Dāna (布施) is a Sanskrit and Pali word that connotes the virtue of generosity, charity or giving of alms in Indian philosophies. It has also been spelled as Daana.
In Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism and Sikhism, dāna is the practice of cultivating generosity. It can take the form of giving to an individual in distress or need. It can also take the form of philanthropic public projects that empower and help many.
Giving (Dāna) is seen as the beginning of virtue in Theravada Buddhism and as the basis for developing further on the path. In Buddhist countries, this is seen in the giving of alms to Buddhist monastics but also extends to generosity in general (towards family, friends, coworkers, guests, animals). Giving is said to make one happy, generate good merit as well as develop non-attachment, therefore it is not just good because it creates good karmic fruits, but it also develops one’s spiritual qualities. In Buddhist thought, the cultivation of dana and ethical conduct will themselves refine consciousness to such a level that rebirth in one of the lower hells is unlikely, even if there is no further Buddhist practice. There is nothing improper or un-Buddhist about limiting one’s aims to this level of attainment.
Dāna as a formal religious act is directed specifically to a monastic or spiritually-developed person. In Buddhist thought, it has the effect of purifying and transforming the mind of the giver.
Generosity developed through giving leads to experience of material wealth and possibly being reborn in happy states. In the Pāli Canon’s Dighajanu Sutta, generosity (denoted there by the Pāli word cāga, which can be synonymous with dāna) is identified as one of the four traits conditioning happiness and wealth in the next life. Conversely, lack of giving leads to unhappy states and poverty.
Dāna leads to one of the pāramitās or “perfections”, the dānapāramitā. This can be characterized by unattached and unconditional generosity, giving and letting go.
Buddhists believe that giving without seeking anything in return leads to greater spiritual wealth. Moreover, it reduces the acquisitive impulses that ultimately lead to continued suffering from egotism.