Giving More, Wanting Less
From the Buddhist perspective, the cause of our suffering is craving or
tanha. Such craving has its root in ignorance and greed. We want to get
more, have more, possess more, thinking that it will bring us happiness.
What we already have we want to hang on to as if it is something that we can
have forever. Buddhism teaches the opposite of this. If we want to be
without suffering we must destroy craving. Instead of becoming obsessed with
having and hanging on to things, therefore, it is better to practice giving
or dana. This is a virtue that is found at the heart of all schools of
Buddhism. In Mahayana Buddhism it is the first of the the six perfections
on the Bodhisattva Path.
Giving can take many forms. The most obvious form of giving is material
things but we can also give less tangible things such as our time, energy
and thoughts. Indeed, as humans we are very fortunate in that our
opportunities for giving are limitless. Those of us with families find that
giving is an inevitable part of daily life. Similarly at work, we are
involved in giving our service to others in many different ways. We can give
to a whole gamut of charities. And we can even contribute to the overall
good of society through the payment of taxes! Sometimes - in very extreme
circumstances - people are even prepared to give up their own lives for the
sake of others.
One special form of giving in Buddhism, however, is the giving of the dharma
or truth/teaching. In the Dhammapada it says: 'the Gift of the Dharma excels
all other gifts'. To share the teachings of Buddhism, therefore, is seen as
very special, exceeding other kinds of gifts. This is because by explaining
the teachings of Buddhism you are giving someone the opportunity to liberate
themselves from the world of suffering and to reach nirvana.
The benefits of giving are seen in its karmic effects. Giving leads to being
reborn in happy states and material wealth. Alternatively, lack of giving
leads to unhappy states and poverty. The early scriptures state that giving
to virtuous people is more meritorious than giving to non-virtuous people:
'By giving a gift to the immoral ordinary person, the offering may be
expected to repay a hundredfold. By giving a gift to a virtuous ordinary
person, the offering may be expected to repay a hundred thousandfold' (The
Dakkhinavibhanga Sutta). The Buddha goes on to say: 'in no way does a gift
to a person individually ever have greater fruit than an offering made to
A key factor in giving is motivation. Unfortunately, giving can often have a
degree of selfishness within it. Sometimes, when we give, hidden somewhere
within us is the notion that we will benefit from it in some way. This could
be the thought of the good merit that we will earn or we will be liked or
appreciated. The purest giving, however, has no such motivation behind it,
only the thought of how the recipient will benefit.
The exquisite paradox in Buddhism is that the more we give - and the more we
give without seeking something in return - the more wealthy (in the broadest
sense of the word) we will become. By giving we destroy those acquisitive
impulses that ultimately lead to further suffering.
From Anthony Flanagan,
Your Guide to Buddhism.
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