dAna is one of the important constituents of dharma acharana prescribed by our shAstras. Be it the shrutis, smritis, puranas, itihasas or later day shAstra granthas, all of them have given great importance to dAna. dAna fetches immense puNya and destroys great sins.
Out of the many karmas suggested in the shAstras such as yaga, homa, upavasa, tapas, adhyayana and so on, dAna is also an important karma. Especially in kali yuga, dAna is most needed since it is the easiest way to burn pApa and acquire puNya.
Our elders have rightly identified that a man’s hands are adorned by dAna, and not by golden bangles.
“dAnEna paniH na tu kaNkaNEna”
dAna for humans:
Once, a group of dEvatas, asuras and mAnavas approached brahma and requested him for granting knowledge on what dharma to follow.
brahma advised all three of them to perform “da”. Since dEvatas are always immersed in bhOga, enjoyment of pleasures, he asked them to practice “dama” or control of senses. Asuras are always inclined towards cruelty to others. Hence brahma asked them to practice “daya” or kindness.
human beings are always full of lObha or greed. To give up something is unnatural. Hence brahma asked humans to practice dAna. Thus dAna came about as a great tapas and prayaschitta sadhana for humans.
dAna under any circumstance:
shAstra ascribes such great merit to dAna that irrespective of how it is done, the donor still gets puNya.
a) shraddhayA dEyam – one should perform dAna with full shraddhA or devotion. One must do it with the conviction that it is meritorious since it is prescribed by shAstra.
b) ashraddhayA dEyam – one must give even if one doesn’t have conviction. dAna is the activity and shraddha is its constituent. Just because one lacks a constituent, the activity itself cannot be given up.
c) shriyA dEyam – one should give dAna with a completely pleasant mind. One must give as much as possible.
d) hriyA dEyam – even if one doesn’t have the generosity to give dAna, he should do it at least looking at others who are doing so, even if with a sense of competition or guilt.
e) bhiyA dEyam – it is fine even if one gives dAna due to fear of naraka and poverty that may strike if such a dharmic activity is not done.
f) samvidA dEyam – one should do with good knowledge of what actually dAna is. He should do it with the knowledge that it is actually the paramatma inside the donee who is actually accepting our humble offering. We should do it with the prayer that paramatma should become pleased with our dAna.
The hierarchy of dAna:
There are 3 main categories of dAna – satvika, rajasica and tamasica.
That dAna which is done with belief and with a sense of duty; that which is done in an auspicious place and at an appropriate time; that which is done without a sense of expectation (from the receiver) and given to a deserving person – such a dAna is said to be satvika.
dAna which is done with some expectation in return, or that which is done in order to obtain swarga or comforts; that dAna which is done from wealth acquired through dubious means – such dAna is said to be rajasica
dAna which is done at inappropriate places and times; that which is given to non-deserving receivers; that which is done without following any procedure or by insulting the receiver – such dAna is said to be tamasica.
Another classification of dAna is in terms of uttama, madhyama and adhama
dAna which exceeds ones capacity is uttama (best)
dAna which matches ones capacity is madhyama (par)
dAna which falls short of ones capacity is adhama (below par)
The six attributes of dAna:
There are six attributes of dAna and the same has been highlighted very well in the Mahabharata, Anushasana Parva.
dAtA pratigruhItA cha dEyaM sOpakramaM tathA |
dEshakAlau cha yattvEtaddAnaM shaDguNamuchyatE ||
1) dAtA – or giver. The person performing the dAna, if he is clean, of good character and with devotion to Lord and full of conviction – such a giver is the best.
2) pratigruhItA – or receiver. One who is from a good family, is well educated (in the shastras), performs dharmic duty without fail and has a good character – such a person is the best pratigruhItA
3) dEya – or that which is being given. The substance which is being given as dAna should have been acquired through dharmic means. Stolen property, illegally acquired material, that which has been gained by cheating or troubling many others – such dEya are to be avoided as they bring no merit.
4) upakrama – or state of the substance. One should always perform dAna of that which is very dear to self. Giving away what is precious brings great hita and puNya to the giver.
5) dEsha – or location. dAna which is performed in teertha kshetras, on the banks of rivers, in holy cities and in places where satvik people have resided is best.
6) kAla – sharad and vasanta rutus, vaishaka, karthika and magha mAsas, shukla paksha, pUrnima and the time of eclipses – these are most appropriate for dAna.
The relative merits of dAna:
Like mentioned earlier, the puNya obtained by dAna is proportional to one’s capacity to give away. Vishnu rahasya explains this with a beautiful example.
If three people who earn 10, 100 and 1000 rupees respectively give dAna of 1, 10 and 100 rupees, then the puNya earned by all three is same. However, if the person earning 100 gives 5 while the one earning 1000 gives 10, then the person giving 5 earns more puNya even though the other person donated double the amount. The amount of dAna, therefore, should always be measured against one’s own capacity and not against what others give.
If a person is in great poverty (mahA dAridrya), then there is no pApa if he does not perform dAna.
The various dAnas:
a) anna dAna – is one of the most auspicious dAnas. This is one category of dAna where the recipient could be any person (no special qualification required). Anyone who is hungry is a satpAtra. anna dAna destroys many sins.
b) suvarna dAna – suvarna dAna brings great pleasure to devatas. It fulfills all desires of the giver.
c) gO dAna – the dAna of a cow gives thousands of years of swarga to the giver. It also ensures great prosperity to the lineage of the giver.
d) bhU dAna – the donation of land is extremely auspicious. It bestows long life, health and immense prosperity.
e) kanyA dAna – the dAna of a kanya to a suitable groom ensures one’s own lineage grows prosperously.
f) vidyA dAna – one who teaches a student gains great intelligence, confidence and retention ability.
g) tila dAna – one who donates tila (sesame) burns away numerous of his sins. He gets the puNya of having performed the agnishTOma yAga.
h) deepa dAna – donating deepa brings immense knowledge.
Many other dAnas are prescribed in the shAshtras, all of which have their own merits. Some other important dAnas are
Ajya dAna, vastra dAna, dhAnya dAna, lavaNa dAna, pustaka dAna, saligrama dAna, madhu dAna, ksheera dAna, phala dAna, kumbha dAna, ashwa dAna and so on.
1) dAnada vidhi vidAnagalu – a book in Kannada by shrI rAma viTTalachArya, tattva samshodhana samsat
2) A history of Dharmashastra – volumes II and III – by shrI panduranga vAmana kAne
3) Srimadbhagavadgita – chapter 17
4) mahAbhArata – anushAsana parva
5) vishnu rahasya – chapter 38