What Are the Factors of
“What are the factors of Sanghikadāna, offerings
made to the Sangha as a whole?
How are we to perform
this type of donation?”
The Dakkhināvibhanga Sutta of the Majjhimanikāya
mentions seven types of Sanghikadāna:
Offerings to both Sanghas headed by the
After the parinibbāna of the Buddha, offerings to
Offerings to the Bhikkhu Sangha only.
Offering to the Bhikkhunī Sangha only.
Offerings to selected bhikkhus and bhikkhunīs as the
Offerings to selected bhikkhus as the Sangha’s
Offerings to selected bhikkhunīs as the Sangha’s
When making such offerings, one should focus one’s
mind on giving to the Sangha. So the Buddha classified seven
kinds of Sangha. This Sanghikadāna brings the greatest
benefits for all. Before making the offerings, the donor
should meditate on the nine virtues of the Sangha. He or she
should banish the idea of personal references or personal
attitudes towards any individual monk, regarding the whole
Sangha as the recipient.
How is this attitude possible? A donor must not choose
individual monks according to personal preference. He or she
must suppress any likes and dislikes. The intention to offer
to the Sangha must focus on the virtues of the Buddha, Dhamma,
and Sangha. Avoiding personal preferences, one should regard
any monk as the representative of the Sangha. One should
reflect thus: “He is a son of the Buddha, a representative of
the Sangha, and therefore represents all the virtues of the
Buddha’s first five disciples, the sixty Arahants who were the
first missionaries, the one thousand Arahants of the Uruvela
Forest, and other Arahants like Venerables Sāriputta,
Moggallāna, and Mahākassapa.” Thus the supporter concentrates
his mind on the virtues of the whole Sangha and, in this way,
The commentary says, “Even in offering to immoral
monks who only wear the robes around their necks, if one
focuses the mind on the Sangha, it amounts to offering to the
eighty great Arahants lead by the Venerables Sāriputta and
Moggallāna.” The good results one gets are the same. This is
possible because the Noble Sangha, the true sons of the
Buddha, by their powerful virtues, permeate influences and
honour even today. The offering is beneficial not because of
the monks’ immoral nature, but because of the purity of the
Thus, a donor must focus his mind on the purity and
power of the Buddha’s Noble Sangha. So even when offering to
immoral monks, such good influences and benefits prevail if
the mind is skilfully directed. So offering robes to immoral
monks, amounts to offerings made to Arahants, past and
present, who have completely eradicated the defilements. This
Dhamma support gives Sanghikadāna the greatest
benefits. In offering food, dwellings, etc., the donor must
pay regard to the Sangha only. So he becomes a supporter of
the Sangha — all the greatest disciples of the
In making offerings to the Buddha image, although the
Buddha had passed away, the act amounts to the same nature and
result. So building Buddha images, pagodas, etc., gives the
title “Supporter of the Buddha.” The mind should be directed
towards the support and offerings to the Omniscient Buddha
himself who has passed away. So the title “Supporter of the
Buddha” does not mean the image, but the Buddha
With the devotional mind on the Buddha himself one can
now set one’s attitude correctly in making Sanghikadāna
even to ordinary monks. For example, take the case of those
who have many children. Although some children may die, other
children remain, so when the parents die, the remaining
children inherit their property. Likewise, all types of monks
today inherit the Dhamma nature of the past noble sons of the
Buddha. They act as recipients, representatives, and heirs. So
in the acts of offering and sharing of merits, one must hold
the Sangha in mind and dedicate the offering to the Sangha as
a whole (Sanghagatā). The cultivation of this crucial
“Sanghagatā citta” is vital. While one invites some
monks, and physically offers donations to them, one focuses
the mind on the Sangha, which is “Sanghagatā” decision.
One must, of course, offer food to a particular monk, but the
attitude should be on the Sangha. Present-day monks will use
the property or take the food very respectfully if they know
that it is Sanghikadana. Improper use makes them serious
offenders as it taints the whole Sangha.
The first type, offering to both Sanghas headed by the
Buddha, can be attained by offering to the Buddha and his
followers by declaring “Buddhappamukhassa
ubhatosanghassadema.” The attitude must be correct. Now
that the Buddha has attained parinibbāna, to perform this
first type of Sanghikadāna, one must place a Buddha’s
image containing holy relics, with a begging bowl, in a
suitable place. Then after making offerings to the Buddha’s
image, food and requisites must be offered to bhikkhus and
bhikkhunīs. Images with relics to represent the Buddha are
used to maintain the highest honour and respect among the
donors. This is a special case. Ordinary Buddha images can
take the place of the Buddha though there may be no true
relics present. The attitude, if noble, produces the same
As regards the second type of Sanghikadāna, the
meaning should be clear and no further explanation is
The third type of Sanghikadāna can be obtained
by offerings made in front of a Buddha’s image with holy
relics. The procedure is the same.
As regard the offerings for the Bhikkhunī Sangha,
today it is impossible as no bhikkhunīs exists.
The above four types of Sanghikadāna are always
performed by inviting monks in general for alms. The
invitation must be made with the Sangha in mind.
Regarding the fifth, sixth and seventh types of
Sanghikadāna, they are classed under the main type
called “Uddissaka Sanghikadīna.” The cases are as
follows. A donor has insufficient means to feed hundreds of
monks in a monastery. Hence he asks the chief monk to send a
few monks for his alms-giving in the house. The chief monk
then selects representatives of the monastery. The donor must
neither choose nor select monks; neither can he name them. The
term “Uddissaka — selected”, means selection made by
the chief monk to represent the whole Sangha.
In this “Uddissaka Sanghikadāna” if a
lay-supporter fails to purify his mind or maintains the wrong
attitude many evils arise if he or she thinks in terms of
names, status, or persons. In the commentary it is explained
“A person thinks, ‘I will offer Sanghikadāna,’
and makes well-prepared food. Then he goes to the monastery
and asks for a monk to receive alms. Choosing by lots, the
Sayādaw sends a novice. Seeing this young novice as a
recipient the donor is disappointed, as he was expecting a
Mahāthera. So his confidence is destroyed by his wrong mental
attitude. If his confidence wavers he cannot attain this
noblest almsgiving called ‘Sanghikadāna’ even if is
pleased at getting a Mahathera. In both cases, due to his
wrong attitude, he fails to maintain the idea of ‘Donation to
the Sangha,’ which is the noblest intention.” In ancient
times, the Sayādaws, due to frequent invitations for
Sanghikadāna, prepared a list of monks to be sent by
lot, irrespective of age and status.
If a donor asks for an elderly monk, the Sayādaw must
not agree with this request. He must send a monk or monks by
ballot, selected according to a list already prepared. So one
may get a novice although one has asked for a Mahāthera.
Anyhow one’s intention of donating to the Sangha must not be
shaken, whatever the nature of a monk or a novice may
To give Sanghikadāna the donor must cultivate the
thought of ‘donation to the Sangha’ to the highest degree.
Motive alone counts whatever the situation is. Just as
Venerable Sāriputta and Moggallāna, with the eighty great
Arahants, are worthy of receiving food and shelter, the
present-day Sangha obtains the same privileges due to the
power of the Sangha. Even if one gets a novice for offering
almsfood, one should keep in mind that the Sangha is the
recipient, not the novice. This novice is a means to an end,
not the end itself. Considered in this light, one should not
have any personal preferences in the matter of
Sanghikadāna. Only then is this unique
A weak person with a wrong motive will find this type
of donation the most difficult thing in the world. He or she
fails to maintain the idea of donation to the Sangha when his
or her wishes are thwarted. One must not feel either regret or
joy in getting a particular monk. With clear intention and
firm determination one must not look at “faces” or the
“world.” If these disciplines are present then one obtains the
rare opportunity of offering “Sanghikadāna.” It is very
difficult to perform this kind of meritorious deed, as the
mind is tricky.
Even if one gets a young novice or an immoral monk,
one must treat him just like one would treat the Venerable
Sāriputta or Venerable Moggallāna. The correct attitude must
be placed on the Noble Sangha only. So every respect and
honour must be paid to him. Any prejudice or partiality must
be removed. If complete impartiality is lacking, the donor’s
mind fails to focus on the Noble Ones like Venerable
Sāriputta. His mind remains with the present young novice or
shameless monk to whom he has to offer food. His mind is
limited to such a person and the limitless range of mind
becomes tainted and its purity destroyed.
In this context, the commentary gives an interesting
account from ancient times. Once a rich man, wanting to offer
Sanghikadāna for his monastery, asked for a monk from
the Sayādaw. Though an immoral monk was sent, he paid respect
and honour to this depraved monk and sincerely made offerings
to the monastery with his mind fixed on the “Sangha.” He
presented ceiling cloths, curtains, and carpets. Then he
treated the immoral monk just like one would treat a Buddha.
He always paid respects to him. When others blamed him, he
replied that although an immoral monk was the recipient, he
offered his donation to the Sangha only. He explained that he
was not approving of the bad actions of the immoral monk as
his mind was fixed on the Noble Sangha. He donated it to the
Sangha, though an immoral monk had to accept it. Thus right
motive and right understanding amount to “Sanghikadāna”
— the greatest donation of all.
In the Tipitaka, it is stated: “If, with a pure,
devoted mind, one pays respect to the Noble Sangha even if one
offers food to an immoral monk, one is actually offering food
to the Buddha. So the act is the noblest one.”
Although it is not mentioned in the question, I give a
graded list of persons worthy to receive alms, as given in the
text. An animal, an immoral lay person, a moral lay person,
hermits with jhāna outside the Buddha’s dispensation,
Noble Ones,1 Paccekabuddhas and Omniscient Buddhas —
a total of fourteen types of individual. Moral lay persons
means those who live outside the Buddha’s dispensation, who
are moral. Those with morality in this dispensation are
included under those striving to become Noble Ones, in this
The commentary states: “A lay person possessing
morality is liable to attain Stream-winning if he practises
the Noble Path. So he is practising rightly
(supatipanno), and worthy of honour and respect. If one
offers food to a man professing Three Refuges, with a pure
mind, one gets immeasurable benefits due to this
qualification. Many powerful benefits arise for him. If one
honours a person who keeps five precepts by offering food,
this is the best among donation to lay persons, and brings
limitless benefits. If a person keeping ten precepts is
offered alms, the donor gets even more benefits. As for
offerings made to a Stream-winner, this is supreme among
donation performed by ordinary persons. The point to note is
that those lay persons with five precepts who have confidence
in the Three Gems are in line to become Stream-winners.
Therefore such a lay person is a well-behaved person worthy of
respect and honour.” This is the explanation of the
commentary. Following this line of thinking and behaving, one
can appreciate the value of donation giving to ordinary monks
and novices whatever the state of their morality.
The texts mention that persons outside the Buddha’s
dispensation (non-refuge taking persons) can be classified as
immoral lay persons, and as moral lay persons. In this respect
classes of lay people, novices, and monks inside the
dispensation are not mentioned. In the commentary,
classification is made for the persons inside the dispensation
on similar lines. So it is clear that scrupulous monks and
novices are worthy of respect and honour.
However, the question is “Can shameless or immoral
novices and monks be classified under the fourteen categories
mentioned already?” Teachers hold different opinions. However,
in the Milindapañha a sound decision is made when the king
asks: “What is the difference in virtue between an immoral
layman and an immoral monk?”
“O king, an immoral monk has greater virtues than an
immoral layman in ten ways.
They are inconceivable in an
immoral layman while an immoral monk possesses them in full.
What are they? An immoral monk possesses ten
He pays respect to the Omniscient
He pays respect to the Dhamma.
He pays respect to the Noble Sangha.
He pays respect to his companions in the holy
He hear and learns the Tipitaka and its
Although he has broken the rules and lives without
morality, when he enters an assembly of monks he instantly
takes the sign and behaviour of modest monks.
He guards his deeds and words due to fear of
peoples’ criticism and blame.
His mind inclines towards to concentration and
insight from the position of a lay disciple. He yearns for
the state of a good layman.
He is still classified as monk.
When he does immoral acts he perform them in secret.
This means he has shame in his mind.
Not one of these good qualities exists in an immoral
so an immoral monk is more honourable than an
We have already mentioned the Sinhalese king,
Saddhātissa who, could pay respects to a shameless monk due to
his insight. He could see the noble quality — fear of
criticism and blame — in that shameless monk. That unique
quality, as mentioned in the Milindapañha, is the seventh
reason that he is worthy of respect. Another virtue he saw in
the shameless monk was the tenth one — doing evil deeds
furtively due to moral shame and fear. If a person can detect
and appreciate at least these two virtues of a shameless monk
he is called a wise man. With wisdom he knows the power of
these great virtues, even in a bad person.
If an immoral monk still claims to be a monk, in the
technical sense he is a monk because unless he relinquishes
the robe he cannot be classed as a layman. He is not a novice
either. His status remains above the position of a layman or
novice. The power of the Vinaya has to be stressed repeatedly,
otherwise many will underestimate it.
The questioners ask a supplementary question, “If alms
is given to an immoral monk, can it achieve great, beneficial
results for the donor?” It should be noted that for a donor,
an immoral monk can be worthy of receiving gifts by ten
purities known as “Dakkhinavisuddhi”, giving great benefits
An immoral monk wears robes, and carries a begging
bowl, which are sacred symbols expressing the determination
and intention to destroy defilements.
In the style of hermit and monk he behaves in
several ways correctly.
He is still within the protection of the
He still retains the Three Refuges.
He still lives in a monastery where concentration
and insight are practised diligently.
He seeks refuge in the Sangha.
He practises and teaches the Dhamma to
He relies on the Tipitaka as a light of wisdom. His
mind is inclined towards the Dhamma.
He believes that the Buddha is the highest and the
noblest person in the three worlds.
He observes some Uposatha and ethical
So these honourable and pure things help a donor to
obtain great benefits when gifts are offered to him. Giving
alms to him brings immense benefits for a donor, not because
of his serious fault, but because of the ten purities. After
all, he still retains a monk’s status. If an immoral monk
returns to lay life by confession and declaration, he forsakes
his monk status and becomes a layman.
Several cases can be cited regarding the importance of
a skilful attitude and motive. A laywoman, seeing a very bad
monk, failed to show respect and honour to him. She did not
offer almsfood as usual. So a teacher instructed her as
follows: “Lay disciple, in this encounter with the
dispensation your eyes now see a monk. This alone is an
auspicious, and rare event. Consider the series of lives in
which the dispensation does not exist, where no true monks can
be seen with the physical eyes. It is a rare chance you have
now having seen a monk in robes, going for almsround. Why
create hatred, greed, and delusion at this noble sight, which
is a rare opportunity. This “seeing of a monk” is greater
merit than achieving kingship, lordship, or rulership. It is
greater than the glory and power of Sakka, king of the gods.
Even the greatest brahma cannot get this unique opportunity
when there is no dispensation. Seeing the “form” and robe of a
monk only once has a greater glory and power them seeing
Brahma. In this infinite samsara, encounter with the Buddha’s
dispensation is very rare. It is an auspicious event just to
see a monk.”
Then the teacher asked the laywoman how much the food
cost, and how could one estimate the value of seeing the
monk’s robe. Even if she had asked for such an encounter by
giving one hundred kyats, it is impossible for the monk to
come daily. Even hundreds of thousands of kyats could not
offer this rare opportunity of seeing the robe. Hence this
immoral monk is giving her the greatest benefit by showing the
robe before her eyes so that the importance of the Buddha’s
dispensation can be realised. The laywoman should therefore
show gratitude and honour to the immoral monk. From that day
onwards, due to this wise instruction, she devotedly offered
almsfood to this monk too. Her confidence became clear and
strong. This skilful attitude is mentioned in the Milindapañha
as “Anavajjakavacadharanatāyapi dakkhinam visodheti —
he helps to purify the gift by wearing the robe of the
Another case stresses the fact that even seeing the
monk’s robes is a rare good chance. One day a hunter saw a
monk’s robe in a grove. Since a monk’s robe is a symbol of
Arahantship, he felt great joy, inspiration, and reverence, so
he worshipped it. After his death, he was reborn in a
celestial realm due to this merit. This meritorious act, with
right contemplation, is called “Cīvarapūja”, reverence
for the robe. It also means “paying honour to those worthy of
honour.” This deity became a human being during the time of
the Buddha, entered the Sangha, and attained
Among the ten virtues of an immoral monk, some create
suffering and grave dangers for a wayward monk if he does not
immediately return to lay life. However, for a clear-sighted
lay person, who makes skilful donation with the purity of the
giver, all ten virtues become causes for meritorious thoughts,
speech, and deeds. For ignorant and uncultured lay persons,
these ten virtues in an immoral monk become causes for
demeritorious thoughts, words, and deeds
A question may be asked, “Why does the Buddha teach us
that if alms are given to an immoral monk, only small benefits
can be achieved?” In teaching the fourteen grades of persons,
the progressive beneficial results are clear. A scrupulous
monk is just like good soil. This can be seen by studying
numerous stories in the Dhammapada. It clearly shows that less
benefits result from offering alms to an immoral monk. Much
greater benefit accrues from giving alms to a scrupulous
Anyhow, one must use clear-sighted evaluation, seeking
or regarding all aspects in performing charity. The Buddha
gives many guidelines for different situations and conditions
that might face a donor. In the Dakkhināvibhanga Sutta (M.
iii. 253), fourteen grades of alms recipients are enumerated.
First giving food and shelter to animals brings benefits of
one hundred times. Giving alms to an immoral person brings
benefits a thousand times. Giving alms to a moral person
brings benefits a hundred thousand times. Giving alms to a
non-Buddhist who is free from lust [through attaining jhana]
brings benefits millions of times. The benefits from giving
alms to a well-behaved person who is striving for the
attainment of Stream-winning are immeasurable, so what can be
said of giving alms to a Stream-winner? Then one gets even
greater benefits from giving alms to one striving for
Once-returning, a Once-returner, one striving for
Non-returning, a Non-returner, one striving for Arahantship,
an Arahant, a Paccekabuddha, and an Omniscient Buddha. Thus
giving alms to the Buddha achieves the greatest immeasurable
Regarding immeasurable benefits, the term
“immeasurable” has a range of meanings. The grains of sand in
one town are immeasurable. The grains of sand in the world are
also immeasurable. So the term “immeasurable benefits” has a
wide range of meanings.
In the progressive list of fourteen types of
recipients, gifts offered to each type have less benefit than
the next. The results depend on the virtue of the recipient.
Compared with the results of giving alms to a shameless
person, giving to a scrupulous person produces more benefit.
So persons of the highest moral conduct will provide the donor
with the highest benefits. Gifts to the Omniscient Buddha give
the best results of all. Comparisons should be made according
to the virtue and wisdom possessed by recipients. Today the
chance of offering almsfood to Noble Ones is very rare. The
chance to offer alms to ordinary monks is relatively common.
Given the present situation, offering of alms to ordinary
scrupulous monks must be regarded as almsgiving with great
fruit and benefit. This is the rational and practical way to
classify persons today.
The above is a general remark only. The Arahant is
highly praised by the Buddha. Only the best moral monk, the
Arahant, gives the best results. So in this context an
ordinary scrupulous monk cannot produce both great results and
great benefits. Only giving alms to Arahants produces these
two features. Hence the words of the Buddha must be
interpreted according to their context.
Which is the Best Offering?
Among two types of offering, which one is more
beneficial — feeding a monk sent by the Sangha for
Sanghikadāna or feeding the Omniscient Buddha
In the Dakkhināvibhanga Sutta the Buddha says, “Na
tvevāham Ānanda kenaci pariyāyena sanghagatāya dakkhināya
pātipuggalikam dānam mahapphalataram vadāmi. — In no way,
Ananda, does a gift to an individual ever have greater fruit
than an offering to the Sangha.”
The Buddha spoke in the clearest terms. Therefore we
cannot say that alms given personally to the Buddha is
superior to Sanghikadāna.
In the commentary too it is explained: “Sanghe
cittīkāram kātum sakkontassa hi khīnāsave dinnadānato
uddisitvā gahite dussīlepi dinnam mahapphalatarameva. —
With one’s mind respecting the Sangha it is possible to get
more benefit from alms offered to the Sangha, even if the monk
is immoral, than giving alms to an Arahant as an individual.”
Thus the commentary is definite on this crucial point in
agreement with the Sutta. These words are also
In the Pāli text too, the Buddha tells his
step-mother, “Sanghe Gotamī dehi. Sanghe te dinne ahañceva
pūjito bhavissāmi sangho ca. — Give it [the robe] to the
Sangha, Gotamī. When you give it to the Sangha, the offering
will be made both to me and to the Sangha.” It is also clear
here that the Buddha’s instruction is to prefer Sanghikadāna
to donations to individuals.
When his step-mother offered two sets of robes, the
Buddha accepted only one set. Then he uttered the famous words
just quoted. Why did he urge Gotamī to offer robes to the
Sangha saying it has greater benefits? In the past, disputants
created a controversy from this by saying that alms offered to
the Buddha is inferior, so for greater results he made this
In the commentary to the Dakkhināvibhanga Sutta the
disputants’ view is rejected.
“Nayimasmim loke parasmim vā pana,
settho sadiso va vijjati.
Vacanato hi satthārā uttaritaro dakkhineyyo nāma
natthi. Evamāssā cha cetanā ekato hutvā dīgharattam hitāya
sukhāya bhavissanti’ti dāpesi.”
The meaning is that the Buddha’s instruction to Gotamī
in this case was not because Sanghikadāna is superior even to
donation to the Buddha. This is not the meaning. As a
recipient of donations no one is greater than the Buddha
himself. Therefore the Buddha’s aim is as follows: If Gotamī
offers the robes to the Sangha she will obtain the effects of
three good intentions of making donation again (before,
during, and after) after he accepts the first donation, which
promotes three good intentions for her. So there are six good
intentions in the two acts of donation, which give Gotamī
countless blessings and beneficial results bringing her peace
and happiness for a long time. With this aim he instructed
Gotamī to offer the remaining set of robes to the Sangha,
praising the benefits of Sanghikadāna.
Then it may be asked, “Does the above explanation
contradict the discourse already quoted?” There is no
contradiction. Among the various donations to individuals,
exception must be made in the case of donations to the Buddha.
So it is not contradictory.
Another method of explanation may he given here. The
reason is this. Since Gotamī will certainly attain
parinibbāna as an Arahant bhikkhunī, this robe-offering
has no further effects for her. One set of robes is sufficient
for the Buddha and the second set is unnecessary for him, but
the Buddha has no personal preferences for any individual
monk. Therefore he instructs Gotamī to offer them to the
Sangha. The aim is to protect and develop selflessness and to
let the power of the Sangha be known.
Anyhow this explanation may not fully satisfy the
requirements of the question. Then a good, reasonable answer
may be given to make a definite decision. The question is, “Is
individual donation to the Buddha superior to the seven types
The Buddha’s teaching: “In no way, Ānanda, does a gift
to an individual ever have greater fruit than an offering to
the Sangha.” is clear, and no controversy should arise. The
question should not be asked at all because it is not suitable
to declare that any one of the seven types of Sanghikadāna, is
superior to individual donation. It is unsuitable to answer
because an individual recipient cannot be said definitely to
be superior. Considering all these facts, the Commentary’s
explanation is correct, which correctly explains the Pali
Here I present some cases for thoughtful persons to
consider. When donors were offering food to the Buddha, they
saw him in person. After he attained parinibbāna, many
devotees made offerings to Buddha images as individual
donation to the Buddha. Is this merit greater than
Sanghikadāna now? The next problem to consider is: “Which is
greater merit? Building pagodas or Buddha images, and offering
food to them as individual donation, or Sanghikadāna such as
offering a monastery to the Sangha? These problems are offered
for consideration because in the Vimānavatthu it says:
“Titthante nibbute cāpi, same citte samam phalam.
Cetopanidhihetu hi, sattā gacchanti suggatim — whether one
actually sees the Buddha in person or not, if the mind is
fixed on him, it has the same effect as the intention is the
same. Many beings go to celestial realms because of this
correct attitude, although they do not actually see him.” Only
mind can help one to achieve heavenly attainment and nibbāna.
If the motive is the same, the effects are the same.
Confidence can be present in Buddha’s presence or in Buddha’s
However, to have equal confidence in both cases is
very unlikely. If one sees the Buddha in person, one’s
confidence may be much greater than in seeing a Buddha image.
How wide this gap will be is hard to decide. To what extent
can a mental object give rise to confidence? Wise persons
should consider these problems.