Dana: Giving and Receiving

The Pali term "dana" comes from the Sanskrit daan, which loosely translates into English as giving or generosity, reciprocity, an expression of gratitude for what has been received. Dana invites reflection on the goodness of giving and welcomes us to participate in a world that reflects our natural ease, appreciation, and happiness.

The dharma is priceless, and the gifts of spiritual teachings, insights, and support that we receive from our teachers are customarily shared freely, as they have been, teacher to student, through time. The only "cost" is the openness, sincerity, and intention the student brings to their studies. So an act of dana is not a payment for a service received. Rather, it is an expression of appreciation and respect. Very different than being charged for something, dana lets us recognize our upwelling gratitude and respond with natural reciprocation. 

In western culture, giving or "donating" is sometimes stressful, associated with obligation, or perhaps something on which we might be judged. Dana is usually anonymous and requires nothing. It is an opportunity to give easily, lightly, without burden.

Like meditation, dana is a practice, an opportunity to look quietly at how we are feeling and responding to life. In this way, it provides insights into our emotional, psychological, and spiritual condition. In giving, we see where trust, gratitude, happiness, and ease inspire us, where practical realities or limitations influence or inhibit us, and where fear and grasping sometimes constrain us. In this light, we are able to thoughtfully proceed.

Dana was traditionally extended anonymously and unceremoniously, removing worries about being judged right or wrong. With mindful attention, the practice can illuminate how we are navigating the terrain of the heart. When motivated by obligation, virtue, or guilt, giving can kindle resentment, pride, or shame. Dana lightly skips over those traps. Motivated by love, gratitude, and mindful balance, by appreciation and compassion for self and other, dana affirms and strengthens those dharmic, sattvic qualities, instead.

A beautiful expression of dana is found in the Islamic practice of sadaqah, a practice of giving that has been defined as “the heart being truthful to itself and to God.”

Dana invites us to live in trust and openness, in gratitude for all that we receive, and to keep the great wheel turning.

From our first in-breath to our final exhale, life is expressed in an endless flow of spontaneous giving and grateful receiving. The river is wide and deep, with rushing currents, quiet eddies, deep pools, slippery rocks, and misty falls. Like sparkling water that cascades and flows in an endless cycle, the spirit of dana enriches our world.