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From giving up to giving : an ethical study of the evolution of the Theravāda theory and practice of dāna


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Kusaladhamma, Welimadagama




Doctor of Philosophy in Religious Studies


Capitanio, Joshua
Gabriel, Victor
Shakya, Miroj


This dissertation examines the ethical evolution of the Theravāda theory and practice of dāna. Dāna is one of the most popular and the oldest Theravāda religious practices. As a religious practice, it has evolved on two ethical levels in Theravāda Buddhist history. This can be clearly recognized by examining the different literary strata that belong to this Buddhist tradition. The original Buddhist concept is cāga (giving up) in the context of dāna and has a direct relation to nibbāna, the final goal of Buddhism, as an ethical goal. This is because in the achievement of nibbāna, one gives up all types of cravings or ties to saṃsāra. In the context of dāna, this can be recognized as ‘cāga’ (giving up). Cāga can be considered as a radical psychological quality strongly grounded on the final goal, and as the key or the foundation achieve nibbāna. Because cāga is stated in Buddhist texts as a synonym for nibbāna.

However, after assimilating the practice of dāna from the contemporary religious and social practices at the time of the Buddha in India due to various considerations, Buddhist teachings had to develop it as a reward-oriented religious practice for achieving worldly or mundane happiness like gaining a favorable rebirth. Accordingly, Theravādins have developed the theory and practice of dāna. It seems that in this development, nibbāna, the final goal of Buddhism was relegated to an unforeseeable future, to the time of Metteyya Buddha. Accordingly, giving up for the sake of nibbāna has become giving for the sake of saṃsāra, saṃsāric happiness. Development of dāna as the first and most merit-making act, pattidāna (transference of merit), and pattānumodana (rejoicing in others’ merit) based on the concepts of kamma and rebirth is significant in this evolution. In addition, developing dāna as the ethics of altruism based on the concepts of the Buddha, the bodhisattva, and the funerary rituals; as social ethics; and as an ethical practice directed to nibbāna are some of the meaningful aspects of this development.

Degree Granter

University of the West



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