Buddhism A–Z
Generosity & Buddhism

Generosity, or “dana” in Sanskrit, is the first of the Paramitas (“transcendent perfections”)—virtues to be cultivated as part of Mahayana Buddhist practice. Different schools of Buddhism have come up with different lists of paramitas, but Dana Paramita, the perfection of generosity or giving, is always first.

Generosity’s place as the first of the paramitas reflects its importance as the foundation of spiritual practice. The Buddha taught that its opposite, stinginess, is a barrier to enlightenment. A spirit of selfless generosity nourishes our spiritual growth, while stinginess smothers it. We practice generosity to release greed and self-clinging.

Motivations for Giving

The Buddha taught that there are pure and impure motivations for giving. Impure motivations include: being shamed or intimidated into giving; giving to receive a favor; and giving to feel good about yourself.

On the other hand, when you give with pure motivation, you give with no expectation of reward or thanks; you do not consider yourself superior to the recipient; and you do not attach significance or importance to the gift. 

Four Kinds of Giving

Buddhism teaches there are four kinds of gifts we can give:

  1. We can give material goods, such as food, clothing, or money.
  2. We can give protection to those in danger and shelter in times of crisis.
  3. We can give kindness, compassion, and empathy.
  4. We can give the teachings of the dharma, sharing wisdom and spiritual guidance.

Generosity as a Way of Life

In Buddhism, generosity is not just a one-time act but a way of life. It is about embodying an open-hearted and selfless attitude in our daily interactions with others. Ultimately, the practice of generosity is the path to greater happiness, inner peace, and spiritual awakening.

Related Reading

Generosity Comes First

In any presentation of the paramitas, dana, or generosity, always comes first — Nikki Mirghafori explains why.  

Give and You Shall Receive

Reginald A. Ray argues that far from being a "lesser" practice, giving is central to all schools of Buddhism and essential to the relinquishment of ego.

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Generosity’s Perfection

Giving up, giving in, just plain giving—Sharon Salzberg says that’s the truly transformative experience.

Generosity is the Virtue That Produces Peace

Our editor-in-chief discusses where real change comes from and how generosity can heal divisions, fight injustice, and ease suffering.

Buddhism A–Z

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