The Great Chronicle of Buddhas

by Ven. Mingun Sayadaw | 1990 | 1,044,401 words

This page describes The Perfection of Generosity (dana-parami) contained within the book called the Great Chronicle of Buddhas (maha-buddha-vamsa), a large compilation of stories revolving around the Buddhas and Buddhist disciples. This page is part of the series known as on Pāramitā. This great chronicle of Buddhas was compiled by Ven. Mingun Sayadaw who had a thorough understanding of the thousands and thousands of Buddhist teachings (suttas).

(1) First Pāramī: The Perfection of Generosity (dāna-pāramī)

Summary: The Perfection of Generosity or Generous Offering (dāna-pāramī)

Introduction to the perfection of Generosity

With regard to the Perfection of Generosity, it is clearly stated in the Pāli Canon concerning the Chronicle of Buddhas that the Bodhisatta Sumedha admonished himself to start forth with the practice of Perfection of Generosity since the Bodhisattas of the past had done so. It is clearly seen, therefore, that amongst the Ten Perfections, Perfection of giving of offering or generosity demands the highest priority for fulfilment.

But, in the Sangāthā Vagga of the Saṃyutta Nikāya, we find the verse, “Sīle patiṭṭhāya naro sapañño.....” in which the Buddha explains that when a person of mature wisdom, born with three root-conditions[1], well established in morality, ardently develops concentration and insight wisdom, he can unravel the tangled network of craving. Here, the Buddha mentions only the three trainings, viz. Morality (sīla), Concentration (samādhi) and Insight Wisdom (paññā);there is not even a hint about the practice of Generosity.

Furthermore, as the Visuddhi-magga (The Path of Purification) Commentary which is the expository treatise on the single verse of Sagāthāvagga Saṃyutta quoted above does not touch upon the subject of Generosity and as the Noble Path of Eight Constituents which leads to Nibbāna includes the paths concerning morality, concentration and wisdom only, and there is no path including generosity, some people misconstrue that generosity is not regarded by the Buddha as essential, that it is not conducive to attainment of Nibbāna, that it generates more rebirths in the cycle of existence and as such generosity should not be cultivated.

The well-known Minister of King Mindon, U Hlaing of Yaw, went so far as to write in his book, ‘The Taste of Liberation’ (Vimuttirasa) that the Buddha taught generosity only for the sake of very ordinary people such as the rich man’s son, Siñgāla.

There are many Buddhists who are offended by such observation as ‘generosity should not be cultivated’ and who are indignant at Yaw minister’s writing that ‘the Buddha taught generosity only for the sake of very ordinary people’. But mere dislike of such views and indignation with them serves no purposes. What is more important and helpful to oneself is to understand correctly what the Buddha means by His Teaching.

Concerning the aforesaid verse of the Sagāthāvagga Saṃyutta, what one should understand as the true meaning of the Buddha’s discourse is as follows: This discourse was taught by the Buddha for the benefit of those superior persons who are capable of striving hard for complete eradication of defilements, for the attainment of arahatship in the present life, with no more rebirth. If such a superior person actually strives hard for the attainment of arahatship in this very life and if, as a consequence of his strenuous efforts, he becomes an arahat, there is no need for him to set up a new life. Generosity is an act which generates new life, new pleasures; for the person who will break the circle of the existence in this very life, there will be no more rebirths. Since there will be no new life for him to reap the benefits of generosity, acts of giving by him are unnecessary. That is why the Buddha, for the benefit of superior persons, dwells in this discourse of the Saṃyutta mainly on morality, concentration and insight wisdom which are more important than generosity for the purpose of eradication of the defilements. The Buddha does not say at all that generosity should not be cultivated.

Generosity has the quality of making the mind and heart pliable. When someone makes a generous offer of some gift, the very act of giving serves as a decisive support[2] to make the mind more pliable and ready for observance of precepts, for cultivation of concentration and for development of insight wisdom through practice of Vipassanā meditation. It is within the experience of every Buddhist, that a feeling of awkwardness and embarrassment arises in him whenever he visits, without an offering, monasteries or temples for the purpose of keeping precepts, of listening to Dhamma talks or for the practice of meditation. Therefore, it was customary for the noble disciples like Visākhā to bring an offering, such as rice, sweets or fruits in the morning and beverages and medicinal preparations in the evening, whenever she visited the Buddha.

Everyone, who does not become an arahat in this life, will go through more rounds in the cycle of existence. In doing so, it will be difficult for them to attain favourable states of existence without practising generosity in the present life. Even if they happen to gain a good rebirth, they will find themselves lacking in material possessions, without which they cannot do meritorious deeds. (In such a case, it may be argued that they could devote themselves to the practice of morality, concentration and insight wisdom. But this is easier said than done. Indeed, it is only with the support of the beneficial results of past acts of generosity that the three training of morality, concentration and insight wisdom can be cultivated successfully.) Therefore, it is most important for those who still have to go on this long journey of saṃsāra (the cycle of existence), to cultivate generosity. Only when one is equipped with ‘provisions for the long journey’, namely, generosity, then only one can reach good destination; and while there, possessing material wealth as the fruits of generosity of past lives, one can devote oneself to the pursuit of whatever meritorious deeds one wishes to.

Among the travellers in the round of this cycle of saṃsāra, Bodhisattas are the greatest individuals. Among receiving a definite prophecy from a Buddha of his gaining Buddhahood, a Bodhisatta continues to fulfil the Perfections for the attainment of Omniscience (sabbaññuta-ñāṇa) for four incalculable world-cycles plus a hundred thousand aeons. A Paccekabuddha, i.e. a non-teaching Buddha, had to fulfil His Perfections for two incalculable world-cycles plus a hundred thousand aeons; an agga-sāvaka, a Chief Disciple of a Buddha, for one incalculable world-cycle plus a hundred thousand aeons; and a mahā-sāvaka, one of the Leading Disciples, for one hundred thousand world-cycles. Therefore, for Bodhisattas, who are great travellers on the long journey of saṃsāra, Perfection of Generosity is of primary importance and as such, a place of prominence is given to steadfast fulfilment of the Perfection of Generosity in the Pāli Text concerning the Chronicle of the Buddhas.

Thus, as the discourse in the Saṃyutta Pāli, mentioned above, was addressed to individuals who are ripe for attainment of arahatship, those, who have not yet fulfilled the Perfections, should not say that Perfection of Generosity is not essential.

Those are some who ask if it is possible to attain Nibbāna by practising only generosity. It may be replied that, practising only one Perfection by itself, neither generosity, nor morality, nor meditation will result in attainment of Nibbāna. For practising generosity alone implies that it is not accompanied by morality nor by meditation. Similarly, practising meditation alone means that it is practised without the support of morality and generosity. When not restrained by morality, one is liable to indulge in evil acts. If such a person of evil habits attempts to practise meditation, his efforts will be futile like a good seed which, when put on red-hot iron, does not produce a sprout but turns to ashes. Thus, it should be noted that it is improper to speak of ‘practising generosity alone.’

In the chapter on generosity in the Chronicle of the Buddhas, it is clearly stated that alms should be given irrespective of the recipient’s status, whether high, medium or low. In view of such a firm statement, it is neither desirable nor necessary to pick and choose the recipient when one makes an offering.

But in the Dakkhiṇāvibhaṅga Sutta of the Uparipaṇṇāsa, Majjhima Nikāya, the Buddha taught seven kinds of gifts to be made to Sangha, the Community of Bhikkhus, and fourteen kinds of gift to be made to individual recipients. It is pointed out with regard to fourteen kinds of gifts made to individual recipients, the merit gained increases according to the recipient going up from the lowliest animals to the highest beings; the most meritorious gift is, of course, that made to the Community of Bhikkhus.

Again in the Ankura Peta story of Peta Vatthu, we find the story of two devas. When the Buddha taught the Abhidhamma while being seated on the Sakka’s throne in the abode of Tāvatiṃsa, two devas, Indaka and Ankura, went to listen to the discourse. Whenever powerful devas arrived, Ankura had to make way for them and move back until he was ten yojanas away from the Buddha.

But Indaka remained in his seat; he did not have to move. The reason is as follows: At the time when the life span was ten thousand years, Ankura was a human being and was very rich. Throughout that life he made offerings of meals to large numbers of ordinary people, cooking the meals on fireplaces which stretched for twelve yojanas. Because of the merit gained, he had taken rebirth as a deva. Indaka, however became a deva because he had offered a spoonful of rice to Arahat Anuruddha.

Although the offering Indaka had made was just a spoonful of rice, the recipient was an arahat and the merit he thus acquired was great and noble. Thus, as an equal of the powerful devas, he did not have to make way for them. On the other hand, although Ankura had made large amounts of gifts over a very long period of time, the recipients were worldlings and consequently the beneficial result that accrued was not a high order.

And he had to move back every time a powerful deva arrived. Therefore, we find in the Pāli text the exhortation: ‘Viceyya danam databbam yattha dinnam mahapphalam’ which means ‘When an offering is to be made, one who can bring the greatest benefit should be chosen as the recipient.’

There seems to be a contradiction between the Pāli Text of the Chronicle of the Buddhas and the discourses, such as the Dakkhiṇāvibhaṅga Sutta, etc., of other Pāli Texts. The seeming contradiction is easily resolved when one remembers that the discourses such as the Dakkhiṇāvibhaṅga Sutta are meant for ordinary people or devas, whereas the discussions in the Chronicle of Buddhas are directed exclusively to the Bodhisattas whose goal is attainment of Omniscience (sabbaññuta-ñāṇa), or the Buddha-Wisdom. This Wisdom is only one kind and not to be classified into low, medium or great order wisdom. A Bodhisatta has only to give away whatever he has to offer to whoever comes along to receive them, irrespective of his status whether high, medium or low. He does not have to consider thus: “This recipient is of low status, by making an offering to him, I shall gain only a low order of Omniscience. This recipient is only of medium status, by making offer to him, I shall gain Omniscience merely of medium order.” Therefore, giving of alms to whoever comes along to receive them without any discrimination is the habitual practice of Bodhisatta who are bent on attainment of sabbaññuta-ñāṇa (Omniscience). On the other hand, the aim of ordinary worldlings, devas or humans, in practising generosity is to gain worldly comforts of their liking, and as such, it is natural that they would choose the best recipient for their alms.

It may be concluded, therefore, that there is no contradiction between the texts in the Chronicles of the Buddhas, which are intended for the great Bodhisattas and the discourse such as Dakkhiṇāvibhaṅga Sutta which are meant for ordinary people and devas.

[Introduction on the perfections]

Some Notable Features concerning Dāna (Generosity, Charity)

The essential thing to know concerning the word ‘Dāna-pāramī’ (the Perfection of Generosity) is that anything which is given away or any act of giving is Dāna (charity or generosity). There are two kinds of giving:

(1) Giving as an act of merit (puññavisayadāna).
(2) Giving in conformity with worldly practices (lokavisayadāna).

Acts of giving out of pure faith are acts of merit (puññavisayadāna) and only such givings constitute the Perfection of Generosity.

But gifts given in pursuit of love or out of anger, fear, or foolishness etc. and even giving punishment, giving a sentence of death are worldly giving. They do not form part of Perfection of Generosity.

Dāna (Generosity) and Pariccāga (Abandonment)

In connection with giving which would amount to an act of merit, it is helpful to understand the differences and similarities between what is termed Dāna, translated as ‘Generosity’, and what is termed as Pariccāga, translated as abandonment, renunciation through charity.

In the Mahāhaṃsa Jātaka of Asītinipāta, it is given an enumeration of the ten duties of a king, viz. generosity, morality, abandonment, uprightness, gentleness, self-control, freedom from anger, mercy, forbearance and absence of obstruction. We see therein that generosity and abandonment are listed separately.

According to the Jātaka Commentary, there are ten objects which may be offered as alms: food, drink, transportation (including umbrellas, slippers or shoes, which are for travelling), flowers, perfumed powder, scented unguent or ointment, bed, dwelling places, and facilities for lighting. The volition that prompts the giving of these alms constitutes generosity (dāna). The volition that accompanies the giving away of any other objects of alms is to be regarded as abandonment (pariccāga). Thus the differentiation here rests on the different kinds of the objects of alms.

But the Sub-commentary of the Jātaka, quoting the views of many teachers, says that ‘giving of offerings with the prospect of enjoying good results in future lives is dāna; giving rewards to servants and service personnel, etc. in order to reap the benefits in the present life is pariccāga.’

A story that gives another illustration of the difference between generosity and abandonment is described in the Commentary to the Cariyāpitaka Pāli Text and in the Commentary to Terasanipata Jātaka. Briefly, Bodhisatta was once a learned brahmin by the name of Akitti. When his parents passed away, he was left with a vast accumulation of wealth. Deeply stirred by religious emotion, he reflected thus: “My parents and ancestors who have accumulated this great wealth have abandoned them and left, as for me, I shall gather only the substance of this accumulation and depart.” Then having obtained permission from the King, he had a drum beaten all over the country to proclaim the great charity he was going to make. For seven days, he personally gave away his riches but there still remained more.

He saw no point in presiding himself over the ceremony of distribution of his wealth, so leaving the doors of his mansion, treasure houses and granaries wide open, so that whoever wished might go and helped themselves to whatever they liked, and he renounced the worldly life and went away.

It may be said that in the above story, distribution of wealth personally by the Bodhisatta during the first seven days is an act of generosity (dāna), whereas abandoning of the remaining wealth after seven day’s personal distribution is an act of abandonment (pariccāga). The reason for such distinction is that, for an offering to be an act of generosity (dāna) four conditions must be fulfilled: (1) a donor, (2) objects to offer, (3) a recipient actually present to receive and (4) the volition to give. The wise man, Akitti’s distribution of wealth during the first seven days fulfils all these conditions. Hence, it is an act of generosity (dāna). After seven days had passed, he went away leaving his wealth before any recipient went near or arrived to actually receive the gifts. Hence, it is said that such offering should be regarded as abandonment.

In every day practice which is not an act of merit, when we give something to some one, we just say we ‘give’; the Pāli word is ‘deti’. But when we part with our property with the thought let ‘whoever wants it take it; it no one wants it, then let it be” it is not giving away but discarding or abandoning; in Pāli, it is not ‘dāna’, but ‘cāga’.

In short, when we hand over possession of our property to another person, it is said to be given away or an act of charity. When we relinquish the wish to possess the property which is one’s own, it is termed abandoning or discarding (as one would cast aside anything which is of no more use).

Another method of differentiation is: giving to noble persons is dāna; giving to persons of lower status is pariccāga. Thus, when a king, in performance of the ten duties of a king, makes an offering to noble bhikkhus, brahmins, etc. it would be generosity (dāna);when he offers alms to lowly beggars, it would be pariccāga.

In this way, it should be noted how generosity (dāna) is taught distinctly from abandonment (pariccāga).

When Dāna and Pariccāga are similar

Although dāna and pariccāga are treated separately as in the list of the ten duties of a king, shown above, in ultimate truth, the two terms cannot be different from each other. When there is dāna, there could be pariccāga; when there is pariccāga, there could be dāna. The reason is that when an offering is made to a recipient, whether he is near or far, it is an act of generosity (dāna). When the sense of ownership is banished from the mind (at the time of giving), this relinquishment is pariccāga. Thus, whenever someone makes a gift, it is always preceded by the thought: “I will not make use of it any more” which implies abandonment. Therefore, with acts of merit, there is pariccāga always accompanying generosity.

In the Chronicles of Buddhas of the Pāli Canon also, in dealing with the Ten Perfections, the Buddha mentions only the Perfection of Generosity, not the ‘Perfection of Abandonment (cāga)’, because (as explained above) abandonment is included in an act of generosity. As the Text of the Chronicle of Buddhas deals only with the ultimate truth (without considering the conventional usages), it mentions that making an offering to any recipients, whether of high, medium or low status, is generosity (dāna). It is irrelevant to say that it is dāna when offering is made to a noble person and pariccāga when the recipient is of low status.

Similarly, in the Aṅguttara Nikāya and other Pāli Texts, we find the enumeration of the seven niches of a noble person as follow: faith, morality, knowledge, liberality (cāga), wisdom, moral shame (at doing evil) and moral dread (for doing evil). There is only cāga in the list; there is no mention of dāna here, because it is understood that generosity is included in liberality (cāga).

These are examples where dāna and cāga are mentioned without any distinction, with identical meaning.

Where ‘Dāna’ is termed ‘Pariccāga’

Although any act of giving may generally be described as Perfection of Generosity, great offerings (of extraordinary nature) are described in the Text as Great Abandonings (Mahāpariccāga). The Great Abandonings which consist of five kinds of relinquishing of possession are listed differently in different Commentaries.

Commentaries on the Sīlakkhanda, Mūlapaṇṇāsa and Aṅguttara (in explaining the meaning of the word ‘Tathāgata’) list the Great Abandonings are follows:

(i) Relinquishing of the limbs.
(ii) Relinquishing of the eyes.
(iii) Relinquishing of wealth.
(iv) Relinquishing of kingdom.
(v) Relinquishing of wife and children.

The Commentary to the Mūlapaṇṇāsa (in the exposition on the Cūḷasīhanāda Sutta) gives another list:

(i) Relinquishing of the limbs.
(ii) Relinquishing of wife and children.
(iii) Relinquishing of kingdom.
(iv) Relinquishing of one’s body (life).
(v) Relinquishing of eyes.

The Sub-commentary to the Visuddhimagga gives the list:

(i) Relinquishing of one’s body (life).
(ii) Relinquishing of the eyes.
(iii) Relinquishing of wealth.
(iv) Relinquishing of kingdom.
(v) Relinquishing of wife and children.

The Sub-commentary to the Mahāvagga of the Dīgha Nikāya (in exposition on the Mahāpadana Sutta) gives the list:

(i) Relinquishing of the limbs.
(ii) Relinquishing of the eyes.
(iii) Relinquishing of one’s body (life).
(iv) Relinquishing of one’s kingdom.
(v) Relinquishing of one’s wife and children.

The Commentary to the Itivuttaka (in its exposition of the first sutta of the Dūkanipāta, Dutiyavagga) gives the list:

(i) Relinquishing of the limbs.
(ii) Relinquishing of one’s body (life).
(iii) Relinquishing of wealth.
(iv) Relinquishing of wife and children.
(v) Relinquishing of kingdom.

The Commentary to the Buddhavaṃsa gives the list:

(i) Relinquishing of the limbs.
(ii) Relinquishing of one’s life.
(iii) Relinquishing of wealth.
(iv) Relinquishing of kingdom.
(v) Relinquishing of wife and children.

The Commentary to the Vessantara Jātaka gives the list:

(i) Relinquishing of wealth.
(ii) Relinquishing of the limbs.
(iii) Relinquishing of children.
(iv) Relinquishing of wife.
(v) Relinquishing of one’s life.

The same list is found in the Sub-commentary to the Jinālaṅkāra but arrange in a different order.

Although each of the above lists is made up of slightly different items, it should be noted that the essentials are the same in all of them, namely, external objects and one’s own body. Under external objects, we find material things apart from one’s own body, viz. relinquishing of wealth; relinquishing of of wife and children, very dear to oneself; relinquishing of kingdom, a most important treasure of one’s own. With regard to the relinquishing of one’s own body, it falls under two modes: one that does not endanger life, that is relinquishing of the limbs (angapariccāga) and the other endangers life, that is relinquishing of the eyes (nayanapariccāga), or relinquishing of life (jivitapariccāga) and relinquishing of one’s own body (attapariccāga). Here, it is explained giving one’s own eyes or giving one’s own body involves the risk of losing one’s life, so these are considered to be essentially the same as giving one’s life.

The great ceremony of offering performed by King Venssantara when he gave away seven kinds of objects, one hundred each in number, is described by the Commentary as Mahādāna and not Mahāpariccāga. But one can argue that this great offering can be considered as one of the Five Great Abandonings, namely, great relinquishing of wealth.

Footnotes and references:


Three root-conditions (Tihetu-patisandhika) - a being whose conciousness of the moment of rebirth is accompanied by three root-conditons of greedlessness, hatelessness, undeludedness.


Upanissaya-Paccaya: life immediate support.

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