Is generosity required for liberation?

After reading today’s Sutta (AN 5.31) from Reading Faithfully’s daily sutta email I was struck that the Buddha seemed to accept the possibility of an ungenerous arahant.

This seems to be confirmed in the difference between the gradual training and the gradual instructions, and other suttas such as the one about those “striving for their own benefit and not for others.” So, perhaps the Mahāyāna polemics against the “Hīnayāna” have a point here?


my reading is, it is not ungenerous arahant.
Rather, it is arahant lacking in past good karma. During his homeless life he would be lacking in food, shelter, and so on


Yeah, maybe an Arahant transcends self and other and therefore it doesn’t really make sense to call her “generous” or “ungenerous”? But still, the implication remains that the path to Arahantship doesn’t necessarily include generosity. Which is a bit surprising!


Not at all Bhante. My understanding is - If you’ve gone forth (for the reasons stated at ordination) you are by definition engaging in supreme generosity. Having gone forth in that way, if you make it to Arahant, then that supreme act of generosity is consummated.


The very possibility for a bhikkhu to get alms, robes, shelter, medecine is a fruit of past generosity.

Also generosity is only a physical aspect of giving up and relinquishement, so we can consider that ataining Arahantship is the supreme act of generosity. Why? Because one have complitely given up all what is not his property (5 khandhas).


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Not suprising for me, it’s truly Hinayana early Buddhism teaching that the path of liberation doesn’t require generosity. Other instance is in AN 9.20 it is said that the meditation of impermanence excels all generosity, even developing heart of love (brahmavihara). It is later Buddhism schools, like nowadays Theravada, emphasize the practice of perfections (parami) beginning with generosity, even for attaining Arahantship.


Giving also helps one to learn how to give up attachment. On Accesstoinsight it says that dana is one of the first things The Buddha taught towards nibanna. Dana: The Practice of Giving and suttas on giving Generosity: dana, caga

@ Khemarato.bhikkhu


Ven Bakkula (MN124) seemed to display plenty of ungenerous behavior (sometimes even contrary to the instructions of the Buddha), even though he is acclaimed as an ideal Arahant in this late sutta. :slightly_smiling_face:


In Mahayana, there is dana paramita (perfection of generosity). A Bodhisattva become Buddha only after perfecting the paramita, the first is generosity.

But when is the generosity considered “perfect”?

Is it when every being in the universe is liberated from poverty? Nay. If so, when Buddha reach enlightenment, all beings will be free from poverty. But now there is still poor people.

Is it when one has given all one have, even his body?
Nay, Bodhisattva in jataka stories has done this multiple times. If doing once is enough to perfect generosity, why doing it again and again?

The secret answer is, from what I have heard. It is perfect when
One relinquished attachment to everything.

Shocking! It is not about the amount of money you give, or how many people receive your donation. It is about the mind.

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@Khemarato.bhikkhu I think the salient point here may be about craving.

For the Arahant, with no craving or desire - the only reason for interactions is giving/being of benefit to others ie giving a completely unconditional gift. ie there is nothing that one (personally) gets from the interaction - it is not driven by desire; neither the desire for gain (stuff/security) or fame (how others see one) nor even to ‘do good’ (bodhisatta). Complete absence of desire - both wholesome and unwholesome. IN this sense it is perfected. Like the Buddhas decision to teach :slight_smile:

In the cited sutta, AN5.31, there are the many blameless advantages of generosity that are gained… In this case generosity is being a friend to oneself as well as others - but with zero desire these are not so important. It is the complete eradication of craving that ends rebirth, rather than being well thought of and having a good life in samsara , in whatever realm or whatever high re-birth, which are the fruits of generosity

Note: Wholesome desire is an integral part of the gradual training.

Before all craving is extinguished though, lack of generosity may be coming from defilements - so one needs to be careful…


No. In the suttas there is a cutting off point with the value of generosity between mundane and transcendent right view.

“If one were to develop even for just a finger-snap the perception of inconstancy, that would be more fruitful than the gift, the great gift, that Velāma the brahman gave, and [in addition to that] if one were to feed one person… 100 people consummate in view, and were to feed one once-returner… 100 once-returners, and were to feed one non-returner… 100 non-returners, and were to feed one arahant… 100 arahants, and were to feed one Private Buddha… 100 Private Buddhas, and were to feed a Tathagata — a worthy one, rightly self-awakened — and were to feed a community of monks headed by the Buddha, and were to have a dwelling built and dedicated to the Community of the four directions, and with a confident mind were to go to the Buddha, Dhamma, & Sangha for refuge, and with a confident mind were to undertake the training rules — refraining from taking life, refraining from taking what is not given, refraining from illicit sex, refraining from lying, refraining from distilled & fermented drinks that cause heedlessness — and were to develop even just one whiff of a heart of good will.”—AN 9.20


In addition I was reading the links I gave and thought this was interesting:

Giving functions in the Buddhist discipline in a different capacity. It does not come at the apex of the path, as a factor constituent of the process of awakening, but rather it serves as a basis and preparation which underlies and quietly supports the entire endeavor to free the mind from the defilements.

It’s more of a preparation (or a way to gain merit?) to follow the noble truths. I’m not sure why generosity wouldn’t make sense to be part of it, though.

I have a question for you. Somewhat off topic. Is it, I guess, wrong to want a good rebirth even though the goal is the opposite to no longer be reborn?

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What do you make of AN 9.62 though? :slight_smile:

“Monks, one who hasn’t abandoned nine things is incapable of realizing arahantship. Which nine? Passion, aversion, delusion, anger, resentment, arrogance, insolence, envy, & stinginess. One who hasn’t abandoned these nine things is incapable of realizing arahantship.

“One who has abandoned nine things is capable of realizing arahantship. Which nine? Passion, aversion, delusion, anger, resentment, arrogance, insolence, envy, & stinginess. One who has abandoned these nine things is capable of realizing arahantship.”

Is there a difference between abandoning stinginess and being generous?

In any case, IMO the sutta (AN 5.31) is talking about the result of past-life generosity in a subsequent life. So IMO, the point is that the path to Arahantship isn’t necessarily closed for those who haven’t been generous in lives previous to the one in which they choose to go forth :cowboy_hat_face:


I’m not stating an own opinion (can’t read the pali-source). But it might be interesting how Ven. Nyanatiloka looks at it. In a footnote he writes

(*1) Mit dem ‘eigenen Heil’ ist natürlich nicht der materielle Vorteil, sondern das wahre Heil, die Läuterung von den eigenen Schwächen und Leidenschaften gemeint. Dieses Heil wird von dem vernachlässigt, der ausschließlich zum Heile anderer wirkt und seinen eigenen inneren Fortschritt außer acht läßt. Da aus diesem Grunde seine Wirksamkeit nicht volle Frucht tragen kann und er selbst stets in der Gefahr sittlichen und geistigen Rückschrittes steht, ist er dem dritten Menschentyp unterlegen. Vgl. auch die folgenden Texte.

(*1) By ‘one’s own salvation’ is meant, of course, not material advantage, but true salvation, purification from one’s own weaknesses and passions. This salvation is neglected by him who works exclusively for the salvation of others and disregards his own inner progress. Since for this reason his effectiveness cannot bear full fruit and he himself is always in danger of moral and spiritual regression, he is inferior to the third type of man. Cf. also the following texts. (translation from german using

(german version from, “Die deutsche Übersetzung ist dem fünfbändigen Werk von Nyanatiloka/Nyanaponika, Aurum Verlag Freiburg 1984 und der Ausgabe vom buddhistischen Verlag Leipzig 1907 (Anguttara 1), Walter Markgraf Breslau 1911 (Anguttara 2) und 1914 (Anguttara 3) entnommen.” - Note: the footnote is not visible in the suttacentral-parallel, which itself is taken from that same Nyanatiloka-translation digitized at, Anguttara Nikaya IV.91-100)

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Dear Carlita, In my understanding it is neither ‘wrong’ nor unskillful to want a good rebirth :slight_smile:

One of the beautiful and liberating things of the Law of Dependent Arising, is that it means that the conditions and time needs to be right, all the factors need to come together, in order for other things to occur. When this - then this…

The gradual training is a process of gradual step-by-step conditioning in a particular direction. One has to go through this process the whole way through the Noble 8 fold Path. There is a simile that from milk (+ specific conditions) comes curds, from curds comes butter, from butter comes ghee…

This illustrates a conditioned step by step transformation.

In the case of the Path, one has to put this cause and effect action, this conditioning process, into effect on ones own Mind. As such, one starts by a bit of Right View, which gives impetus to beginning to develop the factors of Sila. Here we see positive or wholesome desire in effect. This wholesome desire is to reduce suffering. This includes not wanting to be reborn in a plane of suffering, and to want a good re-birth. Of course this is not only a good, but a necessary thing :slight_smile: Without this there would really be no motivation > effort > energy etc to provide the required momentum for practice.

It is truly wonderful and a win -win situation. As one moves along the Path everything keeps getting better. If the work isn’t finished before one dies, then one has moved to a better point, a good rebirth, and can start from a more advanced position to continue the process in the next life :smiley: :dharmawheel: No way to loose on this Path!

Further, as one moves along the Path, and the conditioned transformation moves further along the process, and Right View keeps developing (can’t do it any faster!), as RV develops, this influences perception. As perception changes in line with RV and Wisdom, one grows dispassionate and naturally starts to develop Nibida towards many wordly things and renunciation/Nekkhama is a natural result.

As one moves further and further along this conditioned process, even the idea of existence is relinquished. This can really only occur once that the 3 characteristics are fully penetrated. If one still has any sense of self, then the desire for an end to existence is akin to annihilation. So there is no point in trying to push for this prematurely :slight_smile:

The focus needs to be on developing the path and reconditioning oneself, to get to the point of seeing clearly, when Nibbana is a natural consequence. Dependent Arising - just beautiful

When this - then this
Wordling/puthujjana (+ conditions) > trainee > in the stream > Arahant > Nibbana

Here is a beautiful visual representation from Ven Yodha’s doodles about crossing to the other shore :slight_smile: It’s in the beautiful Dhamma doodles thread :slight_smile:

So it is my understanding that during the process of moving along the Path, ones Desires and the type of craving becomes more refined and skillful - less and less driven by defilements. So as in the Buddhas simile, the carpenter uses a finer peg to dislodge a larger/coarser peg, so too does one develop the skill to use ever more wholesome desires to move one further along the Path. It is necessary. SO please use the desire for a good rebirth to good effect :-D.

As craving is penetrated and understood it is increasingly (more deeply) relinquished. As the craving changes, so too does the desire for types of rebirths, (this is a natural process, not done by Will) becoming ever more refined - until finally - Extinguishment - Nibbana :relieved:

Just bringing it back to the question of the necessity for generosity. In my understanding, this is an absolute requirement in the first steps of the path and building the foundation for the gradual training. Without it the process won’t work. The path is structured to condition those who walk it… No sila > no samadhi > no Panna.
It is only with the abolishment of all craving - aranhantship - that it is no longer necessary. At this point the Buddha says that one no longer needs to carry the raft, but can put it down. What needed to be done has been done :slight_smile:

Of course, being generous is always a wise way to behave for all the reasons outlined in the originally cited sutta… and there is no reason why it should cease with attainments, but at the conclusion of the path it is no longer necessary and there is no more craving (wholesome or unwholesome) driving it.

Enjoy the process and use it skillfully :slight_smile: :pray: :dharmawheel: :butterfly:


IMO it is a yes and a no. It is yes, or there is a difference if generosity is practiced with the aim of achieving something better now or later which is what most people do. That is people give expecting something in return. I have heard people say “we need to give in order to get”. So these people are generous and stingy at the same time.
But there is no deference if the giver understands why they give. That is they should give with the sole expectation that the receiver will have better life or whatever and without expecting anything in return. That is the noble giving where abandoning stinginess will naturally result by being generous.
With Metta


Not if one isn’t an Arahant already! A good rebirth is the next step along the path to enlightenment.


It seems generosity is not required for liberation according to Theravada tradition!

This is related but the Buddha held those who practiced for their benefit and others in the highest regard, even above those who practiced for their own benefit.

I will be listing a number of Suttas and the pertinate point of said Sutta.

  • SN 4.5
    • The Buddha tells the medicants to go spread the Dhamma out of compassion
  • AN 7.64
    • Praise those who practice for their and other’s benefit, critize those who practice only for their own
  • AN 4.95
    • 4 kinds of people (from lowest to highest): practice for no ones benefit, practice for others benefit, practice for their benefit, practice for their and others benefit
  • AN 8.26
    • Definitions for lay followers: lay follower, an ethical lay follower, a lay follower practicing for their own benefit, and a lay follower practicing for their own benefit and others.

So, I would posit that if generosity is needed or not is not too big of a concern, it is still to be praised and encouraged either way.