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Dana is an ancient Pali word meaning “generosity,” “giving” or “gift.” Dana is intrinsic to the 2,500-year-old Buddhist tradition. Going back to the days of the Buddha, the teachings were considered priceless and thus offered freely, as a form of generosity. The early teachers received no payment for their instruction, and in turn the lay community saw to it through their generosity, their dana, that their teacher’s basic needs for food, clothing, shelter and medicine were provided.
Beyond this practical dimension, dana also plays an important role in the spiritual life of Buddhists. It is the first of the ten Paramis, or qualities of character of an awakened being. When the Buddha would give a discourse to lay people, he would almost always begin with the importance and the benefits of generosity.
At all New York Insight events, we endeavor to keep our costs low and to offer all participants the opportunity to share in the joyful cultivation of generosity through offerings to our teachers.
At many events, our teachers receive no payment for their instruction: they are supported solely by the voluntary donations given by students at the end of each event.
We keep our costs low in part to allow for these donations to be given. Please keep this in mind when registering and attending events where teacher support is not included (this will be noted). It is sincerely hoped that donations come from a spontaneous expression of the heart in gratitude and appreciation for the benefits we have received through the hearing and practice of these unexcelled teachings.
NYI exists and continues to thrive because of generosity. We are almost entirely volunteer run. We keep fees low and provide scholarships so that the teachings remain accessible to all; registration fees cover approximately 50% of our total costs. We rely on other monetary support to meet the costs of running the center which include rent, modest salaries for our staff, and basic supplies. We have no endowment or fiscal sponsor; we depend on membership, yearly fundraising appeals as well as the donations people give at events to keep our center doors open.
The Practice of Dana
The act of giving itself is of immeasurable benefit to the giver; for it opens up the heart, diminishes for a moment one’s self-absorption and places value on the well-being of others. The simple gesture of offering a flower, an act of service or a kind thought can in fact be a sincere form of practice. The size or value of the gift is of almost no importance—if the act of giving itself is the natural expression of a connected and loving heart and generates a thought-moment devoid of greed and full of joy and loving-kindness, then the gift is invaluable.
Many teachers and students in the community regard the practice of dana as a beautiful—and essential—aspect of the Buddhist path, and are trying to keep the tradition of voluntary giving alive in the West. We are hoping that the practice will remain strong by sincere reflection of the meaning and value of generosity.
May the loving kindness engendered by the cultivation of generosity in your life be returned to you a thousand fold.