Canonical explanations, etc. of Caga (generosity and self-sacrifice)?

A topic often appearing in Dhamma Talks from one of the kruba Ajahns in my tradition is that of “sacrifice”. I assume the Pali word that is getting translated from is “caga”. The context the word “sacrifice” is being used in, is that of how it is beautiful, or appropriate, or expected, or proper for monks to make some sort of personal sacrifice for the teacher, or the community.

I’m trying to find Canonical references to back this view up.

When I look up “caga” in the Digital Pali Reader, I get nothing:

When I search the Canonical Suttas for “caga”, I similarly turn up empty-handed:

When I do a web search for “caga”, I get a scant couple of results. Here’s one decent definition of caga, from “Aims of Buddhist Education” by Bhikkhu Bodhi:

They must also acquire the spirit of generosity and self-sacrifice (caga), so essential for overcoming selfishness, greed, and the narrow focus on self-advancement that dominates in present-day society.

Didn’t the Buddha ever talk about caga/self-sacrifice? Whenever I search for any mention of the word “sacrifice” in the english Pali Canon (ignoring the Jatakas), its context is always that of an old-school Brahminical sacrifice (as in killing a cow, goat, bullock, etc. as an offering to a Hindu deity), never of “generosity and self-sacrifice”.

There are two notable exceptions I did find:

  • in DN 31, (From the Wisdom Publications Digha Nikaya, by Mauruce Walsh, page 465, verse 23):

The friend who is the same in happy and unhappy times can be seen to be a loyal friend in four ways: he tells you his secrets, he guards your secrets, he does not let you down in misfortune, he would even sacrifice his life for you.

  • in DN 14, (From the Wisdom Publications Digha Nikaya, by Mauruce Walsh, page 219, verse 28)

And then the Lord Buddha Vipassi gave to the assembled monks the following precepts:
“Patient forbearance is the highest sacrifice,
Supreme is Nibbāna, so say the Buddhas.
He’s not ‘one gone forth’ who hurts others,
No ascetic he who harms another."

Can anyone else point out meaningful, Canonical references about caga or sacrifice, which would lead us to a definition, such as the one Bhikkhu Bodhi gave (above)?

the word cāga has the long a, maybe in this form it could be found in the DPR, since it, if i’m not mistaken, is based on the PTS dictionary which does have it

it appears in quite a number of EBT, meaning abandonment, giving up or generosity

for example

Mulapariyaya sutta (MN 1)

Tasmātiha, bhikkhave, ‘tathāgato sabbaso taṇhānaṃ khayā virāgā nirodhā cāgā paṭinissaggā anuttaraṃ sammāsambodhiṃ abhisambuddho’ti vadāmī”ti.

Therefore, bhikkhus, through the complete destruction, fading away, cessation, giving up, and relinquishing of cravings, the Tathāgata has awakened to supreme full enlightenment, I say.”

Esukārīsutta (MN 96)

Yaṃ hissa, brāhmaṇa, paricarato pāricariyāhetu saddhā vaḍḍhati, sīlaṃ vaḍḍhati, sutaṃ vaḍḍhati, cāgo vaḍḍhati, paññā vaḍḍhati, tamahaṃ ‘paricaritabban’ti vadāmi.

For if, when serving someone, one’s faith, virtue, learning, generosity, and wisdom increase in his service, then I say that he should be served

in both instances it’s a part of stock lists

but more texts need to be explored to verify its use in the meaning of self-sacrifice

Thanks for that.

Disclaimer: The following little rant is about the geeky technical complexities of the DPR, for those of you who actually use it (and please skip past this if the DPR doesn’t interest you):

I was led to believe that the DPR could automagically give results including the diacritics, because, after all, when I searched for “caga”, I did get as results “accagā”, and “upaccagā”, and note how the diacritic was somehow magically added on the trailing “ā”.

I guess it’s a bug in the DPR (that I did get matches adding an “ā” on the end, but no such help on the first “ā”).

In the past, I did have some good results by substituting a “.”, when I wasn’t sure if a vowel has a diacritic or not (in this case, searching for, say, “”). Umm, wait, actually one can only use this trick when one is searching the Suttas/Vinaya/Commentaries (on the “Search” tab), because it’s there where one can check the “Rx” checkbox (meaning “enable Regular eXpressions”, allowing the use of such arcane symbols as “.”). I also added a “\b” on the front, to mean “I want the ‘c’ always to be at the start of a word, never partway through a word”.

A “tighter” Regular eXpression to use (instead of “\”) would be “\bc[a|ā]ga”, where “[a|ā]” means “this character could be an ‘a’ or an ‘ā’”.

Note: One unfortunately can’t use Regular eXpressions on the “Tools” tab (as there is no “Rx” checkbox), meaning one can’t search for “\” or “\bc[a|ā]ga” in the DPR Analysis (meaning PED, DPPN, CPED, etc).

Yes, it’s the word “sacrifice” which had me posting this in the first place (and cāga was my best guess as to a Pali term this would come from, but my inquiry is not limited to the word cāga). I’m wanting to know what kind of “sacrifices” the Buddha taught the monks to make (outside giving up defilements, attachments, etc. which is inherent to meditation, mindfulness, etc.)

I guess what I’m really trying to find examples of (in the Pali Canon), would be of the sort where the Buddha said that monks should be making considerable, heroic sacrifices for the Sangha. That is to say, not just little sacrifices (like making cups of tea for the elders, or sweeping their kutis), but much more grandiose ones, to the extent of appearing theatrical and outstandingly impressive to onlookers (such as the wanderers of other sects, or lay people, especially wealthy lay people, who might make a big donation). As in the kind of sacrifice that seriously cuts into seclusion, and possibly even physical health.

What I can easily recall from memory are tidbits such as the following:

  • It was a sacrifice of sorts for the Buddha to teach the Dhamma in the first place (and his reluctance was only overcome by the Brahmin Sahampati).

  • The Buddha, in a past life as Sumedha, made a gesture of sacrifice to a past Buddha, by draping his long hair over a mud puddle, offering the past Buddha to walk across his hair. Then the past Buddha prophecized that Sumedha would one day become a Buddha himself. It’s not clear whether that past Buddha took Sumedha up on his offer and walked across his hair.

  • The Buddha, on one occasion, asked a monk if he (the Buddha) would ever ask a monk (such as the monk he was talking to) to lay across a mud puddle, so the Buddha could walk across his body. The monk answered “no” (as in, “no, the Buddha was not that sort of physical-sacrifice-demanding, denigrating Buddha”).

  • The Buddha did teach the monks to regularly perform “bodily acts of lovingkindness” towards other monks, without getting into any detail about how big or grandiose those should be.

  • The Buddha did say that monks should be willing to thoroughly learn and eventually teach the Dhamma to others. If one wasn’t willing to eventually teach the Dhamma to others, then what would the point be, for the Buddha to teach a given monk in the first place?

  • It’s a very considerable sacrifice for monks to “go forth” whatsoever, considering all the things that must be given up (wives, girlfriends, sex, land, cattle, wealth, children, etc.), and all the Vinaya rules that one must learn and uphold (classically counted as 227, not including all the extra dukkhatas sprinkled around elsewhere)

  • Early in the Buddha’s teaching career (as a fully enlightened arahant), he sent 60 of his first arahants to go off in all separate directions, and spread the Dhamma. Wow, that was ambitious, considering they were apparently given no money or resources to do so! But considering that they were fully enlightened, you would imagine it was an intensely enjoyable experience for all of them, because enlightenment is, by definition, extremely, extremely enjoyable, no matter what happens next.

  • In MN 2, in the “Taints to be Abandoned by Enduring” section, it says:

What taints, bhikkhus, should be abandoned by enduring? Here a bhikkhu, reflecting wisely, bears cold and heat, hunger and thirst, and contact with gadflies, mosquitoes, wind, the sun, and creeping things; he endures ill-spoken, unwelcome words and arisen bodily feelings that are painful, racking, sharp, piercing, disagreeable, distressing, and menacing to life. While taints, vexation, and fever might arise in one who does not endure such things, there are no taints, vexation, or fever in one who endures them. These are called the taints that should be abandoned by enduring.

…however it’s not clear whether such “bodily feelings that are painful, racking, sharp, piercing, disagreeable, distressing, and menacing to life” are OK to be “man-made” (by Senior Monks), or does this quotation refer more so to the “naturally-occurring” feelings, which were not “man-made”. I would suggest the latter interpretation, given my quotation above:

He’s not ‘one gone forth’ who hurts others,
No ascetic he who harms another.

You should email Bhante Yuttadhammo with these observations. He, from time to time, still releases updates for the DPR.

Hi Brenna

Do you see those updates will go where?

I believe the updated version is in the “Downloads” section on the right hand side of this website.

Thanks, @Brenna .

Also note: I made a mistake earlier when I searched for “c?ga”, much smarter would have been to search for “” (and I’ve edited my above post accordingly). The dots/periods are put in place of any one letter where I don’t know if that letter should have a diacritic or not.

Here’s a further example of using these dots skilfully. To search for, say, “nibbana” all throughout the Pali Canon, where I don’t know the diacritics, if I just wanted it to match words like “nibbana”, and “nibbano” then I would search for:


…and the search results would contain the correct diacritics. Those crazy “\b”'s on the start and end of the Regular Expression mean “word boundary”:

If I wanted to see where “nibbana” also occurred in longer, compound words (and I’d get WAY more search results), I could instead simply use:

BTW: To learn more about using these arcane-yet-powerful Regular Expressions, here’s a geeky online tutorial on Java Regular Expressions, where I learned these tricks:

Here’s where it talks about using the “.”'s:

Here’s where it talks about using the “\b”'s:

OK, I’ve just emailed Ven. Yuttadhammo, asking for the following two “Feature Requests”. I include what I sent here, in case anyone else wants to send him a “me too” email. His email address is displayed, as soon as you open the DPR within Firefox, and he does invite questions or feedback.

Subject: Feature requests for the DPR

Respectful Greetings, Ajahn,

Like you, I’m a fellow Canadian bhikkhu, in the Thai Forest tradition.

I’ve been using the DPR on and off for a couple of years. Kudos, for your excellent work!

Sometimes I use the “Rx” feature, which I’m grateful for, but perhaps some more Rx goodness could be provided to less technical, assumed-to-be-novice-Pali-scholars by default, automatically.

Feature request #1: add an “Rx” checkbox on the “Tools” tab, so that Rx’s can be used within the DPR Analysis (meaning within PED, DPPN, CPED, etc).

Feature request #2: when the “Rx” checkbox is not checked (which is the default), cleverly do an Rx search anyway, unbeknownst to the end user (whom we can assume does not know where to put in diacritics), where these substitutions look like the following:

Anytime there is an “a”, substitute in “[a|ā]” instead.
Anytime there is an “A”, substitute in “[A|Ā]” instead.
Anytime there is an “i”, substitute in “[i|ī]” instead.
Anytime there is an “I”, substitute in “[I|Ī]” instead.

…and likewise do substitutions, then do “transparent-to-the-user” Rx’s (when the Rx checkbox is not checked) for the rest of the characters with diacritics:


Subharo Bhikkhu

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Ven. Yuttadhammo has replied back, pointing out that there is a “Fuzzy” search, somewhat accomplishing what I want (which is sometimes usable, such as on the “Tools” tab, when searching the PED, DPPN, & CPED). This would help one figure out (in a rather convoluted manner) that what one is really looking for is “cāga”, and not “caga”, which I would then use over on the “Search” tab, when I want to go searching through the Suttas (without having to use an Rx).

Note: The Fuzzy search is also good for “checking for doubling and aspiration (and maybe voicing as well?) discrepancies”. Wow, that’s really useful, and I didn’t think of these.

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Brenna Thank you for your response.

When the digital Pali dictionary has been developed, I think it would be very helpful.


Dear Bhante,

The word “cāga/cāgo” can also be found in the second sermon given by the Lord Buddha at Isipatana. Please forgive if it was already mentioned:

“Idaṃ kho pana bhikkhave, dukkhanirodho ariyasaccaṃ: yo tassāyeva taṇhāya asesavirāganirodho cāgo paṭinissaggo mutti anālayo” :heart_eyes:

A useful site I usually go for Pali reference is:

with respect and reverence,


In case it’s helpful, DN 5 uses the word yañña, which is translated as sacrifice by Maurice Walshe & also Prof. Rhys Davids (who wrote a little Wheel booklet on this sutta).

But the sutta is basically about the Buddha coming across a Brahman sacrifice that was being prepared and then giving a teaching on the gradual path, which he frames in terms of the true meaning of sacrifice. So it contains several of the things you already have mentioned, but doesn’t address your particular questions about monks making heroic sacrifices for the saṅgha.

Yes, generally yañña means “sacrifice”, and of course there are multiple, sometimes obscure, specialist words from the Vedic tradition having related meanings (bali, dakkhiṇa, āhuti, etc.) Cāga is used very commonly as a synonym of dāna (“generosity”, “giving”) and more rarely as in the Dhammacakka, where it means “giving up” (everything!).

I can’t think of a term that means sacrifice in the sense that Subharo is looking for.

Thank you, Ajahn. I’m looking for the “macho”, publicly-visible kind of self-sacrifice. You know, “taking one for the team.” Especially the kind of sacrifice where some grandiose project takes many weeks, months or years to complete (by monks), and results in some opulent, palatial-grade structure being constructed.

I feel it’s worth mentioning a Canonical example of self-sacrifice to the extent of risking one’s life, which is when Ananda tried to block a mad, rampaging elephant from attacking the Buddha, showing he was a “loyal friend”, as described in DN 31 (as quoted above. And notably, DN 31 was addressed to Sigalaka, the Householder’s son). Interestingly, the Buddha effectively waved Ananda aside, not taking Ananda up on his offer of bodily protection from the elephant. And later on, he didn’t praise Ananda’s bravery or intention of voluntary self-sacrifice.

The highest sort of “self-sacrifice” I can find seems to be towards upholding one’s practice itself, even during extreme torture (not coming from Senior Monks, but rather unfortunate contact with murderous bandits), as seen in MN 28:

Bhikkhus, even if bandits were to sever you savagely limb by limb with a two-handled saw, he who gave rise to a mind of hate towards them would not be carrying out my teaching.” So tireless energy shall be aroused in me and unremitting mindfulness established, my body shall be tranquil and untroubled, my mind concentrated and unified. And now let contact with fists, clods, sticks, and knives assail this body; for this teaching of the Buddhas is being practised by me.’

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Dear Bhante @Subharo,

“self-sacrifice” as in sacrificing the idea of “self” hee hee :smiley:

with respect, reverence, and gratitude,


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Dear Bikkhu

You might want to reference here as well.


Cāga,[from cajati,to give up,Vedic tyaj.Cp.Sk.tyāga] (a) abandoning,giving up,renunciation Vin.I,10; S.III,13,26,158; M.I,486; A.I,299.More liberality,generosity,munificence (n.) generous,munificent (adj.):sīlasampanno saddho purisapuggalo sabbe maccharino loke cāgena atirocati “he who is virtuous & religious excels all stingy people in generosity" A.III,34.In freq.combns e.g.sacca dama dhiti c.Sn.188=S.I,215; sacca dama c.khanti Sn.189= S.I,215; mutta° (adj.) liberal,munificent,S.V,351=392.°paribhāvita citta “a heart bent on giving" S.V,309.In this sense cāga forms one of the (3,4,5 or 7) noble treasures of a man (cp.the Catholic treasure of grace & see °dhana below),viz.(as 5) saddhā,sīla,suta,cāga,paññā (faith,virtue,right knowledge,liberality,wisdom) S.I,232; A.I,210; III,80=S.IV,250; M.III,99; D.III,164,165; cp.A.I,152=III,44; (as 4:the last minus suta) S.V,395; A.II,62 (sama°); (as 3) saddhā,sīla,cāga J.II,112; (as 7) ajjhesanā,tapo,sīla,sacca,cāga,sati,mati J.II,327; cp.śīla-śruta-tyāga Itm 311.-- PvA.30,120; Sdhp.214,323.See also anussati & anussarati.

–âdhiṭṭhāna the resolution of generosity,as one of the 4:paññā°,sacca°,c°.,upasama° D.III,229; --ânussati generosity A.I,30; V,331; D.III,250,280; Vism.197; --kathā talk about munificence A.III,181; --dhana the treasure of the good gift,as one of the 7 riches or blessings,the ariyadhanāni,viz.saddhā,sīla,hiri,ottappa,suta,c.,paññā D.III,163,251,; A.IV,5; VvA.113; as one of 5 (see above) A.III,53; --sampadā (& sampanna) the blessing of (or blessed with) the virtue of munificence A.I,62; II,66; III,53; IV,221,etc.(Page 264)