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Dāna (Pali, Sanskrit: दान dāna) is a Sanskrit and Pali term meaning "generosity" or "giving". In Buddhism, it also refers to the practice of cultivating generosity. Ultimately, the practice culminates in one of the Perfections (paramitas): the Perfection of Giving (dana-paramita). This can be characterized by unattached and unconditional generosity, giving and letting go.

Dāna as a formal religious act is directed specifically to a monastic or spiritually-developed person. In Buddhist thought, it has the effect of purifying and transforming the mind of the giver.[1]

Generosity developed through giving leads to being reborn in happy states and material wealth.[2] Alternatively, lack of giving leads to unhappy states and poverty.

Buddhists believe that giving, without seeking something in return, leads to greater spiritual wealth and reduces acquisitive impulses that ultimately lead to further suffering.


Bodhisattva and the Art of Giving

The quality of giving is believed to be one of the virtues perfected over numerous lifetimes by Shakyamuni Buddha in his bodhisattva phase, before the final culmination into Nirvana, after he had purified obscurations and released attachment. This is symbolized by the sacrifice of his own body when he has nothing else to offer an unexpected guest in the Jataka folktale entitled 'Shasha Jataka' (story no. 316). Shakyamuni Buddha is born as a rabbit, and unable to present any other food to a Brahmin come home, roasted himself in a fire. A similar message is given by the story of King Shibi in the Jataka Mala, who having given away all his wealth, was still moved enough by small insects hovering around him, and inflicted several wounds on his body to feed the mosquitoes. In another narrative from the same text, the bodhisattva throws himself in front of a hungry tigress, who, otherwise, was on the verge of consuming her own cubs. This is however not the only instance of the Buddha-To-Be sacrificing his physical body partly or fully and numerous tales abound in Buddhist Canonical literature illustrating this theme.

In the ancient Samadhiraja-Sutra, Shakyamuni Buddha's principal disciple Ananda asks how a bodhisattva can cheerfully suffer the loss of his limbs etc and not feel any pain when he mutilates himself for the good of others.

Shakyamuni Buddha explained that intense compassion for humankind and the love of Bodhi (spiritual awakening), sustain and inspire a bodhisattva towards heroism, just as worldly people are inclined to enjoy sensual pleasures even when their bodies are burning with fever.[3]

Gifts in the Hindu Dharmaśāstras

Hindu law breaks the giving and receiving of gifts by caste, as it does with other activities. Each cast has their own rules and regulations on the topic of religious gifts. Manu explains that the reason for this is to ensure the protection of all creation, of how things should be. Brahmins can both receive and give gifts. Kṣatriyas are allowed to only giving gifts, and the same goes for the Vaiśya as well. Manu does not even speak of the Śûdras as being related to giving gifts in this part of his text, but rather states, “A single activity did the Lord allot to the Śûdras, the ungrudging service of those very social classes.”[4] Brahmins can accept gifts, but only under the right circumstances and from the right people. If a Brahmin has enough to sustain himself and his family, he is then not to ask for gifts. If, however, he finds himself in a time of trouble and he anticipates struggling for his maintenance, he may seek gifts from the King. It is the duty of the King to supply proper livelihood for a Brahmin in distress. Brahmins would not, however, seek gifts from a king that was not of the Kṣatriya lineage, nor from any greedy king, or a king who disobeys the śâstras.[5]

Manu makes it clear under his section on “Accepting and Giving Gifts” that the acceptance of gifts is a special occurrence, and should not be gotten used to. If a man, a Brahmin, becomes accustom to this, his vedic energy will eventually become extinguished.[6] Kane surprisingly puts this more clearly when he states that, “though entitled to accept gifts, a bramana should not again and again resort to that method, since the spiritual power that he acquires by vedic study is lost by accepting gifts.”[7] It is crucially important to know the law on how to accept a gift, which is why Brahmins are the only ones to be able to do so, since they are learned in the Vedas. It is said that when a man who is not learned accepts certain gifts, he is then reduced to ashes, like a piece of wood. These certain gifts have the ability to burn up different parts of the ignorant man’s life, such as his land, his sight, his offspring, and his life-force, to name a few. In this way, an ignorant man should fear any gift, for it has the ability to make him sink ‘like a cow in the mud.’ In the same way, the donor must be weary of who really is leaned and worthy of accepting his gifts.[8] It is important also that both the giver and the receiver share the same respect when giving and obtaining gifts. “When due respect is shown in accepting and in giving a gift, both the receiver and the giver go to heave; but when the opposite happens, both go to hell.”[9]

Beyond accepting gifts, a man should tirelessly give sacrifices and offerings daily in the spirit of generosity. If a man gives every day with the right spirit and from his justly earned wealth, he will become boundless. He is to pick a worthy recipient, a Brahmin, and give as often as he can to this man. Doing this religiously solidifies hope that one day he will encounter this recipient, who will then save him from all that is.[10]

When it comes to the gifts that are being given, each item brings the donor something to his own life. For instance, he who gives sesame seeds obtains desirable offspring, he who gives food obtains inexhaustible happiness, he who gives an ox obtains bounteous prosperity, he who gives land obtains land, he who gives a bed obtains a wife, and the list goes on. This gift of the Veda, which only a Brahmin would be able to give, far exceeds any other gift, however.

It is important that the giver is truthful about what or how he has given a gift or sacrifice. Sacrifices are lost by telling a lie about it. In the same way, a man must not flaunt his asceticism, for by doing so, this too will be lost.[11] The Nāradasmṛti also touches on the topic of gifts in the Dharmaśāstra, but only briefly. This smrti takes on a different approach to giving and receiving gifts than Manu. It is a more concise advance on the subject. Here we find that there are specifically four kinds of gifts in legal procedures: what should and should not be given, along with legitimate and illegitimate gifts (NMS 5.2) Going further into these stipulations, it says that there exists “eight kinds of things which should not be given, one kind of thing which may be given, seven kinds of legitimate gifts, and sixteen kinds of illegitimate gifts.”[12] The Nāradasmṛti is easy to read in this way, because it has a funnel effect. The topic of gifts starts out rather broad with the four classifications of gifts, and gets narrowed down into lists of examples of each of the types of these former classifications.

P.V. Kane focuses much of its literature on penances. This different subject, however, has much to do with gifts. It is said that on the day of commencing penance, the sinner must, among many other things, give dana (gifts such as gold, cows, etc.) to the Brahmanas and feed them.[13] Earlier in this volume, Kane references other smṛtis that write on this same act. Gold, a cow, a dress, a horse, land sesamum, clarified butter and food are all gifts that destroy sin. Also, the gifts of gold, cows, or land can quickly exonerate sins, even those committed in a previous life. It is understood that gifts are the principle expiations for Hindu men.[14]

Once accepted, a gift is irrevocable. “What is promised should be given and what has been donated should not be taken back.”[15] This means that if the donor promised a gift to someone, he must give that gift, or he will become a debtor. The only time that a gift transaction need not be completed is when the donee is guilty of irreligious or improper conduct. Otherwise, any gift given cannot be revoked, and any gift promised could result in debt.

The knowledge of gifts in Hindu Law is important because gifts are used also under the topics of varna, food, sin and penance, duties of the King, and so on.

See also

Notes and References

  1. ^ Stewart McFarlane in Peter Harvey, ed., Buddhism. Continuum, 2001, page 186.
  2. ^ In the Pali canon's Dighajanu Sutta, generosity (denoted there by the Pali word "cāga" which can be synonymous with "dāna") is identified as one of the four traits conditioning happiness and wealth in the next life.
  3. ^ Living Like Trees: The Buddhist Ideal of Sharing, by Sri Nitin Kumar.
  4. ^ Manusmṛti 1.87-91
  5. ^ Kane, P.V. History of the Dharmaśāstras Vol. 2 p. 110
  6. ^ Manusmṛti 4.186-194
  7. ^ Kane, P.V. History of the Dharmaśāstras Vol. 4 p. 549
  8. ^ Kane, P.V. History of the Dharmaśāstras Vol. 2 p. 114
  9. ^ Manusmṛti 4.235
  10. ^ Manusmṛti 4.226-228
  11. ^ Manusmṛti 4.236-237
  12. ^ Nāradasmṛti 5.3
  13. ^ Kane, P.V. History of the Dharmaśāstras Vol. 4 p. 121
  14. ^ Kane, P.V. History of the Dharmaśāstras Vol. 4 p. 152
  15. ^ Kane, P.V. History of the Dharmaśāstras Vol. 2 p. 886

External links


Dana may refer to:


See Dana (name)

Given names


  • Bill Dana, American comedian, writer, producer and composer, well-known for his character Jose Jimenez in the Steve Allen Show
  • Charles Anderson Dana, American author, journalist and government official
  • Charles A. Dana (philanthropist), New York State legislator, industrialist, and philanthropist
  • Daniel Dana, American educator, the president of Dartmouth College
  • Francis Dana, American lawyer
  • Henry Dana, founder of the Native Police force in Victoria, Australia in the nineteenth century
  • James Dwight Dana, American zoologist and geologist
  • John Cotton Dana, influential American librarian and museum director
  • Mazen Dana, Reuters cameraman who was shot to death by U.S. soldiers
  • Paul Dana, former American race car driver in the Indy Racing League, who died in a crash in March 2006
  • Richard Henry Dana, Jr., American lawyer and politician, most famous for his classic book Two Years Before the Mast
  • Samuel W. Dana, American lawyer and politician
  • Sophia Dana, nineteenth-century feminist, a Transcendentalist and later a Catholic
  • Vic Dana, American dancer and singer
  • Viola Dana (also known as Viola Flugrath, born Virginia Flugrath), silent movie actress
  • Walter Dana Polish-American musician
  • William H. Dana, retired American astronaut
  • Mrs. William Starr Dana (Frances Theodora Parsons), American botanist and author

In fiction

In mythology

  • King Dana, a Corinthian king, son of Sisyphus and Merope

See also



United States


  • Dana (Buddhism), the practice of generosity or giving in Buddhism
  • Dana (Sikhism), the material virtue of charity in Sikhism
  • Danu, the Celtic mother goddess


See also

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