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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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