The perfection of giving

Dāna pāramī : generosity, giving of oneself

What would it look like to embody perfect generosity, perfect giving?

One of the important reasons why the Buddha taught the Dhamma was to teach us to let go, not to hold on to things. The more we really know the Dhamma, the more we can let go. Those who know a little can let go of a little; those who know a lot can let go of a lot.

As a first step we’re taught dana — to be generous, to give donations — as a strategy for getting us to learn how to let go. The next step is caga — renouncing rights of possession — which is letting go at a higher level than dana. And finally, on a more refined level, we’re taught to relinquish all our upadhi, or the acquisition-defilements in the mind. This is the level on which we examine and explore until we can gain total release.

Dana means giving away material things…
People who develop the habit of being generous reap many rewards. Their act of generosity comes back to them both in the present and on into the future. They have lots of friends. Other people trust them. Their hearts are light — they aren’t weighed down with worries about looking after the things they’ve given away. And these same results will keep coming in the future, just as when we have a bucket of rice grains: if we plant them in a field, we’ll reap ten buckets of rice in return. The same holds true with the goodness we develop in this lifetime. It gives enormous returns. That’s how people of discernment understand it.

Caga is the next step. Dana is something that even crazy people can do, but caga is a type of giving that only wise people can do, because their sense of personal possession has to end immediately in the act of giving. They see that all material things are common property: things don’t really belong to us, they don’t really belong to other people…

The third level of letting go is relinquishing what’s in the heart. Whether or not we give things away, we let go of them in the heart every day. We let go of the things we have. We let go of the things we don’t have. Just as a person has to wash his mouth and hands every day after he eats if he wants to stay clean at all times. What this means is that we’re not willing to let anything act as an enemy to the heart by making us stingy or grasping. If we don’t do this, we’re the type of person who doesn’t wash up after a meal. We’re not clean. We stay asleep without ever waking up. But when we let go in this way, it’s called viraga-dhamma,or dispassion. The lower levels of letting go are things we can do only from time to time. Dispassion is something we can develop always.

— Ajaan Lee (Starting out Small) [from

About lynnjkelly

Australian/American. Practicing Buddhist.
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