Dāna as an active practice
The teachings and guidance are traditionally offered according to the practice of dāna, a mutual exchange of generosity and abundance between teachers and students.
“Dāna” is a Sanskrit and Pali word meaning “generosity” or “giving” and is a powerful and active spiritual practice. The reflections below have been written by students and practitioners of dāna as an offering to students with Planet Dharma or other dāna-based traditions who want to learn more and to cultivate a thriving dāna practice.
Dāna in Buddhism and modern forms
In Buddhism dāna has been the traditional approach for thousands of years. Through our cultivation of dāna, we leave habitual states of mental poverty behind and steadily grow a reality of psychological, spiritual and thus material richness. Dāna practice is a thread that weaves through Planet Dharma’s approach to awakening – find out more on our How it Works page – and so all Planet Dharma’s teachings are offered on the basis on dāna,
In our current times this ancient practice is also being understood in new lights with movements such as the “gift economy” and “sacred economics”.
Dāna – the first step on a spiritual path
The practice of generosity is the essence of the path to freedom – the first crack of light in our ego-protected lives. Moments of generosity open up space in our hearts, alleviates fear that we don’t have enough, and allows us to relax our clinging.
In this way, generosity is the first and most important pillar of our spiritual journey. It allows us to experience one another more fully, opening up a space for receiving and learning.
For this reason, dāna is most effective if given before any appointment, class or retreat with teachers and guides.
You may want to read each section below by itself and take time in between for reflection.
Everyone wonders this, but since money represents survival to us, we rarely feel comfortable talking about it.
The guidelines below are intended as seeds for your own reflection and use an example of a Dharma class. You can extend the same principles to a course, a retreat, an interview and so on.
Most classes are around 90 minutes. One approach is to consider how much you would expect to pay for a 90 minute group session of quality training. Although the teaching is priceless, we can cultivate a conscious living dāna practice by looking at what we would spend elsewhere. By giving more for a Dharma class with awakening beings than we would for an exercise class, or a visit to a play or movie, we are telling our depths what we value.
It is also helpful to reflect on a range of numbers, reflect on what our contribution would mean and then to listen closely to our hearts. A great beauty of dāna practice is we need to embrace our own responsibility for what we offer, rather than being a passive consumer. For students of Planet Dharma we offer a specific example below.
A reflection on dāna offerings
For example you could reflect on the amounts and descriptions below. Close your eyes and repeat the amounts to yourself, listening to your heart which amount feels too constrained and tight, and which feels too much of a stretch or not sustainable. Note: the amounts below are in US dollars.
- $100+ per class helps Planet Dharma to be more generative, and develop the teaching and the community further. You’ll also be generating merit by supporting the teachers to share time and energy and teachings with people who otherwise might not be able to afford it.
- $50 per class helps the teachers move to a sustainable level, with some room to begin investing resources. This helps further develop the teaching and community, so that they can become even more valuable for you and others.
- $30 per class allows the teachers to continue to be dedicated to offering the teachings on the basis of dāna.
- $15 per class if you are struggling financially and are wondering what is the baseline minimum amount to give as an offering. The teaching is offered by dāna partly so that it is accessible to everyone regardless of their financial situation.
Offering the teachings by dāna is also intended to make sure the teachings are available to all, regardless of your financial situation. If you feel genuinely unable to afford USD$15, simply offer what you can, and feel comfortable with that.
Generosity is relative to one’s means, and is not defined by a particular amount. We encourage you to set your aspiration to move into a position of greater abundance, and make a commitment now to “pay it forward,” by giving more or otherwise supporting other people in the future when you are in a better situation.
1) Take a few quiet breaths and center yourself. Spend a few moments to reflect on each of the below:
- the beauty and power of dāna practice;
- the value of receiving direct, personalized teachings from lineage holders in a recognized spiritual tradition;
- the reality of your financial situation.
2) Spend another few moments contacting a sense of health, strength and abundance. You have a healthy mind, a body, senses, the good karma to have heard the teachings, and conditions to support your practice of Dharma. Celebrate this!
3) Before you offer dāna, if you wish you might try something like this short prayer below to encourage conscious giving, or please use your own words.
May this practice of dāna open up a space inside me to learn and receive.
May this gift support the teachers and teachings for the benefit of many other people.
May this gift directly support my own awakening through a strong dāna practice.
This gift, myself the giver, and the teachers are all impermanent – with this in mind I give lightly and generously, for the benefit of all beings!
4) Now check with your heart and mind what amount feels both consistent with your situation, and expressive of your aspiration. Remember, you are free to offer whatever amount of dāna feels good for you right now.
In general, however much you offer, give dāna with a sincere heart of generosity, with a sense of abundance, with wisdom & understanding of the preciousness of direct personal teachings, and with a strong intention for your and others’ unfoldment!
Look at what you would pay for other things in your life and think about how you’d like this to reflect your values. If you’ll happily pay 15 dollars for a movie, 30 dollars for a yoga class, or 150 – 400 dollars for a session with an experienced life coach, what is appropriate to offer for direct, personalized awakened teachings of liberation? If we offer as dāna less than we would pay for a movie, we are sending a message to ourselves that entertainment is of higher value to us than the opportunity to receive .
Be mindful that the teachers are focusing their life energy on teaching Dharma to be available for your and others’ unfoldment, and be realistic about what kind of cost of living and working the teachers may have. “Living by the bowl” is a literal statement meaning that full-time Dharma teachers are living by the dāna offered by students in order to give all their attention to the teachings of compassion and awakening. How can we best empower our teachers and ourselves to help the teachings flourish and benefit all beings?
If you can’t afford much now, that is ok – we’ve all been there at some point. Use it as an opportunity to undertake to train yourself to pay it forward however and whenever possible. Part of the reason for offering the teaching based on dāna is so that it can be available to anyone with a heart to learn, without finances being an obstacle. Offer what you can with a heart of joy and abundance, and a determination to offer more in the future.
Dāna practice as a vehicle for reflection on financial patterns
At the same time, it’s important to be mindful and self-honest. Sometimes we may feel we can’t give much dāna because our credit cards are maxed out, or are waiting for our next paycheck. Or we don’t feel we can give much now because of other pressing financial obligations. This is human, and here are some questions that may help us get clarity and healthy energy flowing around this potentially sensitive subject of finances:
- Is this a regular pattern?
- Is it a planned and conscious short-term situation?
- Is this an opportunity to cultivate greater financial discipline?
- Is my current financial situation reflective of my priorities? How would I like my priorities to be?
- Is this a long-term, systemic situation?
- Could some assistance (in planning, organization, etc.) help me shift the current situation? What kind of assistance, and how and when could I access that?
Getting Financially Stable
It’s an important part of our practice of generosity to be in a financially stable situation where we can actually manifest generosity to support the teachers, teachings, and community of practitioners. If you feel what you can offer as dāna is lower than you would like, make a strong commitment to yourself to change your financial patterns or situation.
As the saying goes, “The difference between a dream and a goal is a plan.” Make a plan and craft a timeline for when you’re financial situation will empower you to be more generous, to support the teachers, teachings, yourself and others.
You can apply similar reflections when thinking about the amount of dāna you offer for classes or retreats. We wish you happy explorations reflecting and cultivating your dāna in these other areas too.
We hope the above reflections and guidelines are useful to you. As mentioned, generosity is the first and most important pillar of our spiritual journey, the foundation on which all our other practices are built. May your dāna practice continue to thrive, forming the bedrock on which your awakening comes together, for the benefit of all beings!
Interested to learn more about Planet Dharma?
Download our resource, Spiritual Awakening in Action: 5 Practices You Can Do at Home. Get a taste of our teachings and our path and see whether you feel it would work well for you. Thank you for subscribing.
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