This is an account of my attempts to arrive at the true meaning (for me) of the dana that we make each time we enter the meditation hall. The dana is meant to be offered “according to your means”. Struggling with what the word “dana” and the phrase “according to your means” actually means is a continuing exploration that is taking time to reveal itself.
To start with, it made sense that the donation would help with supporting the teacher and the community. After all, when I used to attend church, the passing of the collection plate was an expected and normal part of the service — and I did not give a second thought to the whole process.
There was very seldom any choice when other types of fees were required such as school fees, books, memberships, clothing, housing, etc. You/I could afford to pay or not. This was how I was brought up and socialized in a Western culture. The experts had the authority and could tell me what to do. The idea that living this way was fine and to be expected without my questioning it or even thinking about it was deeply rooted. All of this activity and direction came from external sources. Seldom was my input required or asked for. I was just to follow what I was told to do.
Now that I knew that dana was to be “according to my means” I was very confused and there was a growing awareness that another perspective was needed. This meant that I actually had to think about what that meant for me and started my investigation not only into dana, but as I later realized along the way, into the much broader subject of generosity of which dana is a beginning step.
So the journey began and where did I start? Talking with Theodore did help and I drew on my own few experiences of giving without expectations or attachment. In those situations the giving had been spontaneous without much thinking attached. The impulse had been to give of what I saw was needed, whether it was time, support, concern or financial. What this taught me I was not sure. Still feeling uneasy and confused with my true lack of understanding I decided to keep investigating.
During the course of my reading and internet searches I read an article about the differences between Eastern and Western thinking. The suggestion was that the Eastern tradition is inward looking and that the individual is responsible for him/her self while the Western tradition is outward looking and looks to facts and guidance from outside authorities. Something clicked for me emotionally and mentally. That was the news I had been looking for. It was up to me to decide what “according to my means” was.
So the dive into unknown territory began. This was very difficult for me. I could understand intellectually but going into deeper emotional areas was really challenging. How do I connect with my inner self, my true self when I had not given the whole subject much attention? I decided to start with the times when my emotional and physical well-being required me to really take charge of situations, to be responsible and make decisions based on what I knew to be the best for me in spite of what others were telling me. Even if I was perceived as a problem, taking responsibility for my own well being was primary.
What was it about those times that made my actions so decisive? This question I thought about at length. The idea of ownership of my life, being very clear about what was necessary, and right action, began to take root. There was no indecision in one situation but not so in others.
What was the lesson here for me? Listening to my inner voice, paying deep attention to my feelings and experience of the moment, in spite of knowing that I might be questioned was paramount. This awareness was somehow liberating. I was being my own advocate and unafraid to be responsible for doing so. Always being right was not the issue for me but speaking with my true voice was and is.
This in turn led me into dana and its relationship with generosity. Now that I had realized that I could make my own choices without external directions, the next piece was to decide at a basic level what was “within my means” and what was appropriate for me to donate. The decision was easily made without concern about what others might think or expect. Recognition that the dana was not only support for the community but also an integral part of my commitment to the practice and the community emerged gradually and I admit somewhat as a surprise. Oh, I thought, one thing follows another. Where will this take me?
Curiosity aroused, I began to pay more attention to what the deeper meaning of generosity was. I did some reading, talked with Theodore, watched his video on dana and reflected on past experiences. Now the door had been opened and going ahead was the only option. My actions had started to change without me being consciously aware.
The process was and still is slow for me and will take time. However I am learning. The path for me has been and continues to be incremental. The dana continues as before and then every so often I realize that the practice is making its way into my life in other ways. A friend has a problem and needs an ear without any judgement. Someone else has an opinion that I do not agree with and I just hear it without saying anything. What I will try to do is listen to the unspoken message and think about what is really going on. My good friend needed to be picked up from the hospital which I did without question. Whereas before I got impatient and frustrated. I now try to (not always successfully) take a breath and settle down. Compassion for myself and others is more present, although difficult at times as situations that I have dismissed in the past as not worth paying attention to will often still vie for dominance. This whole journey has been/continues to be difficult for me both emotionally and mentally as I grapple with a shifting foundation. The rug of my narrative that I used to stand on comfortably is moving and instead of comfort it holds discomfort much of the time. While there is discomfort, there is also a feeling of liberation and ease. Giving has a natural quality that grows over time and I find that for me, my life is growing as well.
For how long will this continue? The answer for me is that the learning and revelation of my true nature will go on the rest of my life. I do know that as I become less attached to events and people, that insight deepens and compassion is more present — which is liberating. That was unexpected.
My journey into generosity will continue as the experience grows and expands into understanding. Dana is for me the beginning of being patient, kind and giving of one’s time, wisdom, love, support, understanding and acceptance. It is a journey that I cannot not do.
Bonne voyage a moi!
Sandra Thompson © copyright 2017
Sandra has been practicing with Toronto Mindfulness Community since 2013.