Dana and Redistribution of Wealth

Venue: Sepetang Buddhist Society

We are happy to see all of you again after a lapse of approximately one year. Unlike the previous occasion, this trip we had the opportunity to cross over to ‘seberang’ Kuala Sepetang. As usual, the people of Kuala Sepetang are very generous with their dana. There is more than enough food collected during the pindacara to fill both of our 4WDs. In fact, there may be some who might erroneously think that these three monks are too greedy for taking much, much more than they require.

Why do so many people give so much? What do you have in mind when you give?

In a nutshell, your answers indicate that you give because you wish to have good luck, prosperity, peace and happiness. In fact, all religions encourage charity and doing dana is one of the easiest ways to do good. The very act itself trains us to reduce our greed.

Any dana, no matter how small the amount, will eventually result in the obtaining of appropriate wealth, prosperity and gain. However, the manner in which the dana is given will result in certain ‘karmic bonuses’, as shown in the table below.

No. Manner of giving dana Karmic bonus

  1. With faith Beauty, attractiveness.
  2. With respect Respect, esteem, authority
  3. Timely Timely fulfilment of needs
  4. With genuine generosity Enjoyment of sensual pleasures
  5. Without harming oneself or others One’s property or wealth is durable, i.e. not lost through
  6. calamities, robbery, confiscation by the government, or
  7. among wastrels in the family.

The Dalai Lama is held in high esteem by the entire Buddhist community. Wherever he goes, crowds of Tibetans who attend his talks are very generous with their dana. Just like us, he receives much more than he can ever use. On one occasion a westerner who saw the abundance of dana complained that the Dalai Lama was too greedy. The Dalai Lama replied that he accepts them out of compassion for the laypeople who wish to gain merits. Furthermore, the donations do not go to waste for there is a committee which ensures that they are redistributed to the poor and needy. Likewise, in SBS, we also have a group of lay devotees who collect some of the food to be firstly given to the staff working up in SBS, and then redistributes the rest to the poor in and around Taiping. This is in accordance with the teachings of the Buddha who said (in Adiya Sutta, AN 5:41) that wealth rightly obtained should be used in the following manner:

  1. to make oneself happy;
  2. to take care of our parents;
  3. for our spouse and children;
  4. for the welfare of our employees;
  5. to entertain friends and associates;
  6. to ensure safety and keep for a rainy day (e.g. investing/ purchasing insurance);
  7. to make offerings to
    • guests
    • living relatives
    • departed relatives (e.g. during Qing Ming)
    • the government (via taxation which in turn provides the revenue necessary for public amenities and facilities); and
  8. to give dana to practising renunciates.

The Buddha’s policy seems very much to be like the English saying: “Charity begins at home.” I’d like to comment on a few points mentioned above. Firstly, we are monks who have renounced worldly affairs. We don’t have a family to support like most of you. However, we live up in a sanctuary at the edge of the forest surrounded by hills. Those of you who have been to SBS will know how extensive and beautiful it is. To maintain its beauty while ensuring that it operates smoothly day to day, the Management has to employ people to work in the office and in our grounds. As we are a religious organisation, the Management cannot afford to pay commercial rates to our staff. Moreover, our remote and hilly location also makes it difficult to attract and retain employees. So one compromise is to share whatever excess alms we get from pindacara and other occasions with our workers to help defray their living expenses.

Secondly, it is interesting that the Buddha did not mention anything about giving dana to the poor and needy. Perhaps he was giving priority to the immediate demands of the household life. But since we as renunciates do not have to attend to many of the matters mentioned above, and we have received in abundance, it is only befitting that we should relinquish any excess to the poor and needy.

Let us now share the merits obtained from these praiseworthy endeavours.

Sadhu! Sadhu! Sadhu!

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