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’.