The word bali can be translated as `tax', `fee', `due' or even `fine' and implys something one is obliged to do. The Buddhist Fivefold Offerings (pa¤cabali) are gifts given or services rendered to five recipients - relatives, guests, departed loved ones, the king and the gods (A.II,68). Although the Buddha did not require his disciples to make these offerings, he did suggest that it is good to do so. He said that one of the things one can use rightly acquired wealth for is to make the Offerings (A.II,68). When a brahmin complained to Sàriputta that making the Offerings was costing him too much in time, trouble and money, Sàriputta encouraged him to perform them nonetheless (M.II,186). Although less relevant today than they were in ancient times, some of the Fivefold Offerings still have an important social role; strengthen bonds between individuals, between individuals and institutions and across generations.
Welcoming and showing appreciation to ones relatives (¤atibali) was integral to keeping the extended family strong in ancient times, although its importance has declined in modern society. Nonetheless, being on good terms with ones in-laws is still a good thing. Kindness and respectful service to guests (atithibali) is an integral part of the Buddhist tradition of hospitality. Making offerings on behalf of or in memory of one's departed parents (pubbapetabali) was already an ancient practice by the Buddha's time and he approved of it as an expression of love and gratitude. He mentioned this as one of the duties children should perform towards their parents after they pass away (A.III,43; D.III,189). The modern equivalent of offerings to the king (ràjabali) would be paying taxes required by law. Although never popular, the responsible citizen pays taxes and rates and those who avoid doing so unfairly reap the benefits of the social system they live under without making a contribution to it. Today, making offerings to gods and local spirits would probably be meaningless to any people. Perhaps it could now be interpreted as making donations to worthwhile religious charities.
The Buddha's Fivefold Offerings were meant to be an alternative to the Five Great Sacrifices (pa¤cacamahàyaj¤a) of Brahmanism.