Dana, or how Myanmar became the most generous country?

It’s not quite easy for the world to understand why a small country like Myanmar is deemed the ‘Most generous country’ in the world. According to the 2014 report of ‘Charities Aid Foundation of America’ (CAF America), Myanmar together with The U.S. shared the first rank in the world in donating to charities. The number of Burmese who donated money last year is accounted for 91 per cent. This is seemingly due to Myanmar’s deeply rooted charitable traditional and religious practices. It is not that awe-inspiring if you know the nature of Dana (ဒါန) and how it influences Buddhists’ way of life in Myanmar.

Dana (ဒါန) is one of Buddhism basic teachings. To literally translate the term ‘Dana’ is difficult. Most of people usually translate it as ‘charity’. In my opinion, referring Dana to ‘charity’ alone is still not accurate. Charity means a voluntary act of giving of money to those in need[1]. The charity mainly depends on money whereas the word Dana is associated with not only money or help but also the blessedness, ‘that blesses the one who gives as the one who receives’.

Daily almsgiving

If you’re in Mandalay, you’ll see the habits of daily almsgiving very widely. Monks go on their rounds with their alms bowl and stop for a while before layman’s houses where they wait to receive offerings. Monks usually do not go inside layman’s houses unless invited.

Some households wait for the monks every morning to offer their alms. The quality or quantity does not matter as much as the spirits in which it is given. This is one of Dana practice in Burmese culture.

On the monks’ side

For monks to walk around and take what people have to offer is an act of loving kindness because, by doing so, monks give people a chance to seek merit, the rich or the poor. Those who cannot afford sending food to monasteries or inviting monks to their houses can seek merit by offering a spoonful of rice or fruit to the monks on their rounds.

The spirits of Dana

When Burmese people offer something to anyone, they feel gratitude towards the recipients as they are getting a chance to do good deeds by giving. Likewise, we give monks food alms and often some daily necessity not because they mainly rely on our charity. Simply put, it’s not like we do the monks a favor. Looking at it the other way round, it’s because of the monks, we have a chance to donate, give alms and do good deeds. That’s what the core value and spirit of Dana are really about.

Jewels in Pagoda

Inside every pagoda, there is a storeroom called ‘Htar Panar Tike’. On the last day of the pagoda’s construction, that storage room will be closed permanently. On this special day, before we definitely close this room, many people come and anonymously give away their jewels by throwing them in the room. This is also another way of practicing Dana; to give and donate without the thought of recognition. That’s why there’re plenty of jewels in pagodas that are nameless.

To conclude my essay about Dana, let me give you one Burmese saying: ‘အလွဴေရစက္ လက္နဲ႔မကြာ’, which means ‘keep in touch with good deeds’. However, Burmeses people don’t leave it as a saying, they commit to it and practice it. All these lead to Myanmar being the most generous country worldwide.

[1] According to the definition from the Concise Oxford English Dictionary