A Discourse About Velāma
On one occasion the Blessed One was dwelling at Sāvatthi in Prince Jeta’s grove, Anāthapiṇḍika’s monastery. Then the householder Anāthapiṇḍika approached the Blessed One, and having approached he paid homage to the Blessed One and sat down at one side. As Anāthapiṇḍika the householder was sitting at one side the Blessed One said to him: “Is alms given in your family, householder?” ¹
“Alms is given in our family, venerable sir; however, it is only coarse broken rice and sour gruel.”
“If, householder, one gives coarse alms or excellent,² if one gives disrespectfully, inattentively, not with one’s own hand, as something discarded, not believing in future results, wherever that giving bears fruit, one’s mind does not incline towards the enjoyment of excellent food, excellent clothing, excellent vehicles, one’s mind does not incline towards the enjoyment of the most refined five types of sensual pleasures. Also  one’s wife and children, one’s slaves, servants, and workers do not listen, pay attention, nor apply their minds to understand. What is the reason? Because, householder, that is the result of kamma done disrespectfully.
“If, householder, one gives coarse alms or excellent, if one gives respectfully, attentively, with one’s own hand, as something not discarded, believing in future results, wherever that giving bears fruit, one’s mind inclines towards the enjoyment of excellent food, excellent clothing, excellent vehicles, one’s mind inclines towards the enjoyment of the most refined five types of sensual pleasures. Also one’s wife and children, one’s slaves, servants, and workers listen, pay attention, and apply their minds to understand. What is the reason? Because, householder, that is the result of kamma done respectfully.
“At one time, householder, there was a brahmin called Velāma. He gave this kind of great alms-giving: 84,000 gold bowls filled with silver, 84,000 silver bowls filled with gold, 84,000 bronze bowls filled with gold coins, 84,000 elephants adorned with golden ornaments, golden banners, and covered in golden nets, 84,000 chariots upholstered with lion skins, tiger skins, leopard skins, blankets dyed with saffron, with golden ornaments, golden banners, and covered in golden nets, 84,000 milk cows with tethers of women jute and bronze pails, 84,000 maidens adorned with gold earrings, 84,000 couches  spread with long fleeces, woollen blankets, upholstered with antelope hide, with canopies and red bolster at each end, 84,000 sets of clothes made from delicate linen, silk, wool, and cotton. What more need be said regarding hard and soft food, and things to be licked and drunk, that flowed like rivers?
“You might think, householder: ‘The brahmin Velāma was someone else who gave that great alms-giving.’ However, it should not, householder, be regarded thus. I was the brahmin Velāma on that occasion.³ However, on that occasion, householder, there was not one person worthy of offerings, no one to purify the gift.
“That great alms-giving given by the brahmin Velāma is not of such great fruit as feeding one person attained to right-view.⁴ Feeding a hundred attained to right-view is not of such great fruit as feeding a Once-returner. Feeding one hundred Once-returners is not of such great fruit as feeding a Non-returner. Feeding one hundred Non-returners is not of such great fruit as feeding an Arahant. Feeding one hundred Arahants is not of such great fruit as feeding a Solitary Buddha.  Feeding one hundred Solitary Buddhas is not of such great fruit as feeding the Tathāgata, an Arahant, a Fully Enlightened Buddha … feeding the community of monks with the Buddha at its head … erecting a dwelling place for the community from the four directions … going for refuge with faith to the Buddha, Dhamma, and Saṅgha ⁵ … undertaking with faith the five precepts — to abstain from killing living beings, to abstain from taking what is not given, to abstain from sexual misconduct, to abstain for telling lies, to abstain from taking intoxicants that cause heedlessness — is not of such great fruit as developing a mind of loving-kindness for the time it takes to pull a cow’s udder.
“Householder, feeding one attained to right-view is of greater fruit than that great alms-giving of the brahmin Velāma … developing loving-kindness for the time it takes to pull a cow’s udder is of greater fruit than undertaking with faith the five precepts. Developing the perception of impermanence even for a finger-snap  is of greater fruit than developing loving-kindness for the time it takes to pull a cow’s udder.”
1. The Buddha knew that the family of Anāthapiṇḍika offered almsfood regularly. The Buddha also knew that he was unhappy because he was only able to offer poor quality alms due to having spent most of his great wealth in giving alms. The Buddha asked as a prelude to teaching him about the benefits of giving alms regardless of the value of the gift. The story regarding Anāthapiṇḍika’s poverty is told in the Khadiraṅgāra Jātaka.
2. The Commentary notes that many in the world take pride in giving, so Anāthapiṇḍika was unhappy to give only poor quality alms. Worldly values should be given up. Monks are trained to be content with any kind of alms. If they eat too much rich food they will become sick. If they own luxurious goods they will be attacked by robbers. Even if left-overs are offered, if it is done respectfully, attentively, with one’s own hand, not as if discarding something, then the gift is of great fruit. A well-trained monk will be pleased at getting something that would otherwise would only have gone to waste. Of course, the food should not be rotten, but if it is just cut or bruised, it is still good to eat and delicious.
4. This progressive list of the merits of giving depending on the spiritual maturity of the recipient is also given in the Dakkhiṇāvibhaṅga Sutta of the Majjhimanikāya to Mahāpajāpatī Gotamī when she wished to donate a hand-made robe to the Buddha. He urged her to give it to the Saṅgha.
5. The Kūṭadanta Sutta of the Dīghanikāya gives a similar list of sacrifices, each greater than the preceding sacrifice. It continues with going-forth, attaining the absorptions, and culminates in the attainment of Arahantship, which is a sacrifice of greater benefit than any other.