Alms or almsgiving exists in a number of religions. In general, it involves giving materially to another as an act of religious virtue. In Abrahamic religions, alms are given as charity to benefit the poor. In Buddhism, alms are given by lay people to monks and nuns to nurture laic virtue, merit and blessings and to ensure monastic continuity. The word comes from Old English ælmesse, ælmes, from Late Latin eleemosyna, from Greek eleEmosynE pity, alms, from eleEmOn merciful, from eleos pity (for the poor).
In Buddhism, alms or almsgiving is the respect given by a lay Buddhist to a Buddhist monk or nun. It is not charity as presumed by Western interpreters. It is closer to a symbolic connection to the spiritual and to show humbleness and respect in the presence of normal society. The visible presence of monks and nuns is a stabilizing influence. The act of alms giving assists in connecting the human to the monk or nun and what he/she represents. As the Buddha has stated:
- Householders & the homeless [monastics]
- in mutual dependence
- both reach the true Dhamma.... (Itivuttaka 4.7)
In Theravada Buddhism, monks (Pāli: bhikkhus)and nuns go on a daily almsround (or pindacara) to collect food. This is often perceived as giving the laypeople the opportunity to make merit (Pāli: puñña). Money should not be accepted by a Buddhist monk or nun, although nowadays not many monks and nuns keep to this rule (the exception being the monks and nuns of the Thai Forest Tradition and other Theravada traditions which focus on vinaya and meditation practice). In countries that follow Mahayana Buddhism, it has been impractical for monks to go on a daily almsround. In China, Korea and Japan, monasteries were situated in remote mountain areas where it could take days to reach the nearest town, thus making the daily almsround impossible. In Japan, the practice of a weekly or monthly takuhatsu took its place. In the Himalayan countries, the large number of bikshus would have made an almsround a heavy burden on families. Competition with other religions for support also made daily almsrounds difficult and even dangerous; the first monks in the Shilla dynasty of Korea were said to be beaten due to the Buddhist minority at the time.
In Buddhism, both "almsgiving" and, more generally, "giving" are called "dāna" (Pāli). Such giving is one of the three elements of the path of practice as formulated by the Buddha for laypeople. This path of practice for laypeople is: dāna, sīla, bhāvanā.
Generosity is also expressed towards other sentient beings as both a cause for merit and to aid the receiver of the gift. It is accepted that although the three jewels of refuge are the basis of the greatest merit, by seeing other sentient beings as having Buddhanature and making offerings towards the aspirational Buddha to be within them is of equal benefit. Generosity towards other sentient beings is greatly emphasised in Mahayana as one of the perfections (paramita) as shown in Lama Tsong Khapa's 'The Abbreviated Points of the Graded Path' (Tibetan: lam-rim bsdus-don):
- "Total willingness to give is the wish-granting gem for fulfilling the hopes of wandering beings.
- It is the sharpest weapon to sever the knot of stinginess.
- It leads to bodhisattva conduct that enhances self-confidence and courage,
- And is the basis for universal proclamation of your fame and repute.
- Realizing this, the wise rely, in a healthy manner, on the outstanding path
- Of (being ever-willing) to offer completely their bodies, possessions, and positive potentials.
- The ever-vigilant lama has practiced like that.
- If you too would seek liberation,
- Please cultivate yourself in the same way."
In Buddhism, giving of alms is the beginning of one's journey to Nirvana (Pali: nibbana). In practice, one can give anything with or without thought for Nibbana. This would lead to faith (Pali: saddha), one key power (Pali: bala) that one should generate within oneself for the Buddha, Dhamma and Sangha.
The motives behind giving plays important role in developing spiritual qualities. The suttas record various motives for exercising generosity. The Anguttara Nikaya (A.iv,236) enumerates the following eight motives:
1. Asajja danam deti: one gives with annoyance, or as a way of offending the recipient, or with the idea of insulting him. 2. Bhaya danam deti: fear also can motivate a person to make an offering. 3. Adasi me ti danam deti: one gives in return for a favor done to oneself in the past. 4. Dassati me ti danam deti one also may give with the hope of getting a similar favor for oneself in the future. 5. Sadhu danan ti danam deti: one gives because giving is considered good. 6. Aham pacami, ime ne pacanti, na arahami pacanto apacantanam adatun ti danam deti: "I cook, they do not cook. It is not proper for me who cooks not to give to those who do not cook." Some give urged by such altruistic motives. 7. Imam me danam dadato kalyano kittisaddo abbhuggacchati ti danam deti: some give alms to gain a good reputation. 8. Cittalankara-cittaparikkarattham danam deti: still others give alms to adorn and beautify the mind. http://www.accesstoinsight.org/lib/authors/various/wheel367.html
According to the Pali canon:
Christianity as a personal religion has no concept of a legal requirement to give alms, nevertheless giving to the poor is regarded as one of the highest duties for any Christian. The offertory is the traditional moment in every Roman Catholic Mass, and Anglican Eucharist when alms are collected.
In the Eastern Orthodox Church and the Eastern Catholic Churches the collection of alms and tithes has not been formally united to the offertory in any liturgical action. However, either having a collection plate in the narthex or passing it unobtrusively during the service is not uncommon. In Orthodox theology, almsgiving is an important part of the spiritual life, and fasting should always be accompanied by increased prayer and almsgiving. Almsgiving in the name of the deceased also frequently accompanies prayer for the dead. Those whose financial circumstances do not permit the giving of monetary alms may give alms in other ways, such as intercessory prayer and acts of mercy.
In most Christian forms of worship, a collection is made of "tithes and offerings" given for the support of the church and for the relief of the poor, as an important act of Christian charity, united to communal prayer. In some churches the "offering plate" or "offering basket" is placed upon the altar, as a sign that the offering is made to God, and a sign of the bond of Christian love. In addition, private acts of charity, considered virtuous only if not done for others to admire, are a Christian duty.
- Be careful not to do your 'acts of righteousness' in front of others, to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven. -(Matthew 6:1)
The outward and an inward giving of alms: Here Jesus places the primary focus on the motives behind such acts, which should be love.
- Rather, give as alms what is inside, and then everything will be clean for you! - (Luke 11:41)
Giving of the rich versus the poor: Here Jesus contrasts the giving of the rich and the poor
- He looked up and saw the rich putting their gifts into the treasury. And He saw a poor widow putting in two small copper coins. And He said, "Truly I say to you, this poor widow put in more than all of them; for they all out of their surplus put into the offering; but she out of her poverty put in all that she had to live on."- (Luke 21:1-4)
Giving out of Love and not out of duty:
- He will reply, "I tell you the truth, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me." - (Matthew 25:45)
Bhiksha is a devotional offering, usually food, presented at a temple or to a swami or a religious Brahmin who in turn provides a religious service (karmkand) or instruction. Bhiksha was a ritual for those who were monks so that their Ego was equated with all and self nullified. They asked for the material bhiksha for the survival and some educational social facility. The greater value of the Bhiksha was in asking begging for good timely wisdom for all by these saints. Many did so and are doing today. One of such sanit 400 years ago was Swami samarth ramdas ji guru of Shivaji a warrior hero of India Maharashtra who fought for self rule then. Swami ramadas ji asks for alms for wisdom and divine peace for all. His work is available on the sites named after him. His work is in form of dasbodha a book of wisdom. Five key pillars of leading a life and Charity is one of the important pillar.
Islamic scriptural rules on alms are quite reminiscent of the biblical instructions:
- If you give alms openly, it is well; but if you do it secretly and give to the poor, that is better. - (Qur-an 2:271a)
In Islam, zakat, or the giving of alms, is the third of the five pillars of Islam. Various rules attach to the practice, but in general terms, it is obligatory to give away 2.5% of ones savings and business revenue, as well as 5-10% of ones harvest, to the poor. The recipients include the destitute, the working poor, those who are unable to pay off their own debts, stranded travelers, and others who need assistance, with the general principle of zakaah always being that the rich should pay it to the poor.
In the Jewish tradition, charity represented by tzedakah, justice, and the poor are entitled to charity as a matter of right rather than benevolence. Contemporary charity is regarded as a continuation of the Biblical Maaser Ani, or poor-tithe, as well as Biblical practices including permitting the poor to glean the corners of a field, harvest during the Shmita (Sabbatical year), and other practices. Voluntary charity, along with prayer and repentance, is regarded as ameliorating the consequences of bad acts.
Source : http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alms