Dāna, when given with pure volition, is highly beneficial. To give dāna is the fundamental duty of householders. In the ancient spiritual tradition of India, dāna has always had special importance. In ancient times, virtuous and wealthy householders and sages used to organise great ceremonies of dāna. Noble donors like Emperor Vessantara in ancient times and Emperor Harsha established the illustrious ideal of donating all their possessions. Their volition behind giving dāna was truly selfless.
The wealth of the community tends to accumulate with the rulers and wealthy men. If this wealth remains with them, it begins to rot and makes the whole community unhealthy. If wealth is re-distributed, its purity is maintained.
Having understood this, wise people, considered their wealth as the wealth of the community. To save themselves from the improper hoarding of wealth, they gave dāna so that others could share and enjoy this wealth. This wise policy of equitable distribution of wealth preserved the equilibrium of social prosperity and prevented it from becoming an unbalanced destructive force.
The wealthy donors distributed their wealth equitably from time to time. They did not give their wealth with the desire to obtain something in return or to boost their egos.
Viceyya dānaṃ dātabbaṃ, yattha dinnaṃ mahapphalaṃ.
(Dāna given with wisdom is highly beneficial.)
There are two kinds of dāna:
1. Vaṭṭamūlaka dāna: the dāna that keeps one entangled in the cycle of existence (bhavacakka).
2. Vivaṭṭamūlaka dāna: the dāna that takes one out of the cycle of existence.
Wise people give dāna such that it frees them from the cycle of existence.
As with all other kamma, so too the kamma of dāna, is good or bad according to the volition of one’s mind. The vivaṭṭamūlaka mind that cuts the cycle of existence is free of craving, free of aversion, and free of ignorance. Only the dāna given with this kind of mind is called vivaṭṭamūlaka dāna, which destroys the cycle of existence. While giving such dāna, we do not consider our own benefit. Instead, we are delighted to see the happiness and welfare of the person receiving our dāna. When we take delight in the happiness of others, our minds become pure and tender and are freed from the limitations of narrow self-interest.
However, if while giving dāna, we wish for any personal benefit, our mind is stained with craving, vaṭṭamūlaka. Dāna given with such volition of mind will only prolong the cycle of existence. If, as a result of giving dāna, we wish for worldly happiness, fame, respect, profit, or rebirth in heaven, our minds remain in bondage instead of becoming free from bondage.
Therefore, giving dāna with a mind stained with craving is wrong, but even worse is to give dāna with the mind defiled with aversion. That becomes a cause of even greater harm to us; it becomes a process of earning demerits in the name of Dhamma. Not only do we lose the donated wealth, but simultaneously, the kamma done with a defiled mind becomes the cause of great sorrow and misfortune.
Let us understand by examples how we give dāna with the mind defiled with aversion:
A beggar standing outside my door is calling out, “Sir! Give alms! Sir! Give alms!” Becoming enraged at his repeated pleas, I throw a coin at him to get rid of him. At that time, my mind is filled with anger and irritation.
Some people collecting donations for some school or hospital have come to my shop. As soon as I see them, I fly into a rage and start grumbling, “Donation, donation! All the time, people are asking for donations! Accountant, give them five rupees and get rid of them.” While giving them the money, my mind is filled with resentment towards these undesirable donation seekers.
Some minister or political leader orders me to give a donation for some cause. I do not have the slightest interest in it, but I am afraid to refuse so I give dāna out of fear.
My Dhamma-teacher (kalyāna mitta) has sent a message to give a donation for some project. I do not wish to give this dāna but do so out of deference and diffidence.
The rest of the people in my community have given dāna for some work. I do not have the slightest desire to give any dāna for it. However, if I do not donate, others will criticize me. So I give dāna to protect my reputation.
My rival has become famous because he has given a large donation. I give a bigger donation than him out of egotism.
In this way, I give dāna with the unwholesome volition of anger, resentment, irritation, fear, deference, diffidence, rivalry, jealousy, hostility, pride, and conceit. And after giving such dāna, I regret it whenever I remember it and defile my mind.
All actions done with wholesome Dhamma-volition are beneficial; all actions done with unwholesome volition are detrimental. So dāna should always be given with wholesome volition. When dāna is given with wholesome volition, the mind is filled with a feeling of renunciation and with delight at the happiness and benefit of others. It is filled with contentment before giving dāna, while giving dāna and after giving dāna.
Before giving dāna, such joyful thoughts arise in the mind, “I shall give dāna. Others will benefit from my dāna and gain happiness.”
While giving dāna also, my mind is suffused with these joyful thoughts, “I am giving dāna. I am fulfilling the duty of a householder! By this dāna, the recipients will benefit and gain happiness.”
After giving dāna, my mind is repeatedly filled with these auspicious thoughts, “I have given the dāna of food or clothes or medicines so that the recipients will be healthy and strong in mind and body and practising sīla, samādhi, and paññā, will attain their own welfare and will become the cause of the welfare of many. I have given the dāna of this cottage staying in which the meditators will practise sīla, samādhi and paññā. By practising Anapana and Vipassana, they will experience the peace and happiness of nibbāna and will become the cause of the peace and happiness of many.”
Whether the recipient of my dāna is a fully liberated arahant or any virtuous saintly person who is a follower of the path of arahants, my mind will be filled with boundless joy, “It is my good fortune that, by my dāna, such a saintly person will remain healthy and strong for some time, and through him/her, many others will gain happiness! By accepting my dāna he/she has bestowed boundless compassion on me.”
Pubbeva dānā sumano, dadaṃ cittaṃ pasādaye; datvā attamano hoti, esā yaññassa sampadā.
(AN 2.6.37, Chaḷaṅgadānasuttaṃ)
(The donor is happy before giving dāna, while giving dāna, and after giving dāna. Such is the abundance of happiness of dāna offered with wholesome volition.)
In this way before giving dāna, while giving dāna, as well as after giving dāna, the donor fills the mind with pure contentment.
– From Right Volition of Dāna by S. N. Goenka
(Published in Vipassana Newsletter December 2009)