Extract 10 - How to Use Dāna

For an explanation of words in Pali - the language of the time of the Buddha - please see the Pali Glossary.

Ven. Webu Sayadaw: If you offer candles to a monk as a gift, you give this to him so that he has a light at night. But if he lights this candle in broad daylight in the view of everyone, you will think that this monk is shamelessly wasting things. Remember this, will you? There are plenty of things like this. Of course one can say that he can do with his own possessions what he wants, and indeed he can. But if he uses them uselessly, he wastes them.

The Buddha preached that the things that are offered with faith should be used in a way, that not even a small fraction of them goes to waste. They have to be used up completely without even a crumb left over. Only if we use the dāna in this way will the Sāsana shine as brightly as it should shine. There are plenty of uses for which this dāna is needed. It should be used where it is needed and not where it gives no benefits. The donor will say, “I give with the wish that my dāna serves a purpose, but if you act carelessly, as you do now, you are wasting things. They are used up uselessly and for no purpose.” This means that the understanding of how to use things properly is very limited.

What I am telling you now, is only a fraction of all that could be said. We have to use all the dāna that is given with devotion in such a way that what I described above doesn’t happen. You all know what the Buddha preached. Once we know this we have to be able to apply this properly and become accomplished in it. We have to remember all this well. Do you hear me? Though one may use his own possessions, he has to remember to distinguish (between using and wasting them). Not even a little bit should go to waste. Not even a little bit should be left unused. We have to use everything in such a way, that it serves the maximum purpose. From every little bit, some benefit should be drawn. What the Buddha taught is very beneficial, but that is something you all know.

Just look how a very rich woman of the Buddha’s time acted. There was this extremely rich woman who was afflicted with migraine and Jīvaka treated her. Jīvaka asked for an ounce of butter. Now, how much do you think is an ounce of butter?

Disciple: It’s about a spoonful, sir.

Sayadaw: What kind of spoon?

D: I think it would be about a teaspoon full, sir.

S: So, Jīvaka mixed the medicine with this butter and had the rich lady sniff it up through her nostrils. Of course some of this butter came back out after she had drawn it up. As she felt it coming back out, she called her servants. “Hey, daughters, daughters, take this up with a cotton wad,” she told them, and they did so. There was just this wee bit of butter into which the medicine had been mixed. How much of the butter do you think came back out?

D: I think, sir, that only about half of it came back out.

S: Yes, and you see, just for this little bit of butter she called her servants, “Hey, daughters, bring a cotton wad and save this butter,” and the servants had to do as they were told. Are there any millionaires in the audience?

D: There are some, sir.

S: I mean really, really rich people.

D: I am not a millionaire, sir, but there are some really rich disciples in the audience.

S: So, do you think that these millionaires will act like this lady?

D: I don’t think so, sir.

S: Never mind, let’s forget about the millionaires. What about you, would you act in this way?

D: I wouldn’t, sir.

S: Would you call your servants for such a small amount of butter, “Hey, daughters! Bring a wad of cotton and take this up”?

D: I wouldn’t, sir, I would simply wipe it up and throw it away.

S: Yes, you would. But this millionaire lady had it saved; she didn’t throw it away. When the doctor Jīvaka saw this, he thought to himself, “I have acquired a lot of knowledge about medicine, but this lady is not going to remunerate me as is fitting and proper for my skills.” Now, this lady knew Jīvaka was thinking that, and she said to him, “You have cured me. I know that I am indebted to you. I am fully aware of this. However, I didn’t want to waste this butter, as I don’t want to waste anything, whatever it is. This butter that I had taken up with a cotton wad can still give benefit. How? If cats and dogs are somehow injured this butter can be used to clean their wounds. The cotton wads can also be used to light lamps. You see, dear doctor, I don’t want to throw away things that can still be used profitably somewhere. But don’t worry, I know that I have to be grateful to you.” Now Jīvaka was relieved. This lady, her daughters, and family, out of gratitude, gave Jīvaka a lot of things. They gave him whole villages, servants, carriages, nothing was missing. He got all this because he cured this lady of her disease.

Therefore we have to remember this and develop the ability to use everything properly. I mean, while we deal with things in connection with the Three Jewels. We have to be skilled in all the highest practices and if we are developed in these, then we get not only this much material gain. If we continue to use everything in its right place, then we need not depend on other people’s words. Don’t think about what others see; you will know for yourselves.

You have mentioned people who light candles in the middle of the day at the Shwedagon Pagoda. Well, these people bring an offering before they go on a journey and they can’t wait till the evening. That’s why they do this. If one goes and tells them not to do this, as we said just now, isn’t this a bit similar to sending them to the hells? One shouldn’t tell people to do things which will take them to hell, should one?

Now, you all have sons and daughters and grandchildren. You also will have jewellery such as diamonds and gold and your children will want to have them and to wear them. What you have stored your sons and daughters can receive, but don’t you consider first whether they really are ready to receive these things?

D: We do, sir.

S: So, if they are not ready to inherit, then you simply have to keep the things safe, don’t you? You also reflect on your other posses­sions. Why wouldn’t you hand them over yet?

D: Because the children may not be mature enough yet, sir.

S: Because you see for yourself that if you hand over everything, it will not be for their welfare …

D: Yes, sir, it may even create dangers for them.

S: … and understanding this, will you let them go off on their own?

D: No, sir, we won’t.

S: Yes, because they don’t have this wisdom of using things in the right place, they will come to a point when they don’t know how to go about their business. Even if they have doubts about what you say now, later on they will understand. You don’t refuse to give them their inheritance because you don’t want them to have it, but if you let them have it now, they will get themselves and you into trouble and the troubles thus created will never come to an end in the rounds of rebirths. What the Buddha taught is very extensive and what I am talk­ing about now, is also part of his teachings. It is part of sīla as taught by the Buddha. What I am telling you now is only a little bit, just con­cerning material welfare. We have to rectify our mistakes. Only then can we come to an understanding, make the Sāsana strong and bring about understanding in others as well. We have to work so that those who are bound for hell do not fall. Not one little morsel of food should be wasted. For instance — if you, lay disciples, offer food and I eat it, but you see that I don’t live properly, will you like it? Even if you don’t, your offering is used up. Now, if you die with this thought of dislike, where will you be reborn?

D: In the lower realms, sir.

S: We have to do our duty so that this doesn’t happen. The wise at the time of the Buddha used to do this, you see, and because they lived in this way they benefited greatly. Let’s look at the story of Sāmāvatī who did not want to live without seeing the Buddha. She always revered him. But there was another chief consort by the name of Māgandiyā who disliked her. Why? For her own reasons. Māgandiyā was a girl more beautiful than all the others. Now, her parents had to look after her very carefully as they were very rich and rich people have high goals for their children. They were looking for a husband who was equal to Māgandiyā, but couldn’t find one.

When the Buddha came to Kosambī her Brahman father saw him and exclaimed, “No man is worthy of my daughter, but this noble person is worthy of her!” He ran home and shouted, “Hey, quickly adorn and prepare our daughter. Everything is alright now. I have found a suitable husband for her. Hurry up!”

When he came back hastily to where he had met the Buddha, he didn’t find him anymore. So of course he was upset and he told the women that they had lost a chance, because they were so slow. The Buddha, however had left behind a footprint and the father found it. “Hey, look here! The noble man I told you about has left his footprint.” So they looked and the Brahmin’s wife said to him, “You don’t under­stand.” She was skilled in recognising signs and she told him, “What you want cannot come to be. This type of noble man is not like that, whatever you say.”

Only after some time the Buddha returned from the alms round and now all were present as he had wanted. Now, only, did he preach the Dhamma and they understood. But Māgandiyā felt insulted and thought, “If he doesn’t like me, never mind. I will return the insult later on,” and she conceived a grudge against the Buddha. Her parents had understood the Dhamma; she alone hadn’t understood anything. — Later she also became chief consort of the king of Kosambī, like Sāmāvatī, and when the Buddha came to Kosambī, Sāmāvatī paid respects, but Māgandiyā didn’t. She intrigued against Sāmāvatī and told the king many slanderous things. Eventually her machinations made the king distrust Sāmāvatī and he intended to kill her with an arrow. The arrow however turned away from Sāmāvatī. The king was greatly stirred by this miracle and thought, “I am a sentient being and a king and I am not able to recognise virtue, even to the extent a lifeless arrow is able to,” and he asked Sāmāvatī for forgiveness. Sāmāvatī replied, “You don’t have to respect my virtue, great king, just approach the Buddha and pay respects.” That is how she spoke. The king invited the Buddha for meals, listened to the Teachings and revered the Buddha. He requested the Buddha to send a monk who was able to preach the Dhamma to the palace every day, and the Buddha assigned this duty to Ānanda.

The king gave Sāmāvatī and her five hundred companions material to make dresses from, but the ladies gave all of it to Ānanda. Then one day the king noticed that his ladies never wore the clothes he had given to them and asked why that was so. “Sire,” the ladies replied, “we gave all you gave to us to our respected younger brother Ānanda.” The king, on hearing this, was not very happy, but kept his peace. He thought, “This Venerable Ānanda is just one, but there are five hundred women who offered him their five hundred pieces of cloth. What is he going to do with all these? He accepts a bit too much dāna,” and he didn’t understand.

When Ānanda came again to the palace, the king approached him, paid respects and asked, “Venerable Ānanda, Sāmāvatī and her companions told me that they offered their five hundred longyis to you, but you are just one person. What are you going to do with all this clothing?”

Ānanda replied, “Yes, I am alone, but these longyis are not with me anymore. There are plenty of monks whose robes are threadbare and falling apart.”

“So what happened to the old robes?” the king wanted to know.

“The old robes are also there, of course, but because they were in a bad state these monks had to change them. After discarding them as robes, they use them as bed sheets. But what happens to the old bed sheets? The old bed sheets are made into rope mats to wipe the feet. They are not wasted. Then there are also the old mats.”

Don’t you know all this, disciples?

D: No, sir, we don’t know this.

S: You must know this. When the robes are in bad shape, one has to turn them into ropes and out of the ropes one forms a coil mat. When robes are very ragged and it is not possible to wear them and also not possible to use them as sheets, then one has to make a foot mat out of them. So, even if the material is not usable for robes anymore it is not thrown out but used to wipe the feet. The feet have to be cleaned, not so that they are beautiful, but so that one doesn’t carry the dirt into the building and ruin it. I’m sure you have seen these foot mats made out of old bits of robes at the entrance to monastery buildings. Now, when the foot mat starts falling apart and becomes useless, what do we have to do then? With faith in the heart we have to make sure that nothing given to the Sāsana goes to waste, and it is said that the shreds of the foot mats have to be mixed up with dirt and spread on the walls.

In those times there was no plaster and they had to make the walls as I said just now. Instead of plaster they smeared a mixture of cow dung and mud on the walls. But this mixture didn’t hold out very long. It would crack and then break. If the shreds of the robes were mixed in, however, it wouldn’t crack, and the monks had to build in this way so that the buildings lasted longer.

After Ānanda had explained all this, the king was very pleased. “You really get the most benefit out of the offerings of the faithful,” he said, and he donated even more. At first he was dissatisfied because Ānanda had accepted so many robes, but then he understood that the teachings of the Buddha were the very noble teachings that could lead people out of suffering, and that in the dispensation of the Buddha nothing that was offered was going to waste. These things have to be known. If one comes to know all this, does he still have to ask, “What did you do with my dāna?”

D: No, sir.

S: Yes, you see, only now the king felt great respect and started to make offerings. This is there to inspire faith in the noble teachings of the Buddha in those who haven’t gained faith yet, and to increase the faith of those who are already faithful. In the case of this king it went well. He remained silent in front of the ladies though he was displeased, but when Ānanda came, he approached him and had the matter clari­fied. If he hadn’t done that and had continued to carry this displeasure in his mind, he wouldn’t have been able to progress. You see, this is also mentioned in the Maṅgala Sutta. One has to approach and revere the monks, the teachers. This is one of the thirty-eight blessings. This king had a problem, and he asked about it. Only if we have things clarified can we improve. When he heard the teachings of the Buddha and understood, his misgivings turned into respect and he even gave more dāna to the Saṅgha.

All of what I have told you is part of the teachings of Lord Buddha. For the benefit of the Sāsana we have to be very attentive in every instance, not to let anything go to waste. This is part of our practice of sīla and it is for the benefit of the Sāsana.