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Guide to Tipitaka

Canonical Pâli Buddhist Literature of the Theravâda School

(b) On The Right Way To Give Alms

As a practical step, capable of immediate and fruitful use by people in all walks of life, the Buddha gave discourses on charity, alms-giving, explaining its virtues and on the right way and the right attitude of mind with which an offering is to be made for spiritual uplift.

The motivating force in an act of charity is the volition, the will to give. Charily is a meritorious action that arises only out of volition.

Without the will to give, there is no act of giving Volition in giving alms is of three types.

  1. The volition that starts with the thought "I shall make an offering" and that exists during the period of preparations for making the offering Pubba Cetana, volition before the act
  2. The volition that arises at the moment of making the offering while handing over to the donee Munca Cetana, volition during the act.
  3. The volition accompanying the joy and rejoicing which arise during repeated recollection of or reflection on the act of giving Apara Cetana, volition after the act

Whether the offering is made in homage to the living Buddha or to a minute particle of his relics after his passing away, it is the volition, its strength and purity that determine the nature of the result thereof.

There is also explained in the discourses the wrong attitude of mind with which no act of charity should be performed

A donor should avoid looking down on others who cannot make a similar offering nor should he exult over his own charity. Defiled by such unworthy thoughts, his volition is only of inferior grade.

When the act of charity is motivated by expectations of beneficial results of immediate prosperity and happiness, or rebirth in higher existences, the accompanying volition is classed as mediocre.

It is only when the good deed of alms-giving is performed out of a spirit of renunciation, motivated by thoughts of pure selflessness, aspiring only for attainment to Nibbana where all suffering ends, that the volition that brings about the act is regarded as of superior grade.

Examples abound in the discourses concerning charity and modes of giving alms. 

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