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[ Ethical Culture and Self Discipline ]


AP: In the collection of short sayings on Giving on Access to Insight, under the heading Many Motives, Many Fruits, six motives for giving, along with their corresponding fruits, are described. The description of the sixth motive is unclear to me: giving "with the thought, 'This is an ornament for the mind, a support for the mind.' At first I thought it must refer to the sharing or teaching of dhamma, but this is apparently not so for in the next section, the "Greatest Gift" is said to be the "gift of dhamma" that "conquers all gifts." How then can gifts generally be understood as being an ornament and support for the mind?

"Or, instead of thinking, 'When this gift of mine is given, it makes the mind serene. Gratification & joy arise,' he gives a gift with the thought, 'This is an ornament for the mind, a support for the mind.' He gives his gift — food, drink, clothing, a vehicle; a garland, perfume, & ointment; bedding, shelter, & a lamp — to a priest or a contemplative. What do you think, Sariputta? Might a person give such a gift as this?"

This is a pretty standard formula that is used to demonstrate what we would call the various priorities of giving. A very beginner will give for gain, such as is described, in wealth or a happy rebirth (remember, what we are always dealing with here is kamma, the giver gives to get, the one accepting does the giver a favor by accepting). Moving on up the hierarchy the best way to give is to do so with the idea of strengthening and purifying the mind (especially with regard to the idea of giving up, letting go), where the one previous was looking for mental pleasure. Always in this system it goes to less and less, so here the idea of giving to strengthen and purify the mind is less than the idea of giving to gain some kind of mental pleasure. And again, strength in this system would be strength of understanding or vision, or the strength to "give" up, let go. This is the intention of this paragraph.

One more point. It is a hallmark of these teachings that they begin with instruction for the very beginner and end with the way the master would handle the situation. Thus the Buddha says of his teaching that it is: Helpful in the Beginning, Helpful in the Middle and Helpful at the end.

The Book of the Sevens, #49, On Giving[1].


Once, when the Exalted One dwelt near Campa ... the venerable Sariputta ... said to the Exalted One:
'Lord, may a man's gift be given here in such a way as to become not great in fruit, great in profit;
and may the gift be given in such a way as to become great in fruit, great in profit?'
'It may, Sariputta, ... '
'And what, lord, is the reason, the cause? ...'
'Consider, Sariputta, a self-seeking man, wrapt up (in the result), seeking reward, who gives a gift, thinking: 'I'll enjoy this hereafter!";
and to recluses and godly men gives this gift: food, drink, clothing, a vehicle, garlands, perfumes, ointments, bed, dwelling, lighting.
What think you, Sariputta, might a man give here such a gift?'
'Yes, Lord.'
'Now he who gives thuswise ... Sariputta, thereafter, on the breaking up of the body after death, arises in the company of the Four Royal devas; and when he has exhausted that deed, power, glory, dominion, he becomes a returner, a comer to this state here.
Then consider one who gives a gift but is no self-seeker, not wrapt up in the result, seeking no reward, nor thinks to enjoy the fruit hereafter; yet gives thinking: "It's good to give! ...
or "this was given in the past, done in the past by my father and my father's father; I ought not to allow this ancient family custom to lapse ...
or "I am qualifying, these are not qualifying; I who am qualifying am not worthy to give gifts to those who are no longer qualifying.[2]
or "As those sages of old had those great offerings (here is given the list of great types of feasts) ... so will I make this alms distribution ...or
"This gift of mind calms the mind, joy and gladness arise ...
or gives a gift to improve the mind, to equip the mind;
and to recluses and godly men he gives ... and he becomes a non-returner."

You can see the method here, where the first giving is disparaged, but is shown to be the cause of enormous benefit (rebirth with the Four Kings being some 9 million years long and involving primarily uninterupted pleasure), and then leading gradually up to the Buddhist goal of mental purification and the end of rebirth.

So: "Come this way! Even if you fail, coming this way, the benefits are huge!"

AP: I am still unclear on two things. Am I correct in understanding that the nature of the gift has no affect on what "fruit" will be received? That the six motives with their attending fruits could be equally applied to the giving of any gift, no matter how insignificant?

Also, in the paragraph describing the sixth motive, where the recipients mentioned are, I believe, a priest and a contemplative, would the fruit of this giving be the same if the recipient was not a priest or a contemplative?

Let's say, I set up the motive in mind that my giving from this moment on is for the purpose of strengthening my mind, for high getting high and for letting go, will this "fruit" that I'm after be seriously affected if my gift goes to the neighbor across the street and not to a priest or contemplative?
Will it be different than what I think it would be?
Or would it be what I think it would be but not very effective in strengthening my mind?
Elsewhere you mentioned, I believe, that the effect of giving is determined by the "quality" — don't know exactly how it was put — of the recipient and of the giver, as well as by the motive for giving.

There are three components of an act of giving: The Power of the Giver, the Power of the Gift, and the Power of the Recipient.

The Power of the Giver and the Receiver is proportional to their Clarity of Mind and Clarity of Mind is a function of Detachment. This is seen in the case of bias where, as a consequence of attachment to one view, other views are seen with less clarity.

The Power of a Gift relates to its functionality in terms of promoting Clarity and Detachment.

So in the case of this instruction, the ordinary individual is being brought to Clarity of mind in terms of understanding the peramaters of giving and is going to experience a greater or lesser consequence as a result of that based on his intent when giving.

The Gift, in this case, is being specified because these gifts are known as "The Essentials", that is, they are highly effective in terms of promoting Clarity of Mind and Detachment (which you can understand by way of considering the relative effectiveness of say, giving a painting to a starving man versus giving him a meal).

There will be some considerable power added to the gift itself depending on the relative worth of the gift to the individual that is giving — the gift of a bowl of rice given by a poor man will be more powerful than the same bowl given by a rich man because the necessary effort at detachment made by the poor man will be greater than that of the rich man.

There is some difference in the potency of the various gifts mentioned but I would not say that, once the group had been narrowed to "The Essentials" that this was a vital part of the equation. The nature of the gift will alter the nature of the outcome (for example a gift of food is going to effect the experiences of food and tastes and so forth, while a gift of clothing is going to effect the experience of temperature and clothing, and so forth.)

There is some control over the precise outcome of a gift by a giver, but this is a situation which involves a great deal of training (this is, essentially, the basis of Magic Power). For the most part an individual is going to be limited to knowing that the outcome of his giving is going to be in accordance with his intent to cause pleasure, or pain or both, or to bring kamma to an end (the intent to "purify the mind")

The Recipient in the case here is also being specified to show these laymen the best field for planting their seed as it were; that is, individuals already devoted to the practice of clarifying their minds and achieving detachment [recluse and godly man].




V: I have a question regarding the nature of giving. If one gives a gift to an Order of Monks, let's say, and gives this gift anonomously, is the kammic effect on that individual as potent as giving unanonomously?

Seems to me that giving anonomously is more of an act of selflessness, egoless. Is this not a better way of giving?

I don't recollect ever having read anything about anonymous gifts in the suttas and I have never heard the question asked before, so I have no references to cite.

My take would be that there would be no difference in terms of kamma proceeding from (resulting from, consequent upon) the anonymity as an isolated factor.

Your use of the term 'selflessness' is problematic. I understand you to mean 'modesty' — inconspicuous, wishing to keep word of one's generosity to a minimum. Anonymity (in and of itself) would not change or reflect an individual's perceptions of self — the reverse (wishing to publicize one's generosity) might reflect an individual's perceptions of self.

The magnatude of the kamma produced by a deed as influenced by the power of the indivudals involved depends on the degree of detachment of the individuals. (You might think of it as like the hardness of the surface off of which a rubber ball was bouncing: the harder the surface (the less absorbant, spongy, taking-in-of energy), the more of the energy in the movement of the ball is reflected back in the bounce. It is a little more difficult to use this example for the 'thrower', but I suppose it is a matter of how much of an individual's energy is put into the throw as opposed to wasted in extraneous movements, or being selfishly held back for any number of possible reasons.)

There is a certain emphasis placed on the respect that is indicated when one gives a gift "with one's own hand," as opposed to giving by telling some servant to pass around the food, or some similar delegation of responsibility.

V: For this kammic reflection back, is it necessary for the givee to know the giver or is the force back automatic? (as in the automatic return of a thrown ball, ie. the ball does not need to know who threw it to return back to the originator)

Since kamma is not restricted to giving[3], and also includes acts of mind (wishes) and word-thought, and has recipients that include animals and beings of only one sense (plants), and people who do perform anonymous deeds, and there is also the situation such as with a charity, where the actual givers are made anonymous by the interface provided by the charity, and we are also given to understand that there is no deed that is intentionally done that does not carry a kammic response, and we do have the observable evidence of the law of physics which tells us (however inaccurately) that there is a reaction to every action, I think it is safe to say that the recipient does not need to know the doer for there to be a kammic response to a deed.




Seeing Kamma in the Here and Now

While the full scope of an individual act of kamma is (I would say) impossible to see (any act alters everything probably instantaneously, and certainly eventually, and forever), we do have a number of ways we can observe kamma at work.

We can see how we "feel good" after saying something nice to, or doing something good for someone. This is undeniably a "reaction" in that it cannot be directly linked to the act itself.

Societies learn that by educating youth, the payoff is an improved society (give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach him how to fish and you feed him for life).

We can see how criminals (although not all of them) are punished for lies, theft and harm.

If you desolve, somewhat, your view of what it is you are, you can see that by causing injury to another, you have caused injury to your world, done yourself damage.

Over great lengths of time we can observe the consequences of lies and other bad habits in madness and confusion in the elderly.

Again, over time, we can observe the consequences of damaging our bodies by abuse of almost any substance.

If you observe carefully, over time, you will notice that those who habitually cheat and steal almost always end up poor, at the lowest level of society. . . and it is at this level of observation that "seeing" how kamma works over larger periods of time is possible if one allows one's vision to see how it is that those who are in poverty and other deplorable conditions have come to that state — the conditions that brought them there are reflected in their attitudes if not in their behavior (with the strong exception of those who have recognized their situation and are making a conscious effort at self improvement).

"The angry man, Beggars, though he be dressed in robes of gold-cloth, is ugly to look upon."

Finally, although I understand it is no way to prove the existance of kamma, ask yourself about what the situation would look like if there were no such thing as kamma; if every act fell dead, so to speak, at the termination of its doing, or, as the science and politics of the day seems to imply, if one's actions had effects, but did not carry any necessary reprocussions for the actor. Without Kamma as the cause of the individual's own subjective experience of pain, there would be no escape from pain.


[1] [AN 7 49]

[2] "still cooking"
Hare's footnote explains that this means that this fellow is still just learning. Others have translated this: "I cook, these others do not cook...

[3] How about the case of an anonymous murder...can you imagine that having no kammic rebound? I understand we are dealing here with a concept that is not easily seen; but we do have the reflection in the way society works: a murderer who was unknown to his victim is still subject to punishment by the law.




Dana, a collection of short sayings on Giving, compiled by John Bullitt from the translations of Bhikkhu Thanissaro.
Another Dhammatalk discussion: Advantage: Giver
The Pali Line: Dana

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