AskDefine | Define almsgiving

Dictionary Definition

alms-giving n : voluntary contributions to aid the poor [syn: alms, almsgiving]almsgiving n : voluntary contributions to aid the poor [syn: alms, alms-giving]

User Contributed Dictionary



  1. The act of voluntarily giving of alms, of making donations to the poor, charity.

Extensive Definition

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.


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 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 wihtin 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.
According to the Pali canon:
Of all gifts [alms], the gift of Dhamma is the highest. (Dhp. XXIV v. 354)


Whereas the principle of almsgiving in Christianity is not a legal concept as in Islam, 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, when alms are collected. 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 a central act of Christian worship. 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. - (Bible verse |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! - (Bible verse |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."- (Bible verse |Luke|21:1-4)


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 facilty. 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.


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.



External links


almsgiving in Aragonese: Almosna
almsgiving in Danish: Almisse
almsgiving in German: Almosen
almsgiving in Spanish: Limosna
almsgiving in Esperanto: Almozo
almsgiving in French: Aumône
almsgiving in Italian: Elemosina
almsgiving in Hebrew: צדקה
almsgiving in Dutch: Aalmoes
almsgiving in Norwegian Nynorsk: Almisse
almsgiving in Polish: Jałmużna
almsgiving in Portuguese: Esmola
almsgiving in Sicilian: Limòsina
almsgiving in Finnish: Almu
almsgiving in Swedish: Allmosa
almsgiving in Yiddish: צדקה
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