Alms

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For other uses, see Alms (disambiguation).
Woman giving alms by János Thorma

Alms (/ɑːmz/, /ɑːlmz/) or almsgiving involves giving to others as an act of virtue, either materially or in the sense of providing capabilities (i. e. education) for free. It exists in a number of religions and regions. The word, in the modern English language, comes from the Old English ælmesse, ælmes, from Late Latin eleemosyna, from Greek ἐλεημοσύνη eleēmosynē "pity, alms", from ἐλεήμων eleēmōn "merciful", from ἔλεος eleos "pity".

Buddhism[edit]

Main article: Dāna
Almsbowl as used by bhikkhus for going on almsround.

In Buddhism, alms or almsgiving is the respect given by a lay Buddhist to a Buddhist monk, nun, spiritually-developed person or other sentient being. It is not charity as presumed by Western interpreters. It is closer to a symbolic connection to the spiritual realm and to show humbleness and respect in the presence of the secular society.[note 1] The act of alms giving assists in connecting the human to the monk or nun and what he/she represents. As the Buddha has stated:

Householders & the homeless or charity [monastics]
in mutual dependence
both reach the true Dhamma....

In Theravada Buddhism, nuns (Pāli: bhikkhunis) and monks (Pāli: bhikkhus) go on a daily almsround (pindacara) to collect food (piṇḍapāta). This is often perceived as giving the laypeople the opportunity to make merit (Pāli: puñña). Money cannot be accepted by a Theravadan Buddhist monk or nun in lieu of or in addition to food, as the Patimokkha training rules make it an offence worth forfeiture and confession.[2]

In countries that follow Mahayana Buddhism, it has been impractical for monks to go on a daily almsround. In China, Korea and Japan, monasteries were situated in remote mountain areas in which the distance between the monastery and the nearest towns would make a daily almsround impossible. In Japan, the practice of a weekly or monthly takuhatsu replaced the daily round. In the Himalayan countries, the large number of bikshus would have made an almsround a heavy burden on families. Competition with other religions for support also made daily almsrounds difficult and even dangerous; the first Buddhist monks in the Shilla dynasty of Korea were said to be beaten due to their minority at the time.[citation needed]

In Buddhism, both "almsgiving" and, more generally, "giving" are called "dāna" (Pāli).[3] Such giving is one of the three elements of the path of practice as formulated by the Buddha for laypeople. This path of practice for laypeople is: dāna, sīla, bhāvanā.[4]

The paradox in Buddhism is that the more a person gives – and the more one gives without seeking something in return – the wealthier (in the broadest sense of the word) one will become.[citation needed] By giving one destroys those acquisitive impulses that ultimately lead to further suffering. Generosity is also expressed towards other sentient beings as both a cause for merit and to aid the receiver of the gift. In Mahayana Tradition it is accepted that although the three jewels of refuge are the basis of the greatest merit, by seeing other sentient beings as having Buddhanature and making offerings towards the aspirational Buddha to be within them is of equal benefit. Generosity towards other sentient beings is greatly emphasised in Mahayana as one of the perfections (paramita) as shown in Lama Tsong Khapa's 'The Abbreviated Points of the Graded Path' (Tibetan: lam-rim bsdus-don):

Total willingness to give is the wish-granting gem for fulfilling the hopes of wandering beings.
It is the sharpest weapon to sever the knot of stinginess.
It leads to bodhisattva conduct that enhances self-confidence and courage,
And is the basis for universal proclamation of your fame and repute.
Realizing this, the wise rely, in a healthy manner, on the outstanding path
Of (being ever-willing) to offer completely their bodies, possessions, and positive potentials.
The ever-vigilant lama has practiced like that.
If you too would seek liberation,
Please cultivate yourself in the same way.[5]

In Buddhism, giving of alms is the beginning of one's journey to Nirvana (Pali: nibbana). In practice, one can give anything with or without thought for Nibbana. This would lead to faith (Pali: saddha), one key power (Pali: bala) that one should generate within oneself for the Buddha, Dhamma and Sangha.

The motives behind giving play an important role in developing spiritual qualities. The suttas record various motives for exercising generosity. For example, the Anguttara Nikaya (A.iv,236) enumerates the following eight motives:[6]

  1. Asajja danam deti: one gives with annoyance, or as a way of offending the recipient, or with the idea of insulting him.
  2. Bhaya danam deti: fear also can motivate a person to make an offering.
  3. Adasi me ti danam deti: one gives in return for a favor done to oneself in the past.
  4. Dassati me ti danam deti: one also may give with the hope of getting a similar favor for oneself in the future.
  5. Sadhu danan ti danam deti: one gives because giving is considered good.
  6. Aham pacami, ime ne pacanti, na arahami pacanto apacantanam adatun ti danam deti: "I cook, they do not cook. It is not proper for me who cooks not to give to those who do not cook." Some give urged by such altruistic motives.
  7. Imam me danam dadato kalyano kittisaddo abbhuggacchati ti danam deti: some give alms to gain a good reputation.
  8. Cittalankara-cittaparikkarattham danam deti: still others give alms to adorn and beautify the mind.

According to the Pali canon:

Of all gifts [alms], the gift of Dhamma is the highest.

Dhp. XXIV v. 354)[note 3]

Christianity[edit]

Alms bag taken from a tapestry in Orléans, fifteenth century

The giving of 'alms' is an act of charity toward those less fortunate. In the Apostolic age, Christians were taught that giving alms was an expression of love which was first expressed by God to them in that Jesus sacrificed himself as an act of love for the salvation of believers.[8] The offertory is the traditional moment in Roman Catholic Mass, Anglican Eucharist, and Lutheran Divine Services when alms are collected. Some Protestant groups, such as Baptists or Methodists, also engage in alms, although it is more commonly referred to as "tithes and offerings" by the church. Some fellowships practice regular giving for special purposes called Love Offerings for the poor, destitute or victims of catastrophic loss such as home fires or medical expenses. Traditionally, Deacons and Deaconesses are responsible for distributing these gifts among widows, orphans, and others in need. Many Christians support a plethora of charitable organizations not all of which claim a Christian religious affiliation. Many American Educational and Medical Institutions were founded by Christian fellowships giving alms.

Collecting the Offering in a Scottish Kirk by John Phillip

In the Eastern Orthodox Church and the Eastern Catholic Churches, the collection of alms and tithes has not been formally united to the offertory in any liturgical action. However, either having a collection plate in the narthex or passing it unobtrusively during the service is not uncommon. In Orthodox theology, almsgiving is an important part of the spiritual life, and fasting should always be accompanied by increased prayer and almsgiving.[9] Almsgiving in the name of the deceased also frequently accompanies prayer for the dead. Those whose financial circumstances do not permit the giving of monetary alms may give alms in other ways, such as intercessory prayer and acts of mercy.

In the majority of Christian forms of worship and denominations, a collection of "tithes and offerings" is given for the support of the church's mission, budget, ministry, and for its relief of the poor, as an important act of Christian charity, united to communal prayer. In some churches the "offering plate" or "offering basket" is placed upon the altar, as a sign that the offering is made to God, and a sign of the bond of Christian love.[note 4] In addition, private acts of charity, considered virtuous only if not done for others to admire, are seen as a Christian duty.

Be careful not to do your 'acts of righteousness' in front of others, to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven.

The outward and an inward giving of alms:
Here Jesus places the primary focus on the motives behind such acts, which should be love.

Rather, give as alms what is inside, and then everything will be clean for you!

Giving of the rich versus the poor:
Here Jesus contrasts the giving of the rich and the poor

He looked up and saw the rich putting their gifts into the treasury. And He saw a poor widow putting in two small copper coins. And He said, 'Truly I say to you, this poor widow put in more than all of them; for they all out of their surplus put into the offering; but she out of her poverty put in all that she had to live on.'

Giving out of Love and not out of duty:

He will reply, 'I tell you the truth, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.'

Hinduism[edit]

Lady giving alms at the Temple, by Raja Ravi Varma, (1848–1906)
Main articles: bhiksha and karmkand

Bhiksha is a devotional offering, usually food, presented at a temple or to a swami or a religious Brahmin who in turn provides a religious service (karmkand) or instruction. According to Vasishtha Samhitha (Chapter XXIX):

  1. Through Alms giving to poor obtains all his desires
  2. (Even) longevity, (and he is born again as) a student of the Veda, possessed of beauty.
  3. He who abstains from injuring (sentient beings) obtains heaven.
  4. By entering a fire the world of Brahman (is gained).
  5. By (a vow of) silence (he obtains) happiness.
  6. By staying (constantly) in water he becomes a lord of elephants.
  7. He who expends his hoard (in gifts) becomes free from disease.
  8. A giver of water (becomes) rich by (the fulfilment of) all his desires.
  9. A giver of food (will have) beautiful eyes and a good memory.
  10. He who gives a promise to protect (somebody) from all dangers (becomes) wise.
  11. (To bestow gifts) for the use of cows (is equal to) bathing at all sacred places.
  12. By giving a couch and a seat (the giver becomes) master of a harem.
  13. By giving an umbrella (the giver) obtains a house.
  14. He who gives a House to a poor family obtains a town
  15. He who gives a pair of Shoes obtains a vehicle.
  16. Now they quote also (the following verses): Whatever sin a man distressed for livelihood commits, (from that) he is purified by giving land, (be it) even "a bull's hide".
  17. He who gives to a Brâhmana guest a vessel filled with water for sipping, will obtain after death complete freedom from thirst and be born again as a drinker of Soma.
  18. If a gift of one thousand oxen fit to draw a carriage (has been bestowed) according to the rule on a perfectly worthy man, that is equal to giving a maiden.
  19. They declare that cows, land, and learning are the three most excellent gifts. For to give learning is (to bestow) the greatest of all gifts, and it surpasses those (other gifts).
  20. A learned man who, free from envy, follows this rule of conduct which procures endless rewards, and which through final liberation frees him from transmigration.
  21. Or who, full of faith, pure, and subduing his senses, remembers or even hears it, will, freed from all sin, be exalted in the highest heaven.

Inspired by Hinduism, Acharya Vinoba Bhave started The Bhoodan movement (Hindi: भूदान, Urdu: بھودان) or Land Gift Movement in 1951, as a voluntary land reform movement in India. This experiment in voluntary social justice, has had a tangible effect on the lives of many people – over 5 million acres (20,000 km2) were donated.

Puranas[edit]

Benefits of charity according to different Puranas:[10]

1. Vishnu Purana

2. Agni Purana

3. Brahma Purana

4. Nursingh Purana

5. Aditya Purana

6. Padma Purana

5 Debts[edit]

Hindu scriptures say that every human being is born owing five important debts: debt to God, debt to Ancestors, debt to Humankind, debt to Guests, debt to Animals and plants (or debt to Nature) and they must repay those karmic debts during their lifetime.

The fifth debt to the cosmic elements and everything that arises out of them (bhutrun) means debt to Nature — a person is indebted to plants, trees, birds, animals and nature (called Bhuta Rin) — repaid by offering good will, food, water, or any other help that is appropriate.

Repaying these five debts, called pancha-maha-yajna, is compulsory in Hinduism. By these five yajna the worshipper places himself in correct relations with God, ancestors, spirits, men, the organic creation, nature and himself.

Islam[edit]

Main article: Sadaqah

In Islam, the concept of charitable giving is generally divided into voluntary giving, or Sadaqah and the Zakat, an obligatory practice governed by a specific set of rules within Islamic jurisprudence, and intended to fulfill a well defined set of theological and social requirements. For that reason, while Zakat plays a much larger role within Islamic charity, Sadaqah is possibly a better translation of Christian influenced formulations of the notion of 'alms'.

Zakat is the third of the five pillars of Islam.[11][12] Various rules attach to the practice but, in general terms, it is obligatory to give 2.5% of one's savings and business revenue and 5–10% of one's harvest to the poor. Possible recipients include the destitute, the working poor, those who are unable to pay off their own debts, stranded travelers and others who need assistance, with the general principle of zakaah always being that the rich should pay it to the poor. One of the most important principles of Islam is that all things belong to God and, therefore, wealth is held by human beings in trust.

The literal meaning of the word Zakat is "to purify", "to develop" and "cause to grow". According to Shariah it is an act of worship. Our possessions are purified by setting aside a proportion for those in need. This cutting back, like the pruning of plants, balances and encourages new growth.

Zakat is the amount of money that every adult, mentally stable, free, and financially able Muslim, male or female, has to pay to support specific categories of people.

This category of people is defined in surah at-Taubah (9) verse 60: "The alms are only for the poor and the needy, and those who collect them, and those whose hearts are to be reconciled, and to free the captives and the debtors, and for the cause of Allah, and (for) the wayfarers; a duty imposed by Allah. Allah is knower, Wise." (The Holy Qur'an 9:60).

The obligatory nature of Zakat is firmly established in the Qur'an, the Sunnah (or hadith), and the consensus of the companions and the Muslim scholars. Allah states in Surah at-Taubah verses 34–35: "O ye who believe! there are indeed many among the priests and anchorites, who in Falsehood devour the substance of men and hinder (them) from the way of Allah. And there are those who bury gold and silver and spend it not in the way of Allah. announce unto them a most grievous penalty – On the Day when heat will be produced out of that (wealth) in the fire of Hell, and with it will be branded their foreheads, their flanks, and their backs, their flanks, and their backs.- "This is the (treasure) which ye buried for yourselves: taste ye, then, the (treasures) ye buried!" (The Holy Qur'an 9:34–35).

Muslims of each era have agreed upon the obligatory nature of paying Zakat for gold and silver, and from those the other kinds of currency.

Zakat is obligatory when a certain amount of money, called the nisab is reached or exceeded. Zakat is not obligatory if the amount owned is less than this nisab. The nisab (or minimum amount) of gold and golden currency is 20 mithqal, approximately 85 grams of pure gold. One mithqal is approximately 4.25 grams. The nisab of silver and silver currency is 200 dirhams, which is approximately 595 grams of pure silver. The nisab of other kinds of money and currency is to be scaled to that of gold; the nisab of money is equivalent to the price of 85 grams of 999-type (pure) gold, on the day in which Zakat is paid.

Zakat is obligatory after the money has been in the control of its owner for the span of one lunar year. Then the owner needs to pay 2.5% (or 1/40) of the money as Zakat. (A lunar year is approximately 355 days). The owner should deduct any amount of money he or she borrowed from others; then check if the rest reaches the necessary nisab, then pays Zakat for it.

If the owner had enough money to satisfy the nisab at the beginning of the year, but his wealth in any form increased, the owner needs to add the increase to the nisab amount owned at the beginning of the year, then pay Zakat, 2.5%, of the total at the end of the lunar year. There are minor differences between fiqh school on how this is to be calculated. Each Muslim calculates his or her own Zakat individually. For most purposes, this involves the payment each year of two and a half percent of one's capital.

A pious person may also give as much as he or she pleases as sadaqa, and does so preferably in secret. Although this word can be translated as 'voluntary charity' it has a wider meaning. The Prophet said 'Even meeting your brother with a cheerful face is charity.'

The Prophet said: 'Charity is a necessity for every Muslim.' He was asked: 'What if a person has nothing?' The Prophet replied: 'He should work with his own hands for his benefit and then give something out of such earnings in charity.' The Companions asked: 'What if he is not able to work?' The Prophet said: 'He should help poor and needy persons.' The Companions further asked 'What if he cannot do even that?' The Prophet said 'He should urge others to do good.' The Companions said 'What if he lacks that also?' The Prophet said 'He should check himself from doing evil. That is also charity.'

Judaism[edit]

Main article: Tzedakah
Sandstone vestige of a Jewish gravestone depicting a Tzedakah box (pushke). Jewish cemetery in Otwock (Karczew-Anielin), Poland.
Tzedakah pouch and gelt (Yiddish for coins/money) on fur-like padding.

In Judaism, tzedakah - a Hebrew term literally meaning righteousness but commonly used to signify charity [13] - refers to the religious obligation to do what is right and just.[14] Contemporary tzedakah is regarded as a continuation of the Biblical Maaser Ani, or poor-tithe, as well as Biblical practices including permitting the poor to glean the corners of a field, harvest during the Shmita (Sabbatical year), and other practices. Tzedakah, along with prayer and repentance, is regarded as ameliorating the consequences of bad acts.

In Judaism, Tzedakah (charity) is seen as one of the greatest deeds that man can do. The bible states that Jews must give at least 10% of their income to the poor.[15] Jewish farmers are also commanded to leave the corners of their fields for the starving to harvest for food and are forbidden to pick up any grain that has been dropped during harvesting, as such food shall be left for the starving as well.

Famous Jewish scholar and sage Maimonides has been noted for creating a list of charity, with the most righteous form being allowing an individual to become self-sustaining and capable of giving others charity.

1) Giving begrudgingly

2) Giving less than you should, but giving it cheerfully.

3) Giving after being asked

4) Giving before being asked

5) Giving when you do not know the recipient's identity, but the recipient knows your identity

6) Giving when you know the recipient's identity, but the recipient doesn't know your identity

7) Giving when neither party knows the other's identity

8) Enabling the recipient to become self-reliant

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ Indicative of the mutual nature of the almsgiving exchange, in some Theravada countries, if a monk were to refuse alms from someone—a gesture known as "turning over the rice bowl"—this would be interpreted as an act of excommunication of the almsgiver by the monk. An example of such a refusal the refusal of Buddhist monks to accept offerings by military personnel in military-occupied Myanmar (Mydans, 20 September 2007, NYT).
  2. ^ Almsgiving is also commended by the Buddha in a less prominent way in various other canonical texts such as the Dighajanu Sutta.
  3. ^ In Pali, this line is: "Sabba danam, Dhamma danam jinati." This line can be found in the Dhammapada, Chapter 24, verse 354. Thanissaro (1997)[7] translates this entire verse as:

    A gift of Dhamma conquers all gifts;
    the taste of Dhamma, all tastes;
    a delight in Dhamma, all delights;
    the ending of craving, all suffering
    & stress.

  4. ^ Cf. Matthew 5:23–24

References[edit]

  1. ^ Thanissaro (2001).Accesstoinsight.org
  2. ^ Thanissaro (2007)
  3. ^ Nyanatiloka (1980), entry for "dāna". Budsas.org
  4. ^ Nyanatiloka (1980), entry for "dāna" Budsas.org; and, PTS (1921–25), entry for "Puñña" (merit)Uchicago.edu.
  5. ^ Tsongkhapa & Berzin (2001), verse 15.
  6. ^ Accesstoinsight.org
  7. ^ Accesstoinsight.org
  8. ^ The Book of James, chapter 1:27 (NIV) "Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world."
  9. ^ Kallistos (Ware), Bishop; Mary, Mother (1978). The Lenten Triodion. South Canaan PA: St. Tikhon's Seminary Press (published 2002). pp. 35ff. ISBN 1-878997-51-3 
  10. ^ Reasons for charity
  11. ^ "Five Pillars". PBS. Retrieved 2010-11-17. 
  12. ^ Hooker, Richard (July 14, 1999). "arkan ad-din the five pillars of religion". Washington State University. Archived from the original on 2010-12-03. Retrieved 2010-11-17. 
  13. ^ Rabbi Hayim Halevy Donin; 'To Be A Jew.' Basic Books, New York; 1972, pp. 48.
  14. ^ "Jews do not practice charity, and the concept is virtually nonexistent in Jewish tradition. Instead of charity, the Jew gives tzedakah, which means 'righteousness' and 'justice.' When the Jew contributes his money, time and resources to the needy, he is not being benevolent, generous or 'charitable.' He is doing what is right and just." Tzedakah vs The Myth of Charity; by Yanki Tauber; Retrieved 03-11-2012.
  15. ^ ?

External links[edit]

Buddhist[edit]

Christian[edit]

Islamic[edit]

Judaism[edit]

See also[edit]