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Obligation or Generosity?

personperson Don't believe everything you thinkThe liminal space Veteran
edited November 2018 in Buddhism Today

My meditation center runs off the dana system of donations. A common refrain when asking for money is to receive teachings and programs as a gift and to give out of a feeling of generosity and appreciation rather than a sense of obligation or guilt.

So I was asking myself (and Google) the question of what is our relation regarding helping others, are we obligated or is our help an act of generosity. I guess its still an open question for me to what extent our interconnected society obliges us to others and to what extent we are free to act as we see fit and helping is a kindness.

A few short writings that I found insightful.

The role of intention

Guilterosity and Guiltassion... Brilliant

Concrete guides on where to draw boundaries

Utilitarian philosopher Peter Singer thinks we are obligated

Any thoughts or experiences are appreciated. For now you are allowed to offer them freely, or not, as is your wont.



  • I think it's a difference in culture between traditional Buddhist cultures and many so called western culture. Giving "charity" is thought more an obligation in the west.

  • Three forms

    For those needing to express generosity my offshore accounts are always empty ... o:)
    It is better to receive in the right way than to give in the wrong ... B)

  • federicafederica Seeker of the clear blue sky... Its better to remain silent and be thought a fool, than to speak out and remove all doubt Moderator

    The Concrete Guides (link 2) describe the relationship between someone practising Idiot Compassion, and an emotional vampire.

    I recognise it well...

  • JasonJason God Emperor Arrakis Moderator
    edited November 2018

    I always like to recommend this pair of essays by Thanissaro Bhikkhu: "The Economy of Gifts" and "No Strings Attached: The Buddha's Culture of Generosity." The problem in the west is, we don't have the same tradition of generosity and 'gift economies,' so we tend to want something tangible and immediate in exchange for our money. And if we can get something for free, great. Why pay for it? I think that a big reason why many western Christian traditions have tithing as an obligation and monks having to work rather than depend on the generosity of the nonreligious community. My own feelings on it from a similar thread:

    On the one hand, I lean towards the side of the Dhamma being freely given and teachers/centers being dana-based. On the other, we live in a capitalist society, where money is king. Centers require money to operate, and teachers have bills to pay. My thoughts are, if you don't like the idea or don't think it's worth the money, don't go and meditate on your own. Your breath is free, and there's plenty of free teachings online to help supplement your practice. But if you have the money to spare and you think there's value in what they're offering, there are worse things you could spend it on.

    I guess in a sense we have an obligation in that, if we don't help support these kinds of places, they won't be around for very long. They require the generosity and support of the whole community to exist.

  • personperson Don't believe everything you think The liminal space Veteran

    @Jason said:

    I guess in a sense we have an obligation in that, if we don't help support these kinds of places, they won't be around for very long. They require the generosity and support of the whole community to exist.

    That's kind of how I seem to view these things as well. When I do give money or time the attitude in my mind is more along the lines of "I value this place and people, and I want it to support its continued existence and flourishing". I've also felt this way in regards to media content, it's easy enough to get most things for free if you want but I've always paid for it whenever I can. Not so much because I really felt guilty for using something without paying, even though there was some of that, but more because if people don't pay for content it won't continue being made and other things like it are less likely to be produced as well.

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