A Gradual Discourse

Venue: Mr Tan’s Residence 

Buddhists believe in the act of performing actions that will allow them to make or acquire good merits. There are many types of merits. On Wesak Day, I gave a talk during which I mentioned that giving dana is only one of the lower forms of merit making. Today, Mr Tan and his family have invited us here for pindapata which is a form of dana. During dana, if the precepts of both the sponsor and the recipient of the dana are pure, then the merits obtained will be higher. This is the reason why we normally recite the 3 Refuges and the 5 precepts before the dana proper so that higher merits can be obtained.

On Wesak Day, I told you the story about our Bodhisatta Velama who donated 84,000 units each of various types of items but gained merits that was not even comparable to the merits obtained if one were to just offer a simple meal to a sotapanna (first stage saint). This was because he lived in a period when there was no Buddha, no BuddhaDhamma and no Sangha. I also mentioned that the merits obtained from giving dana to someone who has attained the first stage of sainthood, the second stage and so on are 100 times progressively greater. This list ends with dana to a Paccekabuddha, a Sammasambuddha and the bhikkhusangha headed by the Sammasambuddha. An even higher form of merits than all this is obtained when we accept the 3 Refuges and uphold the 5 Precepts. Thus, when you recite the 3 Refuges, you are already aiming for the higher form of merits even before you start your dana.

When you offer dana, you are only paving the way for a prosperous life for yourself in this endless cycle of birth and death. For example, Mr Tan’s children must have been very generous in their past lives for them to be reborn here where they can enjoy their parents’ wealth. Unfortunately, many children born with silver spoons in their mouths do not know how to retain and appreciate their good fortune, for unlike their parents who have had to work hard for it, they don’t know how difficult life can be and are often spoilt.

Venerable Hye from Penang once told a sad case about a young man who was born into great wealth. He very quickly squandered away all his inheritance on all sorts of vices. When he was wealthy, so many “friends” who willingly helped him spend his money surrounded him. However, when he was no longer rich, he found that his so-called friends soon deserted him. That is why, in the western world, we have heard of cases where certain rich people have willed their enormous wealth to their beloved pets rather than kith and kin, for animals offer “unconditional love”, unlike humans who frequently have hidden agendas.

There was a Thai lady who was a grocer and a moneylender as well. She was a ruthless moneylender who charged high interest rates and whenever an opportunity arose that was to her advantage, she would frequently commit unwholesome acts at the expense of others. Once, for example, she accused a little girl of not paying for some groceries, when in fact she had already done so. At her insistence and through her lies, she caused the little girl to receive a caning by her mother. This lady continued to do many unkind and dishonest acts in order to further accumulate her wealth.

As a consequence of her unwholesome kamma, she suffered terribly when she was dying. Her body started rotting and maggots were already beginning to eat into her flesh even though she was still alive. As she was such a wealthy lady, her relatives began to crowd around her deathbed like vultures, hoping to get a share of her wealth even before she had taken her last breath.

Despite being the last few weeks of her life, she refused to tell them about their inheritance. An Ajahn was called in to mediate the situation. This Luang Por Jaren (author of The Law of Kamma) had supernatural powers and knew about the lady’s past misdeeds. He asked the relatives to leave his kappiya and him alone with the lady. He then told the lady that the time had come for her to die and if she still clung on to her wealth and refused to forgive her greedy relations, she would be reborn in the hell realm and suffer terribly. The lady then confessed and told of her fears and anger that her relatives were there only because they coveted her wealth and not because they actually cared for her. She then said that she would prefer to donate her wealth entirely to the Luang Por. He declined the offer and further enlightened her on the Dhamma, advising her to stop clinging on and to let go. After some time, she finally understood and agreed to distribute her property.

The act of dana that you perform is only to pave a prosperous future for yourself within the cycle of birth and death, and even then, it need not necessarily be a happy one. However when you accept the 3 Refuges, listen to the Dhamma, breathe the Dhamma and live in the Dhamma, this will better enable you to get out from the never-ending cycle of samsara. And if you are lucky enough to live in a period where there is BuddhaDhamma, this is an opportunity not to be missed. The Buddha said that when you perform dana, you will be reborn into prosperity and when you keep your precepts, you will be reborn into a good existence. However, if you perform dana and do not keep your precepts, you may become a pampered pet animal belonging to a wealthy person. If you perform dana and keep your precepts as well, you can be reborn as a wealthy human or even into the heavenly realm.

However, all these rebirths no matter how good they are, are still a part of the cycle of birth and death. They are impermanent. The Buddha further advised us not to be satisfied with just these but to endeavour and practise the Noble Eightfold Path to perfection so that we can get out of samsara. During the Buddha’s time, many lay people managed to reach the first and second stages of sainthood. However, unlike monks, these people usually did not need to meditate—they achieved enlightenment just by listening to the Buddha preaching, probably due to their past accumulated virtues. Many of them renounced their lay life and entered the forest to meditate intensively to achieve full enlightenment.

Sappurisadana (A Virtuous Person’s Dana) Sutta (AN 5:148), describes the five factors necessary for a person to perform a good dana:-

    1. One believes in kamma-vipaka when giving.
    2. One gives respectfully, for example, one should not throw the food down roughly.
    3. One gives appropriately at a suitable time. If you give food way past the noontime allowable to the monks, they will not be able to partake of the dana. If you give cash directly to the monks into their almsbowls, their precepts do not allow them to accept it. It would be more appropriate to entrust it to their trustees (kappiyakarakas).
    4. One gives wholeheartedly. If you donate just because you were coerced into it or obliged to do so, and not because you really want to, the quality of the dana will be inferior.
    5. In performimg the dana, one must not harm oneself (by breaking any of the five precepts) or others (by hurting them physically, verbally or emotionally). For example, you should not deliberately slaughter an animal just to provide food for the Sangha.

Whenever a person gives, regardless of the way they go about doing it, the fact remains that the meritorious act of dana has taken place and that wholesome kamma will bring about wealth and prosperity when conditions are ripe. However, a virtuous man’s dana produces the following ‘extra’ merits.

When you perform dana and have faith in kammavipaka, you give with a happy heart, which shows up in your radiant smiling face. When your kamma ripens you are reborn as a beautiful, comely being.

When you give with respect, you will be able to command the loyalty, respect and commitment of your spouse, children, colleagues and workers.

When you give at a correct time and place, windfalls and prosperity will arrive at an opportune time for you.

When you donate with an open heart, you will be able to enjoy the wealth that comes by you. There are people around who are so rich but so miserly. They don’t know how to make use of even a small portion of their wealth to live comfortably. This is a result of having given, but not wholeheartedly.

When you do not cause harm in order to perform dana, your prosperity remains with you for a long time, for example, you don’t get robbed, and your property is not depleted because of the government or calamities such as fire, flood, and earthquake.

I hope that whenever you perform dana, you will bear these 5 factors in mind. Remember also to take the 3 Refuges, keep your precepts well and, whenever you have the opportunity, come and learn meditation at our centre.

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