Dana or Generosity or Giving

It is interesting what comes first. The first practice is dana, giving, or generosity in the fundamental structure of Buddhist spiritual life as represented by the Paramitas. (The Great Perfections). How many years can we spend learning to have a generous attitude in life? All of our years! Generosity and Giving are the opposite of attachment and clinging. The practice of Dana helps us to release ourselves from everything centralized around me, my and mine.

Dogen says: Giving means non-greed.

It is not that we are trying to become a generous person but that we are undoing the way we feel poor and afraid. We can open to the fundamental self-existing richness that underlies everything and become completely generous, our true nature! What else is there? I smile now, knowing this is not how we actually feel most of the time.

Bodhidharma has said this so beautifully:

“Self-nature is subtle and mysterious.
In the genuine all-pervading Dharma,
not being stingy about a single thing is called
the Precept of not attaching to anything even the truth.”

Classically, there are three ways to be generous:

  1. Giving material things
  2. Giving the dharma teachings
  3. Giving fearlessness

We learn to loosen our grip and our defenses that things are going to be taken away from us. That requires a lot of practice of the opposite. Machich Lapdron, a 11th -12th century Tibetan women teacher left some very potent instructions and one of them is:

Anything you are attached to, give that.

Not holding back, but constantly giving, is self-existing openness. But it is helpful to also understand that giving and receiving are coupled and are the natural order of the universe. Give and take is like cause and effect — the law and rhythm of our life. When we are defended, it’s hard to give or receive. Sometimes when we are receiving, that is the greatest giving.

Dogen emphasizes that Giving cannot be measured. Treasure cannot be measured small or large. In his essay on the 4 Bodhisattva methods of guidance, he states:

  • To launch a boat or build a bridge is an act of giving
  • To accept a body and give up a body are both giving
  • Making a living and producing things can be nothing other than giving

And he adds:

To leave flowers to the wind, to leave birds to the seasons, are also acts of giving.