Intelligent Donations: Turning The Tables

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Ven Ananda with the two donors

Recently, we received six new tables arranged by a monk’s two donors. The tables were nice but I didn’t think we needed them, so I asked the monk why. He said there was not enough room on the tables for his donors’ donations, so they decided to donate more tables so they can donate more. When his donors make donations, they are not small. Normally his group of donors are not ten or twenty, but sometimes fifty or sixty donors and sometimes more. They stay up the whole night cooking and then deliver the donations for breakfast and lunch. So after staying up all night and cooking the food for the monks, they found that the tables had less pārami (accumulated strength qualities) than their own pārami. So that was why they donated more tables. They are not just regular tables either. Take a look at the cover photo and see how nice they are.

Only The Best

In Buddhism, when people make donations, they usually try to donate the best that is possible. I once wrote a post on pouring bottled water onto a Bodhi Tree. Sometimes, they ignore bare functionality, and try to do their ultimate best. They feel good about it, and when they are done, they don’t feel there was any way they could have done better. When donations are done in that way, with knowledge and happiness, it not only produces the best memories but it produces the best results too. Below is a video of the buffet tables. There is extra space on the tables because the video was made on a normal day without these particular donors. Perhaps I can update the video when they come again with their big group.

Saddhāya dānaṃ deti, sakkaccaṃ dānaṃ deti, kālena dānaṃ deti, anuggahitacitto dānaṃ deti, attānañca parañca anupahacca dānaṃ deti.
They give a gift out of faith. They give a gift carefully. They give a gift at the right time. They give a gift with no strings attached. They give a gift without hurting themselves or others.

Anguttara Nikaya 5.148

A Rubber Forest Tree Story

The giving of tables reminds me of when I was collecting alms at Pa-Auk in the year 2007. During those days, I made a determination to only eat what I collected from the village and to not eat the monastery food. However, it was difficult to live this way because I would switch routes every week so that I would not be a burden on the people. One day I learned of a new village that was nearby and a shortcut through a rubber tree forest to get to the new village. After a few days, a lady from the rubber tree hut stopped me to give me food. She gave rice and I went on my way to the village. The next day she offered a curry and some rice. I accepted and went on my way. The next day she offered two curries and rice and then sent me to another grass hut. At that point I had enough food and there was no purpose to go to the village, so I turned around and ate my meal while the meal was still warm.

The next day they offered 3 curries and when they offered more, I didn’t have enough curry containers to hold what they wanted to donate. The next day, they showed up with extra containers to hold their own food donations. Before, I was not getting enough nutrition by going to the village, and here was this really poor family donating a complete meal for me. I stopped going to the village because there was no purpose. The table donors reminded me of the rubber tree family. There is more to this story though.

After a week, I was thinking about switching, but I explained this situation to a Myanmar monastic friend. I asked if it was okay to go more than one week to the same place. He smiled and told me it was fine to go a whole month, a year, or even longer. It was their chance to make merit. I continued to walk by their grass hut and they would be waiting for me and stop me each time. They were happy and I was happy. After about 6 weeks of this, most of Pa-Auk foreigners had visa problems and we all had to either risk massive fines or reset our visas by going to Thailand and coming back.1This was because most foreigners had original visas that were a tourist class and switched it to a residential visa without leaving the country to do so I decided it would be best to try Sri Lanka instead of going round trip to Thailand and made my plans quickly.

When I told the ladies I would not be coming back, they had a small plastic bag filled with what looked like tea-mix packets. When I got closer, I could see it was money folded into nice stacks. I’m not sure how much it was, but it might have been all they had. Myanmar people can be like that, especially those who are the poorest. They wanted to buy my air ticket but I had already arranged my ticket. Plus I don’t accept money. She then asked if she could come with me because she was afraid I would not get enough food in Sri Lanka.

I’m still touched by this story and her kindness. When I came back to Myanmar six years later, I tried to find the huts to collect another meal, but they were gone and the land was different. The people who gave the tables at IIT reminded me of those kind rubber tree workers living in grass huts who gave me extra curry cups to facilitate more giving. This is a taste of Asian culture you might not understand, and that is why I share it with you.

The Buddha also praised giving that is timely, respectful, beneficial, and with a view to the welfare of the recipients. He said:

Suciṃ deti, paṇītaṃ deti, kālena deti, kappiyaṃ deti, viceyya deti, abhiṇhaṃ deti, dadaṃ cittaṃ pasādeti, datvā attamano hoti.
 Their gift is pure, good quality, timely, appropriate, intelligent, and regular. While giving their heart is confident, and afterwards they’re uplifted.

Anguttara Nikaya 8.37

One of the benefits of giving is that it creates wholesome karma that leads to happiness and prosperity in this life and beyond. The Buddha said in the Dānānisaṃsa sutta:

Bahuno janassa piyo hoti manāpo;
A giver, a donor is dear and beloved by many people

santo sappurisā bhajanti;
Good people associate with them.

kalyāṇo kittisaddo abbhuggacchati;
They get a good reputation.

gihidhammā anapagato hoti;
They don’t neglect a layperson’s duties.

kāyassa bhedā paraṃ maraṇā sugatiṃ saggaṃ lokaṃ upapajjati.
When their body breaks up, after death, they’re reborn in a good place, a heavenly realm.

Anguttara Nikaya 5.35


Giving tables, or curry cups to donate more food is an example of intelligent donation because it meets all the criteria of a good gift. The qualities are: giving with faith, carefully, at the right time, with no strings attached and giving without hurting themselves or others. The gift should also be pure, good quality, timely, appropriate, intelligent, and regular. While giving their hearts are confident, and afterwards they’re uplifted.

The giving of tables, curry cups, or even bottled water to a Bodhi Tree might seem like too much, but is that too much to do? As the Buddha said:

“Should a person do good,
Let him do it again & again.
Let him find pleasure therein,
For blissful is accumulation of good.”

Dhammapada 118

Summary Poem

In the quiet forest, walking at dawn’s rising tide,
Generous hearts greet with a lovely sign,
Loving-kindness, curries, and folded bills,
Given with joy, overflowing it spills.

Across the ocean to Sri Lankan halls,
The tables hold more while standing tall,
In the footsteps of the Buddha that shines the way,
The tables turn giving merit from this day.

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