What is Dāna?

by Catherine Pawasarat

We have the precious opportunity to benefit from the teachings of awakening thanks to dāna. “Dāna” (pron. dahna) is a Sanskrit and Pali word meaning “generosity” or “giving.” In Buddhism, it also refers to the practice of cultivating generosity. Dāna is the first of what are called the Six Paramis or Perfections: generosity, ethics, patience, joyful effort, concentration and wisdom. Through our conscious efforts, every being “perfects” each of these virtues on the path to awakening.

Buddhist teachings hold that dāna is the foundation of all the paramis, and through strengthening our own ability to be generous, all the other paramis unfold naturally. Dāna is always discretionary, and may consist of time, energy, money, food, clothing, gifts, prayers (particularly for good health), or simply an appreciative or supportive attitude.

Anyone who has studied closely with an enlightened teacher has been greatly humbled and inspired by their teachers’ tremendous dāna combined with compassion: our teachers tirelessly exert themselves to relieve us from our ignorance and suffering and help us move along the path of awakening — even as we kick and scream, drag our feet, and generally get in our own way!

Typically, students make an offering of dāna to the teacher at the beginning of a retreat or before a teaching, to establish our intention to support the spread of the teachings through the vehicle of the teacher. Giving dāna at the beginning also establishes our intention to make the most of this precious opportunity of teaching or practice time, for our own unfoldment and for the benefit of all beings. Traditionally dāna is also given during an empowerment or wong kur for the same reasons.

There is no question that the greatest gift to a teacher is diligent application of the teachings. That said, our generosity to our dharma teachers and meditation centres here and now is a precious opportunity for us to be a part of making the teachings available to beings everywhere, on an ongoing basis. Our daily practice of dāna in any manifestation enriches many lives, including our own.

May our dāna help us and others to awaken speedily, for the benefit of all beings!

More about Dana: 

Offering Dāna: Some Guidelines and Practices offered by senior students

A Case for Tithing by John Munroe.