Equipping the mind

I’ve been mulling over the following suttas, short enough to quote in full:

“Bhikkhus, there are these eight gifts. What eight? (1) Having insulted the recipient, one gives a gift. (2) One gives a gift from fear. (3) One gives a gift, thinking: ‘He gave to me.’ (4) One gives a gift, thinking: ‘He will give to me.’ (5) One gives a gift, thinking: ‘Giving is good.’ (6) One gives a gift, thinking: ‘I cook; these people do not cook. It isn’t right that I who cook should not give to those who do not cook.’ (7) One gives a gift, thinking: ‘Because I have given this gift, I will gain a good reputation.’ (8) One gives a gift for the purpose of ornamenting the mind, equipping the mind.” (AN8.31)

“Bhikkhus, there are these eight grounds for giving. What eight? (1) One gives a gift from desire. (2) One gives a gift from hatred. (3) One gives a gift from delusion. (4) One gives a gift from fear. (5) One gives a gift, thinking: ‘Giving was practiced before by my father and forefathers; I should not abandon this ancient family custom.’ (6) One gives a gift, thinking: ‘Having given this gift, with the breakup of the body, after death, I will be reborn in a good destination, in a heavenly world.’ (7) One gives a gift, thinking: ‘When I am giving this gift my mind becomes placid, and elation and joy arise.’ (8) One gives a gift for the purpose of ornamenting the mind, equipping the mind. These are the eight grounds for giving.” (AN8.33)

I’ve realised I have no precise understanding of the meaning of these suttas, and (still; I’ve raised at least one of these texts before) do not quite know what mind equipment is, nor the mechanism by which the mind becomes equipped.

Just from memory I believe someone gave the wonderful description of mind ornamentation as “bling for the mind” (and a hilarious picture to go with it), but lovely as this is, it doesn’t quite clarify what an equipped-mind-through-giving might look like.

There is a particular point from each sutta that adds to the confusion for me:

One gives a gift, thinking: ‘Giving is good.’ (AN8.31, pt.5)

Ordinarily, I’d have thought that, giving is, indeed, good and the doing of good deeds is a basis of happiness which might be thought of as a well equipped mined (conducive to its further development leading to vision of the Dhamma). However, in this case, by order of appearance in the list and the types of thoughts it precedes, the implication certainly seems to be that “giving is good” is a pesky, lowly thought.

One gives a gift, thinking: ‘When I am giving this gift my mind becomes placid, and elation and joy arise.’ (AN8.33, pt.7)

Given as point 7 of 8, this joyful mind state seems to be presented as good, but not the best purpose, and at the very least is highlighted as distinct from a ornamented, equipped mind.

Pulling it all together, (1) if mind ornamentation and equipment are apart from the gladness generated by one’s good deeds, and is apart from a mind of joy, what exactly are they? (2) if it is not through being gladdened by one’s good deeds, nor through allowing the joy of giving to arise in the mind, how exactly might giving ornament and equip the mind?

Alternatively put, if one were to use these suttas for practical instruction, how would they do so?


I think the idea is that if you give in order to further purify the mind for the sake of realizing nibbāna, that is the highest motive. Gladness and joy are more transitory states but if you use generosity as a means to cultivate a more stable purity of mind, then you can use that purity as a tool/equipment for attaining the as yet unattained. Something like that anyway.


Sure, that bit (as in the focus on the ultimate goal) I get and got, it’s kinda the how bit that I’m not so sure about. As per the N8P there’s… well a path, that is to say there are steps on the way. As I’ve generally received it, and in a terribly simplified way it goes:

Good conduct (which I’d lump generosity in with) -> joy -> calm -> insight -> liberation.

The only way I can conceive of giving immediately being linked with the goal is by thinking of giving’s connection to renunciation, but that doesn’t quite seem like it fits with these suttas. I guess I’m looking for more of a technical explanation.


Oh, yeah, sorry, I don’t have a technical answer. One more non-technical suggestion though if you don’t mind: Next time you are giving, say to yourself, “this is an ornament for the mind, a support for the mind”, probably gratification and joy will arise but then just don’t delight in that joy, or do so as little as possible, and continue to view the giving as a support for the mind/practice. Over time, maybe you’ll develop your own understanding in this way. I don’t know if it would be a technical understanding though, it may be more of an intuitive kind.


Lovely! Very much appreciated! :anjal:


:butterfly: Hi Aminah :cherry_blossom:

You’ve hooked me in with the lovely suttas and the problem posed!

So I think this isn’t particularly high on the list because one is giving because, “it’s the right thing to do.” So not because one is connecting to the joy of it, the result it leaves in the mind, the act of renunciation etc. Just because it’s the right thing to do, and one must do the right thing!! There’s sort of a puritanical feel to this one.

  1. I’m going to use and focus in on this aspect of your sequence if I can:

I think you can draw parallels between what Ajahn Brahm describes in the deepening processes of Breath Meditation and the following:

I think you have heard or read Ajahn’s teaching on this so I’m going to assume you’ll know what I’m talking about here. I’ll jump into the part of the process where one is able to sustain one’s attention on the breath without missing a single one, for a long period. This is deeply calming (placid) (and it also gives rise to “elation and joy”).

But to quote Ajahn Brahm “The breath calms down and the beautiful breath emerges.” (Mindfulness, Bliss and Beyond p.20) Then after a while, you start to sort of effortlessly/naturally focus on the breath whilst noticing just its beauty, ignoring the physical/touch aspects of it; eventually the breath part of this drops off the radar and it’s just the mental conception of “beautiful” that is left. Here is the ornament of the mind - an ornament is supposed to be a thing of beauty. In the scheme of ever increasing letting go/renunciation/generosity/refinement of happiness, this beautiful ornamentation is higher up the scale than the mere joy, elation or calm that preceded it.

To make his point Ajahn talks about how everything but the smile of the Cheshire cat disappears to Alice, in Alice in Wonderland. So everything of the breath and body are gone, all that is left is the beauty. Ajahn says this is what is referred to as the “nimitta” and that everyone perceives it a little differently, depending on their conditioning I guess. Often it manifests as a beautiful light. This mental ornament is “not just a pretty face”. It’s downright handy.

For one thing, if you keep renouncing, giving up, letting go, you’ll end up in the 1st Jhana. But leaving that aside…

It’s at this point (the nimmita stage) that you might notice that the mind (if it’s a proper, stable nimitta that sticks around) is highly malleable. You can do stuff with it. There’s a power and potency to it, one can manipulate it, use it and with quite deliberate intention. Words like, “application”, “implementation” come to mind. One can use one’s will here; I personally believe this is the mental space used for the culitvation of the will in order to develop what are termed, psychic powers. I think that the possibility for clear, deliberately intentional mental acts/kamma is potent in this mental space.

Ajahn makes the point that when the mind comes out of Jhana, it does so in reverse order so it goes from 1st Jhana to nimitta. He states (and this is backed up by the Buddha in the EBTs) that this is when it gets back into being active again and it can be “directed” (implemented, applied, used as a piece of equipment) to certain useful activities: contemplations listed in the Satipatthana Suttas, knowledge of your earliest memory (rebirth), whatever takes your conditioned fancy or inclination I imagine!

This is why I believe that a distinction is made between the 7th motivation and the 8th in AN8.33.
The 7th motivation is very nice. But the 8th is much nicer and more useful. Moreover, I think the purpose of this list is to make us realise that we can, even in our ordinary mental states, deliberately change our intentions/motivations - even after the fact almost.

If I may give an example. I once went somewhere, out of my way infact, to give something because I didn’t want certain items to go to waste. I even saw this act as a bit of chore on account of it involved going into work on my day off!! I recognised this mental state and felt rather ashamed of it, then remembering these types of suttas, I remember rather deliberately thinking, what if I replace this motivation with the one of making my mind beautiful by, as Ajahn Brahm says, “giving without expecting anything back in return”. And I did. I was astounded by the change in my mind state. Waves of delight assailed me as I went about the business of delivering these gifts and I couldn’t stop smiling for hours afterwards. Not only that, I felt crystal clear and light; it was a good mind state for further Practice.

So I think teachings like this are pointing to our capacity to use our mind like a hand that can deliberately pick one thing up, and put it down and replace it with another thing. We can change our focus, we can change our intention. It doesn’t mention anything about feeling guilty about the inadequacy of our intention, it’s just pointing to the power inherent in us, to notice our motivations and change them if needed - quite deliberately and actively.

Also, perhaps it is possible for Caganussati to be a meditation object similar to the breath or metta.

Finally, it’s interesting to note that Ajahn Brahm encourages people to base their meditation Practice in aspects of the 3rd Noble Truth, which details 4 ways of thinking about deep letting go, one of which is, giving. You might find it useful to see if he mentions this here.

Well…I’ve gone on and on again!! But I hope it helps! It was kind of fun finding the links and parallels here. Thanks for being the cause for me going on this pleasant little meander! :slight_smile:

With metta :tulip::hibiscus::white_flower:


Just reflecting on the answers give by these good folk so far:

The joy that arises in the moment of giving, is dependent on the act of giving ie it is impossible to sustain it. One method they tried to do this was by recollecting one’s meritorious deeds- but it becomes a potential avenue to clinging to that bliss (and suffering when that bliss fades).

There is dana and there is another term caga.

A monk told me the latter was giving with renunciation- without any clinging. ‘Just giving’, with a happy mind that is wise and knows that it cannot cling to anything that giving can reap, but also with the knowledge that giving is good, helps people, praised by the Buddha many times over, and is essential (karmically) to maintain us so that we may practice further. It is indeed a hard thing to do! Seeing the true nature of phenomena (tilakkhana) also helps in fostering this attitude -happiness, simplicity, generosity and renunciation.

Some people give while hoping for something in return- i.e.- a transaction. This is not a transaction- it is truly giving, for another’s benefit.

with metta


Kay and Mat, much thanks for your fabulous replies. In this brief note I just wanted to register my appreciation; follow-up’s for later.

Oh alright, I’ve enough brain-power left to add,

Much retroactive mudita for that! :slight_smile:


I think if one doesn’t expect to sustain it, one understands it’s dependent nature, then there’s no problem. And the suffering that arises afterwards is also to be expected and one just accepts that.

The point though is that one uses these practices as tools/strategies that with repeated use one becomes more proficient at. The more proficient one becomes, more likely they will contribute to the growth and maturity of wholesome meditation states which in turn, become a the causes for some true development on the Path.


EDIT: Furthermore, these happy, temporary, meditation experiences are like the oasis in the desert of our lives. They sustain us, give us rest, energise us and provide nourishment so we can carry on. I think it’s a mistake to thumb our noses at happiness that is kusala because we’re worried about attaching to it.

I mean what are we to do about all our other attachments too?

Besides which the happinesses the Buddha said we should indulge in are states of letting go that lead to ultimate releases. They’re part of the Path. If a Practising Buddhist is mostly unhappy, I would suggest acceptance/patience as a Practice to them, but I would also think that they were mostly practising incorrectly.

With metta :anjal:

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No of course not. We must never do that. The Buddha said no one would go without sharing their food with another, if they saw what he saw was the merit in that action. Good actions reap good results- including wealth and luxuries. In a way, it is too late to worry about it- we already have those results with us now -to some degree. We simply have to learn to let go to each and every object that arises.

Quite. Often these acts are done alongside the Buddhist community- which brings even more spiritual friends close to us and brings even more joy.

Exactly- I think even sensual happiness has a role in overcoming pretty gross defilements. A person who is feeling sad might have a few scoops of ice-cream to make themselves feel better- I think this is reasonable thing to do. Ideally happiness not of the flesh (niramisa sukkha) of giving, sila, samadhi, jhana etc is essential part of the path, for themselves and what they enable and lead to in the path.

If a practicing Buddhist is unhappy, I wouldn’t fault their practice but consider the circumstances they found themselves in, initially. Unhappiness has many causes which may require resolving initially. Some worldly causes may be too much for one person to handle, and others maybe suitable for putting under the microscope of Buddhist practice, and using the teachings to resolve them. Either way, there is a solution, but some may just not see it and therefore struggle with it. The Buddha sometimes said if a place, person or …whatever makes ones defilements grow (and sadness increase) just move from that place to where defilements recede and happiness grows. This is of course not talking about ‘growing pains’ which may accompany the path, because of attachment to our development and/or Dhamma.

with metta


Yes I agree. I’m not saying that we should find fault, rather acknowledge there’s something we’re missing and try and learn what that is. Of course this is probably going to be a slow, gentle, gradual process.

With metta


Yes. This is how I understand it too.
Giving is the extension of not stealing (one of the five precepts) and hence fall under the category of Sila. Virtues or Sila is the most basic of the enlightenment path. Sill in itself not an end and it is a means to an end. Hence giving itself is not to be taken as the ultimate objective in your path. You have to be soon to be moved to the next step of concentration or Samadhi. Even Samadhi to be taken as just a grain of salt and not as the ultimate goal. Your ultimate goal is the Nibbana.
This is matter is very clearly demonstrated in Rath-vinita Sutta.


It is important to note the following statement too.

“Then is total Unbinding through lack of clinging something apart from these qualities?”
“No, my friend.”>