Family Group: Dānā Paramī
This week the Santigama family group got back together after a long summer hiatus, and we finished our look at the Ten Paramī’s with the final paramī of Dānā, or Generosity.
We started with a Meditation: Imagine a friend or family member. Now imagine that they need something. This could be that they or hungry or thirsty, or need something for a project, or want something really badly. Imagine you have one of those things. Now picture what it would be like to give your thing to that person. How do you feel, Light? Empty or Full? How does it feel seeing them happy with their new thing?
Dana is a very important paramī and is talked about a lot in not just buddhism but most religions. Dānā means ‘Giving’, or the spirit of giving, which we call Generosity.
We asked: Why is Dānā important? Think of a few reasons: (hint: true dhamma is universal)
(1. Everybody can do it
2. It can be done at any time
3. It brings happiness to giver, receiver, and others who know about it
4. It counteracts Greed and Clinging which are unpleasant)
We asked: How is Giving different from things like Sharing, Buying, Selling, Trading and Lending?
(With generosity, we aren’t expecting anything in return.)
There are many ways to give. The Buddha pointed to four important ways. Let’s act them out.
1. Giving a physical thing
2. Doing a service
3. Teaching a skill
4. Practicing and Developing good qualities in ourselves
These are actually in order from least to most beneficial. While we were acting them out, the question came up: why is developing a quality, like mettā or generosity, different and better from giving a gift or doing a service? What we came up with is that when we give a gift or a do service it helps in that moment. Teaching allows the person to take care of themselves, but they can also then teach and help others. But all of these things begin in the mind. So by cultivating the qualities of mind that lead to these wholesome actions, we are planting the seed of maybe many many more wholesome actions to come in the future. So cultivation, while it might not always involve immediately doing or saying something skillful, in the end leads to the most benefit.
Generosity Game: Buy, Sell, Trade, Give
In this game there are two tokens, black and red. Red represents ‘Apples’ and Black represents ‘Happiness Tokens’. Each player starts with Two Happiness and One Apple.
You start and end each turn by rolling a six sided die. At the beginning, this decides who gets an apple. At the end of a turn, the roll decides who gets hungry and eats (loses) an apple. If a player needs to eat an apple and doesn’t have one, a player can ‘save’ them with one of their apples, otherwise they are out.
Die values 1 and 2 – Everyone
3 – Odd Players
4 – Even Players
5 – First and Last players
6 – No one
In the middle of the turn, players decide what to do. They can buy an apple for two Happiness. They can offer to trade another player one happiness for their apple. They can do nothing. Or they can ‘Give’ an apple. If they give, the giver gets two happiness and the receiver gets one happiness.
Play as long as you can or want!
<After a number of rounds you may start to see the patterns that emerge. Someone focusing on having and buying apples will quickly run out of happiness tokens, while someone continually giving will have lots of happiness but no apples. Which is better in the end? The economist will discern that the highest benefit to the system comes from giving – three happiness is created, even if the giver doesn’t get them all. So the most successful game will be one where everyone gives without fear of running out. That’s actually the best form of security!>
STORY: Prince Vessantara
CHARACTERS: Narrator, Vessantara, King, Jajaka, Madri
This is one of the most famous and loved birth stories of the Buddha. At this time, the Bodhisatta had mastered nine of the paramī’s – he only had one more left! It was Generosity, which is absolutely essential for a Buddha because to teach the Dhamma well one has to give it away freely.
The Bodhisatta was very good at Dānā, but hadn’t mastered it. This might be because he had such great Wisdom. When we give we wisdom, we give in a balanced way. We see what is helpful, and know that sometimes giving too much can harm ourselves. But to master Dānā paramī, one has to be willing to give anything! So the Bodhisatta made a strong Determination (Adhitthana):
Bodhisatta: In my next life, if anyone ever asks me for something, I will definitely give it!
As it happened, the Bodhisatta was born as a prince in the kingdom of Sīvī. His mother had done many good acts and so the kingdom was wealthy. It also had a special pure-white elephant that brought good luck and protected the land from drought by bringing rain.
As Vessantara grew up everyone came to know that he was super generous. He would give anything and supported people throughout the kingdom. His mother and father supported him with their wealth and were very happy. When Vessantara was an adult, his father made him king and retired. Vessantara got married to Madri and had two children, a boy and girl. He was a good and kind ruler, practicing Sīla and taking care of everyone in need.
At this time the neighboring kingdom of Kalinga had a severe drought. They sent a messenger to Vessantara. This messenger asked for the lucky white elephant to save Kalinga. Vessantara felt so much Compassion for them.
VESSANTARA: It sounds like you are in great need! Of course, you may have the white elephant.
But when the people of his kingdom found out he had given away the elephant they were very upset. They went to the former king and told him that his son was going to ruin the kingdom. Sadly, the king came to Vessantara and said:
KING: Son, your habit of giving has gone too far. I must take back the crown.
VESSANTARA: There is no need to take it father. I will give it willingly. Here.
So Vessantara gave power back to his father and agreed to leave the kingdom. Madri and their children lovingly came with him. They went to the country of Kalinga. The ruler there wanted to offer his palace to Vessantara for giving them the elephant, but Vessantara was practicing Renunciation, and said they would be happy to stay in the forest. So they all built a little hut and lived so happily in the forest.
At this time Vessentara was feeling very good because he had always given and never held anything back. But while they were staying in the forest, caring for each other with so much Mettā, they attracted the attention of a greedy merchant named Jajaka. One day when Madri was out picking fruit, Jajaka approached the hut and said to Vessentara:
JAJAKA: Oh great hermit, what a lovely family you have! I watched you and realized what I really need in my life is loving people to look after me like your family does. Please, give me your two children to care for me.
It turns out Vessentara was most of all attached to his family. This was very hard to do! But he decided to kneel down and use Sacca Paramī to tell them the Truth.
VESSANTARA: I love you very much, but I want to become a fully enlightened Buddha. I know this will be very hard for you. Will you agree to this and help me develop my Generosity? Will you help me someday become a Buddha?
Out of love for their father the two children agreed. But Jajaka was really lying. He wanted to sell the two children as slaves and what luck – he didn’t even have to capture or buy them! He tied their hands with ropes and led them away, pulling roughly. Seeing this Vessantara was tempted to go and stop him, but he practiced Khanti, or Patience, to work through his anger.
Jajaka took the children to Sivi to sell them. There the King and Queen recognized their grandchildren right away.
KING: You there, name your price! We will pay anything to get these children back!
JAJAKA: Not cheap, these two! Let’s make a deal!
Jajaka got all his wealth, but in the end it didn’t help him – his very first meal in his new mansion he overate and choked!
Back at the hut, Madri returned from the forest to find her children missing. Vessantara told her the truth – he gave away their children.
MADRI: You WHAT?
But Madri knew how important enlightenment was to the Bodhisatta, so she forgave him.
Watching this up in the clouds, the King of Deva’s, Sakka, saw that Vessantara had one more very strong attachment. He disguised himself to look just like Jajaka and came down to the hut.
JAJAKA (Sakka): Oh great hermit! What a lovely wife you have! I came back because I realized I absolutely must have her! Please, give her to me!
This was so hard that Vessantara had tears in his eyes, but he used all his Energy (Viriya) to say:
VESSANTARA: Friend, since you asked, I will give. You may have Madri.
MADRI: Ahh! My husband is crazy!
Madri cried and was upset, but she also loved and trusted Vessantara so she gave him a hug and said goodbye. She chose to go. Sakka, disguised as Jajaka, led her away.
That night Vessantara sat in his empty hut. He was very sad that his beloved family was gone, but he also felt mysteriously happy. He felt light. After all, he had given without holding anything back. He loved his family more than anything in the world, and yet he was able to give even them away. That meant if someone came to ask him for anything at all from that point on, it would be easy to give. He had done it, he had perfected Geneosity. With this he felt so much joy!
Just then there was a loud noise outside. The King and the Army of Sivi approached, led by Vessantara’s two children. With them they brought the King of Kalinga. Kalinga had recovered from the drought thanks to the elephant and gave it back – now both kingdoms prospered and Sivi wanted their prince back!
Sakka arrived in all his glory bringing Madri, and then scooped everyone up with his powers and put them in Sivi, where there was a great festival. Special red-colored rain fell like rubies, and when he was on the ground it turned into gems. The kingdom was wealthy and every lived happily for the rest of their days.
When the Bodhisatta passed away, he was reborn in the highest Heaven. He waited until the time was right, then he was born in India as Gotama to the clan called the Sakyans. He had reached his final life – he would become a Buddha! Each Buddha is unique, and Gotama was known by his very deep love of family. He still had to practice Renunciation and leave his family to become enlightened. But when he reached the goal, he returned and taught dhamma to all his kingdom, family and friends, and so many became enlightened too. For this, we know our Buddha as ‘Shakyamuni’, or ‘The Great Sage of the Sakyans’.