Part of Summer 2003’s Special Section on Dana: The Practice of Giving.
What is dana? Why do we practice it? What is the “right” way to give? What are some benefits of and obstacles to giving?
Dana (“giving”) is the most fundamental of all Buddhist practices. It is the first topic in the Buddha’s graduated talks, the first step on the bodhisattva’s path to perfection, and the first of the ten paramitas (perfections) in the Mahayana tradition. It therefore sets the tone for all that follows in the spiritual journey.
The act of giving purifies intention, the quality of mind with which any action is undertaken. For a brief moment, the giver’s self-absorption is lifted, attachment to the gift is relinquished, and kindness towards the recipient is developed. All actions—of thought, word, and deed—undertaken for the sake of others rather than for one’s own selfish purposes become transformed by the power of generosity.
Giving needs to be practiced and developed because our underlying tendency toward attachment, aversion, and confusion so often interferes with a truly selfless act of generosity. Consummate observer of human nature that he was, the Buddha pointed out the many ways we can give with mixed motives: we give out of fear, or in accordance with tradition; we give with the expectation of return; we give in hope of gain, or a favorable reputation or rebirth; we give to adorn our mind, or simply because giving brings joy.
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