When should you give to Saṅgha?
When should you give to individual monks?
This is a question that is not addressed very often and it can cause lots of trouble for monks knowingly and unknowingly. Quite often, many monks blindly prompt donors to recite a line of pāḷi before they offer anything to them. “Bhikkhu Saṅghassa demi.” There are some variations, but that is the generic formula. It means, “I give to the community of monks.” This is done to give the donor more merit. He makes more merit when he gives to a community instead of one single monk because it is simple mathematics! Even though the monk may prompt such a phrase to the donor, he is likely to be unaware of the procedures to properly handle a community donation.
When this phrase is said in any language, the donation does not belong to the receiving individual. Instead, it now belongs to the community. That monk should not use that property until the proper procedure for notifying the community, asking for permission to distribute, and finally distributing according to a fair and agreed upon method is carried out.
Different Ways to Give:
If you want to give an apple to a monk to eat by himself or with his friends, then it is a good idea not to say such a phrase and to simply give the apple to him. By default, if nothing is said, it is a personal donation and his to keep.If you want him to definitely share it with his table, you can say, “This is for you and your table.” The general saying is, “As the donor says, the monks must do.” If you donate the apple to the Saṅgha consisting of 89 resident monks, that apple needs to be cut into 89 pieces and distributed to all the monks before Noontime. Fair and square, yet disturbing.
The donor can also lock an item for a specific use at a specific location. I did that once with a special microphone that has less “Jimi Hendrix noise” which has bugged me for years. I designated for the Uposatha Hall at Pa-Auk, Mawlamyine. I also donated another identical microphone to Sayadaw U Revata as his personal property for him to designate as he saw fit. While you might like to put restrictions on a donation, too much of a stipulation can render the donation useless and stored in some closet forever.
If you want to make sure that something will be fairly distributed, then you should give it to the community. If it is considered “heavy goods”, it is never allowable to distribute even if the whole monastery agrees to release it. Almost everything that is expensive or made with “hard” materials (metal, plastic and wood) is considered “heavy.” A computer, bowl stand and a bowl cover are considered heavy goods, yet a monk’s bowl is exempted from this extensive list of 200 objects. You probably would not want to have a Saṅgha computer go into a monk’s personal pocket, but you might want to have a bowl stand and bowl cover (which comes with a monk’s bowl-kit) to be owned personally. Therefore, if this is your intention, you should donate the computer to Saṅgha, but the bowl-kit by saying, “It is for a monk who needs it.” or “Please announce this to Saṅgha that a bowl-kit is available for personal ownership for a monk who needs it.” There is a big difference between saying, “This is for you.” “This is for any monk who needs it.” and saying, “This is for the Saṅgha.” As the donors say, the monks must do.
Although receiving bowl stands as Saṅgha property is an eye roller because it becomes forever “locked” as community property, I recently donated 30 bowl stands as Saṅgha property because our bowl-washing-sinks do not have any bowl stands. I wanted the stands to stick around and I told the monks where it should be used and that they should tie each bowl stand to each of the 30 water taps, sort of like a ballpoint pen in a bank. The young monks do not have any toys and everything is a potential toy. They like to play with bowl stand rings and often break them within a few days. After a while, the Saṅgha administrators stopped replacing them. We will see how the new donation goes. These new stands are rubber and should not break.
One makes more merit by donating to Saṅgha, and giving in that way with wisdom is encouraged. However, you should check your intention while also knowing the monk’s rules. In general, if you want to donate personal items to a specific bhikkhu in mind, it should not be donated as community property. In most other cases, it is best and proper to donate as Saṅgha property. The procedure to announce and distribute Saṅgha goods takes some work, but it is the best for you and the community. There is one exception; bowl-kits. Some monasteries do not allow the bowl stands and bowl covers included in a bowl-kit to be distributed since it is listed as one of the 200 items not to be distributed. If it is intended to be owned by a monk, one should donate it by saying “Please announce this to Saṅgha and give it to the monk who needs it”. Technically, it is not a Saṅgha donation, but it sort of is if you word it that way. However, sometimes it is proper to have a Saṅgha bowl and bowl stand for a visiting monk who does not have a bowl, or one who wants to repair or “bake/blacken” his bowl. In that case, donating a bowl kit as community property is good. It is your choice and now you are able to make educated choices.
One small note about giving money to monks. Money is not allowable and is listed as one of the ten things that should never be touched. Do you agree that one makes no merit by giving recreational drugs to a child? Of course you agree! In the same way, one makes no merit by giving an unallowable item, such as money to a monk. If per chance you give money to a monk, understand that it is his to keep. It does not go to the monastery fund by default. If you give money specifying it to go to “Saṅgha,” again, it does not go to the monastery fund by default. It is shared between the resident monks as personal gift income. They can use that money to buy anything they want without lay people knowing about it. That is the dangerous part. If you want to make a donation to a monastery, it is best to find the lay person in charge and give it to him and specify the purpose. If there is no lay person in charge (often the excuse to use money), you can volunteer to be such a person.
Some monks are quite charitable and build monasteries, hospitals, etc. However, when you give thousands of dollars to such a monk, even though he might build such great facilities, he is under no obligation to donate 100% of the money for such a purpose unless you specifically say what the money is used for. If he decides to skim off the top and give it to his parents, or stuff it into a fat Swiss Bank account, he is not stealing by conventional or monastic law. His only offense is having money which is unwise. It is his unallowable money that he is skimming and he can do whatever he wishes.
Even if he does donate 100% of the money to a good cause. If such a cause is meant for Saṅgha, then that newly built monastery or hospital etc is not allowable for monks to stay at. It causes other monks to break the rules simply by walking into such a building (one offense for every footstep). Can such a unwholesome perpetuating gift yield merit?Furthermore, a monk who donates like this is engaging in wrong livelihood (for monks). Right Livelihood is part of the 8-Fold Noble Path. How can one be enlightened and engage in wrong livelihood? Is that possible? Perhaps another topic will later explain the difference between doing something bad once or twice and doing something bad as part of one’s habitual accumulating livelihood.