The Concept - Perfection of Giving in Action and Reaction by Chitra Fernando

According to the Buddhism, giving (Danaya – almsgiving) has been introduced as a meritorious act which results the donor age, splendour, comfort and power. At the same time, it was introduced that all the merits end up after their effect. Therefore, it was instructed to the followers of the religion not to cling into the effect but to think of the impermanence of everything; even the merits. If one clings into the result of merits, he will be jumping into the endless cycle of samsara, the cycle of life and death. Therefore, it is advised not to expect anything but try to understand the nature of everything that ends with sorrow and try to liberate from the vicious circle of samsara. Which is the ultimate saying of Lord Buddha which unfortunately is not practiced by many orthodox followers of Buddhism.

Chitra Fernando very subtly showcases how profound religious insights and values are wrongly interpreted to achieve personal, selfish, superficial goals of individuals. She skilfully juxtaposes the real Buddhist principle of Giving and how it is interpreted by individuals in society. Both Loku Nanda and Kusuma spend much money for temple buildings (shrine room, bana hall) to collect meritorious deeds. Expecting more in return, especially in the next birth. But the correct explanation of Giving is explained by the Buddhist monk during his sermon, quoting an example from The Tathagatha, the Bodhisathva. Accordingly, perfection in giving is generosity expecting nothing in return, except enlightenment.

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So, let’s examine how Chitra Fernando critically explores the misinterpretation of giving in the society through the short story of Action and Reaction which is one of the stories from the Trilogy-Three Women, 1984. 

So everyone was quite certain that at the very least she could be sure of a place in the Tusitha heavan.

This was the status maintained by Loku Naenda among the relatives and others in the society as an idol of piety. This further reveals the common concept of following religion; to have a better afterlife.

As the monks in the temple says:

If you wanted too many things your desires would make you linger in samsara; you would be a prisoner of your desires…. Loku Nanda, who was so wise, seemed to want a lot in return for whatever she did.

This juxtapose the pure base of Buddhism and how it is practiced in the common society in most occasions. Though it reveals that the desires would push one into the vicious cycle of samsara, Loku Naenda though is aware about that very fact, does not care to follow that truth, the right way of giving. When people who are well versed about religious matters malpractice religion, it is natural for beholders to follow those idols blindly. That is what has happened to Kusuma. At the end, she blindly follows what Loku Naenda had been practicing.

I give and give and give and this is my reward; This creature steals my kavun.

This reveals the self-possessive nature of Loku Naenda. According to Buddhism, one should let the possessive desires to go away if they want to enter the path of liberation. Her greed, desire and clinging into possessions contradicts the concept of giving. She expects things in return after giving something. It cannot be considered as Danaya – giving, but a transaction – spending something to get thing in return.   

Loku Naenda was just the same-still full of shradda, still busy collecting meritorious acts…. Loku Naenda knew that she was still a long way from nibbana and she was in no special hurry to get there. She had no objection to remaining in samsara for a couple of eons or so, and she was determined to spend those eons as comfortably as possible. she had always been a very practical woman.

This unveils another truth in common; people do not like to be liberated. They are willing to enter the cycle of samsara. However, they do not like to fall into unfortunate states of lives in their rebirths. Therefore, they collect merits to have better, comfortable lives in their afterlives. As we discussed earlier, this is not true according to Buddhism; the merits are only a single factor to decide the next life and no one can guarantee the nature of next life. It is decided by the last thought at the last moment before death.   

The Bodisathva replied, “Kaushika, by this gift I do not wish to be a Sakra, a Mara or a Brahma or gain sovereignty over the universe or birth in the heavens. But by this deed may I attain perfect the unconsoled, to liberate the unliberated. This is my wish.

The Jathaka story teaches the true way of giving; neither expecting a better next birth nor any materialistic gain but to use the merit to open the gate of liberation. Here, Bodisathva gave his own blood and flesh and wished liberation for all the unliberated in the world – to be Lord Buddha. This story sharply juxtaposes with the life and practices of Loku Naenda.

This is the most successful pirith and dane I’ve ever given-everything went off beautifully! Did you notice how Mrs. Welikala was eyeing the pirith mandappe? It’s ten times nicer than hers!

Having materialistic pleasure is not the proper way to measure the success of a religious deed done. Most people ruin the effect of their merit gained by showcasing a series of sinful activities in very next moment. The behaviour of Loku Naenda and Punchi Naenda further shows that people do meritorious deeds to have public attention and to showcase their wealth and power.  

She is saving it to buy a brass lamp for the temple. One of those big tall ones… What’s wrong with that? We all want to better ourselves.

This again confirms the idea discussed before, donating big thigs to get a big result in the afterlife. According to Buddhism, it is not the amount that give but the pure willing in the heart to give even a tiniest thing expecting nothing in return.

Loku Nanda had wanted to contribute something towards it but Kusuma had refused very firmly. The merit from this act had to be hers and hers alone; she did not want to share it with anyone. ………..

My name will be inscribed outside because I am the donor.

These two examples are clear examples of how Kusuma internalized the wrong concepts of Loku Naenda about the practice of religion. She blindly continues what Loku Naenda had been doing: collecting merits to have a better life in her next birth. She has become sternly self-centred that she does not like to share the merits done by her. She wants them all and brands her name on her meritorious deeds to assure the others that the merit solely belongs to Kusuma. This is again a misconception on religious practices with regard to giving. It is said that it is the best way to practice giving not alone but with a group large as much as possible.

However, religious principles are blindly practised in society, perhaps to suit the needs and desires of people. The story sarcastically discloses how some of those so called meritorious acts are practised to gain social prestige and power. These practices reveal that even by being involved in religious acts people try to be competitive and to hurt others. Thus, the story is a subtle critique of such blind religious practices and people’s ignorance of Buddhist principles.

Hope this post will be helpful for you, if you have things to be added or cut off, feel free to add a public comment at the end. Share the post among your friends if you find this useful.



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  1. this is really helpful and you have done a great job analysing this short story . thank u very much and keep it up!