The giving of alms to Shvetambar Jain renouncers is a specific institutionalized elaboration of the idea of a free gift, an idea which all the major world religions have their own ways of instantiating, and which in north Indian languages is expressed by the word dan. This example illustrates the inherently paradoxical nature of the idea of a gift, and why it is a mistake to define the gift as necessarily reciprocal and non-alienated. Like the pure commodity, the pure gift is characterized by the fact that it does not create personal connections and obligations between the parties. This understanding of the gift, which is implicit in Mauss, enables us to resolve the apparent paradox in the ethnography of dan, that although it is a free gift it is often harmful to its recipients.