The Tradition of Dana

What is dana?

Considered priceless, these teachings have been given freely since the time of the Buddha. That 2500-year tradition is being continued to this day. The cost of retreat registration covers only room and board plus administrative overhead. None of the registration fee goes to teachers or to the retreat managers. Their ability to continue offering these retreats depends solely on donations from retreat participants. This tradition of making offerings to those who make these retreats possible is called dana, which is the Pali (the language of the Buddha) word for generosity. There will be an opportunity to offer dana to teachers and retreat staff at the end of the retreat.

How much should I give for teacher and staff dana?

It is really up to you to decide how much you would like to give for teacher and staff dana. How much you give depends on your own sense of inspiration, your desire to support the teachers and retreat staff in continuing to offer these teachings, and how much you can afford. The teachers and retreat managers will talk about dana at the end of the retreat. Please bring a checkbook, cash or credit card so you'll be able to make your donation at the retreat.

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The following is an essay that might help you to better understand the practice of giving dana:


What You Give, What You Get: One Yogi’s Reflection on Dana

by Kathleen Hoag

When I began practicing Buddhism in my early twenties I often went on retreats in which each participant was charged a fixed price. Most of the time I couldn't afford that fee and ended up on the “work and sit” program, bartering labor for dharma. Then I began a nomadic life that landed me in a variety of sanghas that did things differently.

In one particular group there was no fee for teachings. I was told that we could give “dana”, a donation which came from my own sense of generosity for what is given to me from my teacher. This practice of giving was new to me and I was immediately thrown into anxiety and confusion. I simply couldn't determine what to give! On the one hand I was grateful for the dharma and the teacher and I wanted to be generous but then I was also holding on to the notion of how poor I felt, how little money I had to give. Additionally, there was a small part of me that believed I could get a “bargain” by just giving the minimum and receiving such incredible teachings.

This was the beginning of my practice of giving dana and it has transformed over the years. Slowly I came to sit and look deeply into the angst I felt about giving dana. I asked myself repeatedly what was underlying the tension and confusion. I listened to the answers. I wanted to hang on to what little money I had out of fear that I would be left with nothing. I wanted to get something for free because I was tired of working so hard and wondering if I would ever get ahead. It was satisfying just to get something. Then finally, I always thought that because I didn't have much I shouldn't be expected to give much; after all, let all those rich dharma students contribute.

Once I became aware of all these attitudes I began to relax. I knew that I didn't want to give dana out of these states of mind. So, I began a mini-dana practice for myself that I have continued up to the present time. Whenever I have the opportunity to give dana I sit and contemplate what I have to offer. I scan my body for any tension and reflect on what might be the cause. I listen and then let go. Then I ask myself what I want to give and always an amount arises in my mind. I give that amount.

The dharma is priceless and the teacher is a gift. The dana I give comes from knowing that I cannot transform my mind on my own, that I need the teachings and someone who has worked on themselves enough to share the clarity and beauty of the Buddha's words. When I give from my true self I experience a peace of mind and deeper sense of gratitude for this practice and all of my teachers who have guided me back to the path countless times.


This article is used with the permission of the author.

It is the mission of IMCW/The Insight Meditation Community of Washington is to support the awakening of hearts and minds through the direct experience of the Buddhist path, and the integration and manifestation of wisdom and compassion in all aspects of life, for the benefit of all beings.

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