A Community Member’s Reflections on Dana (Generosity)

Written by community member Laura Molde:

I’m confident most of you know that Dana is most commonly defined as generosity. I agree with that definition and think generosity has a very important part in the concept of Dana, but it is only a part and therefore is an incomplete definition. The more I contemplate Dana the more I realize it is a phenomenon that explains everything and is consequently challenging to define. However, for the sake of clarity and to help guide you in understanding the point I am trying to make, I define Dana both as ‘a lawful movement, or lawful energy’ as well as ‘the knowledge that arises from understanding that movement or energy’ (which is also defined as wisdom in our practice).

When I began contemplating what I should say about Dana, I began by writing a list of reasons that may compel a person to give. When I finished that list and reanalyzed, I realized I had a very recognizable list. Let me walk you through it.

Dana in it most basic form is almost synonymous with karma, which simply means that ‘actions lead to results’. However, this definition is only almost accurate because Dana belongs to a spiritual context and therefore can only be understood in that context. Converted to the context of spirituality, the basic definition of Dana becomes ‘the understanding that noble actions lead to merit.’ In other words, we have faith that right effort leads to favorable results and so we are inclined to give because of that faith. Thus, the first stage of giving is the generosity of faith.

As we continue to give in faith we eventually see the fruits of those efforts, or the other side of Dana, which is receiving. Receiving favorable rewards for right effort begins to grow gratitude for what we have received as well as the situations that allowed us to initially give. As right efforts are repeated and returned, gratitude grows to be a great source of energy or inspiration. Working with our inspiration is the generosity of gratitude. When we work with what inspires us our mind becomes joyful, happy and contented with what is happening in the present moment. We are happy doing what has inspired us and we no longer wish for something else. Additionally, because we now understand through experience that giving, rather than holding-on, leads to abundance, our fears surrounding scarcity and meeting our basic needs lessen and eventually our mind ceases to worry. With a quiet mind and a life that provides the contemplative examples of how the energy of giving and receiving flow, we come to our meditation in the evening better prepared to analyze the lawful movements of Dana. As we gain understanding and acceptance of the movement of giving and receiving we concurrently gain wisdom. Wisdom understands that trying to grasp something that is continually evolving leads to suffering. It also exposes our giving to be the result of the generosity from many people before us and uncovers our purpose of giving as allowing those in front of us a chance at giving too. Here generosity is no longer a concept, we are conduit for which the energy of giving and receiving flows and our only task is not to block it. When we are generous in this understanding, we are acting with the generosity of wisdom.

Although an unintentional point of this talk is that Dana may be the energy that moves us through the Five Faculties, I think the more important point is that generosity is not only a wisdom that arises at the end, it is also, interestingly, a means to that same end. Therefore, if the path can be understood as stages of generosity, the logic follows that regardless of the place in the path you are on, there is an infallible answer to the popular question, ‘How do I proceed on this path?’, and that answer is, ‘Give’.

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Samadhi: The arising of the five jhanic factors and the abandoning of the five hindrances

Samadhi: The arising of the five jhanic factors and the abandoning of the five hindrances


The Buddha teaches that the mind is radiant and pure, but as we all know, this essential clarity and freedom of mind is often obscured by afflictive habits such as greediness, aversion, dullness, restlessness, doubt. Fortunately, the Buddha has mapped out practices that support the mind going beyond these limiting habits.

  1. Connecting with the present moment as it is is energizing. Remembering to make the effort to connect, to recognize, “This is being known,” will remove sloth and torpor from the mind. This skillful effort is energizing. Recognizing the objects of experience that are arising and passing is energizing.

2. The sustaining of present-moment awareness removes conceptual doubt from the mind. To be aware of the present moment, moment to moment, is grounding. The mind sees the way things are. There is no doubt because the mind trusts this direct and immediate knowing. There is not any need to define the experience or give the mind a conceptual answer.

3. The more momentum mindful awareness has, the more collected, unified, and harmonious the qualities of the mind become. As the wholesome energies of the mind gather and collect, joy and rapture arise more strongly and frequently. Joy and rapture remove ill will from the mind.

4. When joy is established in the mind, the mind abandons restlessness leading to the more refined happiness of ease and contentment.

5. As ease strengthens and matures as the dominant quality of mind, the mind no longer is dependent on craving to energize the mind. As craving is abandoned the mind becomes quieter due to the absence of craving this or that. This settling leads to a one-pointedness, ‘the one point that includes everything’.


Mark Nunberg

Common Ground Meditation Center


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Emptiness and Compassion Chapter from Guy Armstrong

Hi folks,

Here is a scan of the Emptiness and Compassion chapter from Guy Armstrong’s book Emptiness. Mark and Shelly have been giving talks on this subject recently and will continue to use the book as a complementary text for some months. You don’t have to, but if you’re interested in getting a copy of the book, Moon Palace Books on Minnehaha Avenue by Lake Street has copies in stock for a discounted price.

chapter 21 emptiness


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Gail Iverson’s Reflections on Dana

We have the Buddha’s teachings on awakening due to the practice of generosity.

Without the Indian tradition of giving alms to mendicants the Buddha would not have had the means to pursue his path to liberation.

Over the past 2500 plus years this practice has been kept alive through the practice of dana and therefore the teachings are still available to us.

Monks and nuns repay their debt to their lay donors by trying to rid their minds of greed, aversion, and delusion. They are in no way obligated to teach, which means that the act of teaching is a gift free and clear.

The way the Buddha presented the teachings, was through a gradual path starting with generosity.  The Buddha said the ideal gift had six qualities:

“The donor, before giving, is glad; while giving, their mind is inspired; and after giving, is gratified. These are the three factors of the donor…

“The recipients are free of passion or are practicing for the subduing of passion; free of aversion or practicing for the subduing of aversion; and free of delusion or practicing for the subduing of delusion. These are the three factors of the recipients.”

When asked when a gift should be given, the Buddha simply state, “Wherever the mind feels inspired.” In other words — aside from repaying one’s debt to one’s parents — there is no obligation to give. This means that the choice to give is an act of true freedom, and thus the perfect place to start the path to total release.

The sheet by the dana bowl is entitled “freely giving, freely receiving”. This aspiration is 180 degrees from our societal conditioning where nearly everything has a price or comes out of duty, or obligation. We can practice looking for when the mind is inspired to be generous and then choose how to act on that inspiration.

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Treasurer’s Report 2017

Common Ground Meditation Center

Board Treasurer Report  /  Summary of 2016 Financials

On behalf of the Common Ground Finance Committee and the Board of Directors, I am happy to report that Common Ground Meditation Center continues to benefit from the community’s consistent generosity.

The overall financial goal of Common Ground is the support of our mindfulness practice in a healthy and frugal manner.  The overall financial health of the center is very good.  During the 2016 fiscal year, total donations (dana) were $326,630 a decrease of $499 from 2015. In addition, we received 2016 dana of $36,981 for the operation and renovation of Common Ground Retreat at Prairie Farm versus $44,083 received in 2015. Total Common Ground 2016 operating expenses were $217,712 against a budget plan of $225,326. The net operating income for 2016 was $115,298 and we continue to operate both our city center and the retreat property completely mortgage free.

A Common Ground financial operating principle is to reserve cash on hand at least equal to the annual expense budget for both centers ($234,326 in 2016).  Our 2016 year end cash on hand was $605,842.

The Board offered our Guiding Teacher and Executive Director, Mark Nunberg, a base salary of $49,644 and total compensation of $76,052, which includes professional development and benefits. At year end, the board offered additional compensation of $20,000, which Mark donated to support the center’s diversity programs and retreat property.

Compensation is the largest component in the 2017 budget, and we estimate that we will spend $203,000 in 2017 to support our paid staff and our many ongoing and visiting teachers. Shelly Graf our office manager works 20 hours a week, Gabe Keller-Flores, administrative assistant 20 hours and Gail Iverson, bookkeeping manager 8 hours.

Common Ground volunteers continue to develop and operate the Common Ground Retreat at Prairie Farm. The future improvements, additions and build/improvement time tables are related to the future financial support for these projects. The Board has approved a 2017 retreat operating budget of $750 per month.

I deeply appreciate my colleagues on the finance committee, Gail Iverson, Mark Nunberg and Doug Swanson – their guidance on financial management and insight is invaluable.  Thank you to our Deposit Team volunteers – Steve Burt, Doug Swanson and Evelyn Kaiser, who put in many hours each month to ensure all the donations are counted and correctly entered into our accounting system.

Please let us know if you have questions about this financial review.

With gratitude,

Dave Halsey, Treasurer

Common Ground Meditation Center

No Music Festival this Fall

Dear Common Ground community,

As you may have heard, the center staff took a step back this year to contemplate the future of the music festival. The festival has been a beautiful and successful event, raising over $50,000 over 6 years for various organizations doing good work in our wider community. Despite this success, it seems that the event has run its course as we were not able to recruit the necessary volunteer leadership to organize the event. For the many community members who have participated in the past, there may be some sadness knowing that we won’t have this wholesome event this September.

Like all things at Common Ground, the festival was a result of community members freely giving their time and energy to support a vision of generosity and compassion, as well as a vision for a fun community event. It’s natural for certain expressions of that vision to lose steam and for others to take their place. For example, currently two new community groups at the center are exploring the intersection of our practice and compassionate engagement: the social justice activists’ community group and the Befriending Immigrants and Refugees community group.

As an organization, Common Ground doesn’t directly support other non-profits financially. Instead, we try to model generosity and compassion, and encourage and support community members to find ways to express these qualities in their own lives, in their own ways. To this end we provide programming that addresses the roots of suffering, in our hearts and in the world, including opportunities to learn together about the roots of societal suffering like racism and climate change.

Please join us in appreciating the goodness set in motion by the efforts of volunteers and performers over the last 6 years of the music festival. You can find a list of the non-profits who benefited from the over $50,000 donated below.

May we all find ways to be touched by suffering and to respond with compassion,

Gabe and Mary Beth

List of Non-Profit Partners:


Juxtaposition Arts

Doing Good Together

Mn Host Home Network


Immigrant Law Center of MN


Project Sweetie Pie

Buddhist Global Relief

St Stephens Human Services

Seward Longfellow Restorative Justice

WellShare International

Dream of Wild Health

October 25 Screening of “Walk with Me”, a film about Thich Nhat Hanh

Hi folks,

Just a note that on October 25 there will be a screening at the Lagoon theatre of a new film about beloved Buddhist monk and mindfulness teacher Thich Nhat Hanh called Walk with Me. More info here http://gathr.us/screening/20525

Also, at 7:30 p.m. on Thursday, Oct. 12 there will be a screening at the Edina Theater (located at 3911 W 50th St., Minneapolis, MN).

Seeking volunteers to facilitate meditation at Shakopee Women’s Correctional Facility

We are a group of eight women who individually facilitate a meditation circle of up to 12 women every Saturday from 8:00 – 10:00 am.  We also offer a half-day retreat once a quarter and a monthly meditation session on Sunday mornings, 9:00 – 10:00, for an accelerated program within the prison.  Volunteers find this to be a very rewarding experience which deepens our practice.  We see ourselves more as meditation facilitators than teachers.  Our weekly sessions typically include several short sitting periods, mostly guided, some mindful movement such as yoga and qigong, and a short reading for discussion.

In the past year, we began teaching a Buddhist Studies class each term of the year.  The chaplain has asked us to expand this effort and to teach two classes each term.

If we are able to recruit two additional volunteers, we will be able to meet this goal.

Ideally, we think volunteers would have a consistent meditation practice, at least two years involvement with Common Ground, some retreat experience, participation in the CG Buddhist Studies class or equivalent, and some community involvement with Common Ground.  Please be aware that all the current activities take place only on weekends.

Requirements of this Volunteer Effort:

– Background check, application approval, and annual training as a Shakopee volunteer.  The initial training is three hours.  Subsequent annual training sessions are about an hour.

– Volunteers need to be able to transport themselves to the prison.

– Only female volunteers are permitted to go by themselves, consequently male volunteers would not expand the capability of the volunteer pool, but would otherwise be welcome.

– Willingness to commit to approximately one Saturday morning a month and one half-day retreat twice a year.  Ideally, the volunteer would also be willing to lead some of the monthly Sunday morning sessions, and participate in teaching Buddhist Studies classes.

The correctional facility has an extensive, lengthy process for approving new volunteers, which includes a thorough background check and annual training.  We ask that you carefully assess your time availability prior to volunteering.  Once the approval and training are completed, volunteers are welcome to simply come along and observe as long as they wish before leading an activity.

Several of our members would be happy to meet with potential volunteers and talk about our practice with the facility residents.  If you are interested, or have questions, please contact Jan Young, who is our volunteer liaison with Shakopee, at jan.young.mpls@gmail.com.  

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Sue Cochrane’s Four favorite Dharma Quotes

Sue Cochrane came to Common Ground over fifteen years ago to learn mindfulness– she was facing her first serious cancer diagnosis while parenting three young boys and working in her judicial career. When Sue first came to Common Ground she had over 20 years practicing the 12 steps of AA and she went first to the “Mindfulness and the 12 step practice meetings.” It was new, just begun by Craig Vollmar, our beloved teacher, leader and friend who passed away from cancer several years ago.

Sue served on the Family Court Bench in Hennepin County, Minnesota for eighteen years, after a career in legal services.  After her appointment to the Court in 1995, she pioneered a new model on her family court cases which transformed the structure and practice of Family Court into a humane, client-centered model.


Here are four quotes that have touched my heart and made an indelible impact on my practice, my work and my personal life. These are ones that I turn to constantly for support, and they always change my life for the better. It was deeply satisfying looking through a long list of my favorite quotes, which I have collected for years, and choosing these from the many.

  1. “The mind’s nature is vivid as a flawless piece of crystal.

     Intrinsically empty, naturally radiant, ceaselessly responsive” — Shabkar

    —I heard this in a talk from Joseph Goldstein years ago. It changed my understanding of emptiness from “drab” and “uninviting” to “radiant openness”— openness  to whatever arises or happens or approaches. My understanding is that when we open, and allow everything, compassion arises. In this talk, Goldstein also says, “Compassion and emptiness are not polarities– they are expressions of each other.” He talks of Bodhicitta, relative and ultimate. A life-changing talk.

    (Coincidentally I have been working on a memoir about my work in the courts called The Crystal Gavel and this quote added depth to my understanding of crystal.)

  2. “The practice of peace and reconciliation is one of the most vital and artistic of human actions.”   —Thich Nhat Hanh

     This quote affirmed my law work as “creative” —I realized when I read this, many years ago on a calendar, that I had not wasted my years as an artist. I struggled with regrets for years until I discovered this quote. Thich Nhat Hanh opened my eyes to see that by bringing my whole self to work—legal mind, artistic creativity, personal history—something artistic followed. Nothing needs to be left behind. This quote helped me realize trying to bring peace and reconciliation to serious conflict, every day, in ways that had not been imagined previously was an art. This work I did was based on what was needed in the moment. I loved working with that unpredictable and creative process, and am and grateful that Thich Nhat Hanh honors the work of peace and reconciliation for us all.

  3. “Be kind whenever possible. It is always possible.” —Dalai Lama

    I first heard this in another Joseph Goldstein talk and now see it frequently. I brought it as a theme for an international symposium on Love and the Law I co-designed, soon after receiving a terminal diagnosis. The work allowed me to pull together everything that was meaningful to me. Cheri Maples and Tara Brach and Alex Haley were teachers there. I also used these words to conclude an article I wrote that was published after the Symposium, in the International Journal of Collaborative Law. I am deeply grateful this message of practicing kindness always, (which I applied to the institution of the courts) made quite a stir at first, and now is making its way into many minds and hearts around the legal world. An excerpt of the article was published by the Fetzer Institute.

  4.  “Can this be okay?”  —Mark Nunberg

     When one of my sons was becoming aggressive and out-of-control, before we had an autism diagnosis, we had to turn to calling 911 to have him taken to the hospital for services. I was told by one psychologist he needed to go into an institution forever. I was crushed, but vowed not to let that happen. He made great progress after one intense hospitalization, and I was extremely hopeful; I was new to Common Ground and felt uplifted, thinking that my meditation practice was helping him and our family. I thought the worst was over. The very next day he tried to jump out of a moving car and went back into the same emergency psych unit. I lost all hope. I called Common Ground right from the ER. I am still amazed I did that. I did not know where else to turn. Mark answered the main number. I explained what happened, how all my hopes were dashed, and how devastated I was about his future. Mark’s first words were, “Can this be okay?” Standing there on the hospital’s hallway phone, listening as he said those words, I realized I could see my son.  He was sitting on a hospital bed, with a security guard at his side.  I suddenly knew, of course it is ok, it has already happened. I needed to open my heart to what happened, unconditionally. It was up to me to change in that moment, not him. I was able to feel my heart opening and felt burden lift. Over and over and over I turned to that question in my life with him, with all the difficulties and successes. He is thriving now. These are not just quotes to me, they are living practices. I am so grateful for the teachings you share so generously with us.

    —Sue Cochrane, June 2017

    Listen to Sue’s 2016 talk Awake in the Middleness of Life and Death


Meditation Instructions from Sayadaw U Tejaniya

Practice instructions from Sayadaw U Tejaniya, a Burmese meditation teacher and monk whose teachings have been influencing Mark Nunberg and other teachers in our tradition. Mark will be basing his Weekly Practice Group talks off of Sayadaw’s teachings.

Here are more instructions from the same retreat with Sayadaw.



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