Dana: The Mystery of How Much to Give

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I am on retreat this week at Spirit Rock, so there is no class, therefore no dharma talk to post here. But attending a retreat reminds me that I haven’t shared here about the tradition of giving dana (donation) to the teachers. Actually at Spirit Rock, all the retreat staff – the cooks and housekeeping staff – also work on a dana basis. Donations by the retreatants are vital.

As class manager for the Friday morning class at Spirit Rock, I am called upon every week to explain what dana is. Here is what I tell people:

In this tradition (Vipassana, Insight, Thai Forest Buddhist tradition) the teachings are considered priceless, so Spirit Rock doesn’t pay the teachers! Instead we are asked to support the teachers with our donations. We do this out of a sense of gratitude for the teachings, in order to develop in ourselves the spirit of generosity, and so that the teachers may continue to teach.

People often ask me, “How do you figure out how much to give?” I say:

When you arrive at the beginning of class, you might figure out how much dana to give based on your budget, how much a similar class might cost elsewhere, how much you notice others are putting in the dana basket, etc. But if you wait and pay at the end of class, you will add in the important factors of: the difference between how you felt when you arrived and how you feel now, how much feels like a true expression of your gratitude, and what amount feels generous to give, not creating a hardship, but not holding back either.

When we go on retreat we take several vows, one of which is to take only what is freely given. The teachings are given freely, but with the trust that the retreatants will value what they have received and will be as generous as the teachers have been with their wisdom, skill and experience.

I know that doesn’t really answer the question, but that’s fine. The answer will come fresh to you with each class or retreat. Remember that the word dana in the Pali language means generosity.

I teach my class on a dana basis and I truly appreciate the support. It is financing this retreat I am off to right now! Some day perhaps it will make it possible to spend more time focusing on this area of my life rather than commercial aspects. Thank you!

Let me know your thoughts on this.

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