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Adhamma Dana Bhikkhu Pesala

34 B Cambridge Road Ilford IG3 8LU

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         Giving things to others is a way to develop kindness and generosity. It helps to remove attachment if done with the right intention, and should be cultivated as a constant habit by all good people. If the recipient is a virtuous bhikkhu who is free from attachment to the gift, then an ordinary act of charity becomes a noble way of honouring the Buddha.

         However, not all offering of gifts is meritorious, some things should not be offered because they corrupt the virtue of the recipient. For example, weapons, alcohol, poisons, sexual favours, foolish entertainments and shows, though they may be pleasing to some, should not be given as they help the recipient to make unwholesome kamma. Giving gifts of money to laypeople is usually meritorious, but giving bribes is not.

         This article aims to show that offering money to bhikkhus is not only prohibited by the Buddha, but is also a demeritorious deed with bad results for the donor. If money is given to a bhikkhu’s lay attendant, while inviting the bhikkhu to accept allowable requisites, then this is allowable and is, of course, a meritorious deed.

         The Jivaka Sutta in the Majjhima Nikäya is about the eating of meat by bhikkhus. There, the Buddha says that bhikkhus may eat meat, provided they have not seen, heard, or suspected that the animal was killed specifically to offer meat to the Sangha. If an animal has been slaughtered to offer alms, then it is an offence of wrong-doing for a bhikkhu to accept it. The donor makes "much demerit" (bahum apuññam) in five ways:

         1. By ordering the animal to be fetched he makes much demerit.

         2. While the animal is being fetched it suffers, so he makes much demerit.

         3. By ordering the animal to be slaughtered he makes much demerit.

         4. While the animal is being slaughtered it suffers, so he makes much demerit.

         5. By offering what is not allowable, he makes much demerit.

         I quote the relevant passage from the Pali text: "Yampi so Tathägatam vä tathägatasävakam vä akappiyena äsädeti, iminä pañcamena thänena bahum apuññam pasavati." (Jivaka Sutta, Majjhima Pannasa, Majjhima Nikäya). "Also, whoever offers to the Tathägata or to the Tathägata’s disciple what is not allowable, in this fifth case makes much demerit." The meaning of "äsädeti" is "invite to accept", not "give", so one makes much demerit even if a scrupulous bhikkhu refuses the gift.

         Accepting such unsuitable meat is a minor offence of wrong-doing for bhikkhus; but to accept money is a relatively major offence of Nissaggiya Päcittiyä. So, offering money to bhikkhus is much more demeritorious than offering unallowable meat.

         Some may say, "How could the donor possibly make demerit, since to give away one’s hard-earned money is a generous act." However, by the same reasoning, giving away one’s own meat is also generous. Please reflect for a while on how a virtuous bhikkhu feels when invited to accept money. He may feel insulted, or at least embarrassed, since if he refuses the gift offered, he may offend the donor. The situation is really difficult in the midst of the Sangha. If all the bhikkhus accept the money except for him, he will really be put on the spot. If he accepts, he falls into an offence; if he refuses, all of the other monks and the donor will be embarrassed. Is it a meritorious deed to embarrass virtuous bhikkhus and to tempt them to break their morality? Surely not!

         Think again about what should happen after the money has been received. If a scrupulous bhikkhu realises his error later, he has to forfeit the money. Money must be forfeited to the Sangha, not to an individual. So he must give trouble to at least four bhikkhus. If a lay person is present, the bhikkhu who receives the forfeited money should give it to him; he can then do with it what he likes, but he must not use it for the benefit of the offending bhikkhu. If there is no lay person present, the Sangha must appoint a ‘money disposer’ who is impartial. He must then throw it outside the monastery compound, without noticing where it falls. The money may then be eaten by vermin, blown away, or picked up by some lucky passer-by. All this trouble even for 5 dollars!

         Some say that if a donor offers money, the bhikkhu should tell the donor to give it to an attendant, but this is also an offence. "Whatever monk accepts money, gets another to accept it for him, or consents to its deposit for his use, is guilty of an offence requiring confession with forfeiture." He can only say, "We do not accept money, we only accept requisites that are allowable and at the proper time." If the donor then asks if there is any attendant who looks after his needs, the bhikkhu can point him out. Then, the donor can give the money to the attendant. However, the money remains the property of the donor; it does not belong to the bhikkhu nor to the attendant. If the attendant does not provide the bhikkhu’s needs he can inform the donor of this, but he must not coerce the attendant into buying what he wants. If he does so, he will again fall into an offence requiring confession with forfeiture (of the improperly acquired goods).

         If the donor asks what should be done with the money after the bhikkhu refuses it, the bhikkhu can explain the vinaya rule, but he should not tell the donor what to do with the money.

         Do you still think that giving money to bhikkhus is a meritorious deed? If so, then surely it should be encouraged. However, if it is indeed demeritorious, then the practice should not be tolerated, just as the giving of alcohol, live chickens or other unsuitable gifts is not tolerated.

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First posted on 19th January 2000


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