfections observed by to be the Buddha when he was born as Vesantara Bhodhisatava, he observed this perfection for his whole life. Providing housing, food, medicine, and clothing to those who are in need are named Dãna. We have to be trained in generosity knowing worthy and benefits of Dana or gift, giving without thinking of return and rewards, give for give, five to help, give to support, give to promote.

For example, we give scholarship to students who can not support themselves because of economic poor to help them to be able to pursue their education to get good education get a good job earning better livelihood and being a better citizen. This is giving to help and to support. Giving food to those who need food to eat is giving life to others, giving organs to patients who are in need in hospital, giving labor to help our friends and neighbors in construction and repairing works, all these are giving. These gifts came out from generous hearts the heart full of generosity and kindness.

Dana is one of four virtues of householders namely;

To give some things to some ones who are in need (Dãna)
To apply righteous speech (Piyavãcã)
To set oneself in proper position (Samãnattatã)
To practice in the beneficial and worthy ways for oneself and to the public (Atthacariyã)

These Virtues were, some times, named as Virtue for harmonious life, harmonious community, and also sources of happiness and peace.

My meditation students in Chicago learned these virtues and applies in her daily life, one day at lunch time she came down to dinning room to has lunch wants to share with her friends food that she brought with her from home, her friends said “no” we have our money we can bay our lunch here, and she said “I know you have but I would like to share with you what I have”. They surprised, then she explained to them about what she learned and practices from Thai Buddhist Temple in Chicago, Wat Dhammaram. This is sharing from our heart.

Generosity makes our mind to be generous mind, with the generous mind gift or sharing appears, when sharing appears happiness occurs when happiness occurs then life exists then world of human being continues. However, this virtue is basic principle in Buddhism. We have to go further to have moral training and meditation to experience highest wisdom in life. Moral principle in Buddhism known as Sila, physical training and verbal training then go for mind training and wisdom training.

On the other hand, the best gift is gift of Dhamma, a gift of teaching helping learners to know what is proper and what is improper, what should be pursued and what should be avoided, this is gift of wisdom. Finally the best of the best gifts is forgiveness, this is hard to give.

Buddhism provides the natural way of life by human being, for human being, and for benefits of humankind. The question is why does Buddhism give training in Dana or generosity first? The answer is because we learn how to be selfish from the beginning of our lives, we learn from our families from society especially in the competition societies by this way jealousy or envy has chance to play it’s role in the mind of human being, it causes violence in our society. Selfish is very important we need to understand the danger of this unwholesome thought. When we understood we can reduce and eliminate from our minds to open the door of generosity and kindness to occur, when generosity occurs charity appears.

Asian Buddhists generally like to offer food to Novices and the Monks in everyday life morning and lunch, when the monks need material support people provide such as residences, robes, food, and medicine. When some ones want labor in building a house in village people help all are volunteers, this is giving labor to our communities, we love each other, and we know each other. World situation today does not allow people to do job or work as volunteer, people are hanging and running with material comfort and they fight for that but they never meet, they never fulfill life is not long world never learn this true. The Buddha taught the common way of life, be happy with our own capability in earning right livelihood. Dana/giving as practice in Buddhism is to give without thinking of return and reward, give to share, give to help, give to support, give to promote and give for give.

According to the ten perfections, Dana can be classified into three levels namely;

1. Dãna pãramitã: general giving
2. Dãna upapãrmitã: Dhamma giving
3. Dãna paramattha pãramitã: life giving

1. As we discussed above about giving in general we give some things to
some ones who are in need whatever food, cloths, shelter, medicines.

2. Dhamma giving is always provided by the monks, they give guidance,
supervision, teaching, suggestion. In general Dhamma Dãna is excelled
all gift Sabba Dãnang Dhamma Danang Jinãti.

3. Life giving is hart to give, but our parents give us our lives, take care us, and bring us up. They give us education and basic training before they send us to learn more arts and science in schools. They give us both physical and inner lives. We donate organs to those who are in need in hospital that is hart to give, we donate blood to hospital for patients is hart to give, this is life giving, this Dãna paramattha Pãramitã, to bring some ones from the hells of evil thoughts, from bad action, bad deeds and show them the way to haven here and now. This is also called giving life to others. This is also rear to give. Whatever we give and help people to survive we named Dãna parmattha pãramitã. Special Dãna is giving food, accommodation or building or housing to the public also is recognized as

The Buddha said:

“Sabba Dãnang Dhamma Dãnamg Jinãti”

Dhamma gift excels all gifts. Why is it so?

Because when people listen to the Dhamma talk they know what should be done and what should not be done, they can choose and what is righteous action.

We know the way to discipline ourselves because we listen to the Dhamma talk,
we know the way to observe five Precepts because of listening to Dhamma, we
know the benefits of generosity and kindness because of listening to the Dhamma,
we know how to learn and practice meditation to purify our minds from
impurities because of listening to the Dhamma talk. Therefore, giving Dhamma
talk as our Monks do or Dhamma Gift is excels all the gifts.

In all Dana/gift observing Sila/Panca Sila or five precepts is Mahãdãna, the greatest of Dãna. When we observe Five Precepts we give all aspect of securities for life, security in family life, security in belongings properties, security in daily life living, security in safety. This is a great gift, gift of nonviolence gift of caring, gift of construction, gift of warm family life, gift of property, gift of harmonious society, gift of peaceful and happy society. This is the gift of Panca Sila by observing Five Precepts from Buddhist standpoints. Therefore, observing the Five Precepts is to give all things people want, giving loving kindness, compassion, truthfulness, sincerity, mindfulness and wisdom to all humankinds. This is supper gift.

In my life I saw only The Corporate Body of the Buddha Educational Foundation of Taiwan who printed, has been printed, and being printed Buddhist books to distribute to all Buddhist communities and non-Buddhist communities in all part of the world. This is supper body of Buddhist organization, super Dãna, if Thai Sangha or Thai Government do as this Corporate Body of the Buddha Educational Foundation does, Buddhism may reach our more than 25,00 millions people all over the world, I do appreciate and very please with this Buddhist Organization of Taiwan.

Gates of Dãna

1. Things to give
2. Givers
3. Receivers

In general speaking in Buddhism when we talk about benefit of giving or Dãna that depends on what we give, whatever we give need to be righteous or pure, it belongs to giver righteously, at the same time we have Saddhã or confidence in the one we are going to give. Is he or she good honorable or venerable, holly or enlightened or being Saint, if so benefit must be there good result would be expected.

Kãla Dãna: OccasionallyDana/gift/offering.

We give some things to some ones who are going to go or who are visiting us at our residence or giving some things to help occasionally such as flooding, fire, earth quake, STunami, offering new crops or newly fruits to religious persons such as Monks, Priests, Nuns, Novices as gift.

Dãna also comes in form of two such as;

1. Ãmissadãna: material gift
2. Dhamadãna: wisdom gift

Wisdom gift is excels all gifts.

1. Sanghadãna: giving things to public such as hospitals, schools, public halls, public wells, Churches, Temples, Religious Centers and organizations, Ashrams or community of the Monks or religious communities.
2. Pãtipuggalikadãna: giving things to specified Monk or specified person, out of these two, giving number one, Sangha Dãna, is the best of the gift.

The Buddha said that “Oh monks householders, who offer food to the monks, who are righteous, offer five things namely; life, good skin, happiness, energy, knowledge and wisdom”

We find that Dãna comes in many groups of Dhamma given by the Buddha such as one of the Ten Perfections (Dãnapãramitã, Silapãramitã, Nekkhammapãramitã, Panyapãramitã, Viriyapãramitã, Khantipãramitã, Saccapãramitã, Athitthanapãramitã, Mettapãramitã, and Upekkhapãramitã) one of three ways of performing virtues, (Danamaya, Silamaya, Bhãvnamaya,) one of the three duties of Buddhists (Dãna, Sila, Bhãvnã). One of five gradual Kathãs, (Danakathã, Silakathã, Sagghakathã, Kamadinavakathã, Nekkhammãnisangsakathã.

In two kinds of Dãna, the Buddha said and gave highest credit to Dhamma Dãna namely; Watthu Dãna and Dhamma Dãna, Dhamma Dãna is the best as mentioned above.

However, charity is the key of opening doors in Buddhism not only Buddhists in Asian countries but now Buddhists settled down in all over the world, they bring with them this virtue, the virtue of generosity and charity, in Washington D.C., in New York, in Los Angeles, in Chicago, in Detroit in London, in Sydney, in Barcelona, and so on. Now Buddhist way of generosity has been and being spread out to our non Buddhist friends and they learned from us, it is good to see this. As we all know that people are too much selfish fighting with materialism to gain more and more material comfort but lacking mind development or spiritual development, then unbalancing society prevailing here and there, violence appears, killing occurs, and suffering continues. The word forgiveness, generosity, charity were subdued, we as religious leaders have to get up, get up and run, light candles of wisdom to shine to give light in the darkness of selfishness.

Righteous offering when sow in the fertile field, when rain comes in due time, crops will grow without insects, growing well, and yields well, in the same way righteous offering given to the righteous religious ones who have right understanding, right taught, right livelihood, right action, right speech, right effort, right mindfulness, and right concentration, those who have knowledge and wisdom (vicchãcaranasampanno) perfect in knowledge and perfect in wisdom will perfectly yield if donors are observing five precepts righteously.

The benefits of giving for those who always give, who are generous and kind are as follow:
Being loved by people
Wise people always make friends with them
Their good faces always spread out
They are very well known to the public
They never away from the household’ Dhamma
After death they would be reborn in the heavenly life

(Tipitaka Volume # 21 Thai Version, Suttapitaka # 13 page 50-51;
Tipitaka Volume # 23 Thai Version, Suttapitaka Volume # 15, page 89-92, 287-299; Tipitaka Volume # 22, Suttapitaka Volume 14, Anghuttaranikaya page 56-59, page 486-488; Tipitaka Volume # 28 Thai Version, Suttapitaka Khutthakanikaya Chataka part 2 Volume # 20, page 447-560,)



Krishna and His Friends Enjoy the Meal

Fielding Hall, a British official in nineteenth-century Burma, once asked for a bill at what he had taken to be a village restaurant, and found that he had been fed as a guest in a private house. Little did he know that the simple-minded folk were just practicing one of Buddhism’s fundamental ethical imperatives - the gesture of unconditioned giving.

Indeed, the primary activity which a Buddhist learns to develop is unselfish sharing, which forms a basis for further moral and spiritual development. If the key to any religion is held in its stories, Buddhist literature, abounding in such narratives, gives ample evidence of the high esteem this particular trait is held in.

Thus says the ancient Buddhist Canon:

’Like a jar of water, when overturned, empties all its contents, never to receive them back, thus should one give away without regard to money, fame, one’s progeny, or even our own body to anybody who approaches us with a wish list.’ (Introduction to Jataka)

Throughout the Jataka Stories, the first injunction when any discourse is delivered is to give donations to the poor, food to guests and support and honor to holy men. In Hinduism too, the gift of food is considered especially virtuous because:

’Life is sustained by food and food is life, thus, to give food to others is like giving life to them.’ (Mahabharata: 13.63.26)

The hospitality has to be all embracing, and the guest, whoever she or he may be, has to be welcomed with open arms:

Even if the lowliest of the low arrives as a guest, the householder should welcome him. (Mahabharata: 14.92)

In the timeless text, The Bhagavata Purana, an instructive episode is narrated where Krishna, playing with his famished friends, is addressed thus by the latter:

"O Krishna, like you have annihilated mighty demons tormenting us, so also save us from these pangs of hunger."

Krishna, ever the fulfiller of his devotees’ needs, answered:

"Go to the nearby hall where learned Brahmins are performing a great ritual to attain heaven. Tell them that you have been sent by me and request them to give you some cooked rice."

Obeying the instructions, the young lads went over to the hermitage, prostrated them before the priests and requested:

"Venerable saints, we are the servants of Lord Krishna who is playing with us nearby. He is now hungry and has asked us to seek food from you - the true knowers of Dharma."

Ignorantly engaged in toilsome rituals and acts of everyday life, yet vainglorious of their textual wisdom, the Brahmins, though they heard the solicitations of the lord, who out of Grace send his friends for food to them, did not heed to their needs.

Disappointed, they reported what had happened to Krishna, who laughing out aloud said:

"Now go to the affectionate wives of these Brahmins and ask the same of them. They will definitely feed you to your heart’s content."

To those pious women the lads respectfully submitted:

"Salutations to you virtuous ladies. We have been deputed by Lord Krishna to seek food for our hungry group."

No sooner had they heard that the lord was so near, giving them an opportunity to fulfill his and his followers’ hunger, the Brahmin women immediately gathered sumptuous food in large vessels and like rivers rushing towards the ocean, eagerly reached out to Krishna welcoming him through the gates of their eyes, establishing him into their hearts.

Later, the saints, remembering their uncharitable behavior, lamented:

"Alas, we have disregarded the lord who has taken the form of a human being. All our knowledge, vows and pure birth are useless, because due to pride, we were unable to recognize the divinity in humanity." (Bhagavata Purana: 10.23)

This simple narrative has a profound implication, alerting us to the realization that if we are lucky enough to have somebody needful at our threshold, it is perhaps god himself who has condescended to bless us. Thus is it said:

’With a guest come all the gods. If a guest is honored, so are they; if he goes away disappointed, they are disappointed too.’ (Mahabharata: 14.92)

Krishna Washes the Feet of His Guest Sudama

Significantly, the word used for guest in Sanskrit is ’atithi’, ’tithi’ meaning date and the prefix ’a’ negating it. Therefore, one who arrives unexpectedly without prior date or appointment is the guest extolled here:

The Bhagavad Gita calls such an unsolicited opportunity to perform one’s duty (made available by chance and not effort), a direct gateway to heaven (2.32).

Our experience of the world is one of interdependence, and we do not exist as isolated elements but are related to each other as many strands of a fabric. Hindu and Buddhist texts provide structures through which trustworthy views of this experience can be developed, recognizing that such interdependence is not just of the nature of the body, but at a deeper level, of human social life. Such an outlook involves not only accommodation, but also slowly but steadily cultivates in us the ideal of renunciation, defined as the abandonment of material things over to someone else, and which is a necessary first step towards Nirvana or Moksha.

In fact, the quality of giving is one of the virtues perfected over numerous lifetimes by Buddha in his bodhisattva phase, before the final culmination into Nirvana, after he has given up all attachment. This is symbolized by the sacrifice of his own body when he has nothing else to offer an unexpected guest. In the Jataka Tale entitled ’Shasha Jataka’ (story no. 316), the Buddha is born as a rabbit, and unable to present any other food to a Brahmin come home, roasted himself in a fire. Later of course, it turns out that his guest is but god testing his resolve.

A similar message is given by the story of King Shibi in the Jataka Mala, who having given away all his wealth, was still moved enough by small insects hovering around him, and inflicted several wounds on his body to feed the mosquitoes. In another narrative from the same text, the bodhisattva throws himself in front of a hungry tigress, who, otherwise, was on the verge of consuming her own cubs. This is however not the only instance of the Buddha-To-Be sacrificing his physical body partly or fully and numerous tales abound in Buddhist Canonical literature illustrating this theme.

Buddha Discourses to Ananda

The Buddha explained that intense compassion for mankind and the love of Bodhi (spiritual awakening), sustain and inspire a bodhisattva towards heroism, just as worldly men are inclined to enjoy sensual pleasures even when their bodies are burning with fever.

Before being so advanced spiritually so as to make these supreme sacrifices, the bodhisattva, in many of his live prior to Buddhahood, continued to cultivate the perfection (paramita) of Dana, experiencing greater pleasure in giving than those receiving it. When the action of giving is thus internalized in so profound a manner, becoming almost one’s second, nay primary nature, Krishna compares such unselfish magnanimity with the inspiring life of trees:

"Have a look at these great blessed trees, who live only for the welfare of others, themselves facing the severity of stormy winds, heavy showers, heat and snow, all the while protecting us from them. The birth of trees is the most blessed in the world, as they contribute unreservedly to the well being of all creatures. Just as no needy person ever returns disappointed from the house of a benevolent individual, similarly do these trees do for those who approach them for shelter. All of their many parts - leaves, flowers, fruits, shadow, roots, bark, wood and fragrance, are useful to others. Indeed, there are many who live on this earth, but the birth of only those is successful, who, as far as possible, through their wealth, intellect, speech and lives, engage in acts conducive to the welfare of others." (Bhagavata Purana 10.22.32 - 35)

The Mahabharata asks us to embrace even one perceived to be an enemy, should he arrive at our threshold:

’Should even one’s enemy arrive at the doorstep, he should be attended upon with respect. A tree does not withdraw its cooling shade even from the one who has come to cut it.’ (12.146.5)

It calls the bodhisattva as one without attachment to specific individuals, but who perceives all creatures with benevolence like a father his son. There is a beautiful passage in the Bhagavata Purana complementing the above ideal:

Man has right over only that much wealth as is enough to satisfy his hunger. He who lays a claim on the surplus is a thief and deserves punishment. One should look upon beasts, camels, donkeys, monkeys, rats, creatures who crawl on the earth (serpents etc), birds and mosquitoes like one’s own sons, and these should therefore not be driven out of the house or fields if they enter and begin to eat, for what indeed is the difference between them and his sons? (7.14.8 - 9)

This is perhaps akin to Mahatma Gandhi’s concept of trusteeship, where anyone with wealth in excess of his basic needs realizes himself to be only a trustee of his prosperity, and who understands that his continuation in the office depends only on his overseeing that it is judiciously shared amongst all shareholders.

The Bodhichariyavatara takes even a deeper perspective, laying special emphasis on placing oneself in the position of others (par-atma-parivartana), in order to promote selflessness (an-atman) and compassion (karuna):

’Whoever wishes for salvation should practice the supreme mystery - the exchanging of himself and the other.’ (8.120)

Governed by this high ideal, such selfless giving does not expect anything in return. It is perhaps only a way of saying thanks to the one god who has created us all in equality. According to Krishna, a sharing which wants its price is but mere shop keeping:

"Those who love only when loved, their whole enterprise is based on selfishness. It is only giving and taking. It is nor a joining of hearts, neither Dharma. This love is just for self-interest and nothing else. Those who show affection to even those who do not reciprocate their love are like parents, full of karuna. Here lies pure and spotless Dharma." (Bhagavata Purana 10.32.17 - 18)

What all these instances suggest is that the sense of giving is not mere alms giving or charity, but a sharing of what one has been given, in the awareness that one’s life is connected with other beings. Hospitality is one such expression of this realization, beyond mere ritual etiquette:

Even if he diligently studies the Veda day after day, but fails to welcome his guest, then the life of such a Brahmin is in vain. If one wishes to reap the fruits of ritual rites, then let one attend upon a guest who arrives hungry and thirsty at his doorstep with food and respect. (Mahabharata: 14.92)

Equally important with the act of giving is the attitude, the feeling with which the offerings are made. The word used for ritual giving in Sanskrit, is ’Dana’, whose meanings are sharing, communicating, imparting, paying back (as a debt), restoring, and adding to. The ancient tradition of holistic healing, Ayurveda, speaks of four kinds of defects which can afflict cooked food:

- 1). The Defect of Time (Kala Dosha) - The food that has been kept for too long.
- 2). The Defect of Flavor (Rasa Dosha) - That which has lost its taste.
- 3). The Defect of Company (Samsarga Dosha): Touched by unclean hands, or in which some insect has fallen
- 4). The Defect of Sentiment (Bhava Dosha) - That which is offered with ill grace or without affection. Such a food is not food, it is poison and the worst out of the four categories.

In Buddhist Ethics too, the overall focus is on the psychological aspects of an action, that is, on the intention or volition (chetana) behind it. The Kathavatthu of the Pali Canon holds that Dana is not only the act of giving and gift itself, but the mental state of liberality as well. Thus it is not the absolute size of the gift that is noteworthy, but its proportion out of one’s own stock, that characterizes the ’abundance’ of a gift.

King Rantideva Worships God Come in the Form of Man and His Dogs

The story of King Rantideva illustrates one such episode, where this monarch, having given away all his wealth, fell on to days of hardship, and had to go even without water for a stretch of forty-eight days. However, on the morning of the forty-ninth, he managed to get a meal of rice cooked in butter. As soon as the family sat down to break their fast, a Brahmin guest arrived, and the family, visualizing god in everything, received him with reverence and gave him a share. Before they could partake of the remaining food, another stranger, this time a Shudra, knocked at their door. He was also lovingly given a portion of the meal. After him came a stranger with his dogs, requesting to be fed along with his hounds. The householder dutifully bowed before the god arrived in the form of the dogs and their master.
Lastly, only water having remained, that too was asked by for by a parched Chandala (keeper of funeral grounds). King Rantideva, observing the latter’s plight said:

I do not seek from The Almighty Lord any kind of special powers. I would rather prefer to dwell in all beings and undergo their sufferings myself, relieving them of their miseries. By offering water to this unfortunate person, ally my thirst, exhaustion, distress and hunger have been quenched." Later, the family was blessed with a vision (darshan) of the lord himself, who extolled their sacrifice, which consisted of all they possessed.

References and Further Reading

- Badrinath, Chaturvedi. The Mahabharata An Inquiry in the Human Condition New Delhi, 2006.
- Dayal, Har. The Bodhisattva Doctrine in Buddhist Sanskrit Literature Delhi, 1999.
- Findly, Ellison Banks. Dana: Giving and Getting in Pali Buddhism Delhi, 2003.
- Kausalyayan, Bhadant Anand (tr.) Jatak (Hindi Translation in Six Volumes): Allahabad, 1995. Keown, Damien. Oxford Dictionary of Buddhism: Oxford, 2003.
- Mishra, Dr. Jagdishchandra (tr.) Jatakmala (Sanskrit Text with Hindi Translation): Varanasi, 1989.
- Narain, Vijay. Jatakmala or The Pearls Of Indian Wisdom Delhi, 2006.
- Ranganathananda, Swami. Universal Message of the Bhagavad Gita (3 Vols.) (2nd ed.): Kolkata, 2003.
- Saraswati, Swami Akhandananda (tr). Shrimad Bhagavata Purana (2 Volumes): Gorakhpur, 2004.
- Sharma, Parmananda. Santideva’s Bodhicharyavatara (Original Sanskrit Text with English -Translation and Exposition Based on Prajnakarmati’s Panjika) New Delhi, 2001.
- Shaw, Sarah (tr.) The Jatakas Birth Stories of the Bodhisatta New Delhi, 2006.


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