The Ten Paramitas of Mahayana Buddhism : Generosity (Part 1)

Last Saturday, on April 6, 2019, we began learning more about the first of The Ten Paramitas of Mahayana Buddhism — Dāna (Generosity).

We briefly discussed the “Three Kinds of Gifts” as outlined in the Maha-Prajnaparamita Sastra. We watched a Dharma talk on Dāna, followed by a group discussion facilitated by the questions Belinda posted for the group. We also shared the print out of an article: The Gift That Cannot Be Given – Q & A with Marcia Rose as a guide of our homework for the upcoming weeks.

Below is a copy of our handout. You may find it helpful to first check out the info listed on “The Motivation of Giving” and “The Five Precepts” before scrolling down to watch the Dharma lecture video on Dāna, since these concepts are mentioned by the teacher. You will also find questions we discussed during our session, and link to the homework article at the end of this page. Happy learning!

 

The Ten Paramitas of Mahayana Buddhism : Generosity Part 1

RECAP: Pāramitā (Sanskrit) or Parami (Pāli): “Perfection” or “Transcendent”. In Buddhism, the Paramitas refer to the perfection or culmination of certain practices. These practices are cultivated by Bodhisattvas for crossing from sensuous life (Samsara) to Enlightenment (Nirvana).

 

Generosity (Dāna):

Dāna (pronounced “DAH-nuh”), noun. Sanskrit, Pali, roughly translated as: “gift, alms, donation” ; voluntary giving of materials, energy, or wisdom (dharma) to others; generosity. It is regarded as one of the most important Buddhist virtues.

 

Three Kinds of Gifts:

“ There are three kinds of gifts:
i) the material gift (amisaddna)
ii) the gift of the Dharma (dluirnuiddiui), and
iii) the gift of fearlessness (ahhuyaclunu)

– Maha-Prajnaparamita Sastra*, by Nagajuna
* http://www.chinabuddhismencyclopedia.com/en/index.php?title=Maha_Prajnaparamita_Sastra_Full_By_Nagarjuna
* Also see: http://www.purifymind.com/ThreeGiving.htm

 

The Motivation of Giving:

The Anguttara Nikaya (A.iv,236) Sutta enumerates the following eight motives:

  1. One gives with annoyance, or as a way of offending the recipient, or with the idea of insulting him.
  2. Fear also can motivate a person to make an offering.
  3. One gives in return for a favor done to oneself in the past.
  4. One also may give with the hope of getting a similar favor for oneself in the future.
  5. One gives because giving is considered good.
  6. “I cook, they do not cook. It is not proper for me who cooks not to give to those who do not cook.” Some give urged by such altruistic motives.
  7. Some give alms to gain a good reputation.
  8. Still others give alms to adorn and beautify the mind.

Favoritism, ill will and delusion are also listed as motives for giving. Sometimes alms are given for the sake of maintaining a long-standing family tradition. Desire to be reborn in heaven after death is another dominant motive. Giving pleases some and they give with the idea of winning a happy frame of mind (A.iv, 236).

But it is maintained in the suttas (A.iv, 62) that alms should be given without any expectations. Nor should alms be given with attachment to the recipient. If one gives with the idea of accumulating things for later use, that is an inferior act of giving. If one gives with the hope of enjoying the result thereof after death, that is also an inferior act of giving. The only valid motive for giving should be the motive of adorning the mind, to rid the mind of the ugliness of greed and selfishness.

SOURCE: https://www.accesstoinsight.org/lib/authors/various/wheel367.html#pali (Sanskrit / Pali words removed in the above excerpt)

 

The Five Precepts:

1. To abstain from taking life
2. To abstain from taking what is not given
3. To abstain from sensuous misconduct
4. To abstain from false speech
5. To abstain from intoxicants as tending to cloud the mind

Also see: https://tricycle.org/magazine/the-five-precepts/

 

Dharma Video:

2015 Thanksgiving Retreat – Dhamma Talk : Dāna – Sāmaṇera Jayantha” by Bhikkhu Jayasāra **

Watch from 3:36 to 33:33 min., and 48:37 to 51:25 min.

** Sāmaṇera Jayantha, now Bhikkhu Jayasāra (Sāmaṇera means novice monk, which he was in 2015; now fully ordained since Oct. 2016 as a Bhikkhu) is an American-born Buddhist monastic who currently resides at Bhavana Society of West Virginia. He is a disciple of Bhante Henepola Gunaratana (“Bhante G”), abbot of the Bhavana Societyana Society of West Virginia. He is a disciple of Bhante Henepola Gunaratana (“Bhante G”), abbot of the Bhavana Society.

 

Discussion:

  1. What other motivations for Dāna / Giving can you think of?
  2. Why is it important to cultivate the right motivation for Giving?
  3. Why do you think Giving is the first topic in “the Buddha’s graduated talks, the first step on the bodhisattva’s path to perfection, and the first of the ten paramitas (perfections) in the Mahayana tradition”? (and also the first of the ten paramitas in the Theravada tradition)
  4. Why do you think Giving is an act that needs to be practiced and developed?

 

Homework:

  1. Read this article: “The Gift That Cannot Be Given – Q & A with Marcia Rose“:
    https://tricycle.org/magazine/gift-cannot-be-given/
    As you practice Giving this month, pay attention to how you would answer the questions that Marcia Rose suggested in the article, at those moments of Giving. And come back to share your observations with us!