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Dāna or Daan (Pāli, Sanskrit: दान dāna) is generosity or giving, a form of alms. In Hinduism and Buddhism, it is the practice of cultivating generosity. Ultimately, the practice culminates in one of the perfections (pāramitā): the perfection of giving - dāna-pāramitā. 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.
Generosity developed through giving leads to being reborn in happy states and the availability of material wealth. Conversely, lack of giving leads to unhappy states and poverty.
Buddhists believe that giving without seeking anything in return leads to greater spiritual wealth. Moreover, it reduces the acquisitive impulses that ultimately lead to continued suffering from egotism.
- Vidya Dāna or Vidya Daan (विद्या दान): Donating/Sharing Knowledge for education. "Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime." In Christianity, it is also known as the Gift of Knowledge
- Aushadha Daan : Charity of free medicine to the sick and diseased 
- Abhay Daan: Giving freedom from fear
- Kanya Dāna: Giving one's daughter's hand in marriage, where the Daughter goes to stay with her husband.
- Bhu Dāna (भू दान): Donation of land
- Anna Dāna/(अन्ना दान): Donating food to poor and needy, pilgrims, patients at hospitals, orphanages, old age homes etc.,
- Go Dāna: Donation of a Cow
In Hindu Dharmasastras
Broadly following Dāna exist in Hindu culture.
The type and number of Dāna vary depending on occasion such as Thread Ceremony (Vupanayanam - mainly performed for boys of specific castes namely Brahmins, Vysyas, Kshatriyas), Marriage, Gruha Pravesam (House Warming ceremony), Sreemantham (Baby shower), Birth Ceremony, Naming Ceremony, Cradle Ceremony, Samartha ceremony (for girls when puberty is reached).
Different types of Dāna are given in different quantities and are mixed with other Dāna depending on the occasion. Sometimes Dāna are given for relieving oneself from the sins committed or attributed or arising out of planetary positions i.e. Dosha nivarana purposes.
Maximum number of Dāna are given away during last rites (rituals performed for Death ceremony).
Ten major Danas or gifts are highlighted in Hindu Dharma, collectively called Dasa Dana. They are
- Land (Bhu Dāna)
- Cow (Go Dāna )
- Clothes (Vastra Dāna)
- Clarified Butter
- Sesame (Tila Dāna)
In Hindu Law
Hindu law breaks the giving and receiving of gifts down by caste, as it does other activities. Each caste has its 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 only to give gifts, as are the vaiśyas. 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.
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 taken for granted. If a man, a brahmin, becomes accustomed to this, his vedic energy will eventually become extinguished. Kane elucidates this: “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.” 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 wary of who really is learned and worthy of accepting his gifts. 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 heaven; but when the opposite happens, both go to hell.”
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.
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. The 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 he has given or how he has made a gift or sacrifice. A sacrifice is 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. The Nāradasmṛti also touches on the topic of gifts in the Dharmaśāstra, but only briefly. This smrti takes a different approach from Manu to giving and receiving gifts. 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. Going further into these stipulations, it says that there exist “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.” 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 narrows down into lists of examples of each of the types of these former classifications.
It is said that on the day of commencing penance, the sinner must, among many other things, give dāna (gifts such as gold, cows, etc.) to the brahmanas and feed them. Earlier in this volume, Kane references other smṛtis (smritis)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.
Once accepted, a gift is irrevocable. “What is promised should be given and what has been donated should not be taken back.” 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 receiver 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 varṇa, food, sin and penance, duties of the king, and so on.
Notes and references
- Stewart McFarlane in Peter Harvey, ed., Buddhism. Continuum, 2001, page 186.
- In the Pāli canon's Dighajanu Sutta, generosity (denoted there by the Pāli word cāga which can be synonymous with dāna) is identified as one of the four traits conditioning happiness and wealth in the next life.
- Tsong-kha-pa; the Lamrim Chenmo Translation Committee; Joshua Cutler, ed. in chief; Guy Newland, ed. (2002). The Great Treatise on the Stages of the Path to Enlightenment, Volume II. Canada: Snow Lion. ISBN 1-55939-168-5.: 236, 238
- Kane, P.V. History of the Dharmaśāstras Vol. 2 p. 110
- Manusmṛti 4.186-194
- Kane, P.V. History of the Dharmaśāstras Vol. 4 p. 549
- Kane, P.V. History of the Dharmaśāstras Vol. 2 p. 114
- Manusmṛti 4.235
- Manusmṛti 4.226-228
- Manusmṛti 4.236-237
- NMS 5.2
- Nāradasmṛti 5.3
- Kane, P.V. History of the Dharmaśāstras Vol. 4 p. 121
- Kane, P.V. History of the Dharmaśāstras Vol. 4 p. 152
- Kane, P.V. History of the Dharmaśāstras Vol. 2 p. 886