The Buddhist Process of Dana

Hands holding flower

By John Cunningham

Dana is a Pali word that is often translated as generosity, or gift, or giving. The meaning and value of the idea of dana is somewhat different than what our western minds often think of when we consider giving or donating money or material possessions. Our thinking is usually transaction based – I give something, either because I already got something that I now feel an obligation to repay, or because I expect something in return for what I am giving. Transaction-based giving misses a primary aspect of dana – to give freely without the burden of expecting to get something in return.

We can think of dana as taking part in a process or a cycle – a giver, a gift, and a receiver. At any particular time, we may be any one of these three. The cycle of dana requires that all three parts be present. Further, each part of the cycle is equally important – the cycle cannot happen without all three.

From this perspective, dana is actually a humbling and freeing experience. Whether we are the giver, the gift, or the receiver, we are subordinating our sense of self as we blend into this powerful process of connection. Regardless of our role in the process, we are inviting and facilitating the flow of connection through the transfer of resources. We subordinate the self and its feelings of scarcity and greed, and we trust in the foundational working of the universe. In this humility, we are able to give freely without expected payback or return; we are able to see when we are the gift – not through the eyes of a desiring self, but as a beautiful part of the flow of connection; and we are able to receive in an open and connected way – not feeling that we don’t deserve something, or that we are obligated to any person, but in a way that honors both the giver and the gift. Dana is a wonderful expression of connection and a powerful way to soften the sense of self that is at the root of our stress and suffering.

As you consider whether and how you might take part in Insight Meditation of Cleveland’s capital campaign, please reflect on the above and do not see this as a transaction. As the giver in the campaign, please know that you are also the gift to our community, and at times the receiver of the gifts of other sangha members. Please consider listening to your heart as you think about taking part in this cycle of dana.

May you and all beings be well and at peace.

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Hands holding flower

The Buddhist Process of Dana

Dana is a wonderful expression of connection and a powerful way to soften the sense of self that is at the root of our stress and suffering.