May 16, 2011

the contemporary Dāna

Happy Visakha to all Buddhists all around the world!

The Malay word Dana which meant a fund, takes its form from the Pali/Sanskrit word of Dāna, which grossly bring about the meaning of generosity.

Dāna, is one of the perfection that Buddhism encouraged. Yet, through this virtuous practice, it became a prime target of many parties who go all out to take advantage of this generosity to accumulate their own wealth.

If you'd watch the famous local production movie 'WooHoo', you'll remember a vivid scene when a guy masquerading a multiple characters to con the Char Koay Teow hawker to donate as much as money for him, quoting multiple charity bodies, from the school board to the temple. If you haven't watch it, one should go look it up. Although, the impersonation may seems like complete jokes, but the massive increase in these so-called charity bodies, all well-equipped with letters from police, letters from doctors, photos of the unfortunates, the premises, and etc, is really something real. Happening, right here, right now.

Just for the information of people condemning or condoning the practice of monks in begging for money, well,
in Theravada Buddhism, monks (Pāli: bhikkhus) and nuns go on a daily almsround (or pindacara) to collect food. This is often perceived as giving the laypeople the opportunity to make merit (Pāli: puñña). Money should not be accepted by a Buddhist monk or nun, although nowadays not many monks and nuns keep to this rule (the exception being the monks and nuns of the Thai Forest Tradition and other Theravada traditions which focus on vinaya and meditation practice).
Whether or not contemporary modification of the practice of almsround is justifiable, I guess it is up to the situation or the circumstances that force such changes.

A story about the novice monk and the master monk at the river came to my mind. I guess lots should have heard about this story by now. In short, a girl was at the river bank with them. To make sure the girl safely crossed the river, and not being swept by the rapid undercurrent of the river, the master monk carried that girl on his back to the other side.

The novice monk was pretty disturbed after that and the next day, he asked the Master monk "Are we, monks, not supposed to be close or touch women? How can master carry that girl?" "I already let go off her at the other side of riverbanks, why are you still 'carrying' her?"

Changes in contemporary Dāna is not a must, but it is just the nature of things. Everything changes, well encapsulated in the words of Dhamma as sabbe sankhara annicatti (All things are subject to changes)

I believe we should move on from charity to philanthropy.

Here's top finance-blogger Dali's take on Charity vs Philanthropy (full article here)
Charity and philantropy are not just money, but time and planning.

Much of the contributions to disasters such as the Asian tsunamis and Katrina in US is Charity. Charity is a gift made without any expectations beyond the immediate alteration of a need (giving to a beggar).

Philanthropy takes a more strategic approach as it addresses social challenges such as poverty and inequality, education, health, environmental degradation.

Therefore the need to advance and strengthen philanthropy for social investment and social justice is urgently needed for the following reasons:
  • Decline in volunteerism and giving
  • Reduced role of the state as a provider of social services
  • Diminishing resources for civil society
  • Growing disparities in society
  • Severe environmental degradation
  • Poor mobilizisation of indigenous philanthropy

Worldwide philanthropic models are undergoing sea of change. Company portfolio’s now include social investments and social audits. Consumers are purchasing products from companies that practice ethics and corporate citizenship. Contemporary philanthropy is increasingly organisational in nature.

Global challenges as well as factors like education, economic success are transforming the field of philanthropy. Donors too are concerned about making the world a safer place. Philanthropy is sharing of private wealth through vertical (Corporate) and horizontal (community giving). Strategic Philanthropy is to integrate vertical and horizontal forms of philanthropic giving.

To end, when we find ourselves trying to second guess the real intentions of a philantropist, revert the question to yourself. To the philantropists, it would be encouraged that all go through more self introspection when it comes to altruism - its just your soul, really.
Even if we're not loaded with bucks, we can put in our time and planning.

We need to realize our role to advance and strengthen philanthropy for social investment and social justice to minimize the growing differences in society, the lack of resources for civil society, the environmental decline and the declining role of state in providing social services.
Happy Wesak to all

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