Tuesday, December 23, 2014

The Practice of Giving (selected essays)

Dhr. Seven, Ashley Wells, Crystal Quintero (eds.), Wisdom Quarterly; Bhikkhu Bodhi (BPS/ATI)
Yeah, come over! Bring a wrapped gift; we're having a party with a gift exchange game. (Mary's Christmas Museum for an all-inclusive holiday season (Kevin Dooley/flickr.com).

Dana is the foundation of all Buddhist practices; it is a gift of the heart (Tathaloka Theri).
Our teacher Bhikkhu Bodhi
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, 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.

In the exclusively Buddhist language (Pali) sutras, we read time and again that "talk on giving" (dana-katha) was invariably the first topic to be discussed by the Buddha in his "gradual exposition" of the Dharma.
Royals make offerings to the Buddha and Sangha
Whenever the Buddha delivered a discourse to an audience of people who were not yet following the Dharma, he would start by emphasizing the value of giving. Only after his audience had come to appreciate this virtue would he introduce other aspects of the path to enlightenment -- such as virtue, the law of karma, and the benefits of letting go.

Only after all of these principles had made their impact on the hearts/minds of his listeners would he expound to them that unique teaching of the Enlightened Ones, the Four Noble Truths:
  • the problem with rebirth,
  • the cause,
  • the solution, and
  • the path leading to the end of all suffering and rebirth.
Would Grumpy Cat give?
Strictly speaking, giving does not appear in its own right among the factors of the Noble Eightfold Path, nor does it enter among the other 37 Requisites of Enlightenment (bodhipakkhiya dharma).

Most probably it has been excluded from these groupings because the practice of giving does not by its own nature lead directly and immediately to the arising of insight and the realization/penetration of the liberating Four Noble Truths.
Giving functions in the Buddhist discipline in a different capacity. It does not come at the apex of the path, as a constituent factor of the process of awakening (enlightenment), but rather it serves as a basis, a foundation, a preparation that underlies and quietly supports the entire endeavor to free the mind/heart from the defilements (and fetters).
Nevertheless, though giving is not counted directly among the various factors of the Path, its contribution to progress along the road to liberation cannot be overestimated and should not be overlooked.
  • [All suffering has only three root causes: greed, aversion, ignorance/delusion.]
The prominence of this contribution is underscored by the place the Buddha assigns to giving in various sets of practices laid down for followers of the path to freedom. Besides appearing as the first topic in the gradual exposition of the Dharma, the practice-of-giving is also:
  • the first of the Three Bases of Meritorious Deeds (punna-kiriya-vatthu),
  • the first of the four means of benefiting others (sangaha-vatthu) [four "ways of showing favor" or Four Bases of Popularity -- giving, kindly speech, beneficial actions, and impartiality (A.IV.32; A.VIII.24)],
  • the first of the Ten Perfections (paramis), which are the sublime virtues cultivated by all aspirants to perfect enlightenment, taken to the most exalted degree by those who wish to follow the path of the bodhisattva that aims at supreme enlightenment of perfect teaching buddhahood.
Feeding novices in Asia (Prayudi Hartono)
Regarded from another angle, giving can also be identified with the personal quality of generosity (caga). This angle highlights the practice of giving, not as the outwardly manifest act by which an object is transferred from oneself to others, but as the inward disposition to give, a disposition which is strengthened by outward acts of giving and which in turn makes possible still more demanding acts of self-sacrifice.
Generosity is included among the essential attributes of the sappurisa, the "good or superior person," along with such other qualities as confidence (faith), virtue, learning (knowledge based on learning), and wisdom.

Viewed as the quality of generosity, giving has a particularly intimate connection to the entire direction of the Buddha's path to enlightenment (bodhi, awakening) and nirvana (liberation, freedom from all suffering).

For the goal of the path is the uprooting of greed, hatred, and delusion. The cultivation of generosity directly debilitates greed and hate (aversion, anger, annoyance), while facilitating that pliancy of mind that allows for the eradication of delusion.

This Buddhist Publication Society Wheel issue has been compiled to explore in greater depth this foundational Buddhist virtue -- the practice of giving -- which in writings on applied Buddhism is so often taken for granted that it is usually passed over without comment.
  • [Why is giving usually overlooked without comment in studies of Buddhism? A wit once wrote: "I don't know who discovered water, but you can bet it wasn't a fish." Giving runs through the Dharma so much that of course it's taken for granted.
In this issue four of today's practicing Buddhists, all of whom combine sacred textual knowledge of the Buddha's teachings with a personal commitment to the path, set forth their understanding of the various aspects of giving and examine it in relation to the wider body of Dharma practice.
Dana: The Practice of Giving (Whl. 367-9)
This collection concludes with a translation of an older document -- the description of the bodhisattva's practice of giving by the medieval commentator, Acariya Dhammapala. This has been extracted from his Treatise on the Perfections, found in his commentary to the Cariyapitaka.

The Practice of Giving
Susan Elbaum Jootla (Wheel 367-9, BPS.lk) edited by Wisdom Quarterly
An offering to all "hearers" (savakas): Giving the Dharma (dhamma-dana) is the highest form of giving because it encourages all other kinds of giving as well as leading those who practice what they hear to liberation from all forms of suffering (outsidecontext.com).
The inspiration and basic material for this essay come from The Perfection of Generosity (Dana Parami) by Saya U Chit Tin, published as No. 3 in the Dhamma Series of the Sayagyi U Ba Khin Memorial Trust, U.K., Splatts House, Heddington near Calne, Wiltshire, England. I am deeply grateful to Saya U Chit Tin and to all the other teachers associated with the International Meditation Centres at Heddington, U.K. and Rangoon, Burma.
You're like Ven. Sivali, foremost in giving!
Giving (dana) is one of the essential preliminary steps of Buddhist practice. When practiced in itself, it is a basis of merit or wholesome karma. When coupled with virtue, concentration, and insight, it leads ultimately to liberation from samsara, the painful cycle of repeated existence beset by delusion.

Even those who are well-established on the path to emancipation continue to practice giving because it is conducive to wealth, beauty, and pleasure in their remaining lifetimes/rebirths. Bodhisattvas, for instance, complete the dana-parami or "perfection of giving" to the ultimate degree by happily donating even their limbs and their lives to save other beings.
Like all good deeds, an act of giving will bring us happiness in the future (whether in this life, the next life, or future lives) in accordance with the karmic law of causes and effects taught by the Buddha. [Nothing has only one cause or, likewise, only one effect.]
Giving benefits the needy AND the givers!
Giving yields benefits in the present life and in lives to come whether or not we are aware of this fact, but when the volition is accompanied by understanding (right view, particularly an understanding of karma), we can greatly increase the merits earned by our gifts.
The amount of merit (very beneficial good karma) gained varies according to three factors:
  1. the quality of the donor's motive,
  2. the spiritual purity of the recipient, and
  3. the kind and size of the gift.
Since we have to experience the results of our actions, and skillful deeds lead to welcome results and unskillful deeds to unwelcome results, it is sensible to try to create as much good karma as possible. [It benefits us in all of our endeavors, whether material or spiritual, worldly or in terms of aspiring to reach enlightenment and nirvana.]
In the practice of giving, this would mean keeping one's mind [heart] pure in the act of giving, selecting the worthiest recipients available, and choosing the most appropriate and generous gifts one can afford.

The Factor of Volition
Intention and thinking matter before, during, and after.

The volition [intention, underlying motive for action, urge] of the donor before, during, and after the act of generosity is the most important of the three factors involved in the practice of giving:
"If we have no control over our minds [hearts] we will not choose proper gifts, the best recipient...we will be unable to prepare them properly. And we may be foolish enough to regret having made them afterwards" (U Chit Tin, introduction to The Perfection of Generosity).
Buddhist teaching devotes special attention to the psychological basis of giving, distinguishing among the different states of mind with which one may give. A fundamental distinction is made between acts of giving that lack wisdom and those that are accompanied by wisdom, the latter being superior to the former.
No really, what are you thinking as you give?
An example of a very elementary kind of giving would be the case of a young girl who places a flower on the household shrine simply because her mother tells her to do so, without having any idea of the significance of her act.

Generosity associated with wisdom before, during, and after the act is the highest type of giving. Three examples of wise giving are:
  1. giving with the clear understanding that according to the karmic law of cause and effect, the generous act will bring beneficial results in the future;
  2. giving while aware that the gift, the recipient, and the giver are all impermanent; and
  3. giving with the aim of enhancing one's efforts to realize enlightenment.
As the giving of a gift takes a certain amount of time, a single act of giving may be accompanied by each of these three types of understanding at a different stage in the process.
Charity (BuddhistGlobalRelief.org)
The most excellent motive for giving is the intention that it strengthens ones efforts to attain nirvana. Liberation is achieved by eliminating all the mental defilements (kilesas), which are rooted in the delusion of a controlling and lasting "I." Once this illusion is eradicated [once this delusion is replaced by liberating wisdom], selfish thoughts can no longer arise.
If we aspire to ultimate peace and purity by practicing generosity, we will be developing the dana parami, the "perfection of giving," building up a store of merit that will bear its full fruit with our attainment [realization] of enlightenment.
As we progress towards that goal, the volition involved in acts of giving will assist us by contributing towards a tractable mind [heart], an essential asset in developing concentration [absorption] and insight-wisdom, the prime requisites of liberation.
Ariyas -- "noble ones," that is, those who have attained one or more of the four stages of enlightenment -- always give with pure volition because their minds [hearts] function on the basis of wisdom.
Those below this level sometimes give carelessly or disrespectfully, with unwholesome states of mind. The Buddha teaches that in the practice of giving, as in all bodily and verbal conduct, it is the volition (cetana) accompanying the act that determines its virtue or moral quality. More

Bhikkhu Bodhi helped in the founding of Buddhist Global Relief to benefit all.

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