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Dana, the Practice of Giving
Dāna, a word from the ancient Pāli language of the Buddha's time, is translated as the act of giving and refers to the practice of generosity. The Buddha taught generosity as a vital spiritual quality to cultivate and as one of the foundational spiritual practices. In modern, western Buddhism, the word dāna is also used to refer to the practice of generosity that provides the financial and material support that sustains Dharma teachers, Dharma centers and Dharma center staff.
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As a spiritual practice, generosity is viewed as a pathway to cultivate lovingkindness, compassion, letting go and joyful awareness of our interconnectedness and interdependence. In addition to being considered a cultivation, the practice of dāna is considered a mindfulness practice. With mindfulness, we shine the light of awareness on the aspects of giving that can bring great joy, and also where we experience suffering caused by our attachment and difficulties in letting go.

On our path of liberation, practicing giving and generosity is also one of the most direct ways in which our practice brings direct and immediate benefit to others as well as to ourselves. It is a way in which we bring the fruits of our practice into the world in real and concrete ways.


Dāna as the historical foundation for the Dharma
Over 2600 years ago, the Buddha's profound awakening inspired many people to join him in order to hear and practice his teachings. At that time, out of all the different ways in which the Buddha could have laid the foundations for an early monastic community, he chose generosity as a key foundational principle.
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He put forth rules that those early monks and nuns could not provide for their own needs; they could not go out and fulfill the basic necessities of life for themselves of food, shelter, clothing or medicine on their own behalf. On top of that, they could not even ask others for these things! These basic necessities of life had to be offered by others, by individuals who saw and were moved to respond to those needs through their dāna, inspired by the gifts offered by these early monastics: the gift of the Dharma itself.

These early monastics also practiced dāna, by sharing Dharma teachings with those around them. These teachings were considered to be priceless, and so they were freely offered. In this way, the Buddha created an endless movement of giving and receiving. Those who offered the teachings of the Dharma as their gifts were supported in material ways by those who valued and honored these profound teachings.

This ongoing cycle of giving and receiving has proved to be a strong foundation for keeping the Dharma teachings available since that time. Buddhism has flourished for over 2600 years and continues to be available to us to this day because of the generous hearts of millions of people exactly like us from different countries and cultures.


Dāna for Dharma Teachers
All those teaching Dharma at Cloud Mountain offer the teachings freely. They receive no part of retreat registration fees, other than reimbursement for their travel expenses. They make a leap of faith with every retreat, offering their wisdom, compassion, time and life energies with no expectation of receiving anything in return. Dharma teachers live from a place of deep trust that those who hear and practice the teachings will be inspired to help provide for their support.
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Most of our Dharma teachers are not monastics. As lay people, they have expenses as we do: housing costs, health care, food, utilities, etc. It's also important to understand that there are no "hidden patrons" or benevolent foundations that provide for the support of our lay Dharma teachers. It is solely the responsibility of those of us who value their offerings of the teachings, and their living, embodied presence and experience that they share with us so freely, to provide their support through offering dāna.

In addition to compassion and lovingkindess, we practice wisdom when we practice generosity toward those who offer and preserve the Dharma. In supporting those who bring us the Dharma, we support our own ability, as well as the ability of many other beings, to continue to hear and practice the teachings on into the future.


Dāna for Cloud Mountain and its staff
Dāna also provides vital support for practice centers like Cloud Mountain. When it comes to sustaining our Dharma service of offering retreats, you might say that western practice centers, unlike traditional monasteries, have one foot in the practice of dāna and one foot in the prevailing economic model. Registration fees ensure that we can pay our bills and keep our doors open. However, at Cloud Mountain it is one of our core values to keep the teachings of the Buddha accessible to as many people as possible, regardless of their financial circumstances. To accomplish this, we set our registration fees as low as possible and trust in our community of meditators and the practice of dāna to sustain our operations.
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During the national health care debate, we made the conscious decision to provide comprehensive health coverage for our full-time staff. We knew doing so would be expensive and thought long and hard about how we would cover these costs. Instead of raising retreat fees—which would have impacted every future retreatant—we took a leap of faith and trusted the generosity of our community. You might say that we shifted our financial posture—we lightened our footprint in the financial model of certainty and security by requiring a set fee, and stepped more firmly into the unknown, trusting that the practice of dāna would incline hearts toward generosity.

Our faith and trust has been powerfully honored and rewarded! It touches us deeply that retreatants consistently step forward with great generosity to gift our staff health coverage, while joining us in our endeavor to keep retreat fees as low as possible and retreats accessible to all.


FAQS About Dana Practice

Am I required to offer dāna?
No. Offering dāna is entirely optional. There is no requirement to give.

How do I offer dāna?
Dāna is usually offered at the end of each retreat. At that time, teachings about dāna are offered, and there are opportunities to ask questions.

Teachers can accept dāna offered by cash or check. Most can also accept offerings made via credit/debit card, but frequently these gifts need to be made online, following the retreat.

Cloud Mountain can accept dāna offered by cash, check or credit/debit card on site.

If you are a non-US resident, dāna via credit/debit card are preferable whenever possible, to avoid significant fees for processing checks from foreign banks (even if in US dollars).

How much should I give?
There is no definitive answer to this question. What feels generous for someone in fortunate financial circumstances is quite different for someone with financial challenges. For this reason, and also because people's hearts will be inspired in different ways, there is no set amount recommended.There is, however, a wonderful guideline that may be helpful when reflecting on how much to give: give in such a way that you have no regret. You don't want to give so much that you create hardship for yourself. And you don't want to give so little that you don't adequately express the value, gratitude or any of the positive feelings that are moving you to give. Reflecting and practicing mindfulness in this way makes the act of giving a very conscious one.

It can also be helpful to consider what you're willing to pay for other experiences: taking a short vacation, attending a workshop, going out for an evening's entertainment or your monthly coffee habit—to offer a few examples. You can think about the value you feel from these various activities and how much you're willing to offer financially to experience them. In comparing the benefits you receive from those activities to what you receive from hearing and practicing the Dharma, you may gain new perspectives on what feels truly valuable to you and most worthy of your financial support.

And it's helpful to remember that the teachings of the Buddha are considered priceless. How can we put a value on the opportunity for awakening and liberation? The most beautiful offering is one inspired by that recognition and by the preciousness of the teachings, and giving from that inspiration. Your practice of generosity then becomes a blessing to yourself, and brings you a pure and profound kind of happiness and joy.


How do I find out more about the practice of dāna?
Toward the end of every retreat, teachings and reflections on practicing dāna are offered by the teachers and by the retreat center staff. As part of these talks, opportunities to ask questions are offered.
Additionally, the links below provide further reading about the practice of dāna and other alternative economic models, since both the spirit and practice of dāna are far outside how we're used to functioning in western society!

On the Vipassana Metta Foundation website, an article by Kamala Masters and Steve Armstrong:
Dāna is the Cultivation of Generosity

Articles by Gil Fronsdal, Dharma teacher:
Dana in the Western Insight Meditation Movement
Generosity
The Practice of Generosity

On the Access to Insight website (an excellent resource for):
Selected Essays on Dana, the Practice of Giving

And several excellent articles by Charles Eisenstein, a modern writer, about alternatives to our standard economic models:
A Circle of Gifts
An Experiment in Gift Economics - about his own experiment offering his services on a dāna basis

dana
Cloud Mountain 2017 .