Introduction to Dana

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Generosity is a beautiful virtue as well as a practice for liberation. 

Giving, a Dharma life, caring for relatives, and blameless deeds: this is the greatest fortune.

SN 263

The practice of giving, or dana in Pali, has a pre-eminent place in the teachings of the Buddha. When he taught a graduated series of practices for people to engage in as they progress along the path, he always started by talking about the importance and benefits of the practice of generosity. Based on that foundation, he talked about the importance and benefits of the practice of ethics. Then he discussed the practices of calming the mind, and after that he described the insight practices, which, supported by a calm and stable mind, lead to enlightenment. Once a person had awakened, the Buddha often instructed him or her to go out to benefit others, to be of service. Service can be seen as an act of generosity, so the Buddhist path begins and ends with this virtue.

In the West we often begin our practice with meditation and only later learn of morality and the teachings of generosity. How might cultivating generosity first affect your path of meditation and insight?

The main question for a lot of people is how to practice meditation in daily life. How to practice the Dhamma in daily life. The practice of formal meditation in a retreat is primarily intensive training in a very structured environment. This is helpful and important, but the real practice of meditation, if meditation is to be of any real value, is in our daily lives.

In daily life, the full path and the other aspects of cultivating the mind have to be undertaken and practiced as well. It's really in our daily lives, in our day-to-day situations that we need skill and understanding to meet all the challenges that come up: all the conflicting situations, the chaos, the daily ups and downs.
We have to have a game plan for meeting and facing the defilements that come up within our own minds as well as the negativities and defilements that come at us from others. We have to develop qualities of the mind in addition to meditation.

There are practices, in addition to meditation, that we can cultivate to help us bring the Dhamma into our habit patterns, our life styles, and our viewpoints.
Generosity is one such aspect of the Dhamma practice that we can put into effect in our daily lives.

Although generosity can be seen as the first Buddhist virtue, it is of course not only a Buddhist virtue. 

To practice five things under all circumstances constitutes perfect virtue; these five are gravity, generosity of soul, sincerity, earnestness, and kindness. Confucius

Gentleness, self-sacrifice and generosity are the exclusive possession of no one race or religion. Gandhi

Generosity is not giving me that which I need more than you do, but it is giving me that which you need more than I do. Kahlil Gibran

We cannot do great things on this Earth, only small things with great love. Mother Teresa

Cultures of generosity

Do you think of your culture as being one of generosity? Is generosity taught? Valued? Is giving a commonplace? Do you expect generosity from those around you?