Christmas is here again, though it is hard to get into the spirit of things in Thailand. In the West most people feel that Christmas has become too commercialised, and has lost its original values. What are those values that have been lost? Family spirit? Often the family is the problem, and one that cannot be blamed on commercialisation.
Giving gifts, though at times perhaps a little painful and time consuming, and at other times very lie inducing (ooh isn’t it lovely!), is something that is supported by Buddhism. Giving, called dana in the Pali language appears throughout the suttas, in all kinds of guises, and is considered Punya (meritorious). Though Thai culture tends to present dana and punya as being intimately bound to the temple, the original texts do not usually make that distinction. Dana is any kind of giving, material, spiritual etc.. to any kind of recipient, usually starting with your own family.
And what is the treasure of generosity? There is the case of a disciple of the noble ones, his awareness cleansed of the stain of stinginess, living at home, freely generous, openhanded, delighting in being magnanimous, responsive to requests, delighting in the distribution of alms. This is called the treasure of generosity.
The term Punya refers to the brightening of the heart when you do something that you perceive as good. Put another way it is the happiness you receive from doing good, such as giving things to people. Modern research backs this up. An article at Reuters shows some curious research into the relationship between people’s happiness, and their earning and spending habits.
Basically the idea was it is not how much you earn which decides your happiness that comes from spending money, but the way in which you spend it. Those people who spent more on others reported higher ‘happiness ratings’.
Regardless of how much income each person made, those who spent money on others reported greater happiness, while those who spent more on themselves did not
More participants were given 5$ or 20$. Half of the recipients were given instructions to spend the money on someone else, and half were not. Those spending it on other people reported more joy from the money than those who spend it on themselves, irrespective of whether they received 5 or 20 dollars. The researchers conclude:
These findings suggest that very minor alterations in spending allocations — as little as $5 — may be enough to produce real gains in happiness on a given day.
So before we blame commercialisation for ruining our Christmases (or the hot weather) try an extra bit of dana practise.
These are the five rewards of generosity:
- One is dear and appealing to people at large,
- one is admired by good people,
- one’s good name is spread about,
- one does not stray from the rightful duties of the householder,
- and with the break-up of the body at death, one reappears in a good destination, in the heavenly worlds