Buddha said that generosity is essential for enlightenment.

O monks, if people knew, as I know, the results of giving and sharing, they would not eat without having given, nor would they allow the stain of stinginess to obsess them and take root in their minds. Even if it were their last morsel, their last mouthful, they would not eat without having shared it, if there were someone to share it with. But, monks, as people do not know, as I know, the result of giving and sharing, they eat without having given, and the stain of stinginess obsesses them and takes root in their minds.” – Itivuttaka 26: 18-19 (tr. Ven. Bodhi)

Lets take an example . If there is a material object that I want to donate , and it will be used for a very good cause. However , I really like this material object and I feel I might want it ( definitely don't need it for my survival or anything like that) . The thought of giving this object does not make me happy. If I force myself and give up this object , will my giving (generosity) be unwholesome?

6 Answers 6


When does giving become unwholesome?

When donation is helpful it wouldn't be unwholesome but, Buddha teaches true sacrifice.

I really like this material object and I feel I might want it (definitely don't need it for my survival or anything like that).

Buddha was once asked: “Who is the richest man in the world?” Buddha replied: “He who has much satisfaction (with what he has) is the richest man.” To the question, “Who is the poorest man?” Buddha replied: “He who has many desires.” A Maharaja, who was listening to Buddha’s sermons on contentment and renunciation, wished to earn the approbation of Buddha. Buddha used to keep with him always a rattle-drum. His disciples once asked him: “Master! Why are you always keeping this rattle-drum by your side?” Buddha replied: “I shall play on this drum the day a person who has made the greatest sacrifice approaches me.” Everyone was eager to know who this person would be. Such persons are often the forgotten men of history. Wishing to attain this distinction, a Maharaja loaded his elephants with considerable treasure and went to Buddha. He hoped to offer the treasure to Buddha and earn his praise. On the way, an old woman greeted the Maharaja and pleaded: “I am hungry. Will you give me some food?” The Maharaja took out a pomegranate fruit from his palanquin and gave it to the old woman. The old woman came to Buddha with the fruit. By then, the Maharaja had also come to Buddha and was eagerly waiting to see when Buddha would sound the rattle-drum. For a long time Buddha did not use it. The Maharaja stayed on. The old woman approached Buddha staggering on her legs, and offered him the pomegranate fruit. Buddha took it immediately and sounded the little drum. The Maharaja asked Buddha: “I offered so much wealth to you. You did not sound the drum. But you rattled it after receiving a small fruit. Is this a great sacrifice?” Buddha replied: “Maharaja! In sacrifice, it is not quantity that counts. It is the quality of sacrifice that matters. It is natural for a Maharaja to offer gold. But what great sacrifice is made when a hungry old women offers the pomegranate fruit to the Guru(teacher) despite her hunger. She did not care even for her life and gave the fruit. What greater sacrifice can there be? It is not sacrifice to offer what is superfluous for you. True sacrifice means giving up that which is most dear to you, that which you value most.”

So when you have to donate you must be give it either you need it or not, just like an old lady who despite her hunger for one dearest. That's would be great sacrifice. When Maharaja offer just snippet of his treasure for Buddha. But old lady gave that half fruit without caring her hunger. Maharaja don't need his remaining treasure as you said I really like this material object and I feel I might want it (definitely don't need it for my survival or anything like that). at the end he became disciple and truly sacrifice his hunger.

  • Where is this story from? I can find it on the 'net (on Facebook and blogs etc.) but only without reference to any source.
    – ChrisW
    Feb 26, 2017 at 13:31
  • I had read this story In the book Buddha and His Dhamma of Dr. B. R. Ambedkar.
    – Swapnil
    Feb 26, 2017 at 14:23
  • Sorry I don't see it in that book.
    – ChrisW
    Feb 26, 2017 at 14:44
  • I had read it in Marathi version of book. I tried find out in English but couldn't find. Also I missed Marathi version of this book. Sorry. But I remember I had read in this book.
    – Swapnil
    Feb 26, 2017 at 15:25

Unwholesome actions are those which are based on the three poisons: greed, anger and delusion. When giving is wholesome it is an act of renunciation and it reduces the three poisons.

Giving becomes unwholesome if it is based on the three poisons. Perhaps you want to be famous for giving money so you are willing to give all your cash to charity; in this case you would effectively be buying fame and it is fueled by greed. This kind of giving is like a trade, you still want money but you've decided that fame is worth more; this type of giving is not renunciation.

You can come up with similar examples where the act of giving increases anger or the delusion of self-view, they would all be unwholesome giving.

  • People say that the proper motive for giving is with the thought that, "This is an ornament for the mind, a support for the mind".
    – ChrisW
    Feb 26, 2017 at 13:35
  • 1
    @ChrisW wow I really like that sutta. It shows that seeing giving as a support for the mind leads to the greatest benefit while other wholesome acts of giving lead to lesser benefits.
    – Hugh
    Feb 26, 2017 at 14:10

The major definition of generosity I believe as Gawtama Buddha said was "Willing to give" ,not "try to give". It comes from combination of not stacking mind on objects as that you own them and sympathy on others.


This question presents two issues that must be decoupled and the hidden (second) question must be addressed first.

"However , I really like this material object and I feel I might want it ( definitely don't need it for my survival or anything like that) . The thought of giving this object does not make me happy."

While veiled in introspection, the main (generosity) question is consumed in a cloud of questionable morality and, more importantly, indicates diminished sammā-ditthi (right view). More simply, this is a question about generosity that conceals a more desperate question about clinging and attachment.

To the question surrounding the object:

The Noble Eightfold Path begins with samma ditthi (right view). In the Noble Eightfold Path, samma ditthi (right view) is defined as knowledge of the Four Noble Truths. The complete definition is the knowledge of suffering (dukkhe nanam), the cause of suffering (dukkha samudaye nanam), the cessation of suffering (dukkha nirodhe nanam) and knowledge of the path leading to the cessation of suffering (dukkha nirodha gamini patipadaya nanam).

Your hidden question concerns craving to sensual pleasure(s) and is the tip of the (dukkha) spear. Clinging and craving are introduced to us in the Nidanasamyutta:

"And what is clinging/sustenance? These four are clingings: sensuality clinging, view clinging, precept & practice clinging, and doctrine of self clinging. This is called clinging.

"And what is craving? These six are classes of craving: craving for forms, craving for sounds, craving for smells, craving for tastes, craving for tactile sensations, craving for ideas. This is called craving.

(Ref: "Nidanasamyutta" ["Connected Discourses on Causation", SN 12] - see Bodhi, 2000b, p. 535 or online at http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/sn/sn12/sn12.002.than.html)

The metaphorical spear itself is dhukka. Samma ditthi (right view) is at the very core of the Buddha's philosophy. Your hidden question obfuscates understanding of causation.

Views are not without complexity. In "The Philosophy of Desire in the Buddhist Pali Canon", David Webster suggests,

"What is so wrong with the holding of opinions? It may well relate to the consequences of their possession, in the context of the manner in which they are held." "For example, in the Mahaparinibbana sutta, the Buddha tells the monks of views leading toward nibbana, that they should be: yayam ditthi ariya niyyanika - 'continuing in the noble view that leads to liberation'"

There is a distinction throughout Canonical texts (e.g. at M.III.73) between the status (rightness or wrongness) of views. The explorer is left to determine from context whether to uplift or condemn a view. However, it seems clear; if a view is connected with one of the four manifestations of Upadana (clinging or grasping), then such a view is worthy of condemnation.

Therefore, the thrust of this answer rests in the tainted shadow cast upon alms or generosity. Though, not entirely without potential for merit (see below), I believe greater iterative, honesty is suggested.

In retaining possession of a sense object, are you liberated? In relinquishing possession of a sense object are you liberated? Is it the sense object itself that is the source of the suffering; or is the suffering within you?

It is important to confront and/or abandon the clinging to the sense object. The path of liberation is illuminated in the Culasihanada Sutta:

"Now these four kinds of clinging have what as their source, what as their origin, from what are they born and produced? These four kinds of clinging have craving as their source, craving as their origin, they are born and produced from craving.[a] Craving has what as its source...? Craving has feeling as its source... Feeling has what as its source...? Feeling has contact as its source... Contact has what as its source...? Contact has the sixfold base as its source... The sixfold base has what as its source...? The sixfold base has mentality-materiality as its source... Mentality-materiality has what as its source...? Mentality-materiality has consciousness as its source... Consciousness has what as its source...? Consciousness has formations as its source... Formations have what as their source...? Formations have ignorance as their source, ignorance as their origin; they are born and produced from ignorance.

"Bhikkhus, when ignorance is abandoned and true knowledge has arisen in a bhikkhu, then with the fading away of ignorance and the arising of true knowledge he no longer clings to sensual pleasures, no longer clings to views, no longer clings to rules and observances, no longer clings to a doctrine of self.[b] When he does not cling, he is not agitated. When he is not agitated, he personally attains Nibbana."

(Ref: "Culasihanada Sutta" ["Shorter Discourse on the Lion's Roar", MN 11] - see Nanamoli & Bodhi, 2001, p. 161 or online at http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/mn/mn.011.ntbb.html)

To the question of generosity:

According to Mahasi Sayadaw, the Bhara Sutta (The Burden of the Five Aggregates), of alms and generosity,

"There are four kinds of such purity, as follows: (a) When a person practicing morality gives alms to one not practicing it, the giver earns merit. The gift is pure. (b) When a person not practicing morality gives alms to one practices it, the gift remains pure from the point of view of the recipient. The giver, therefore, earns merit all the same; and the merit is all the more great. (c) When both the giver and the recipient of the gift are immoral, the gift is impure; and the act of giving is to no avail. Even when the giver shares his merits to the petas [c], the latter cannot receive them and will not be released from the world of petas. (d) When both the giver and the recipient of gifts are pure in morality, the gifts will also be pure, and merits accruing from such giving will earn the highest merit."

Two closing thoughts:

  1. Generosity with an expectation/anticipation of merit is a view worthy of challenge.
  2. Generosity bereft of willingness is an empty act for the giver and a potential source of suffering for the receiver.


a This passage is explained in order to show how clinging is to be abandoned. Clinging is traced back, via the chain of dependent arising, to its root-cause in ignorance, and then the destruction of ignorance is shown to be the means to eradicate clinging.

b The Pali idiom, n'eva kamupadanam upadiyati, would have to be rendered literally as "he does not cling to the clinging to sense pleasures," which may obscure the sense more than it illuminates it. The word upadana in Pali is the object of its own verb form, while "clinging" in English is not. The easiest solution is to translate directly in accordance with the sense rather than to try to reproduce the idiom in translation.

c peta [Skt. preta]: A "hungry shade" or "hungry ghost" — one of a class of beings in the lower realms, sometimes capable of appearing to human beings. The petas are often depicted in Buddhist art as starving beings with pinhole-sized mouths through which they can never pass enough food to ease their hunger.


And, could you overcome stinginess, now a year later asked back, asked so that you might answer your question by your self and mark it as solved?

Share merits or reflextion, of course, works also hard against stinginess and uncover defiled arguments and thoughts.

[Note: This is a gift of Dhamma, not meant for commercial use or other low trades and just exchange for the world.]


Well I have always felt that when a person gives you something and at any point in time brings it up as a example it immediately becomes unwholesome because we should give not to get ,but give so that we may live for to with hold is to parish and better yet is there not anything sweeter than to receive and we are all receivers .giving is fulfilling when your receiver sees value in what you have to give ,that's why we must grow and that's what buddha in my opinion teaches. Buddah illuminates the potential within all of us ,so that you can grow and have something of value to give to the next so that you feel fulfilled because giving is the secret to living .pay it forward with no strings and with joy having gave when in season because all that you have shall one day be your inheritors.

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