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Daana, principal virtue of a Bodhisatva

Sumana Saparamadu Daana-giving, charity, Seela-self control and Bhavana-development of the mind, are the three virtues devotees Upaasaka Upaasika try to cultivate on Vesak Day. Daana and Seela are the first two mentioned in the list of 10 paaramita-principal virtues-a Bodhisatva, one aspiring to become a Buddha cultivates.

Daana is giving without any strings attached, expecting nothing in return or as a reward; nor is it giving for the sake of giving to keep-up with others, or giving because one has enough and more, be it money or materials.

The author of Loveda Sangara, a collection of didactic verse has put it so succinctly and simply the thought I have enough I will give away the rest.

Whatever is given must be given in faith daanam dadaathi saddaya, and with altruistic thoughts before, during and after the act of giving is what is expected says the Loveda Sangara. If one is of two minds before giving or if one has regrets after giving, it is not a true daana - a gift in the true sense of the word.

What should be given whether to Bhikkus or laymen? What they need most-the essentials of life. Western scholars consider food, clothing and shelter as the essentials of life. The Buddha added one more-medicaments-to the Sivu Pasa that a bhikkhu needed.

This 'Sivu-Pasa' are the essentials of life for laymen too.

The many dansalas-wayside stalls serving food and drink on Vesak Day and the day after, are a manifestation of the 'common' man's endeavour to cultivate the virtue of daana.

Men and women who have been trading on pavements and in markets, or tending their crops in fields and farms for 50 or 51 weeks of the year will take time off from work and pool their savings, and get contributions from the 'haves' to set up a dansala, serving full meals at mid-day and from sun-down.

Others will serve only tea or coffee, kiri kopi-coffee with milk says the banner near the stall, or a sago porridge near a temple or in rural area a on the route to a temple to which many devotees come on Vesak Day.

A dansala is primarily for the dugee Magee and Yaachaka - the poor, the wayfarer and the beggar, but many on their sight - seeing rounds on Vesak might will drop in at a dansala to have a snack or quench their thirst.

No one will go to sleep on an empty stomach on Vesak night or the next two or three nights. Vesak is not the time for largesse. It is the season when the small time traders and the office aides and farmers will give what they can with altruistic thoughts. "They let the big businessmen set up the pandals and give their mite and work together to feed as many as possible on Vesak Day.

The dansala has a long history. The Mahavamsa records that king Dutu Gemunu set up permanent daana sala in 18 places to provide "medicine and food as prescribed by physicians for the sick." There are records of other kings who set up daana sala. Queen Leelawathi who ruled the country from Polonnaruwa in the 12th century set up a daana sala in Anuradhapura for the benefit of pilgrims.

The daana sala was a feature in India in the time of the Buddha, "In some cities special halls had been built to provide food and other necessaries of life to the poor. At

Benares a rich man once built six halls of Bounty. One at each of four gates, one in the middle of the city and infront the palace" (Indian Culture in the Days of the Buddha - A.P. de Zoysa). Some families had established almonries and kept them going for generations (ibid).

Abhaya Daana is another feature of the Vesak celebrations it literally means "giving release from fear" - the fear of death. Cattle consigned for slaughter, for human consumption, are bought from the owners of slaughter houses and set free on lands set apart for this purpose.

The money paid to this slaughter house has been donated by people of the area. The animals will be given away to farmers who need them and are sure to lookafter them.

         
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