In English a donation can be considered as an action and as a good. As an action it is thought of as "[t]he action or faculty of giving" or "[t]he action or right of bestowing or conferring a benefice".1 In relation to law it can also be understood as "[t]he action or contract by which a person transfers the ownership of a thing from himself to another, as a free gift".2 As a good a donation is understood as "[t]hat which is presented; a gift".3 So a donation, both as an action and as a good, can basically be understood as a gift.4
The English word 'donation' is a sprout of the Latin word 'dōnātiō(nem)'5 which carries related meanings.6 This word is build up from the Latin word 'dōnō',7 meaning also 'to give'.8 To this same family of Latin words does also the word 'dōnum' belong, regarding a gift.9 These Latin words (and their English sprout 'donation') are rooted in the Latin word 'dō', which again means 'to give'.10
Now the above Latin family of words are thought to originate from the Greek word 'dános',11 which too refers to a gift.12 Older still however is the relation with the Sanskrit word 'dāna(m)'.13 Now this word 'dāna' also refers to a gift, and then especially to a religious offering.14 And as the Latin 'dōnum' is rooted in the word 'dō' so is the Sanskrit 'dāna' rooted in the word 'dā'.15
The English 'donation' is through the Latin 'dōnum' and the Greek 'dános' rooted in the Sanskrit 'dāna' (or 'dānam'). The etymological line running from 'donation' back to 'dāna' is twofold. For there is a phonetic line and a semantic line. The semantic line that here was followed was that of 'a gift'. To all of the four above mentioned words is the meaning of 'a gift' attached. This goes also for the Sanskrit word 'dāna'. 'Dāna' however is much too rich in meaning to be understood as just a simple synonym or translation of 'gift'. As stated in an earlier contemplation is Sanskrit an abstract oriented language while English is a concrete oriented language, which makes it difficult to translate Sanskrit terms one on one to English words.16
So what does 'dāna' mean more than just 'gift'? In Hinduism 'dāna' has a highly religious and spiritual significance. In the Veda's, which are probably the oldest scriptures in which the word occurs (in its root 'da', being in this case another form of 'dā'),17 a relation is laid between giving on the one hand and friendship, happiness and the intent of the gods on the other hand.18 The act of giving results in friendships that produce happiness and is in line with the intent of the gods (who never intended man to die of hunger). This thought is further worked out in the Upaniṣads. There the syllable 'da' is mentioned as the root and referent of giving (dānam), self-control (damam) and compassion (dayam).19 'Dānam' is also mentioned, along with austerity (tapaḥ), sincerity (ārjavam), non-injury (ahiṁsā) and the speaking of truth (satyavacanam), as one of the virtuous offerings to the priests and others.20 In the Śrīmadbhagavadgītā a distinction is made between right (sāttvik), misleading (rājasik) and wrong (tāmasik) giving.21 When a gift is given at the wrong time or place, to an unworthy person or with disdain it is given wrongly. When given with a return gift in view or reluctantly a gift is misleading. But when given at the right time and place, to a worthy person, without a return gift in view a gift is given rightly. This is in a different way acknowledged in the Śrīmadbhagavata where one is advised to give, but to give discriminatingly and also in the right measure.22 For it is not meant to give beyond one's capacity to sustain oneself after giving. Nevertheless is dāna in Hinduism considered as very important. At present we are living in the Kaliyuga23 (the iron age or the age of strive),24, 25 and for this age is according to the Manusmṛti dāna the exclusive virtue to be attained.26 Especially the giving to the priestly class (brahmins)27 is considered as virtuous as it purifies one of committed sins.28, 29 Not for nothing is 'dā' (or 'da') not only the root of 'dāna' but does it indicate also a purification.30
The above Hinduistic thoughts on giving we find again in Christianity. For just as in the Manusmṛti dāna is considered as the prime virtue to be attained so is charity this in The New Testament.31 The original Greek word there used is however not the Greek sprout of 'dāna' 'dános' but 'ẚgápe'. This word can mean both 'charity' and 'love' (whereby the first has special reference to the giving of alms and the latter to Godly love).32, 33 So charity in Christianity is not just the mere giving away of things but to give with (divine) love.34 This corresponds with the distinction that is made in the Śrīmadbhagavadgītā between right, misled and wrong giving. Right giving in Christianity is to give with love and to give love. That the Greek 'ẚgápe' in The New Testament is translated in English with 'charity' has to do with the Vulgate Latin translation of the original Greek. For there is 'ẚgápe' translated with 'cāritās', being the etymological root of the English 'charity'.35 The Latin 'cāritās' carried dominantly meanings pertaining to love and esteem36 and it can be suspected that due to its translational relation with the Greek 'ẚgápe' the semantics pertaining to alms of the latter have been transferred to the first. Let us look at an overview of the so far discovered phonetic and semantic lines in the figures 1 and 2.
|Dāna [giving / love]
|Ảgápe [giving / love]
|Cāritās [giving / love]
|Charity [giving / love]
In these two figures we see a phonetic line running from the Sanskrit 'dāna' through the Greek 'dános' and the Latin 'dōnātiō' to the English 'donation'. This phonetic line is also responsible for the semantic transfer of 'giving' from the first to the last. The semantic of 'love', which is still present in the original Sanskrit 'dāna', somehow did not succeed to be transferred into the Greek 'dános'. This is perhaps so because in Greek the word 'ẚgápe' was in use to denote semantically more or less the same as did 'dāna'. Now this Greek word 'ẚgápe' did not grow sprouts in the Latin and English languages. Semantically however it fertilized the Latin word 'cāritās' through a Biblical translation. Up till then the Latin 'cāritās' denoted only love and esteem, but with it being fertilized by 'ẚgápe' it got enriched with the semantic of 'giving'. 'Cāritās' then sprouted in the English language as the word 'charity', and along that line grew also its enriched semantics. Thus we are at present in the situation where in the English language 'charity' refers mainly to a giving with (divine) love and 'donation' to a mere giving.
We started this contemplation on donation with an etymology. In contemporary English 'donation' refers mainly and simply to a gift. Trough Latin words like 'dōnātiō(nem)', 'dōnō' and 'dō', denoting the same thing, and the Greek 'dános', again referring to a gift, we stumbled upon its Sanskrit roots in 'dāna(m)' and 'dā'. 'Dāna' however was found to be much richer in meaning. It refers not to a plain gift but to one which should be done at the right time and place to the right person (often a priest), making it spiritually purifying for the giver. Dāna is the prime virtue to be attained.
A similar thought was found in the Christian conception of the prime virtue of charity. Originally the Greek word 'ẚgápe' was used, referring basically to a giving with or of (divine) love. In Latin the word 'cāritās' (meaning on itself only 'love') was used to translate 'ẚgápe' by which 'cāritās' also came to refer to a giving with or of love.
What the etymology of 'donation' however taught us is that this word should be understood and used in the same way as 'charity'. Just like charity is a donation something which should be done also with or of love. A donation must be made at the right time and place to the right person (especially to soul polarized persons as the esoteric representatives of the exoteric priests of the brahmin caste).37 Only thus will the giver gain purity and make spiritual progress.
Donation as charity is the prime virtue to be attained.