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The Chavalata Sutta – Right Intention, Dana and Dhamma Practice
In the The Chavalata Sutta – Right Intention, Dana and Dhamma Practice the Buddha teaches that Right Intention and the Paramita of Dana are fundamental aspects of the highest form of Dhamma practice. Right Intention grounded in Right View is the action arising from the perfected mind state of Dana. Right Intention is the intention to abandon all clinging. Dana is the mind state that is settled in non-clinging. The greatest generosity is to be generous with the Dhamma.
In the Chavalata Sutta the Buddha teaches that there are four types of individuals in the world:
- Those that do not seek to develop understanding of the Dhamma.
- Those that develop understanding of the Dhamma for others but not for their own benefit.
- Those that develop understanding of the Dhamma for their own benefit but not for others.
- Those that practice for their own benefit and for the benefit of others.
The Buddha teaches: “The individual who practices neither for their own benefit nor for that of others is unrefined. The individual who practices for the benefit of others but not for their own benefit is the higher & more refined of these two. The individual who practices for their own benefit but not for the benefit of others is the highest & most refined of these first three. The individual who practices for their own benefit and for the benefit of others is, of these four, the foremost, the most outstanding, the highest, & supreme.”
With no engagement in the Dhamma one will remained unrefined. Engaging in the Dhamma with the intention of benefitting others but with no intention of benefitting oneself is more refined than an individual with no Dhamma practice but it is still arising from a clinging view of self. This is an extreme view as it disregards the necessity to develop an individual understanding of the nature of clinging, aversion and deluded thinking. This view is a very subtle way of avoiding applying the Dhamma to individual conditioned mind.
Those whose intention is to develop understanding for their own liberation will develop a more refined understanding of the Dhamma as the previous two. This is a more refined understanding as it requires the Right Intention to abandon clinging. This type of Dhamma practice is grounded in Right View and a basic understanding of the Four Noble Truths. This is the typical entry point into the Dhamma for most individuals. As long as the practice of developing understanding within the framework of the Eightfold Path is maintained whole-heartedly, the perfected quality of mind of Dana will naturally develop leading to the development of the fourth type of individual.
Right Intention follows initial Right View. Understanding the origination of Dukkha brings the intention to abandon clinging. Dana, generosity, is the mind state that develops as clinging is diminished. As individual Dhamma practice continues through Right Effort, all forms of clinging are abandoned.
Those whose intention is to develop their understanding of the Dhamma for their own benefit and for all others have found a true middle way. This is a highly refined practice that arises from an understanding of the extreme view of aversion to all understanding and the ascetic-like view of holding only an outwardly focused altruistic engagement with the world.
This “middle way” of seeking awakening, or arahantship, for oneself with the intention that you will gain the ability to also benefit others brings the true meaning of Dana, great generosity of spirit, to an individual practice. With the realization that through understanding your own clinging, aversion and confusion you can effectively help others is the path of an awakened human being.
The Buddha’s own life exemplifies the ideal of the arahant as the highest and supreme individual in the world. As the Buddha became aware of the nature of suffering, he sought understanding of suffering and its origination. Upon his awakening he presented the Four Noble Truths so that all human beings can understand and abandon the origination of Dukkha.
Not all Dhamma practitioners will formally teach the Dhamma. Many will express the highest form of understanding by encouraging others towards the Dhamma. Still others will express their understanding through the example of their lives and through a great generosity of spirit.
As an awakening or awakened human being, all Dhamma practitioners contribute to the lessening of greed, aversion and deluded thinking in the world. Holding in mind the Right Intention to abandon all clinging within the framework of the Eightfold Path develops liberation from dukkha. With mindfulness of the true meaning of Dana, all human beings benefit from individual Dhamma practice.
My Dhamma articles and talks are based on the Buddha's teachings (suttas) as preserved in the Sutta Pitaka, the second book of the Pali Canon. I have relied primarily on Thanissaro Bhikkhu’s excellent and insightful translation of the Pali generously made freely available at his website Dhammatalks.org, as well as the works of Nyanaponika Thera, John Ireland and Maurice Walsh, among others, as preserved at Access To Insight.
Also, I have found Bhikkhu Bodhi's translations from Wisdom Publications Pali Canon Anthologies to be most informative and an excellent resource.
I have made contextual edits to the suttas from these sources for further clarity, to modernize language, to minimize repetition, and maintain relevance to Dependent Origination and Four Noble Truths.
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