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Monthly Dharma Thoughts

The giving heart


In Buddhism, the practice of dana, or ‘charity’, does not simply mean to give things to others. When we give to others, we often think, ‘Oh, I am sure they will love it!’ or ‘They are needy so I will give’ or ‘I have more than I need so I will share what I have’.


In Buddhism, dana is a religious practice to make us put aside our greedy heart that takes more than it needs and our heart of attachment that clings to things as its own.


In the Buddhist practice of dana, strict guidelines apply where it will not do to be conscious of the thing we are giving or to focus on the fact that I am the giver.


The things one gives are neither good nor evil. Once we add our thoughts to them, though, they become vile or subtle. The subtle gift is capable of making people happy.


Buddhism thus warns against the heart attached to things and encourages the heart that gives freely of itself.


Nor does dana mean it cannot be practiced when one does not have any money or goods. Buddhism teaches there are “seven gifts that require no possessions” that anyone can give.

The seven gifts are

the gift of a gentle smile;
the gift of a positive outlook;
the gift of kind words;
the gift of good manners;
the gift of a heart full of love;
the gift of offering others a place to sit;
the gift of welcoming others to one’s house.

Such forms of giving can be done at any time, as long as we are so inclined.


In today’s world, where the relations between people are strained, people have grown isolated from one another. People think only of what is in it for them when they get involved with others. It is at times like these that the heart of giving and seeing to the welfare of others is most important.


It is good to reflect on our sole pursuit of self-benefit and to engage in the practice of giving to others even in only a small way. This is what it means to live as a Buddhist and as a practicer of the nembutsu.