Author Topic: Giving alms or Dana  (Read 18373 times)

Positive Change

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Giving alms or Dana
« on: March 20, 2013, 11:27:30 AM »

Buddhist Customs & Traditions: Giving Alms
The act of giving alms to monks has been practiced by Buddhists for thousands of years.  It's equated with doing good things and the belief is that this will bring about peace and happiness.

There are many ways in which Buddhists can make merit and among them are giving alms, living life according to religious precepts and praying.

Alms giving is very common practice and usually done at the break of dawn when Buddhist monks begin their alms rounds.  Laypeople are required to prepare food and water and wait for the monks to approach them with their alms bowl.

It is important to note that women are prohibited from physical contact with a monk - regardless of her age, nationality or religion.  Every female alms donor must take care not to touch a monk when she is offering food to him.

Once food and water have been placed inside the bowl, the monk will place the lid on top of his alms bowl and recite a prayer as a blessing to his donor after which the merit-making will be considered as officially over.

Buddhists give alms for a number of reasons, one example is in honour of deceased loved ones, the belief being that they will not have to suffer from famine in the afterlife.

The common rule when making merit is to ensure that the mind is purified. Only after that state has been accomplished will the Buddhist proverb of "do good and good will come unto you" ring true.

Giving is essential to Buddhism. Giving includes charity, or giving material help to people in want. It also includes giving spiritual guidance to those who seek it and loving kindness to all who need it. However, one's motivation for giving to others is at least as important as what is given.

What is right or wrong motivation? The Anguttara Nikaya, a collection of texts in the Vinaya-pitaka section of the Pali Canon, lists a number of motivations for practicing charity. These include being shamed or intimidated into giving; giving to receive a favor; giving to feel good about yourself. These are impure motivations.

The Buddha taught that when we give to others, we give without expectation of reward. We give without attaching to either the gift or the recipient. We practice giving to release greed and self-clinging.

Some teachers propose that giving is good because it accrues merit and creates karma that will bring future happiness. Others say that even this is self-clinging and an expectation of reward. In Mahayana Buddhism in particular, any merit that might come with giving is to be dedicated to the liberation of others.


Giving with pure motivation is called dana paramita, or "perfection of giving." It is first in a list of paramitas, or perfections, that are to be cultivated in Buddhist practice. The Six Perfections are:

Dana paramita, perfection of giving
Shila paramita, perfection of discipline
Kshanti paramita, perfection of patience
Virya paramita, perfection of exertion
Dhyana paramita, perfection of meditation
Prajna paramita, perfection of wisdom

Avoiding Extremes

The last paramita, wisdom, ties back to the first. As long as we are sorting ourselves into givers and receivers, we are still falling short of dana paramita. Wisdom teaches us that there is giving and receiving, but there are no givers and no receivers.

At the same time, there is no giving without receiving. In a sense, giving and receiving are one. If giving is "good," then receiving is equally good.

Shohaku Okumura wrote in Soto Zen Journal that for a time he didn't want to receive gifts from others, thinking that he should be giving, not taking. "When we understand this teaching in this way, we simply create another standard to measure gaining and losing. We are still in the framework of gaining and losing," he wrote.

In Japan, when monks carry out traditional alms begging, they wear huge straw hats that partly obscure their faces. The hats also prevent them from seeing the faces of those giving them alms. No giver, no receiver; this is pure giving.

Big Uncle

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Re: Giving alms or Dana
« Reply #1 on: March 20, 2013, 03:48:02 PM »
Making offerings is really an integral part of our spiritual practice and it comes in many forms of course. One of the main forms of making offerings is towards the Sangha in the form of dana offering. It is definitely extremely meritorious for us to do so. It generates the merits based on the vows that the monks uphold and the fact that it is a humbling experience to make the offering when it is given with the right motivation and for the one receiving the offering. As the Buddha has explained even when a 10th level Bodhisattva makes offerings to an ordinary monk who upholds his vows, the Bodhisattva will still collect merit. That shows how potent and powerful is the act of making offerings to the Sangha.

Tenzin K

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Re: Giving alms or Dana
« Reply #2 on: March 20, 2013, 03:53:10 PM »
Five Benefits of Dana:

Every wise person wishes to have long life or longevity, good looks, happiness, companions and authority. Although they wish for these five things, those who have no merit in their past lives cannot have them. Only those who have dana merit can have them.

(1) To have a short life in the good human or deva abode is not a favourable circumstance. Longevity or to have a long life is a good and noble circumstance. That is why everyone wishes to have a long life and so try and adjust themselves in every possible way.

(2) In a good noble human life and deva life, to have unpleasant or ugly looks is not a good circumstance or happening. To have good looks or beauty is a favourable circumstance. That is why every body wishes to have good looks and thus try to beautify themselves.

(3) In a good human or deva life, to be unhappy physically and spiritually is a bad situation. To be happy physically and mentally is a good condition. That is why every person wishes to be happy physically and mentally. Thus they try to adjust themselves to get physical and mental happiness.

(4) In a good human or deva life, not to have companions or attendants is a bad condition. To have people to look after you and attendants surrounding you, are good circumstances. That is why we wish to have people to look after us and attendants surrounding us. Hence we try to get people to look after us and attendants surrounding us.

(5) In a good human and deva life, not being master of yourself and always having to consider other people' wishes is not a good situation. To be able to do according to your own wishes is a good condition. That is why everybody wishes to be master of one's own mind. Thus, they try to have supremacy.

However, those who do not have dana merits in their past lives cannot have the five conditions they wish for. Only those who have dana merit in their past lives can have the five benefits. Those who have dana merit in their past lives are in a better condition to have these five favourable circumstances.

Jessie Fong

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Re: Giving alms or Dana
« Reply #3 on: March 21, 2013, 01:15:31 PM »

Giving is an expression of generosity

There are three kinds of giving, as follows:
1.   Giving to the needy, e.g. helping the poor, giving to orphans, etc.
2.   Giving to equals, e.g. giving to our friends or neighbours to build up friendship.
3.   Giving to people to whom we want to show our gratitude   or respect, such as parents, monks, etc.

In the real sense, a Buddhist should give without expectation of return. In other word, to give is to lessen one’s own selfishness. Hence giving is a way of decreasing craving and attachment.


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Re: Giving alms or Dana
« Reply #4 on: March 23, 2013, 04:07:51 AM »
Many times, I cannot afford offering dana but I make it a point to help out instead. I offer my services in any way I can. I guess I have been practicing giving for a long time as most of the time I will offer to my family and friends even though many times I cant afford it. But I always wondered why I did that(before I knew Dharma), didnt do it and expect anything in return and I felt happy. Then I found out the benefits of dana and I continued giving until today.

Found this interesting to know.

Giving to the Sangha is an incredible thing. One extremely poor person gave medicine and drink to four monks; they were not arhats, just ordinary monks. In the next life, that person was born as a very powerful and wealthy person. The karmic cause was very simple—just giving medicine and drink to four monks—but because karma expands, the result will be experienced over many lifetimes. If you offer to the powerful object of the Sangha with the motivation of bodhicitta, the result is even more powerful. You receive limitless skies of merit because you are thinking of benefiting numberless sentient beings—numberless hell beings, numberless hungry ghosts, numberless animals, numberless human beings, numberless sura beings and asura beings, and numberless intermediate state beings—and bringing them to enlightenment. You can imagine the merit you gain if you offer to the Sangha with the motivation of bodhicitta.

You can serve the Sangha with your body, or through talking to people, or with your mind. And when you die, you can offer your money, your house or your material possessions to the Sangha. Then there won’t be the problem of the family creating negative karma with each other, getting angry at each other because you didn’t give them this or that. They fight and quarrel and then there are court cases. The problems explode like a volcano.

If your family is not Buddhist, they won’t make charity to others for you; they won’t give even one dollar to charity and dedicate it for you. They will use all the money that you raised from so many years of hard work, exhausting your body and mind. Of course, as I mentioned before, if it is done with virtue, then the result is happiness, but almost everything becomes non-virtue, and then you have to experience the result, an unbelievable length of time in the lower realms. Then, even in the human realm, you have to experience the possessed result and creating the result similar to the cause and the result similar to the action. Due to past habits, you create the same actions again in the human realm. Your family does the same thing, using the money only to create non-virtue. Your family may not like to hear this, but this is the reality.
If your family is Buddhist and they understand karma and care for you with compassion, they will use the money to do something for you.


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Re: Giving alms or Dana
« Reply #5 on: March 23, 2013, 07:39:58 AM »
It  is highly meritorious to give alms or Dana to the Sangha, one of the Three Jewels. This will ensure the continuity of the Sangha and the continuity of the Sangha will ensure that the Dharma is preserved. The Sangha preserves and spreads the Dharma, through teaching it.

Nonetheless,it is important that this giving is accompanied by a pure motivation. A pure motivation is one that is free of the eight worldly concerns. The act of giving should be done without any expectations of a return.

As has been said above, the Giving becomes a Perfection or a virtue, when there is no consciousness of an "I" giving to a "You" . The act is pure giving, when one is able to transcend the appearance of the 'giver' as separate from the  'receiver', and when the 'giver', the 'receiver' and the 'act of giving' become one.

The words of Shohaku Okumura - concerning how for a long time, he did not want to receive gifts from others, thinking he should be giving, not taking -  are so very true. He writes that by thinking in this (mistaken)way, he is "still in the framework of Gaining and Losing(two of the eight worldly concerns)". That's exactly how many of us are habituated to think right now.


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Re: Giving alms or Dana
« Reply #6 on: March 23, 2013, 07:11:11 PM »
Thank you for sharing this information and knowledge with us.

Giving Dana is certainly a very powerful way for us to develop generosity in our self. We start by being generous with things that is fleeting such as our wealth... and later as we progress in our spiritual practice, we can learn to be more generous in a more important way, which is to let go of our selfishness and give our selves to the Dharma.

Strangely, many people do not realize that being generous with our material wealth is actually the easiest part. If we see our Gurus or any other lamas, we will find that they are not attached to material wealth at all! I know that this is from their great realization that material wealth is something of impermanence. But I also think they are able to achieve such taught is also because of their generous hearts... so much so that they're no longer attached to material things!

I'd like to think that generosity comes in many levels. To me, the monks are individuals that have a whole new level of generosity that they can 'give up' their pursuit of worldly pleasures for the sake of preserving the Dharma, teachings the Dharma etc. Their generosity in this sense is something that goes beyond the present time as it is an act of giving that will last and bring benefit for many generations to come...

For lay people on the other hand, our level of generosity is so little... and only to the extent of giving some money or food to the monks. Some people do a little more by volunteering for their Dharma center... these are wonderful as it is meritorious for the person to provide and help sustain the Dharma in a way they are able to... but for some people, doing it with the 8 worldly concern... when they do not actually realize that the extent of their generosity only last probably as long as a meal for a monk... how shameful...

I love giving dana to the monks. It inspires me to cultivate more generosity in me that one day I will be able to achieve a state of true generosity by giving myself fully to the Dharma by being ordained. With this thought, I will always be grateful that I am able to give Dana to the monks in the monasteries.

Isnt it strange... that an act that looks like we're helping the monks, to an outsider's point of view.... is actually an act that helps ourselves? haha...


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Re: Giving alms or Dana
« Reply #7 on: March 24, 2013, 11:28:15 AM »
As Buddhists,both 'almsgiving' and more generally, 'giving' are called 'dana'.It is one of the three elements of the path of practice as formulated by the Buddha for lay people.It is the respect given by a lay Buddhist to a Buddhist monk,nun,spiritually-developed personor other sentient being.It is a symbolic connectionto the spiritual realm and to show humbleness and respect in the presence of the secular society.
It is less an act of charity than an act of connection with the faith.One certainly does not have to be religious to give alms, and charity of some form is an important part of secular life.Offering alms is often cited as an important part of someone's life by people who engage in charity,as they feel that it gives them a chance to give back to their communities and to support general improvements in the quality of life for everyone.

Dondrup Shugden

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Re: Giving alms or Dana
« Reply #8 on: March 09, 2015, 09:43:34 AM »
All Buddhists know the merits of giving alms or Dana.  However this post gives me so much more depth in Dana.

The purity of giving is to know that there is no Giver nor Receiver.  Hmmm....still thinking if I get the true meaning as I revive this beautiful post.

Let us have your thoughts.


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Re: Giving alms or Dana
« Reply #9 on: March 09, 2015, 10:03:20 AM »
At the same time, there is no giving without receiving. In a sense, giving and receiving are one. If giving is "good," then receiving is equally good.

Shohaku Okumura wrote in Soto Zen Journal that for a time he didn't want to receive gifts from others, thinking that he should be giving, not taking. "When we understand this teaching in this way, we simply create another standard to measure gaining and losing. We are still in the framework of gaining and losing," he wrote.

In Japan, when monks carry out traditional alms begging, they wear huge straw hats that partly obscure their faces. The hats also prevent them from seeing the faces of those giving them alms. No giver, no receiver; this is pure giving.

Giving, whether to the animals, ghost or to the Sangha as long as we are not enlightened will be tainted with various degrees of self cherishing and worldly concerns. But the paramitas including that of giving are trainings for the aspired to gradually be rid of this self cherishing.

Each paramitas has its benefit but the paramitas are best practice together for swifter results and as pointed out for example, if one have basis wisdom, one can start giving without the thought of giving i.e. without the basis of "I give You". Eventually, giving is just renunciation of the labels of what is (the thing being given) and the givers and receivers which do not truly exist but are all dependently arised.


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Re: Giving alms or Dana
« Reply #10 on: March 09, 2015, 01:05:20 PM »
Dana means "giving, generosity, charity". Dana is a donation of useful substance and service to the Sangha. It is the first paramita. The types of dana are: giving of food, robes, buildings, gardens, land, as well as the giving of one's personal service. One can also devote a part of one's income to dana.

There are many benefits from performing dana. The Buddha said that when offering food, the donors are actually offering 5 things: long life, beauty, strength, happiness and knowledge. The donors will gain the same kind of results in his life or in future lives by virtue of their offering. They cultivate loving-kindness and compassion.

Dana “cleanses the heart of the stain of avarice, extended the hand in generosity and filled the head with rejoicing. A donor suffers not from repentance. He is like a man who plants a sapling securing its shade, flowers and fruits in the future.”  (The Buddha)

The role of lay people is to support the sangha by providing for their needs. The role of the sangha is to provide spiritual guidance and care for the welfare of lay people. This is a relationship of mutual benefit.
Devotees gain great merits by virtue of the purity of the sangha or their earnest efforts to attain that purity. When we make offerings to the sangha, we should offer with this wish:
“May the good monk/nun be of good health to pursue a holy life, practise meditation and be liberated from samsara. May we the offerers, also benefit from these good deeds.”


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Re: Giving alms or Dana
« Reply #11 on: March 14, 2015, 01:36:00 PM »
The spirit of generosity is an important foundation in the Buddhism practice and with this practice, generally it will cut down our attachment and selfishness. Hence, it will eliminate the suffering of others.  Dana paramita is sometimes translated "perfection of generosity." A generous spirit is about more than just giving to charity. It is a spirit of responding to the world and giving what is needed and appropriate at the time. In the Lamrin mentioned that we should offered the best of what we could afford to the Buddha and similarly, when giving alms or danas to the sanghas or layman, we should not practice double standard which cause  our miserliness to increase instead.


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Re: Giving alms or Dana
« Reply #12 on: March 17, 2015, 02:37:26 PM »
Regardless of which school of Buddhism that one belongs to , the practice of dana was  being strongly  emphasized . Many time when we give to someone, we always had this suspicious thoughts of  “ Is this guy genuine?”, “ Am I being a sucker?” but there was one contemporary  Buddhist teacher words :” Your giving had nothing  to do with the receiver, but it have everything to do with the Buddha inside of you.” These words really ring the bell in me, as I am the one who actually practising the act of generosity. The receivers are there for me to have this opportunity even if there are going to cheat me in any way, I must have created the cause for it to ripen on me. I realized the very nature of what this Buddhist teacher wanted to show us was that the enlightened being did not differentiate  us based on our ethnic  or social status,  he would just happy to give and the wonderful things about it all is we too has the same nature!