The Practice of Generous GivingDana is a Pali word that means, "giving," and refers to the practice of generosity.
For those of us who aspire to awaken in our lives, generosity is fundamental. In the moment when we wholeheartedly give anything, we cannot at the same time hold on to anything. Our mind is released from craving and attachment and we experience freedom. Because this is so, one of the first trainings that the Buddha taught his followers, both monastics and lay people, was how to give through sharing with others their wisdom, compassion, respect and knowledge, as well as basic requisites, without expectation of receiving anything in return. (It is worth noting that in the Buddha's time, money as a medium of exchange was in its very earliest stages of development so is unlikely to have been an aspect of the practice as it now is.)
This practice of dana has continued through 2600 years and has been paramount in both preserving the purity of the Buddha's teachings (dharma) and ensuring that people have access to those teachings regardless of their social status. As the dharma is regarded as priceless, there is no way to set a specific value on it. Consequently, these teachings are freely given with dana offerings going towards establishing support for its preservation in the purest possible form.
In Asia, over the centuries, monks and nuns have offered dana to lay people largely by passing on the Buddha's teachings. In return, the lay community provided the monastics with the daily necessities of life – food, clothing, shelter and medicine. In the West, where the dharma has been swiftly spreading for just a few decades, there is no such well-established tradition of this interdependent, day-to-day sharing between monastic and lay communities. Here, the dharma is commonly taught by lay teachers who depend wholly or in part on dana in the form of monetary offerings, which the teachers use to cover their day-to-day expenses, to deepen their spiritual practice, to help others in need and to support the running of dharma centres. Dana also enables dharma communities to offer its members support for their spiritual journeying – support such as teachings, places to meditate, retreats, and libraries.
One question that is often asked about offering dana is, "How much should I give?" The following points may be helpful in response to this question as we seek the balance between giving too little and giving too much:
When we are conscious of our giving in this way, offering dana can be the source of threefold joy. First is the joy of deciding what gift is appropriate. It is followed by the joy experienced in actually presenting the gift. Finally, there is the joy of recalling all the circumstances involved in the giving of the gift and the benefits that came as a result.
- There is no fixed or recommended amount as the dharma is priceless. It is a personal decision.
- This decision should be based on your current financial means.
- Check in to see how you feel when you are making an offering. Does offering dana make you feel happy and light-hearted, or constricted and anxious? If it's the latter, perhaps you are stretching your ability to give too far, or perhaps you are holding on to whatever you are giving too tightly.
- Look at your motivation. Are you giving out of kindness, for example, or out of wanting something in return?
May our dana be of benefit to countless beings, including ourselves.