The volition that one wants to give away or offer one’s possession to others in charity is called dana, and the offerings that one makes also denotes dana.
Charitable deeds arise depending on one’s volition. Unless one is motivated, one will never give away one’s possession in charity. Therefore, volition is the main force of charity and it also is called dana. Charity done with keen volition can bring great benefit to the donor. The objects of offerings also help in the accomplishment of charitable deeds. If there is no object of offering, no charitable deed can be done. So the objects of offering also denote dana.
In the Buddha’s Teaching, charity (dana), morality (sila), and metal cultivating (bhavana) are of vital importance. Dana is the foundation of all Perfections. It is the Perfection in Dana that all Bodhisattas fulfill prior to other Perfections. Dana also resembles a package of provision for one who roams about the round of rebirths. A person who has performed a great deal of charitable deeds will become a man of great wealth and high station in whatever existence he will be reborn. Even when in his last existence, he realizes Nibbana, he will realize it more comfortably than one who lacks in charitable deeds. One should not neglect dana because one can rely on it not only in the present life but also in future existences. If one performs charitable deeds with a correct attitude in proper and systematic way, one will realize Nibbana and be free from the round of rebirths at the earliest.
The practice of dana had already existed in various forms long before the appearance of the Buddha. In those days, in compliance with the teachings of Brahmanas, the people, expecting better future existences, killed human beings and animals and made sacrificial offerings thinking that their offering was dana. The custom of these sacrificial offerings was widespread at that time. The people killed a hundred goats, a hundred cows, a hundred human beings, etc., to make dreadful sacrificial offerings known as satapadiyittha.
Kings and rich men killed various kinds of animals and made sacrificial offerings in competition with one another. They also believed that their offerings were the most excellent donation.
At the time of the Buddha, he told the people not to make such sacrificial offerings, and explained to them the evil consequences of these offerings. He also gave discourses on charity explaining how to perform charitable deeds in order to gain great wealth as the result of their acts of charity. Since that time, the Brahmanas have abstained from taking others’ lives and finally they are converted into vegetarians.
On expounding discourses on charity, the Buddha told donors not to destroy any life for their offerings, and not to make extravagant donations. He also told donees frequently to receive offerings only as much as they really need. He also said that one should donate only one-fourth of one’s possessions. The Buddha did not want donors to make their donations in an ostentatious manner because extremely lavish donations can cause extreme hardship to the donors.
Especially the Buddha urged people to make charitable deeds that could have everlasting benefits to the Buddha Sasana and also to the whole world. If one performs charitable deeds as a habitual action, and keeps on making such charity as a routine duty, one will enjoy greater benefits. Wise elders of olden days used to make efforts so their descendants would keep on performing these everlasting charities regularly from one generation to another.
After the rich man Anathapindika had passed away, one of his grand-daughters lived in poverty. But she made strenuous effort daily to keep up the traditional practice of performing charitable deeds. She invited one bhikkhu and offered alms-food daily because she could not afford to offer alms-food to many bhikkhus. In order to do so she herself picked up grains left in the field just after harvest, sold the grains, and offered alms-food to a bhikkhu daily. In this way, she was able to maintain the charitable duty of her ancestor in spite of her poverty.
These are many other charitable deeds which can be performed bodily depending on one’s capacity and diligence. Charitable actions such as regular offerings of alms-food, water and lights to the Buddha and the bhikkhus, the setting up of pots of drinking water on wayside stands for travellers to drink, are invaluable habitual charities which can be performed only by those who are endowed with diligence and keen volition.
Myanmars of olden days generously performed everlasting charitable deeds such as planting trees, constructing rest-houses, digging wells and ponds, and building roads and bridges for public use. In planting trees, they planted perennial trees such as coconut, jack-fruit and toddy-palms not for their benefit but for the benefit of later generations. Such charitable deeds will produce good results forever.
The benefits of dana are numerous. If dana is made in a proper way, it can give rise to supreme wholesome kamma associated with three moral roots (Tihetuka ukkattha kusala kamma). The dana, done generously with the comprehension of kamma and its result with keen volition at the three stages of the good deeds, is a good friend for one throughout the long journey in Samsara!