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Contradiction and the Merit of Giving in Indian Religions

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The gift has been an important focus of research on Indian sociology and religion. However, almost all research has been confined to the Hindu tradition. I believe we can shed new light on religious giving if we focus on common themes in the main religions of the sub-continent. In this article I look at the textual traditions on giving in Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism. My thesis is that these traditions share basic contradictions in their ideas of giving. There is, firstly, a contradiction between the gift as a sacrifice and a charitable gift and, secondly, a contradiction between the merit associated with giving as originating from the qualitites of the recipient and from the intention of the donor. These two contradictions are interlinked. Initially, they seem to threaten the institution of giving to the religious renouncer. If giving can be perceived as an act of charity where the merit accrues from the right intentions behind the act, there is no more reason to give to the renouncer than to anybody else. However, it seems that the contradiction also has been used to make giving to renouncers a priori meritorious. When the gift is perceived as a sacrifice to a worthy monk the merit accrues from the qualities of the recipient, but when there are no worthy recipients around the merit accrues from the right intention of the donor.

Affiliations: 1: Wolfson College GB-Oxford OX2 6UD


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