With the Vesak full moon day around the corner, Sri Lankans have begun to pick up momentum in lantern making, Pandol construction and free-meal (Dansala) outlets all over the island.
Dansalas can be defined as an open house of food and drinks where everyone is welcome irrespective of their caste, creed, religion or personal assets.
The philosophy of giving is a noble gesture associated with the core teachings of Buddhism. Benevolence in giving food or Dana (almsgiving) has been a great Buddhist practice from yore as elaborated in the chronicle, the Mahavamsa.
Dana as described in Buddhism is a religious act of unattached and unconditional generosity, giving and letting go.
“Dana or giving plays a vital role in the Buddhist concept of developing the mind. It is recorded in history that Lord Buddha who completed ten Paramitas or ‘perfections’ completed Dana Paramita or the perfection of generosity as the first perfection”, founder of Buddhist monk training centre, Arya Nikethanaya, Athurugiriya, Shasthrapathi Venerable Mavarale Baddiya Thero said.
As Venerable Mavarale Baddiya Thero explained the perfection of generosity can be obtained in three steps. The first one, the perfection of generosity, Dana Paramita is to give or let go one’s physical belongings like food, money, land and other belongings.
The second one, the higher perfection of generosity, Dana Upa Paramita is to give or let go body parts like eyes and blood and the third one, the highest perfection of generosity called Dana Paramatta Paramita is to give or let go one’s whole life.
In the Three Pillars of the Dhamma, Dana (generosity), Sheela (morality), Bhawana (meditation), Dana or generosity plays an important role. As it is described in Buddhism there are three types of giving. They are gift of material things, gift of life and the gift of Dhamma (teaching).
In the gift of material things donors are expected to give material things.
“The gift of life is practised as freeing birds and animals and the true gift of life is to make sure that no living creature is afraid of life because of you. The true gift of life is to restrain from the five sins”, Venerable Mavarale Baddiya Thera explained further.
The gift of Dhamma is the noblest form of giving as it is explained in Buddhism.
In Sakkapanha Vatthu Dhammapada Verse 354 Buddha has preached it as:
“Sabbadanam dhammadanam jinati
Sabbarasam dhammaraso jinati
Sabbaratim dhammarati jinati
Tanhakkhayo sabbadukkham jinati”
Giving the meaning that the gift of Dhamma excels all gifts; the taste of the Dhamma excels all tastes and delight in the Dhamma excels all delights. The eradication of Craving (attainment of arahatship) overcomes all ills (samsara dukkha).
According to Venerable Mavarale Baddiya though the gift of material things and the gift of life can be meritorious in giving a better next-birth, the understanding gained through listening and learning the Dhamma is priceless.
“The giving of food (Dansal) is described in Buddhism as an act of spreading compassion towards the poor. But those who patronise these Dansalas just consume the food without being aware of the merits”, said Venerable Mavarale Baddiya Thera explaining the concept behind the Dansala.
Dakkhina-vibhanga Sutta in Majjima Nikaya it has been recorded that by giving arms (Dansala) one can receive in thousands what one gives.
“When giving Dansalas it is better to give it with rightly earned money without disturbing passers-by. We must give alms in this Vesak more meaningfully”, Venerable Mavarale Baddiya Thera emphasized.
According to some people who organize Dansalas, their aim is to gather merits in the name of soldiers who scarified their lives in war and for all those who participate in the massive deed of providing food at Dansalas.
For Hindus, giving (Dana) is an important part of one’s Dharma (religious duty) that has a wide variety of meanings such as eternal law, duty, conduct, behaviour, morality and righteousness. Each person has a Dharma (doctrine) towards family, society, the world and all living things.
Dharma needs to be seen within the framework of the traditional extended Hindu family, which plays the role of a welfare state. The wealth a person acquires is not for him or her but for the welfare of the extended family and others. One has a responsibility towards those members of one’s family who cannot maintain themselves.
In some circumstances an individual may have no option but to give up or compromise his or her personal goals for the sake of the family. In short, ‘giving’ begins at home but extends beyond.
There are different types of giving described in Hinduism. The well known Hindu text the Bhagavadgita speaks of three types of giving. A gift that is given without any expectation of appreciation or reward is beneficial to both giver and recipient. A gift that is given reluctantly and with the expectation of some advantage is harmful to both giver and recipient and a gift that is given without any regard for the feelings of the recipient and at the wrong time, causing embarrassment to the recipient, is again harmful to both giver and recipient. (Bhagavadgita 17.20-22)
Any giving that is motivated by selfish considerations loses its value from the spiritual point of view.
It is not so much wealth that brings happiness and peace but our attitude to possessions. Hindu philosophical texts such as the Isa Upanishad (1) points to the fact that true enjoyment and peace lie in detachment from wealth. We are not asked to renounce wealth but rather our sense of possession. Whatever we give will have no value if we part with our wealth reluctantly.
One of the commonest forms of giving is Anna Dana, the sharing of food with others. It is part of one’s religious duty (Dharma) to offer food to any unexpected guest. In the orthodox tradition a householder is expected to partake of food only after it has been reverentially offered to the deities, the ancestors, the mendicant and those dependent on him. The practice of Anna Dana is common to all sections of Indian society and continues to be an important aspect of people’s way of life.
On religious and other important occasions Anna Dana may be undertaken on a large scale. Some Hindus organize a special meal for the needy or donate to a charitable cause in memory of the deceased.
The notion of giving, especially giving and helping those in need, is so entrenched in Islam.
“Who is it that would loan Allah a goodly loan so He may multiply it for him many times over? And it is Allah who withholds and grants abundance and to Him you will be returned.” (The Holy Quran, 2:245)
As it is preached in Islam, the Almighty promises people that if they train themselves to give in times of ease and hardship, their sustenance will increase. Giving awakens the souls and triggers genuine concern for the well-being of others. Priority is given to feeding the poor and the needy as that is one of the best acts in Islam.
Accordingly giving from what we are given from the Provider and Owner of everything not only releases us from the disease of want but also reminds us that everything belongs to Allah and must be used for the well-being of all of humanity.
The personal sacrifice of giving one’s possessions, no matter how small, for the sake of helping, that in deed is a blessing and means purifying our souls and wealth. From a drop of water to gardens of fruit we must remember that everything in this world is loaned to us for a brief period of time. The true test is the test of giving.
Charity is not just recommended by Islam, it is required of every financially stable Muslim. Giving charity to those who deserve it is part of Muslim character and one of the Five Pillars of Islamic practice.
Zakat is viewed as “compulsory charity”. It is an obligation for those who have received their wealth from God to respond to those members of the community in need. Devoid of sentiments of universal love, some people know only to hoard wealth and to add to it by lending it out on interest. Islam’s teachings are the very antithesis of this attitude. Islam encourages the sharing of wealth with others and helps people to stand on their own and become productive members of the society.
In Christianity, giving is the emblem of love and compassion where devotees are advised to indulge in. Matthew 6:1-4 quotes Jesus Christ as saying: “Beware of practicing your righteousness before men to be noticed by them; otherwise you have no reward with your Father who is in heaven. So when you give to the poor, do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, so that they may be honored by men. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full. But when you give to the poor, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving will be in secret; and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you”.
According to Fr. Edmund Tillekaratne, one should give even without letting the other hand know.
“When it is given secretly, only God sees it and you will be rewarded”, he said.
In Luke 6:38 giving is described as: “Give and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.”