Dana & Caga. Is giving necessarily generosity?
By Ven Kumara Bhikkhu
An edited transcript of a talk given at Taiping Buddhist Society on 04-11-2006.
As most of you probably know, dana is a Pali word meaning 'giving' or 'gift'. Some extend it to mean 'generosity' as well. While this is somewhat commonly accepted, how safely can we assume that giving is necessarily an act of generosity? We should bear in mind that 'generosity' in Pali is not dana, but caga. Giving (or dana) per se can be done with or without generosity. Let me explain.
While giving is generally regarded as a good deed, it can also be motivated by an unwholesome intention, which the doer may not be fully aware of. Here are four unwholesome states from which a motivation to give can arise.
A person may give with the hope of getting something in return. An example would be bribing to get a business deal or a government contract.
In the Buddhist world, greed-motivated giving happens too, though we may not see it as unethical. We can call it 'kammic investment', giving to gain merits for future benefit. Is that bad? No, it's not. It is just as it is: greed-motivated giving, which shall bear results accordingly.
I wish I could talk about this without making some people feel uncomfortable, but I really don't know how. At any rate, I think it's important to be aware of this.
This greed-motivated giving probably still has its merits nonetheless. Yet, we can't say that it's generous when it's motivated by greed. Whether we like to admit it or not, such giving is done out of the giver's desire to gain future enjoyment for oneself. Some people also believe that the merits of giving can bring about rebirth in heaven. But is that true? I'll get to that later.
One problem with such giving is that the giver's desire tends to blind him from considering the receiving end. Does the recipient want that gift? Is it suitable for the recipient? This desire can sometimes be so strong that the giver forces the recipient to accept the gift.
I once witnessed a monk insisting that an elder monk accept a pair of socks. After repeated attempts to decline politely, the elder monk gave in to the demand apparently just to avoid prolonging the spectacle. Another monk told me of an experience while collecting alms. When he saw a man coming with money in his hand, he quickly closed his bowl. So, what did the man do? He promptly pried the lid open and threw the money in!
In these cases, we can immediately recognise them as wrong, as there was resistance from the unwilling recipient. Oft times, the recipient simply resigns to the wish of the giver. Or else, he may be regarded as being 'choosy', 'uncompassionate', or simply 'not giving face'.
For example, people often give monks more robes than they can possibly wear, such as during a kathina ceremony. Are these acts of generosity? (This may not be motivated by greed though, as one may be simply following a tradition blindly. In that way, it's more of delusion.)
Why do we give things that others don't want, or that are unsuitable for them? What kammic results can be expected of such giving? Such questions are worth pondering upon.
Can we give out of anger or aversion? Why not? Let's say, two parties fight over something. Then one gets really sick of it and gives up, saying, "Okay, you take it! Take it! I don't want it anymore!" Is that giving? It still is. But is it generosity? I wouldn't think so. It's more likely that it is done out of anger, isn't it?
Another example is when a smelly, dirty beggar comes to beg for alms while you're enjoying your meal with your partner at a hawker centre. You resent having your enjoyment interrupted and promptly give him some money to get rid of him as soon as possible. To give you another example, some parents give in to their children's pestering, even though what they ask for is mentally or physically unhealthy. Instead of doing the right thing, which is to educate or explain to the child, many parents often give in simply because they want to avoid feeling annoyed.
Are these acts of giving? Sure. Generosity? Not really. They are done out of aversion.
Giving out of delusion mainly occurs among victims of swindlers, manipulators and exploiters.
You've probably heard of people who donate large sums of money with the aim of being empowered to gain great riches. I wonder how many of them got their wish. One may also be charmed into giving large sums of money to obtain 'magic stones' that are supposed to possess miraculous powers. More professional charmers don't even have to give anything in return. The victim is simply tricked into giving.
Then there are also temple gimmicks, such as having people throw money into alms-bowls labelled with words like "Prosperity", "Health" and "Love", or having them put money into donation boxes in the shape of alms bowls held by Buddha images. Of course, it is still possible to give out of generosity despite the delusive forms, but would it not be likely that many may be influenced to give out of delusion?
Please note that I'm not saying that such giving is not meritorious. Rather, I'd like to point out the underlying moral intentions, which is what kamma is about ultimately.
People also often give when they feel compelled to, out of fear that something bad will happen to them if they don't; for example, when threatened by an extortionist, or when they 'donate' to police officers to avoid being punished for doing something illegal.
Besides that, some Buddhists and followers of other faiths, particularly those involved in wrong livelihood, also give out of fear of being reborn in hell or other lower realms of existence. They hope that their giving to some religious person (preferably one who is believed to be an arahant with psychic powers), or for some religious project (like building a multi-million dollar tooth-relic temple), can somehow neutralize their immoral actions and thus prevent them from having to face the consequences they fear.
These acts of giving are not done out of generosity, but fear.
This brings us back to what I mentioned earlier on the belief that giving can bring about rebirth in heaven. Can dana or giving reward us with long life, beauty and great happiness in the human world or even among the heavens? Can we, so to speak, 'bribe' the law of kamma? (Think for a moment before you read on.)
The Buddha says yes. However, he adds that this is true "only for the virtuous, not for the unvirtuous; for it is due to his purity that the heart's desire of the virtuous succeeds." (Danupapatti Sutta, AN 8:35)
Giving is of course a good deed and can bring about good results. Depending on the nature of the gifts, giving can bring about long life, beauty, happiness, strength, good repute, intelligence, etc. (AN 5:31, 5:37) However if you wish for a happy rebirth, even if it's just in the human realm, it's your morality or virtue—rather than your giving—that can give rise to that.
So, remember that while giving, especially giving to virtuous people, is beneficial to you, it's even more important to be heedful of your virtue, the least being the Five Precepts though preferably more than that.
What happens then to those who give a lot—perhaps even to very virtuous people—but are heedless in virtue, committing all sorts of unwholesome deeds? In Janussoni Sutta (AN 10:177), the Buddha says that such a person may obtain the reward of being an animal that leads a comfortable life, such as a royal horse, or perhaps a billionaire's dog, which is a more common example in our modern day.
By pointing out this, I hope those who are going by that wrong idea would realise that they are on the wrong track. Giving is good, but to have a happier future, you also have to be good.
All that I've said to this point may be a bit depressing for some of you. If so, let me cheer you up a little.
The good news is that if we can give motivated by good states of mind, the benefit is so much greater than just plain giving. You've probably done this many times; such as the times when someone asked you for something and you gladly gave; or when you saw someone in need, you considered how you could help and you did, thereby uplifting his well-being.
When you gave with such pure intentions, how did you feel? Was there a sense of joy? Did you feel somewhat uplifted? That's what we get—immediately—when we give purely for the benefit of the recipient with a generous heart.
Moreover, according to SappurisaDana Sutta (AN 5:148), when one gives with a compassionate heart, meaning out of genuine desire for the recipient's welfare, then besides becoming wealthy when the giving bears results, excellent is the five cords of sense pleasures his mind is inclined to enjoy. In other words, when one gives without that good state of mind, one can still become rich, but would not be inclined to enjoy the wealth fully. Perhaps you know of certain people who are very wealthy, yet can't bring themselves to fully enjoy their wealth. Their family members might help them in that department though.So, instead of just doing plain dana, why not be accomplished in generosity (cagasampada)? This is one of the four accomplishments that the Buddha repeatedly spoke about to lay people:
What is being accomplished in generosity? Here, a family man dwells at home with a mind free from the stain of stinginess, freely generous, open-handed, delight in relinquishing, responsive to requests, delight in giving and sharing. This is called being accomplished in generosity. (AN 4:61, 8:49, 54, 76)
In simpler words, it means just being happy to give. This kind of giving is one that is motivated by pure intentions: no greed, no anger, no delusion, no fear. Therefore, it feels good, it feels light, it feels right. It's the best way to give. By being genuinely generous, by being accomplished in generosity, you can then be truly regarded as a master of giving (danapati).
While plain dana can be meritorious, dana that is motivated by caga (generosity) is so much greater. If you wish to do dana as a parami for the attainment of enlightenment and Nibbana, then this is the kind of dana that you want to do, because this is the kind of dana that relinquishes, and thus helpful to the attainment of Nibbana, the complete ending of suffering.
So basically there are two kinds of giving: one that binds you, and one that frees you. Which kind would you want to do?
Hope you see what I'm trying to point out, that is, giving is not necessarily an act of generosity. It's not even necessarily done out of good intentions. Having generosity however means that you are prompted to give for the benefit of the recipient, not your own; and that's the kind of giving that is truly beneficial to both the giver and the recipient.
May you be accomplished in generosity for the benefit of the many, including yourself, and so that it conduces to your ultimate freedom.