Teaching the Benefits of Generosity
Degé Kangyur, vol. 61 (mdo sde, tsa), folios 95.b–96.b.
Translated by the Sakya Pandita Translation Group
under the patronage and supervision of 84000: Translating the Words of the Buddha
This short discourse was taught to an audience of monks in Śrāvastī, in the Jetavana. The Buddha details thirty-seven ways in which the wise give gifts, how those gifts are properly given, and the positive results that ripen from giving such gifts. The Buddha makes clear that the result that ripens is similar to the gift that was given or the manner in which the gift was given.
This sūtra was translated from Tibetan into English by Khenpo Kalsang Gyaltsen and Chodrungma Kunga Chodron. Venerable Bhiksuni Heng-Ching Shih kindly assisted with comparison to the Chinese version. The sūtra was then edited and introduced by the 84000 editorial team.
The translation was completed under the patronage and supervision of 84000: Translating the Words of the Buddha.
The setting for this discourse is the Park of Anāthapiṇḍada in the Jetavana, where the Buddha spent many rainy-season retreats and where many of the Buddha’s discourses are said to have been delivered. In this particular discourse, the Buddha succinctly describes thirty-seven ways in which the wise give gifts, as well as the results that ripen from their gift giving. More specifically, the first five ways in which the wise give gifts that the Buddha enumerates are relatively general and pertain primarily to the manner in which gifts are given and the purpose for which gifts are given. The wise are said, for example, to give gifts with faith in order to dispel stinginess, or respectfully in order to dispel mental agitation. For each of the remaining thirty-two ways in which gifts are given, the Buddha describes the result that ripens from the particular act, and in each case the result that ripens is similar to the gift that was its cause. For example, giving a gift of food ripens as the elimination of hunger in all one’s future lives. The discourse concludes with the Buddha proclaiming the thirty-seventh and final way in which the wise give gifts, namely, without any expectation of reward, the full ripening of which is the unsurpassed and perfect awakening of a buddha.
No Sanskrit text that completely matches the content of this sūtra is known to be extant, but a version in Sanskrit known as the Dānādhikaraṇa is preserved in the Nepalese manuscripts of the Divyāvadāna, a collection of avadāna narratives drawn mostly from the Mūlasarvāstivāda vinaya that may have been compiled from earlier sources in late medieval times (although no manuscripts exist from earlier than the seventeenth century). The text, like the version of the sūtra translated here, contains thirty-seven ways of giving gifts, although some differ to a varying degree in their detail. A much earlier Sanskrit text that probably resembled the present version more closely is represented by a fragment identified among the manuscripts in the Schøyen Collection by Matsuda in 2003. It is written on a piece of leather, in a Gupta Brāhmī script that allows it to be dated to the fifth or sixth centuries, but the fragment includes only the last seven ways of giving.1
The Tibetan translation of this sūtra, the colophon tells us, was made by the Indian preceptor Surendrabodhi and the Tibetan translator-editor Yeshé Dé. It is also listed in the Denkarma (ldan dkar ma)2 and Phangthangma (’phang thang ma)3 imperial catalogs, so we can infer that this sūtra was translated from Sanskrit sometime during the late eighth- to early ninth-century. In the Degé Kangyur, this sūtra is placed after The Perfection of Generosity,4 a longer, explicitly Mahāyāna sūtra, also translated by Yeshé Dé during the imperial period, that also treats the topic of generosity. Not only is the present sūtra significantly shorter than The Perfection of Generosity, but its content, apart from a small number of references to the result of buddhahood, is not in the same way explicitly or exclusively concerned with the bodhisattva path.
A version of the sūtra is also included in the Chinese Buddhist canon (Taishō 705, 佛說布施經), translated in the tenth century by Faxian. The opening section, which describes the circumstances under which the discourse was delivered, is the same in the Tibetan and Chinese versions, as is the closing section. However, the enumerated gifts, the descriptions of how these gifts should be given, and the ripened results are a close match only in just over half of the stanzas.5
The Divyāvadāna version of the sūtra was translated from the Sanskrit into English by James Ware in 1929 (along with passages from the Tibetan version), and more recently by Andy Rotman in the second volume of his translations from that collection.6 An abbreviated translation of the sūtra made by Kalpana Upreti appeared in 1989, and the most recent version in English is Peter Skilling’s translation, with helpful notes, in his 2021 anthology Questioning the Buddha: A Selection of Twenty-Five Sutras.7
The present translation is based on the version in the Degé Kangyur, with reference to the Comparative Edition (dpe sdur ma).
Homage to all buddhas and bodhisattvas!
Thus did I hear at one time. The Blessed One was dwelling in Śrāvastī in the Jetavana, in the park of Anāthapiṇḍada. Then the Blessed One said to the monks, “Monks, the wise give gifts in thirty-seven ways. What are those thirty-seven? They are as follows:
“They give gifts with faith in order to rid themselves of stinginess.
“They give gifts at the right time.
“They give gifts respectfully in order to rid themselves of all the faults of mental agitation.
“They give gifts with their own hands in order to take hold of the essence from the essenceless body.
“When they have given a gift that does not harm others, the ripening is that they will acquire great generosity.
“When they have given a gift with exquisite colors, the ripening is that they will acquire a beautiful complexion.
“When they have given a gift with an exquisite scent, the ripening is that they will acquire the scent of fame.
“When they have given a gift with an exquisite taste, the ripening is that they will acquire the excellent marks of supreme taste.
“When they have given a gift that is abundant, the ripening is that they will acquire abundant wealth.
“When they have given a gift that is vast, the ripening is that they will acquire vast wealth.
“When they have given a gift of food, the ripening is that they will acquire the elimination of hunger in all future lives.
“When they have given a gift of clothing, the ripening is that they will acquire a manifold wealth of clothing.
“When they have given the gift of a dwelling, the ripening is that they will acquire houses with parapets and multiple stories, and they will acquire courtyards, mansions, palaces, gardens, parks, and land.
“When they have given a gift of bedding, the ripening is that they will acquire a higher caste-status.
“When they have given a gift of medicine, the ripening is that they will acquire the nirvāṇa that is free from aging and death and is the cessation of sorrow and defilement.
“When they have given a gift of Dharma, the ripening is that they will acquire the recollection of former lives.
“When they have given a gift of garlands, the ripening is that they will acquire the purification of the stains of attachment, aversion, and ignorance.
“When they have given a gift of incense, the ripening is that they will acquire total freedom from the stench of the defilements.
“When they have given a gift of a parasol, the ripening is that they will acquire sovereign mastery of the Dharma.
“When they have given a gift of a bell, the ripening is that they will acquire a pleasing voice.
“When they have given a gift of a lamp, the ripening is that they will acquire the divine eye, unobscured and pure.
“When they have given a gift of silk, the ripening is that they will acquire the silken bond of liberation among gods and humans.
“When they have made an offering of fragrant oil or perfumed bathing water to a stūpa of the Thus-Gone One or an image of the Thus-Gone One, the ripening is that they will acquire the thirty-two marks [F.96.b] and eighty excellent signs of a great being.
“When they have given a gift of bathing necessities, the ripening is that in all their future lives they will acquire few illnesses, birth in the highest caste, and great beauty.
“When they have given a gift while abiding in loving kindness, the ripening is that they will acquire freedom from ill will.
“When they have given a gift while abiding in compassion, the ripening is that they will acquire harmlessness.
“When they have given a gift while abiding in joy, the ripening is that they will acquire the ability to bestow fearlessness.
“When they have given a gift while abiding in equanimity, the ripening is that they will rid themselves of sadness.
“When they have given gifts of various kinds, the ripening is that they will acquire various riches.
“When they have given a gift while abiding with no expectation of reward, the ripening is that they will acquire unsurpassed and perfect awakening.
“Monks, the wise give gifts in these thirty-seven ways.”
This completes the noble “Teaching the Benefits of Generosity.”
sbyin pa’i phan yon bstan pa (Dānānuśaṃsānirdeśa). Toh 183, Degé Kangyur vol. 61 (mdo sde, tsa), folios 95.b–96.b.
sbyin pa’i phan yon bstan pa. bka’ ’gyur (dpe bsdur ma) [Comparative Edition of the Kangyur], krung go’i bod rig pa zhib ’jug ste gnas kyi bka’ bstan dpe sdur khang (The Tibetan Tripitaka Collation Bureau of the China Tibetology Research Center). 108 volumes. Beijing: krung go’i bod rig pa dpe skrun khang (China Tibetology Publishing House), 2006-9, vol. 61, pp. 279–82.
sbyin pa’i pha rol tu phyin pa (Dānapāramitā). Toh 182, Degé Kangyur vol. 61 (mdo sde, tsa), folios 77.a–95.b. English translation in Dharmachakra Translation Committee (2019).
Denkarma (pho brang stod thang ldan [/ lhan] dkar gyi chos ’gyur ro cog gi dkar chag). Toh 4364, Degé Tengyur vol. 206 (sna tshogs, jo), folios 299.b–300.a.
Dharmachakra Translation Committee, trans. The Perfection of Generosity (Dānapāramitā, Toh 182). 84000: Translating the Words of the Buddha, 2019.
Herrmann-Pfandt, Adelheid. Die lHan kar ma: ein früher Katalog der ins Tibetische übersetzten buddhistischen Texte. Vienna: Verlag der österreichischen Akademie der Wissenschaften, 2008.
Phangthangma (dkar chag ’phang thang ma). Beijing: mi rigs dpe skrun khang, 2003.
Rotman, Andy. Divine Stories: Divyāvadāna Part 2. Somerville: Wisdom Publications, 2017.
Skilling, Peter. Questioning the Buddha: A Selection of Twenty-Five Sutras. Somerville: Wisdom Publications, 2021.
Upreti, Kalpana. “The Rationale of the Mahāyāna Sūtra Dānādhikāraṇa-nāma-Mahāyāna-Sūtra in the Hīnayāna Text Divyāvadāna.” In Buddhist Studies 13, pp. 89–93 (1989).
Ware, James. “Studies in the Divyāvadāna II: Dānādhikāramahāyānasūtra.” In Journal of the American Oriental Society 49, pp. 40–51 (1929).
- mgon med zas sbyin
A wealthy layman and famous benefactor of the Buddha who purchased the Jetavana and donated it to the Buddhist community. He is better known in the West by the alternative Pāli form Anāthapiṇḍika.
- bcom ldan ’das
In Buddhist literature, an epithet applied to buddhas, most often to Śākyamuni. The Sanskrit term generally means “possessing fortune,” but in specifically Buddhist contexts it implies that a buddha is in possession of six auspicious qualities (bhaga) associated with complete awakening. The Tibetan term—where bcom is said to refer to “subduing” the four māras, ldan to “possessing” the great qualities of buddhahood, and ’das to “going beyond” saṃsāra and nirvāṇa—possibly reflects the commentarial tradition where the Sanskrit bhagavat is interpreted as “one who destroys the four māras.” This is achieved either by reading bhagavat as bhagnavat (“one who broke”), or by tracing the word bhaga to the root √bhañj (“to break”).
- tshangs pa
A high-ranking deity who presides over a divine world where other beings consider him the creator; he is also considered to be the lord of the Sahā world (our universe).
Branches of awakening
- byang chub kyi yan lag
Mindfulness, discrimination, diligence, joy, pliability, absorption, and equanimity.
Eighty excellent signs
- dpe byad bzang po brgyad cu
A set of eighty bodily characteristics and insignia borne by both buddhas and universal emperors. They are considered “minor” in terms of being secondary to the thirty-two marks of a great being.
Four bases of miraculous power
- rdzu ’phrul gyi rkang pa bzhi
Determination, discernment, diligence, and concentration.
- rnam par smin pa
The manifest result of a former action.
- mnyan yod
The capital of the ancient Indian kingdom of Kośala, and the setting for many sūtras, as the Buddha spent most rainy seasons outside the city. It has been identified with the present-day Sāhet Māhet in Uttar Pradesh on the banks of the river Rapti.
- su ren dra bo d+hi
One of the Indian teachers invited to Tibet at the time of the emperor Ralpacan (early ninth century). He was one of the great Indian pandits who assisted the Tibetan translators such as Yeshé Dé with the translation of Buddhist texts from Sanskrit.
Thirty-two marks of a great being
- skyes bu chen po’i mtshan sum cu rtsa gnyis
The main identifying physical characteristics of both buddhas and universal monarchs, to which are added the eighty excellent signs.
- de bzhin gshegs pa
A frequently used synonym for buddha. In Sanskrit, gata, though literally meaning “gone,” is a past passive participle used to describe a state or condition of existence. Tatha(tā) is the quality or condition of things as they really are, which cannot be conveyed in conceptual, dualistic terms, and is often rendered as “suchness” or “thusness.” Therefore, this epithet is interpreted in different ways but general implies one who has departed in the wake of the buddhas of the past, or one who has manifested the supreme awakening dependent on the reality (dharmatā) that does not abide in the two extremes of existence and quiescence.
- ye shes sde
A prolific Tibetan translator active during the late eighth and early ninth centuries.