More Than Money
Issue #2
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What Makes Giving Satisfying?

Table of Contents

“Tzedakah, Dan, Tithing, Dana”

Perspectives on Giving from Four Religious Traditions


In Jewish tradition, giving is meaningful only in a community context. That is why there is no word for charity in Hebrew. Instead, we speak of "Tzedakah," meaning "righteousness." Because the true goal of Tzedakah is to build and maintain caring community, even the person who receives Tzedakah is obligated to give it. As this quote from my book "Jews, Money and Social Responsibility" explains, "... money and wealth [can be seen] as the blood within the body of the human race. If it circulates, bringing nutrients to all parts, the body prospers and, indeed produces more blood. If, on the other hand, wealth fails to circulate, but accumulates and clots, the results are potentially fatal. Tzedakah is the heart that keeps the blood circulating." - Jeffrey Dekro


In America, tax considerations often motivate charity. But in India, we give because it is both a custom and part of the Hindu religion. People give what they can to the blind, orphans, and the elderly. They give when they go to temple for prayer, and at expected times (when a child comes of age, when people marry, when your parents die.) For example, when my mother died, we invited 11 Brahmans to our home and gave each of them 11 rupees, towels, and dhotis. We felt happy offering them mother's mattress and sheets knowing that her soul would not be held back at home, but continue on its journey. In our culture, giving improves your karma-it comes back to you in your next lifetime. - Arun and Bidyut Toké


Although I knew that tithing (giving 10% of gross earnings) is very important in Christian teachings, I seldom seemed to do it - not consistently, anyway. Then recently, I realized that Christians are asked to make this, not out of duty, but from a sense of joy and gratitude for all of God's gifts to us. God is capable of caring for my needs so I am now free to give without worry. Since giving brings a greater return to the giver than to the person who receives the gift, a person should not give until it hurts, but rather give until it quits hurting! This is helping me to look forward to tithing as an expression of the joy of sharing, a joy that can rejuvenate me. - David Finch


In the Mahayana school of Buddhism, it is understood that each of us is given the opportunity to perfect ourselves throughout our lives. Number one on the list of "ten perfections" is giving, or "Dana." Whenever you practice Dana you are nourished and energized, as is the one to whom you have given. This illustrates our interconnectedness.

Years ago I was in Sri Lanka, talking candidly with a monk about his monastery's poor finances. I urged him, "You should charge the students a fixed rate to cover their expenses, not wait to see if they feel like making a meager donation!" I felt annoyed that many of his Western students seemed to care only what they could get from the monastery, without ever asking what they might offer in return.

The monk replied, "If even a monk has a problem with stinginess, where does the attitude of "Me First" end? It is only when you experience generosity that you are inspired to be generous." I saw that this was the monks' way of practicing Dana. I was taken aback because it was such a different approach to mine, yet moved because it rang true to me. By the end of the conversation it was also clear to me that I would be writing a check! - Allan Hunt-Badiner

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