Volume 28, 2021
The Culture of Giving in Myanmar: Buddhist Offerings, Reciprocity and Interdependence. By Hiroko Kawanami. London and New York: Bloomsbury Academic, 2020, xv + 185 pages, ISBN 978-1-350-12417-2 (hardback), $115.00/978-1-350-12418-9 (e-book), $103.50.
Reviewed by Jason Carbine
Volume 20, 2013
The Compassionate Gift of Vice: Śāntideva on Gifts, Altruism, and Poverty
The Mahāyāna Buddhist thinker Śāntideva tells his audience to give out alcohol, weapons and sex for reasons of Buddhist compassion, though he repeatedly warns of the dangers of all these three. The article shows how Śāntideva resolves this issue: these gifts, and gifts in general, attract their recipients to the virtuous giver, in a way that helps the recipients to become more virtuous in the long run. As a consequence, Śāntideva does recommend the alleviation of poverty, but assigns it a much smaller significance than is usually supposed. His views run counter to many engaged Buddhist discussions of political action, and lend support to the “modernist” interpretation of engaged Buddhist practice.
Volume 7, 2000
The Ethics of Esteem
California State University, Long Beach
This article discusses a number of South Asian discourses on the gift that were composed in the medieval period, mostly in the eleventh-thirteenth centuries C.E. I consider several Theravada anthologies on lay conduct that discuss dana, together with several Hindu Dharmasastra digests on the gift (dananibandhas) and Jain texts on lay morality (sravakacaras), and trace out quite remarkable similarities in their terminology, interests, and formal concerns regarding the gift. I am interested in how these discourses scrutinize the face-to-face hospitality encounter, and how this scrutiny is a kind of critical and second order reflection on ethical questions. I argue that these gift discourses articulate a moral point of view, which I call an “ethics of esteem,” in which the chief moral disposition that a giver should possess is a feeling of unquestioning esteem towards the recipient. Gifts are conceived to flow upwards to worthy recipients (usually monks, nuns and Brahmans) out of esteem and devotion. Conversely, gifts made out of compassion or pity to the needy are not so highly valued.