The Wisdom Blog: Classic & Contemporary Buddhism

Teachings of the Buddha: A Way to a Fortunate Rebirth and The Gift of Food

by Bhikkhu Bodhi
October 25, 2013
Fri, 10/25/2013 - 10:30 -- bbodhi

Today's selection elaborates on the merit of giving or generosity (dāna). The Buddha often treated giving as the most rudimentary virtue of the spiritual life, for giving serves to break down the egocentric frame of mind on the basis of which we habitually interact with others. Contrary to what a Western reader might expect, however, “giving” for Early Buddhism does not mean simply philanthropic charity directed toward the poor and disadvantaged. While it includes this, the practice of giving has a more context-specific meaning rooted in the social structure of Indian religiosity. In India during the Buddha’s time, those who sought to fathom the deepest truths of existence and attain release from the round of birth and death usually renounced home and family, relinquished their secure place in the cohesive Indian social order, and adopted the precarious life of the homeless wanderer. With shaved heads or matted locks, clad in ochre or white robes or going naked, they would move from place to place without fixed abode, except during the three months of the rainy season, when they would settle in simple huts, caves, or other lodgings. Such homeless wanderers, known as samaṇas (“ascetics”) or paribbājakas (“wanderers”), did not perform any remunerative services but depended upon the charity of householders for their livelihood. The lay devotees provided them with their material requisites—robes, food, lodgings, and medicines—doing so in the confidence that such services were a source of merit that would help them advance a few steps farther in the direction of final emancipation.

On one occasion the Blessed One was dwelling among the Koliyans near the Koliyan town named Sajjanela. Then, in the morning, the Blessed One dressed, took his bowl and robe, and went to the residence of the Koliyan daughter Suppavāsā, where he sat down in the prepared seat. Then the Koliyan daughter Suppavāsā, [63] with her own hand, served and satisfied the Blessed One with various kinds of delicious food. When the Blessed One had finished eating and had put away his bowl, the Koliyan daughter Suppavāsā sat down to one side. The Blessed One then said to her:
    “Suppavāsā, a female noble disciple who gives food gives the recipients four things. What four? She gives life, beauty, happiness, and strength. (1) Having given life, she partakes of life, whether celestial or human. (2) Having given beauty, she partakes of beauty, whether celestial or human. (3) Having given happiness, she partakes of happiness, whether celestial or human. (4) Having given strength, she partakes of strength, whether celestial or human. Suppavāsā, a female noble disciple who gives food gives the recipients these four things.”

When one gives well-prepared food,
pure, delicious, and flavorful,
to the upright ones who are
exalted and of excellent conduct,
that offering, which links merit with merit,
is praised as very fruitful
by the world-knowers.

Those recollecting such generosity
dwell in the world inspired by joy.
Having removed the stain of miserliness and its root,
blameless, they go to the heavenly abode.

AN 4:57

To read more from the Book of Fours, click here.

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