The Buddha, apparently, said we should not do dana if the offering harms you or someone else.

I have heard this teaching and I would like to know if: Is it true? Where the Buddha said that, which sutta?

This teaching (if true) seems to contradict the story about the Buddha giving his body to a hungry tigress in a previous life, or not?

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    Buddha did not give his body to a tigress. Bodhisatva did! Commented Oct 29, 2014 at 23:15
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    You are right Sankha, but still sounds contradictory
    – konrad01
    Commented Oct 29, 2014 at 23:22

3 Answers 3


The Pali text talks about 14 suitable gifts. http://www.accesstoinsight.org/lib/authors/various/wheel367.html#pali


Practically anything useful can be given as a gift. The Niddesa (ND.2, 523) gives a list of fourteen items that are fit to be given for charity. They are robes, almsfood, dwelling places, medicine and other requisites for the sick, food, drink, cloths, vehicles, garlands, perfume, unguent, beds, houses and lamps. It is not necessary to have much to practice generosity, for one can give according to one's means. Gifts given from one's meager resources are considered very valuable (appasma dakkhina dinna sahassena samam mita, S.i,18; dajjappasmim pi yacito, Dhp. 224). If a person leads a righteous life even though he ekes out a bare existence on gleanings, looks after his family according to his means, but makes it a point to give from his limited stores, his generosity is worth more than a thousand sacrifices (S.i, 19-20). Alms given from wealth righteously earned is greatly praised by the Buddha (A.iii,354; It.p.66; A.iii,45-46)....

Even if one gives a small amount with a heart full of faith one can gain happiness hereafter. The Vimanavattha supplies ample examples. According to the Acamadayikavimanavatthu, the alms given consisted of a little rice crust, but as it was given with great devotion to an eminent arahant, the reward was rebirth in a magnificent celestial mansion. The Dakkhainavibhanga Sutta states that an offering is purified on account of the giver when the giver is virtuous, on account of the recipient when the recipient is virtuous, on account of both the giver and the recipient if both are virtuous, by none if both happen to be impious. Dhammadana, the dissemination of the knowledge of the Dhamma, is said to excel all other forms of giving (sabbadanam dhammadanam jinati, Dhp.354).

What seems to be stressed here is not the value of what one gives but the intention of the heart. It no where mentions cutting off a part of your body and offering that. If the tiger is a smart tiger and in a suitable environment, its needs will be fulfilled. Carnivores clean up the dead and sickly. Feeding wolves or lions or tigers does not serve a great a purpose as dedicating your life to helping others.

The physical body is only on loan. If we can make no better investment than feeding wild animals, how can we claim buddhahood as our inheritance? To claim buddha nature, we must express buddha nature in its many aspects. An act of suicide, throwing your body to wild animals does not express the highest qualities of the Buddha, and goes against the principal of doing no harm. Doing harm to one's own body or not taking care of it goes against this precept. It cannot be dana under those circumstances.

  • I agree with your final conclusions, thanks
    – konrad01
    Commented Oct 30, 2014 at 0:05
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    I had to search for backup in the Dharma, because it is such an instinctive response within me to affirm life, that if I spoke from that it would have been more opinion.
    – soulsings
    Commented Oct 30, 2014 at 0:11

Here are two quotes from The Perfection of Giving (Acariya Dhammapala),

When the Great Man (the Bodhisatta) gives an external object, he gives whatever is needed to whomever stands in need of it; and knowing by himself that someone is in need of something, he gives it even unasked, much more when asked. He gives sufficiently, not insufficiently, when there is something to be given. He does not give because he expects something in return. And when there is not enough to give sufficiently to all, he distributes evenly whatever can be shared. But he does not give things that issue in affliction for others, such as weapons, poisons, and intoxicants. Nor does he give amusements which are harmful and lead to negligence. And he does not give unsuitable food or drink to a person who is sick, even though he might ask for it, and he does not give what is suitable beyond the proper measure.


Herein, giving an internal gift, he gives only what leads to the welfare of the recipient, and nothing else. The Great Man does not knowingly give his own body, limbs, and organs to Mara or to the malevolent deities in Mara' s company, thinking: "Let this not lead to their harm." And likewise, he does not give to those possessed by Mara or his deities, or to madmen. But when asked for these things by others, he gives immediately, because of the rarity of such a request and the difficulty of making such a gift.

This teaching (if true) seems to contradict the story about the Buddha giving his body to a hungry tigress in a previous life, or not?

I might be wrong but I can imagine many explanations for why this doesn't contradict the "tigress" story (versions of which story exist here and here):

  • The gift of his body doesn't harm the Bodhisattva
  • Saving several tiger cubs might be more important than saving one human body (see e.g. the story for the pirates being killed; or the Dalai Lama's alleged suggestion that it might be better to kill one cow than several shrimp)
  • Saving the tigress from killing her cubs (i.e. her sila) is more important than saving the body
  • The Bodhisattva's gift of his body became a teaching story, so it's also a gift of Dharma

Perhaps we shouldn't "expect" that everyone will behave like (behave as well as) the Bodhisattva: just as not everyone chooses to "go forth into homelessness".

In particular I suspect that if most people did this (killed themselves) it would be an act violence. It was partly the Bodhisattva's insight or wisdom, or something like that, which allowed the Bodhisattva to view it as a (praiseworthy) act of generosity instead of as a (blameworthy) act of killing.

On the other hand, the tigress story and the pirates story are not part of the Pali canon.

Thanissaro Bhikkhu has his own version of the pirate story in this Dhamma talk:

A friend once told me about a question he had posed to a number of his friends. The question was this: “Suppose that you’re dreaming, and in this dream you’re in a boat with your mother and your child, and a lot of other people you really feel you love a lot. A pirate comes along and demands one person’s life. What do you do?” He said as he tells this problem to adults, they think about their mothers and they think about their children, they think about sacrificing themselves and also think, “Well, if I sacrifice myself the kid will suffer…” And they can never solve the problem. But if you pose the question to kids they’ll say, “Well, wake up. It’s just a dream, right?”


May be you have heard of 550 lifes of Buddha.

In that there are many stories like the story of Wessanthara Jathaka story. In that at last he killed him self and presented his head to a king to save a citizen. As buddha said the life of a man is too difficult to gain that you should live upto what it is expected. Buddha was then living in Dhana Paramitha.(Giving) So he had to give anything even he gave away his own children and wife for this.

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