How is Dāna prioritized?

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How is Dāna prioritized?

Postby Devosachcha » Mon Mar 10, 2014 11:35 am

In some recent teaching in Sri Lanka, the idea of prioritization of dāna is described in a some sort of confusing way. Here is how some monks describe the idea of prioritization:

Scenario 1: You are walking on a street having some food with you, and you see a poor hungry guy who is about to die for not having any food for months. On the other side of the street, you see Buddha walking down the street. You might think it would rather worth giving your food to the poor guy as he might die without your food. On the other hand, if you offer your food to Buddha, it won't make much difference. You are wrong! You should still offer it to Buddha because that's what gives the most 'karma' back to you. The poor guy, on the other hand, is that poor because of the negative karma he earnt over the glitches he made in the past.

Scenario 2: One might worship a Bodhi tree offering some milk (primarily by pouring milk water on its roots). Another guy might use the same amount of milk to feed the hunger. The second guy seems right in the eye of common sense, but as in Buddhism, the first guy is the one who is right because he receives a better 'karma'.

These explanations don't look anyway right to me. Since the core of karma is all about what we think, how we perceive, and how we feel, how does the above laid down idea fits in that? If I had to offer my food to Buddha letting the poor guy die in hunger, I won't feel any good. So how come this be a "better karma"? Based on the second scenario, many people here in Sri Lanka use and exhaust lots of resources just for material offering (amisa puja) while there are many people who are suffering for the lack of the same resources.

I personally believe that we should not offer things out for the prime reason exchanging it with karma. I donate and offer things because I like the idea that other people getting a better life because of what I do. If karma applies, okay, let's it apply whatever way it should be. However, the problem with the above idea of prioritization is it will lead many people to exhaust resources for things that doesn't contribute to the world. If above prioritization sounds right to you, or if you believe that it was something that was mentioned somewhere in official Theravada scriptures, where was that written? On the other hand, what concept in Abhidhamma supports that idea?
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Re: How is Dāna prioritized?

Postby Ben » Mon Mar 10, 2014 12:18 pm

I think there are two concepts here which might be confused, ethics and merit.
The hypothetical situation of choosing between offering Dana to a Buddha over a starving person may illustrate the merit of the two acts but, in reality, such a situation is beyond the realm of possibility in this life. The ethical thing to do is to give the aid where it is needed, that is, to the starving person.
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Re: How is Dāna prioritized?

Postby Weakfocus » Mon Mar 10, 2014 12:21 pm

Devosachcha wrote:Scenario 1: You are walking on a street having some food with you, and you see a poor hungry guy who is about to die for not having any food for months. On the other side of the street, you see Buddha walking down the street. You might think it would rather worth giving your food to the poor guy as he might die without your food. On the other hand, if you offer your food to Buddha, it won't make much difference. You are wrong! You should still offer it to Buddha because that's what gives the most 'karma' back to you. The poor guy, on the other hand, is that poor because of the negative karma he earnt over the glitches he made in the past.


Ah kamma, you confounding b*tch.

Personally I would never put all my eggs in one basket. Like a good investor, hedge your bets: give half portion of your food to the monk (who might or might not be a "Buddha", how would you know...) and the other half to the starving man. For extra end-of-the-lifetime kamma bonus, guide the now ex-starving man to "Buddha" so he can learn Dhamma from the master himself and overcome his worldly suffering.

Devosachcha wrote:Scenario 2: One might worship a Bodhi tree offering some milk (primarily by pouring milk water on its roots). Another guy might use the same amount of milk to feed the hunger. The second guy seems right in the eye of common sense, but as in Buddhism, the first guy is the one who is right because he receives a better 'karma'.


Same as above. Give a portion of your milk to the starving man. The rest to the tree, although I have heard they prefer water.

Seriously, these type of scenarios are always farcial. What kind of person has only enough food to give to a monk or a starving worldling, but not both? Do you literally only have one grain to give? And just how many starving people are hanging around Bodhi trees waiting for their glass of milk? If they like free milk so much why are they not hanging around a dairy?
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Re: How is Dāna prioritized?

Postby Devosachcha » Mon Mar 10, 2014 1:12 pm

Ben wrote:...choosing between offering Dana to a Buddha over a starving person may illustrate the merit of the two acts....

Not sure I follow. If you imply that that under-ethical way merits you with more "positive karma", how and why does it work so? If I had to do that, I'd find myself disappointing over the fact that what I did was not what ethically I should have done. In Buddhism, karma is defined as the resultant of your conscious, mind, and thoughts. That's what Abidhamma teaches too. Please correct me if I'm wrong. If I kill someone, no matter even if it was to save someone I love, I still have the reciprocal karma of committing in that action. Similarly, if I choose to offer my food to that starving person to save his life, how does that karma be lower than what it would be if I rather offer it to Buddha?

In simple words, I don't understand how offering something to Buddha merits you so much over saving someone's life, given that such a 'karma' system is something intrinsic built-up in my own mind - not something being conducted by an external source with superpowers. Thoughts?
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Re: How is Dāna prioritized?

Postby Devosachcha » Mon Mar 10, 2014 1:15 pm

Weakfocus wrote:Like a good investor, hedge your bets: give half portion of your food to the monk ...... and the other half to the starving man.

I believe you didn't mean that karma should be used as a way of investment for ones own wealth, given that that's not what the ultimate goal of the pathway of Buddhism is :)

Weakfocus wrote:Seriously, these type of scenarios are always farcial. What kind of person has only enough food to give to a monk or a starving worldling, but not both? .... And just how many starving people are hanging around Bodhi trees waiting for their glass of milk?

These are hypothetical scenarios. Monks and teachers use such hypothetical scenarios to illustrate how things works. Despite how hypothetical these scenarios are, the idea it lays down will have a practical use somewhere in the future. These teachings are, for example, pretty much encourageous. Here in Sri Lanka, we have extremely low milk resources. If many choose to pour milk at the root of Bodhi trees as a way of investing, we will soon be exhausting the milk available in the country.

Let's put that all aside. What's more important is the way the stuff work. If karma is something happens in your own mind, and a resultant of your own thought system, how can offering something to Buddha would be better than offering it to someone who would otherwise die? On the other hand, is it something that is clearly mentioned in canon? Or, do we have a way using Abhidamma, or any other way, to reason out it to be the way the karma works? Or, do you think it is something that we can't speculate for sure?
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Re: How is Dāna prioritized?

Postby Sokehi » Mon Mar 10, 2014 1:38 pm

this wrong view of "why bother it's his fault that he suffers" is perfectly adressed by Ajahn Sujato (from min. 36 onwards)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RjXLNlMYyMk
Last edited by Sokehi on Mon Mar 10, 2014 2:18 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: How is Dāna prioritized?

Postby santa100 » Mon Mar 10, 2014 1:47 pm

Scenario1: give all your food to the starving man, then invite the Buddha back to your house for lunch.
Scenario2: give the tree some water, and give all the milk to the hunger.
Problem solved.
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Re: How is Dāna prioritized?

Postby Devosachcha » Mon Mar 10, 2014 1:50 pm

santa100 wrote:Problem solved.

That indeed solves the problem :) , but again, this is not a real scenario - it is pretty much hypothetical. The motivation is to know how karma works, not how to get around the problem of the hypothetical scenario.
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Re: How is Dāna prioritized?

Postby Sokehi » Mon Mar 10, 2014 2:01 pm

Highly unrealistic Scenarios that just show how much the traditional buddhist countries/societies most often worry about making merit. Getting a better rebirth and be richer then. That's it. Nibbana is most often just not a goal at all it seems to me - let alone if most of the laity have a clear idea about what that might be. That's how that ugly materialism and egoism sneeks in.
Get the wanting out of waiting

What does womanhood matter at all, when the mind is concentrated well, when knowledge flows on steadily as one sees correctly into Dhamma. One to whom it might occur, ‘I am a woman’ or ‘I am a man’ or ‘I’m anything at all’ is fit for Mara to address. – SN 5.2

If they take what's yours, tell yourself that you're making it a gift.
Otherwise there will be no end to the animosity. - Ajahn Fuang Jotiko

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Re: How is Dāna prioritized?

Postby Devosachcha » Mon Mar 10, 2014 2:47 pm

Sokehi wrote:Nibbana is most often just not a goal at all it seems to me - let alone if most of the laity have a clear idea about what that might be. That's how that ugly materialism and egoism sneeks in.

That's very and very true. We're living in days that the idea of karma is diverted out for greedy and temporal needs, pushing all about Nibbana out of the realm. The true picture is so distorted making people who hate materialism choose irreligion to be the best. Everyone seems to analyze ROI, before they hang out with any sort of religious activity, including Dana. Whenever I offer something to poor, I never expect anything in return - neither in egoic or spiritual. I offer things becauseI like doing so, and that's it.

However, still, the validity of the idea laid down in that hypothetical scenario, even unrealistic, is a concern, especially in the realm with lots of people who love materialism and have greedy needs. On the other hand, figuring out the way the karma works gives us a better exposure to it, as it's a part of the core of Buddha's teaching, even though we don't look at it for avaricious benefits.

The problem comes to surface when the underneath ideas laid down over these hypothetical scenarios come to practice. When someone greedy got enough money to spend to charity, they would rather use it for material-offering, even worse, by exhausting resources available for others. Pouring milk at the root of a tree is one example. Knocking them down for being materialist is one aspect. If we put that aside for awhile, the other major concern would be the validity of the assumption that doing so is karma-wise right, wherein such assumption made out of the idea that offering something to Buddha is karma-wise better than saving one's life. For such speculation, we need to verify the accuracy of that idea. I believe that canon does not contain such unrealistic scenarios to support that idea. On the other hand, concerning with Abhidhamma, and the teachings of how karma works, the original idea is pretty much contradictory for me. Do we have a clear way of justification for that?
Last edited by Devosachcha on Mon Mar 10, 2014 3:16 pm, edited 2 times in total.
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Re: How is Dāna prioritized?

Postby Sokehi » Mon Mar 10, 2014 2:50 pm

Good Post!

Hence that what most us of think "Khamma" in a buddhist way is very deluded by brahmanic and jain concepts. It's funny how one of the most fundamental concepts of buddhism oh so many buddhists just don't understand! Therefore I've posted this very interesting talk by Ajahn Sujato above where he clarifies the differences between those concepts.
Get the wanting out of waiting

What does womanhood matter at all, when the mind is concentrated well, when knowledge flows on steadily as one sees correctly into Dhamma. One to whom it might occur, ‘I am a woman’ or ‘I am a man’ or ‘I’m anything at all’ is fit for Mara to address. – SN 5.2

If they take what's yours, tell yourself that you're making it a gift.
Otherwise there will be no end to the animosity. - Ajahn Fuang Jotiko

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Re: How is Dāna prioritized?

Postby culaavuso » Mon Mar 10, 2014 3:30 pm

Vin I. 301 wrote:He who would nurse me, let him nurse the sick


AN 4.77: Acintita Sutta wrote:There are these four unconjecturables that are not to be conjectured about, that would bring madness & vexation to anyone who conjectured about them. Which four?
...
The [precise working out of the] results of kamma...


Merit does not lead all the way to Nibbana:

AN 7.49: Dana Sutta wrote:"Lord, what is the cause, what is the reason, why a person gives a gift of a certain sort and it does not bear great fruit or great benefit, whereas another person gives a gift of the same sort and it bears great fruit and great benefit?"

"Sariputta, there is the case where a person gives a gift seeking his own profit, with a mind attached [to the reward], seeking to store up for himself [with the thought], 'I'll enjoy this after death.' He gives his gift — food, drink, clothing, a vehicle; a garland, perfume, & ointment; bedding, shelter, & a lamp — to a brahman or a contemplative. What do you think, Sariputta? Might a person give such a gift as this?"

"Yes, lord."

"Having given this gift seeking his own profit — with a mind attached [to the reward], seeking to store up for himself, [with the thought], 'I'll enjoy this after death' — on the break-up of the body, after death, he reappears in the company of the Four Great Kings. Then, having exhausted that action, that power, that status, that sovereignty, he is a returner, coming back to this world.
...
but with the thought, 'This is an ornament for the mind, a support for the mind' — on the break-up of the body, after death, he reappears in the company of Brahma's Retinue. Then, having exhausted that action, that power, that status, that sovereignty, he is a non-returner. He does not come back to this world.


Reappearing in the company of the Four Great Kings only to continue in Samsara isn't such a great outcome:

SN 15.3: Assu Sutta wrote:This is the greater: the tears you have shed while transmigrating & wandering this long, long time — crying & weeping from being joined with what is displeasing, being separated from what is pleasing — not the water in the four great oceans.
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Re: How is Dāna prioritized?

Postby Devosachcha » Mon Mar 10, 2014 3:32 pm

Sokehi wrote:....I've posted this very interesting talk by Ajahn Sujato above where he clarifies the differences between those concepts.

I'll be watching that tomorrow - I'm running almost out of space now :) .
In summary, what do you think about the original question? Does khamma, in the sense of Buddhism, work in a way that offering something to Buddha is "better*" than saving one's life; or pouring milk on the roots of a Bodhi tree is "better*" than feeding hunger?

* The term "better", infact, is to define the spiritual sense of positive karma.
Last edited by Devosachcha on Mon Mar 10, 2014 3:42 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: How is Dāna prioritized?

Postby Devosachcha » Mon Mar 10, 2014 3:40 pm

@culaavuso, thanks for the insight!
culaavuso wrote:Merit does not lead all the way to Nibbana

In my question, I'm dealing with "whatever-merit" it takes.
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Re: How is Dāna prioritized?

Postby Sokehi » Mon Mar 10, 2014 4:05 pm

Devosachcha wrote:In summary, what do you think about the original question? Does khamma, in the sense of Buddhism, work in a way that offering something to Buddha is "better*" than saving one's life; or pouring milk on the roots of a Bodhi tree is "better*" than feeding hunger?


1. your question is the problem here: it just doesn't make any sense, even thinking about it is - with all due respect - a waste of breath. The Buddha died 2500 years ago. Finished. Parinibbana. You could ask if I'd prefer walking on water with Jesus over smoking Pot with Bob Marley, same problem.
2. I'd give food to whoever is hungry. If an Arahant would be hungry I'd feed him. If on the other side of the road there is someone apparently hungry as well ... still there are just two hungry people to feed. But that's my personal oppinion Hypothetically spoken. Will never happen. What will happen is that I have to meditate, which I will do now ;)
Get the wanting out of waiting

What does womanhood matter at all, when the mind is concentrated well, when knowledge flows on steadily as one sees correctly into Dhamma. One to whom it might occur, ‘I am a woman’ or ‘I am a man’ or ‘I’m anything at all’ is fit for Mara to address. – SN 5.2

If they take what's yours, tell yourself that you're making it a gift.
Otherwise there will be no end to the animosity. - Ajahn Fuang Jotiko

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Re: How is Dāna prioritized?

Postby Devosachcha » Mon Mar 10, 2014 4:38 pm

Sokehi wrote:your question is the problem here: it just doesn't make any sense, even thinking about it is - with all due respect - a waste of breath. The Buddha died 2500 years ago. Finished. Parinibbana. You could ask if I'd prefer walking on water with Jesus over smoking Pot with Bob Marley, same problem.

It looks like you have misinterpreted the original question. I didn't ask what you prefer, or what you do, which, if I asked, doesn't make sense at all. What I was asking all over this thread was how Khamma works - the way it works, the mechanism. While I believe that you didn't mean that trying to understanding how khamma works is a waste-of-breath, if someone else really thinks so, I want to ask whether trying to understand the core teaching of Buddhism in addition to trying to attain Nibhanna is a waste of the breath too. I, as many others do, won't follow anything if I don't understand how the things are going on with that.

Getting back to the original question, I know what you would do is feeding the hunger, no matter who that is, because that's what what ethical is. That's not what I need to know - rather, I don't need to be knowing what I should be doing in such a hypothetical scenario, given that it is pretty much unrealistic. What I need to know is how things work - how Khamma works. With what I understood about Khamma, it is something which is all about how we think and what's inside our mind. I started this thread to verify if my understanding is correct, because, if my understanding is correct, there should be no way that offering something to Buddha over saving one's life would merit you with more karma. Same goes for offering something for Bodhi tree. I hope the question makes some sense for you now??

PS - I don't usually hang out with forums for the prime reason that I find the people hanging out there often go not-so-nice. I'm here because I know people here are nice to each other - that's what I found out by reading other threads in this forum before I decided to sign up. I know you didn't mean to offend when you say "your question is the problem here" - but I'd rather prefer if you elaborated it in a nicer way :)
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Re: How is Dāna prioritized?

Postby santa100 » Mon Mar 10, 2014 4:44 pm

Devosachcha wrote:In summary, what do you think about the original question? Does khamma, in the sense of Buddhism, work in a way that offering something to Buddha is "better*" than saving one's life; or pouring milk on the roots of a Bodhi tree is "better*" than feeding hunger?

Since the OP has the word "prioritized", if one saw a starving man and an enlightened being at the same time, it's obvious that one would need to attend to the starving man first. Having said that, the Buddha did teach about the differences in merits given to different individuals in MN 142, for the obvious reason that the receivers all have different degrees of accomplishments in terms of virtues, concentration, and wisdom:
“Herein, Ānanda, by giving a gift to an animal, the offering may be expected to repay a hundredfold. By giving a gift to an immoral ordinary person, the offering may be expected to repay a thousandfold. By giving a gift to a virtuous ordinary person, the offering may be expected to repay a hundred-thousandfold. By giving a gift to one outside [the Dispensation] who is free from lust for sensual pleasures, the offering may be expected to repay a hundred-thousand times a hundred-thousandfold.
“By giving a gift to one who has entered upon the way to the realisation of the fruit of stream-entry, the offering may be expected to repay incalculably, immeasurably. What, then, should be said about giving a gift to a stream-enterer? What should be said about giving a gift to one who has entered upon the way to the realisation of the fruit of once-return…to a once-returner…to one who has entered upon the way to the realisation of the fruit of non-return…to a non-returner…to one who has entered upon the way to the realisation of the fruit of arahantship…to an arahant…to a paccekabuddha? What should be said about giving a gift to a Tathāgata, accomplished and fully enlightened?
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Re: How is Dāna prioritized?

Postby Devosachcha » Mon Mar 10, 2014 4:58 pm

Thanks for the clarification, santa100. :) It looks like I'm not in a good understanding of how Karma works.
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Re: How is Dāna prioritized?

Postby JeffR » Tue Mar 11, 2014 3:56 am

The Dana sutta makes it clear that if you are prioritizing your gift based on what you get in return, your gift does not bear great fruit or great benefit, whereas another person gives a gift of the same sort and it bears great fruit and great benefit.

http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka ... .than.html
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Re: How is Dāna prioritized?

Postby SarathW » Tue Mar 11, 2014 4:11 am

If you give food to Buddha most probably , he will share it with the hungry man.
There is a Buddha’s story that he fed a hungry man before proclaim Dhamma.
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