‘Dana’ literally means giving or offering one’s possessions with pure mind for the welfare of others. The one of the main objects of ‘Dana’ is to subdue the immoral thought of selfishness, miserliness or excessive craving which creates suffering in Samsara.

Another object is to develop the meritorious thoughts of selflessness, doing service to others. A real donor does not expect anything - name, reputation or even the word of ‘Thank’, in return from the recipient. He does not look down on the recipient as his debtor for the service he has rendered. He does not give through fear or shame and never repents for his charity. He gives voluntarily, realizing the Kamma and Vipaka - the cause and effect.

Naturally, as the result of his noble deeds of charity, he will enjoy a happy, fortunate and prosperous life, wherever he will be reborn in Samsara and this perfection of generosity leads him towards the final Emancipation.


Illustration from VESSANTARA JATAKA

Once, our Bodhisatta was conceived in the womb of Queen Phusati, the Chief Consort of King Sanjaya. During her pregnancy, Queen Phusati had a strong desire to do charity. Accordingly, the King ordered six alms-halls (Dana Sala) to be built and everyday the Queen gave alms to Monks, the poor and beggars, spending six hundred thousand Kahapanas.

After ten months, the Queen gave birth to a son and he was named Vessantara and wonderful things happened on that day. When the infant Prince asked for gifts to practise charity the Queen handed over to him a purse containing one thousand Kahapanas. At the same time, a female elephant brought a white baby elephant to the Palace and left it in the Royal stable. This was considered a good omen.

The King appointed sixty nurses to look after the Prince and he made a necklace worth a thousand Kahapanas for the Prince who was then only five years old. The Prince who had a strong desire to practise charity, gave his valuable necklace to a nurse. In this way the King made nine necklaces and each time the Prince gave it away.

At the age of sixteen, Prince Vessantara having mastered all sciences, married a beautiful Princess Maddi Devi. When he was proclaimed King of Sivi, he practised charity to the highest state of perfection. He also built six alms-halls and spent six hundred thousand Kahapanas as charity a day.  They led a happy married life and later had a son - Jali and a daughter - Kanhajina.

In the Kingdom of Kalinga, there was a great famine and severe drought. The citizens requested that the white elephant of King Vessantara, considered of good omen, be brought to Kalinga. Vessantara readily agreed and presented the elephant to the citizens of Kalinga when they approached.  Vessantara requested his father’s permission to perform ‘Satta Satika Dana’ (i.e. offerings of material things each to a limit of 700).

After the grand celebrations, King Vessantara together with his Consort and two children left the city for Mount Vamka in the Himalayas where the Sakka Deva Raja built a hermitage for them to stay. Before reaching their destination, he willingly dispensed with his four horses and a chariot to Brahmins who asked for them. So they had to walk for the rest of their journey to the hermitage.

They reached the place and lived on wild fruits and roots gathered by Queen Maddi, for seven months. Eventually, King Vessantara whose whole intention was to do charity, had to give away his two children to an old Brahmin - Jujaka who wanted them to assist his wife at the house chores. Sakka finally tested his degree of charity in Vessantara. by disguising himself as a Brahmin and asked for his wife.

The Queen accordingly replied, “From maidenhood I was your wife and you my master still. Let you to whom so you desire give or sell or kill.” Vessantara was perforced to depart his wife to the Brahmin, but the latter gracefully returned the Queen to King Vessantara.

In this way, our Bodhisatta practised Dana Paramita to the highest degree of perfection.