I'd feed a starving child before a healthy arahant

General discussion of issues related to Theravada Training of Sila, the Five Precepts (Pañcasikkhāpada), and Eightfold Ethical Conduct (Aṭṭhasīla).
pegembara
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Re: I'd feed a starving child before a healthy arahant

Postby pegembara » Wed Sep 25, 2013 2:32 pm

Let's break down the problem using the Dalai Lama as an example... not saying that he is or isn't an arahant.

Feed a starving child and you save one life. That is good. The DL doesn't need your help and feeding him has minimal impact. The DL continues with his good works and impacting many lives.

If both are starving, saving the DL is more "meritorious" as the end result would be potentially many more lives can be helped.

You can substitute Nelson Mandela, Gandhi, Mother Teresa and the like for the arahant.
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Re: I'd feed a starving child before a healthy arahant

Postby mikenz66 » Wed Sep 25, 2013 8:50 pm

Welcome back...
kc2dpt wrote:
retrofuturist wrote:there are suttas that say an offering to an arahant yields greater merit to an offering to a non-arahant.

Do these suttas instructs us to give to a "plump arahant" before giving to a "starving beggar child"?
What does it mean to "yield greater merit"?
I'd like to take a closer look at the suttas you referenced.
...

Thanks for the helpful analysis.

This sutta on the results of giving is also worth reflecting on:
This was said by the Lord...

"Bhikkhus, if beings knew, as I know, the result of giving and sharing, they would not eat without having given, nor would they allow the stain of meanness to obsess them and take root in their minds. Even if it were their last morsel, their last mouthful, they would not eat without having shared it, if there were someone to share it with. But, bhikkhus, as beings do not know, as I know, the result of giving and sharing, they eat without having given, and the stain of meanness obsesses them and takes root in their minds."

If beings only knew —
So said the Great Sage —
How the result of sharing
Is of such great fruit,
With a gladdened mind,
Rid of the stain of meanness,
They would duly give to noble ones
Who make what is given fruitful.

Having given much food as offerings
To those most worthy of offerings,
The donors go to heaven
On departing the human state.
Having gone to heaven they rejoice,
And enjoying pleasures there,
The unselfish experience the result
Of generously sharing with others.

http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka ... ml#iti-026


:anjali:
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Re: I'd feed a starving child before a healthy arahant

Postby clw_uk » Thu Sep 26, 2013 2:10 am

Seems we have some options

1) Give to the arahant, and let the child die, yet "I" get merit and so do future being's from the arahant being sustained for longer.

2) Give to the child and let the arahant die. So "I" get merit yet the child lives but the arahant dies, yet the child may become an arahant and fulfil the end of the above sentence.

3) Give to neither and sustain oneself, the child and arahant will die yet one can have wisdom from this act and become an arahant

The point is that the outcome it unknown, yet the intention defines the "morality".


However there are many variables, such as one can feed oneself and let both die, and not gain wisdom or the child could live and could not become enlightened.

Once again, there are so many outcomes to one situation. That is why, to me, intention is key.

Be sceptical to the outcome (as buddha said) and rely on subjective wisdom, which is born from empirical investigation into subjective phenomena.

He who binds to himself a joy
Does the wingèd life destroy;
But he who kisses the joy as it flies
Lives in eternity's sunrise.

William Blake

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seeker242
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Re: I'd feed a starving child before a healthy arahant

Postby seeker242 » Thu Sep 26, 2013 12:15 pm

"Any action performed with greed — born of greed, caused by greed, originating from greed: wherever one's selfhood turns up, there that action will ripen. Where that action ripens, there one will experience its fruit, either in this very life that has arisen or further along in the sequence.AN 3.33


Giving food to a plump arahant, instead of a starving child, just so you can make more merit for yourself, seems pretty greedy if you ask me! Actions born out of greed can hardly be considered meritorious IMO.

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beeblebrox
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Re: I'd feed a starving child before a healthy arahant

Postby beeblebrox » Thu Sep 26, 2013 12:50 pm

I think this could be an option: bring the child with you and ask the arahant if he would like to share some of your food with him.

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pilgrim
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Re: I'd feed a starving child before a healthy arahant

Postby pilgrim » Tue May 26, 2015 2:31 am

I had just re-read the Velama sutta again. (http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka ... .than.html)

The sutta explains that it is of great merit to make an offering to a person of right view, and even greater merit to a sotapanna, then a sakadagami , then anagami, then the Buddha. I think the logic of that is quite easily understandable as supporting a person with greater virtue brings more goodness to the world.

But then the sutta ends with "If one were to develop even just one whiff of a heart of good will, that would be more fruitful than...(all of the above)". What I understand this to mean is that there is greater merit in acting out of kindness than to act out of a desire to gain merit. So if one has a gift in hand which one is bringing to a temple for dana to an arahant, and one knows there will be plenty of food offered by others, then if one's heart so moves, there is greater merit to donate that packet of food to a starving refugee.

So yes, feeding a starving child could be more meritorious than feeding a plump arahant like Ven Kaccayana, if that is motivated by kindness and not after reading this post. :tongue:

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Re: I'd feed a starving child before a healthy arahant

Postby Zom » Tue May 26, 2015 5:59 am

What I understand this to mean is that there is greater merit in acting out of kindness than to act out of a desire to gain merit. So if one has a gift in hand which one is bringing to a temple for dana to an arahant, and one knows there will be plenty of food offered by others, then if one's heart so moves, there is greater merit to donate that packet of food to a starving refugee.


Actually, no. Don't forget, that, yes, personal motivation is important, but the object of giving is much more important if we talk about merits. Some poor refugee is nothing in comparison with an arahant. It is like a glass of water in comparison with the limitless ocean. Or like a lone planet in comparison with a galaxy of billions of stars. And so the result of dana will differ this much as well - no matter what your motivation is (actually, there is a sutta which tells that even bad personal motivation brings enourmous merit if dana was given to an arahant).

And also, there is another sutta - MN 142 - which tells that 4 bhikkhus (sangha) is even a better field than 1 arahant. So, yes, if you bring dana to the monastery with 4 monks or more (and they accept it), your merit is incalculable while merit gained from helping some poor guy is almost nothing.

However, here we should also mention one more thing - that is - difference between merits and personal qualities. Merits is a wordly thing and will make you feel good in samsara for quite a long period of time. However personal qualities is something which helps you to reach nibbana. Merits alone are not sufficient to reach nibbana, while personal qualities are. In this sense, yes, it is better to be kind and compassionate rather than egoistic and greedy (for merits), and yes, dana to some poor beggar can develop your kindness and compassion more than dana to some rich monastery. But your merits won't be so good if you keep ignoring dana to monks.

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pilgrim
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Re: I'd feed a starving child before a healthy arahant

Postby pilgrim » Tue May 26, 2015 7:09 am

If you look at the penultimate paragraph of the Velama sutta, after it has enumerated all the great merits of offerings to the Buddha, sangha and ariyas, it says ""If one were to develop even just one whiff of a heart of good will, that would be more fruitful than...(all of the above).." Dana to the sangha is of course excellent. They are an incomparable field of merits. However, all things being equal, the motivation to give should not be to gain merits but one of altruism and kindness.

Note 1 at the bottom of the page observes "The merit of the gift is determined more by the state of mind with which it is given than by the external quality of the gift."

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Re: I'd feed a starving child before a healthy arahant

Postby Zom » Tue May 26, 2015 7:56 am

I don't think this sentence in Velama sutta should be undrestood literally. For example, there are some similar sentences about metta in SN suttas but there it is to be understood figuratively. I've already written the difference between merit gaining and qualities development and that sentence in Velama sutta is, of course, not about merits, but about qualities. Metta is a "merit" figuratevily - not literally. While dana is a "merit" literally, not figuratevily.

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Re: I'd feed a starving child before a healthy arahant

Postby vacvvm » Fri Jun 12, 2015 4:48 pm

I think the key is remembering that intention is the heart of the gift, the same action can bear different fruits depending on its skillfulness or unskillfulness.
Eating a big healthy meal like a ravenous beast will nourish your body but drive you away from happiness, eating a grain of rice with mindfulness in pursuit of nibbana is immensely more beneficial.
Helping any ordinary being to live another day is meritorious, because it's one more day they'll have a chance to see truth and point themselves toward liberation, but because they aren't developed enough to truly experience gratitude, the gift is stunted. Merit isn't accrued by keeping the wheel of samsara spinning (aimlessly keeping all beings alive) but by helping the wheel to stop (assisting beings toward liberation)

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Re: I'd feed a starving child before a healthy arahant

Postby LXNDR » Fri Jun 26, 2015 8:55 pm

Ramana Maharshi, an Indian saint of the XX century, would not eat food offerings from his devotees or meals if people who made his company at the moment weren't fed as well

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Re: I'd feed a starving child before a healthy arahant

Postby Dan74 » Sat Jun 27, 2015 1:22 am

LXNDR wrote:Ramana Maharshi, an Indian saint of the XX century, would not eat food offerings from his devotees or meals if people who made his company at the moment weren't fed as well


Sadhu!

This merit issue is to me the most troubling one of traditional Buddhism across all schools. So we have lavish temples going up, fat monks and starving communities, no schools and hospitals, etc in Christianity, this issue pops up as well when Mary Magdalene brought expensive oil for Jesus and got scolded by the other disciples, but somehow in the present day, Christians are more on the side of the starving child with all the relief work, than the healthy arahat.

I don't discount the importance of donating to further the Dhamma, to help true cultivators. But as others have said it is both a question of intention and utility. The arahat will benefit little from an extra meal, but the starving child will benefit a great deal and will have a shot at liberation ! The donor's self seeking in trying to accrue merit will surely undermine any positive kamma that results. How could it be otherwise!
Last edited by Dan74 on Sat Jun 27, 2015 1:29 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: I'd feed a starving child before a healthy arahant

Postby daverupa » Sat Jun 27, 2015 1:29 am

I've just begun reading a book about this issue, in fact: The Poverty of Riches; St. Francis of Assisi Reconsidered, by Kenneth Baxter Wolf.

The unusually high regard with which Saint Francis of Assisi is held has served to insulate him from any real criticism of the kind of sanctity that he embodied: a sanctity based, first and foremost, on his deliberate pursuit of poverty. This book offers a critique of Francis's “holy poverty” by considering its ironic relationship to the ordinary poverty of the poor.

While Francis's emphasis on voluntary poverty as the first step toward spiritual regeneration may have opened the door to salvation for wealthy Christians like himself, it effectively precluded the idea that the poor could use their own involuntary poverty as a path to heaven. In marked contrast to Francis's poverty, theirs was more likely to be seen by contemporaries as a symptom of moral turpitude.

Moreover, Francis's experiment in poverty had a potentially negative effect on the level of almsgiving directed toward the involuntary poor. Not only did the Franciscan abhorrence of money prevent the friars from assuming any significant role in alleviating urban poverty but their own mendicant lifestyle also put them in direct competition with the other kind of beggars for the charitable donations of the urban elite.

Though this work focuses on the idea of “holy poverty” as it appears in the earliest hagiographical accounts of the saint as well as Francis's own writings, its implications for the relationship between poverty as a spiritual discipline and poverty as a socioeconomic affliction extend to Christianity as a whole.


...& Buddhism, one could argue.
    "And how is it, bhikkhus, that by protecting oneself one protects others? By the pursuit, development, and cultivation of the four establishments of mindfulness. It is in such a way that by protecting oneself one protects others.

    "And how is it, bhikkhus, that by protecting others one protects oneself? By patience, harmlessness, goodwill, and sympathy. It is in such a way that by protecting others one protects oneself.
- Sedaka Sutta [SN 47.19]

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Re: I'd feed a starving child before a healthy arahant

Postby SarathW » Sat Jun 27, 2015 1:55 am

Dan74 wrote:
LXNDR wrote:Ramana Maharshi, an Indian saint of the XX century, would not eat food offerings from his devotees or meals if people who made his company at the moment weren't fed as well


Sadhu!

This merit issue is to me the most troubling one of traditional Buddhism across all schools. So we have lavish temples going up, fat monks and starving communities, no schools and hospitals, etc in Christianity, this issue pops up as well when Mary Magdalene brought expensive oil for Jesus and got scolded by the other disciples, but somehow in the present day, Christians are more on the side of the starving child with all the relief work, than the healthy arahat.

I don't discount the importance of donating to further the Dhamma, to help true cultivators. But as others have said it is both a question of intention and utility. The arahat will benefit little from an extra meal, but the starving child will benefit a great deal and will have a shot at liberation ! The donor's self seeking in trying to accrue merit will surely undermine any positive kamma that results. How could it be otherwise!


Hi Dan
You got the whole story wrong!
I do not know much about Ramana Maharshi, but I assume he got qualities almost like an Arahant.
That is why he share his food etc.
The monk in my temple, always ask others to eat while he is having his food.
But if you give the food to a child he just eat it himself.
You do not give the responsibility to a kid.
:roll:

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Dan74
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Re: I'd feed a starving child before a healthy arahant

Postby Dan74 » Sat Jun 27, 2015 12:52 pm

Not sure which part I got wrong, Sarath, so I can't really reply.
_/|\_

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lyndon taylor
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Re: I'd feed a starving child before a healthy arahant

Postby lyndon taylor » Sat Jun 27, 2015 4:10 pm

At the South East Asian temples I visited, the food was brought enough for everyone to eat, from the most enlightened monk to the hungriest, poorest attendee at the temple, the only discrimination was that the monks were given the honour of eating first, before the lay people, but I never observed the occurrence of the monks eating all the good food and leaving the scraps for the lay people, there was plenty of good food to go around.

I think it important to point out, that like Christian charities, Buddhist temples act as welfare centres for poor and down and out members of the community, anyone is offered food at the temple, and anyone that follows simple rules of politeness can stay at the temple, if they have no place to sleep, not like you get your own room, with attached bathroom, but a place to sleep, none the less.
18 years ago I made one of the most important decisions of my life and entered a local Cambodian Buddhist Temple as a temple boy and, for only 3 weeks, an actual Therevada Buddhist monk. I am not a scholar, great meditator, or authority on Buddhism, but Buddhism is something I love from the Bottom of my heart. It has taught me sobriety, morality, peace, and very importantly that my suffering is optional, and doesn't have to run my life. I hope to give back what little I can to the Buddhist community that has so generously given me so much, sincerely former monk John


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