Progressive Grades of Merits
How to do dana effectively
Many people in Malaysia like to perform dana to gain merits. Velama Sutta (AN 3:193) tells us how we can gain different kinds of merits from the act of dana. Once when the Buddha was staying at Jetavana Monastery, Anathapindika approached and the Buddha asked him whether he had already given dana at his home. Now Anathapindika was a well-known philanthropist who helped everyone including monks, the common folk, travelers, beggars and so on. He replied that he had already done so, but the alms food was not of good quality—just broken rice and a sour dish.
The Buddha said that whenever we perform dana, we gain merits regardless of the quality of the food given. However, if dana is done
3. Indirectly, i.e. by getting others to do it for us
5. Without believing in kamma
then when the kamma ripens, such as striking first prize in a lottery, one would have no desire to spend or enjoy the profits gained. Furthermore, as the dana was given disrespectfully, one will get disrespect in return, e.g. family members and employees will not respect one or listen to one’s instructions. Let me illustrate with a few examples.
DutiyaAputtaka Sutta (SN 3:20) recounts the story of a man in Savatthi who died without leaving an heir. The custom of that time stated that when one dies without leaving an heir, all his property goes to the king. The king immediately took possession of his property and was surprised to find many barrels of gold and valu-ables buried under his house. However, the dead man was a well-known miser who wore rags, used old and broken-down bullock-carts and ate the cheapest grade of rice with a sour dish (maybe similar to fermented soy paste) only. Even though he was a millionaire, he was not inclined to use even a tiny part of his vast wealth to enjoy the pleasures of the senses while he was alive. This was because he performed dana improperly in a past life.
Payasi Sutta (DN 23) tells of a king called Payasi, who did not believe in kamma and rebirth. To him, death is the ultimate end of life. One day he went to see a monk called Ven Kumarakassapa who tried to con-vince him about the facts of kamma and rebirth by giving him many examples. Eventually, he succeeded. The king returned home and instructed his servants to perform dana (food and clothing) to renunciates, beggars and needy people. However because his faith was not strong, he only gave away cloth that was torn and tattered and food that was of inferior quality. After arranging for the dana to be given, his servant Uttara said, “By this dana let me meet up with King Payasi in this world only, but not in the next.”
Word got back to the king who summoned Uttara and asked him why he said such things. “We who desire merits expect the fruits of dana, don’t we?” asked the king. Uttara commented that the dana items were of such poor quality that the king would not even touch them with his feet, let alone use them. “Master, you are dear to us,” he continued. “How can we associate what is dear with what is not dear?” King Payasi accepted his explanation and instructed Uttara to give away the type of things that the king himself used. Uttara believed in kamma and performed dana properly, respectfully, with his own hands and continually regardless of whether the recipients were honourable monks or lowly beggars. When he passed away, King Payasi was born in an empty celestial mansion in the Realm of the 4 Great Kings.
Now at that time Ven Gavampati, through his psychic ability, used to frequent the empty celestial man-sion in the Realm of the 4 Great Kings to stay for the day. One day he met the deva Payasi there who told him that Uttara, his servant from his previous life, had been reborn in Tavatimsa Heaven where life was even better. When questioned, Payasi said that this was so because even though the dana was given by him, he did not do it properly, respectfully, with his own hands and continually like Uttara.
Our devotees here should take note of this when performing dana. You should not only donate the food but should participate in the act of dana itself. Otherwise don’t complain if your representative is reborn in a higher deva realm than you in the next life! Furthermore, you should not insist on offering the food you your-selves brought but should try to evoke the mental qualities mentioned above even when offering food brought by others.
Story of Velama Brahmin
Let’s come back to Velama Sutta. The Buddha said that once upon a time the brahmin Velama per-formed a great dana. He gave 84,000 gold plates of silver coins; 84,000 silver plates of gold coins; 84,000 bronze plates of jewels; 84,000 elephants decorated with gold ornaments, flags and so forth; 84,000 chariots decorated with lion hides, tiger hides, panther hides and expensive blankets; 84,000 decorated cows; 84,000 girls dressed up in full make up; 84,000 seats spread with quality furs, rugs and carpets; and 84,000 cloaks made of various fine materials.
“What more to speak of food, drinks, and so forth? They were as abundant as the waters of a river,” said the Buddha. “You may wonder who that brahmin was. He was I. But at that time no one purified my dana. There was no one who was worthy of my offerings.”
This was because during that time, there was no Sangha in existence as it was not a Buddha era. There was no Buddha Dhamma and no one to teach Buddhist meditation. Velama only knew how to perform dana and keep the precepts.
In comparison, the merits gained by offering a single meal to a sotapanna would exceed what Velama gained from the great dana he performed. If the same meal was offered to a sakadagami, an anagami, an ara-hant, a Paccekabuddha, or a Sammasambuddha, the merits gained would multiply by more than 100 times each step of the way. Even more meritorious than giving a meal to one Sammasambuddha is that given to the Bhik-khu Sangha headed by the Sammasambuddha. If a devotee builds a monastery and offers it to the Bhikkhu Sangha of the four directions, the merits gained far surpasses all these.
More meritorious than dana
And if one accepts the Three Refuges, upholds the Five Precepts, radiates loving kindness to all beings even for as short a period as it takes to milk a cow (one pull of the udder), develops the perception of impermanence even for a fraction of a second (the time it takes for the eye to blink once), the merits obtained are progressively greater. Last night we radiated loving-kindness for 15 minutes; so you can imagine how great are the merits gained from doing that.
Today, you have offered dana, taken the 3 Refuges, undertaken the 5 Precepts and later on will be re-leasing captive animals. If we follow this up with the practice of vipassana meditation, the merits gained will be enormous. Let us also remember to share our merits.