by Neil Amas, Panyaden School Director
Caga (pronounced jaa-ka) means generosity. It is the quality of delighting in the act of giving, sharing or relinquishing and expecting nothing in return; it is when the love of giving becomes a virtue in itself. Caga is being generous not only with material things but also with your time, your energy, your forgiveness, and your willingness to be fair and just with other people. It is the opposite of selfishness, stinginess, being attached to me and my things, needs or views, and, as such, caga also means to give up those thoughts and habits.
Dana (giving or gift) is the external manifestation of the internal quality of caga. While giving can be done without generosity, such as in order to get something in return or for the promise of a future reward, dana that is motivated by caga is so much greater. Giving up the unwholesome thoughts that prevent generosity, such as meanness and unwillingness to forgive, are also qualities of caga. They are a ‘gift’ to ourselves.
In Buddhist teachings, caga is seen as the foundation of dhamma practice, a pre-condition for sila-samadhi-panya (the Noble Eightfold Path). A mind expanded by generosity is better able to generate the effort and motivation needed to take on the tribulations of life than one constricted by the narrow confines of ‘what do I get out of it?’. Caga is also one of the 5 attributes that must be cultivated if one is to enter the higher stages of dhamma practice (‘stream-entry’): sadda (conviction), sila (moral conduct), suta (learning), caga and panya (wisdom).
Caga can be developed in different ways and at different levels. Helping others and offering service are ways of stepping over the boundaries of me and mine which, when stretched, often make us feel uncomfortable or threatened (Ajahn Pasanno, A Dhamma Compass). Forgiveness is a further step, a higher form of dana, because it is more difficult to forgive than it is to give material things. The highest form of giving is dhammadana, or sharing the principles and practice of dhamma. Ajahn Chah reminded us that this is not something only reserved for monks and nuns: “It is enough to set good examples and follow the Precepts.” Like the vine which grows and is shaped by the nearest tree, children are more affected by their parents’ example than anything else. When we think of the people who have most positively influenced our lives, “it is not because of the kinds of cars they own or vacations they have taken but because they have been trustworthy, kind and patient with us. They’ve made us feel good, no matter how badly we feel about ourselves. This kind of giving is not beyond the capacity of anybody. Increasing well-being and decreasing dukkha (suffering) are gifts we can all give,” (Ajahn Pasanno, ibid).
From an early age if children are praised and encouraged for freely giving to others, they grow up with a pleasant feeling associated with being generous. The idea that you gain happiness by giving things away does not come automatically to a young child’s mind, but with practice they will find that it is true. They will learn that when we give, we put ourselves in a position of wealth. A gift, no matter how small, is proof that you have more than enough. Caga helps build confidence in children because by being able to help other people we develop a sense of self-worth. Acts of generosity are an antidote to low self-esteem. They create a sense of openness in the mind which helps break down boundaries with others that otherwise would keep goodwill from spreading around. Caga can used as a catalyst for family togetherness because, as Ajahn Jayasaro notes, ’’few things enhance the sense of connection between family members as group acts of generosity” (Daughters & Sons).
The nature of the desire mind is that, even when we have enough, we feel there is always a lack of this or never enough of that, or we fear that something is going to get taken away from us. The ‘she’s got more than me, it’s not fair’ complaint of materialist competitive societies creates a confined, fearful world because there’s never enough, as opposed to the confident and trusting world we create through acts of generosity. As we practice caga, we realise that we can get by on less, and that there is a pleasure that comes with giving. This, it can be said, is a true sense of wealth.
Please click here for the above article in Thai.