Dana or generosity is the voluntary giving of materials, energy, or wisdom (dharma) to others. Generosity is regarded as one of the most important Buddhist virtues and is a very crucial part of Buddhism. Gautama Buddha describes the three central practices of Buddhism as giving (dana), moral conduct (sila) and mental development (bhavana).
The Buddha considered generosity to be a fundamental and essential virtue in one’s spiritual development and repeatedly emphasized generosity in his teachings.
- Generosity is the first step on the bodhisattva’s path to perfection, and the first of the six paramitas (perfections) in the Mahayana tradition.
- Giving is also the first of the ten perfections or noble qualities (parami) that need to be cultivated by those aspiring to gain enlightenment (Nibbana), and to be liberated from rebirth and its associated sufferings in the Theravada tradition.
- Giving is the first of the ten meritorious actions, or punna kriya, that one can perform in order to accumulate merits that will bring beneficial results in both this life and future lives.
- In verse 223 of the Dhammapada, the collection of the Buddha’s sayings in verse form, Buddha has described “Miserliness conquered by generosity” as one of four types of victories.
- In the Ariya Dhana Sutta of the Anguttara Nikaya, a collection of Buddha’s discourses, Buddha has described generosity as one of the seven treasures or sources of spiritual wealth for the noble ones.
Buddhists believe that what is given is not lost, but is actually multiplied and returned to the giver in the form of karmic rewards, most notably, wealth. Buddhism is known for its emphasis on letting go of desire and craving, so there is greater significance to giving in Buddhism than just karmic rewards. Since the root causes of all unwholesome mental, verbal and physical actions are greed (lobha), ill will (dosa) and ignorance (moha), an act of generosity will not only defeat the root cause of greed but will also act to defeat the other two root causes of ill will and ignorance to a certain extent.
Greed is manifested in the natural human tendency to take and to draw to oneself, so if we want happiness for a lifetime and to grow towards the human state of liberation or Enlightenment, we must practice generosity to reverse the tendency to take deliberately. This is a very crucial part of Buddhism – you cannot successfully make progress in spiritual development without a strong foundation of generosity and morality.