I am in the 50th year of teaching Dharma (teachings/practices for waking up) having offered my first 10-day retreat in Elysium House in McLeod Ganj, Dharamsala, located in the foothills of the Himalayas of India in 1974.
Around 30 participated in the retreat in McLeod Ganj, where the Tibetan refugees took up residence after fleeing Tibet in 1959 at the invitation of the Indian government.
The 2600-year-old teachings of Dharma and Dana (donations, gifts, acts of generosity) have been a source of inspiration for many of us.
Photo take during retreat in Thai Monastery, Sarnath, India around 2016. Village where the Buddha gave his first teachings 2600 years ago.
Dana offers a radical alternative to the payment for services model, widely used in the world of consumer culture. Payment for services model works beautifully well when the person(s) or business have no interest to exploit the customer or client through addictive advertising, manipulative promotion and unreasonable prices to maximise profits.
The dana model invites the client/customer/practitioner to engage in the exchange to show the value of what she or he received. Practitioners offer dana anonymously, an expression of love without the self-seeking attention or offer dana through payment by card, bank, Stripe, Paypal, modest mothly subscription on Substack and more. Since launching Substack at the start of 2023, 18 people who receive the twice weekly post have kindly offered paid monthly subscription of around $7-$10. This is another expression of support.
With the unbroken support of the Sangha of Meditators, I have managed to rely on dana through the years including support for the family, university education for grandson, office expenses, IT consultant and more. My granddaughter, 16, has lived with me since she was 14.
I make use social media/online services to communicate the Dharma. WordPress is 7000 views short of one million views over the years. Substack has 6500 subscribers, around 8000 on three email lists on various Facebook pages, LinkedIn, Podcasts etc. There is plenty of overlapping with blogs/posts/friends etc.
Receiving and Giving
I am also in a privileged situation of of having neither rent, nor mortgage to pay. In early 1983, the Sangha kindly gave me enough dana to put £5000.00 deposit to buy a terraced house for £24,000 in Totnes, south Devon, England. I finished paying off the mortgage 25 years later, in June 2008. Currently, I receive a state pension. I regard the Sangha as a body of kindness enabling me to devote daily time to serve the Sangha
Dana offers a two-way benefit. People who attend a retreat, do not have to pay the teacher a daily or weekly fee but give as they wish. The teacher develops trust and gratitude for the dana. Both teacher and practitioners give inspiration to each other to explore the Dharma with service the top priority over financial issues.
This has enabled me to give financial support to my daughter, Nshorna and her four children. She has initiated three small mindfulness businesses in recent years including The Wise Lotus Centre (www.thewiselotus.com), which opened in April 2022. There were considerable start-up costs, refurbishment of the shop as a centre for wellbeing, as well as monthly rent/business rates, heating bills, administration etc. Hundreds of adults and children have already benefitted from her initiative. Dana from the Sangha made this possible.
The Sangha and myself also give support to our free school in Bodh Gaya, India with its 600 children.
I am very grateful for 53 years of receiving the dana including the six years as a Buddhist monk in Thailand and India. The Sangha of Practitioners support their teachers and the teachers support their Sangha. The Buddha commented that the Sangha of teachers/practitioners remains worthy of respect with deep friendship an ongoing purpose of the spiritual life.
I received an email this week on the importance of dana from a long-standing friend/practitioner in New Zealand. He wrote:
I remember the retreat I participated in a few months ago when the assistant teachers gave “the Dana talk”.
I remember the understanding that followed as I listened carefully to their skilful communication including my “getting” that Dana is as much for the one giving as the one receiving.
The ‘practice of dana!’ The communication about this needs to be of a high level…it was and I got it!
What an truly amazingly radical concept and practice! Thank you for leading the way.
Dana outside Retreats
I regard the advances from publishers on my books as a dana. This meant I did not seek out an agent as their job includes getting the best deal for their client. The publisher offered an advance payment on sales. Authors received 7.5% of the cover price of the book. I did not question the sum. I regarded it as a dana.
I completed the manuscript well before the deadline; the text required little editing and I accepted whatever payment came my way. This attitude also worked in my favour. The publisher would contact me proposing a second or third book due to my approach.
I give public talks. Sometimes the centre has a door charge with a percentage (about 33% going to the teacher). I viewed this as a dana. If I considered the door price too high, I told the organisers to reduce the charge by a percentage if they want me to come.
I engage regularly in 1-1s on Skype/Zoom as well as in-person meetings for practitioners in the local coffee shop or at home. No hourly rate. No mention of dana. Benefit works both ways. I do not offer 1-1s on say a weekly basic. I can decide the length of time for the 1-1 rather than the standard 50 minutes, as often applied in psychotherapy or counselling.
I decline to give a rough figure when offering a workshop in the public or private sector. It is often not easy for the hosts that I leave the decision about payment in their hands.
From time to time over the decades, I receive an invitation with offer of a major payment. For example, a couple of decades ago, I received an offer of $10,000 to give mindfulness teachings/classes for a week on a holiday cruise liner. Primary purpose of holiday makers on a ship includes maximising pleasure. Hardcore teachings/practices could ruin a person’s holiday – in a healthy way. So, I declined. I had no wish to be unfaithful to a principle of service linked to dana, even if every cent of $10K went to our school in Bodh Gaya. There is a price for receiving large sums of money from businesses to serve their ends, such as a change in the motive of the teacher and use of teaching/practices to increase staff work rate and production.
Everything changes. Covid landed in our lives.
In the early months of 2020, the global pandemic swept across the world making an impact on physical/mental wellbeing in varying degrees. I engaged in reflection on making changes to my annual rhythms.
I started work on a memoir of my 10 years in the East (Ten Years and Ten Days, published by Amazon). The year also gave me the opportunity to reflect in my role as a servant of the Dharma. I decided to end teaching in Australia, India and Israel/Palestine despite immense love of Bodh Gaya/Sarnath, the subtropical rainforests in Australia and the vibrancy/challenges teaching in Israel/Palestine.
During the lockdown, the Sangha of Meditators, including teachers, kindly sent me regularly dana to support daily life and family. I still travel to Germany three times a year, where I teach at the Waldhaus, near Bonn, Pauenhof Centre, near Dusseldorf and Seminarhaus Engl, near Munich. I appreciate the commitment to practice found in Germany, unambiguous language and much more.
Zoom Meetings and Dana
I have used Zoom on a regular basis for three years since the start of Covid. People wishing to attend a Zoom course send their email to my organiser or myself to register. Then we send out the Zoom link.
I reviewed the situation. 50-100 might register, receive the link but only half or less might turn up. Numbers might drop slowly with a series of meetings. Out of those who joined the sessions, 20-40% gave a dana, despite a reminder at the end of the sessions and an email with information to make a dana.
Cost of living and worries about the future affect people’s lives and doubts enter the mind about financial circumstances. People may also forget the practice of dana.
It easily happens. I have left others to donate. For example, I intended to send a dana to a website or zoom event offering precious teachings but days went by. The intention to give dana never occurred. From time to time, retreat participants send me a dana years or decades after a retreat. The dana is still very welcome!
I took advice from two of my Zoom organisers, Michal of Todaa Bria (Healthy Mind) of Israel and Suchitra in India. Both fully supported making a registration charge of €20 – €50. The charge depends whether it is a weekend Zoom teaching of two or three sessions up to eight or 10 sessions for a month-long online course.
People can drop me an email if registration fee is unaffordable. I will send the link as a gift.
Starting 1 June 2023
Fifty years ago, I vowed I would not live in the world idealism. Idealism means clinging to the principle of dana, even if it is not supporting daily life. Dana needs to stay grounded. Teachers can express the freedom to payment for services model. The Buddha gave warnings about getting out of touch with the way things have become– check out Pali words like nimitta, lokiya, moha, karma, papanca. We can get out of touch with dana idealism and with payment for services. So far, I have not experienced any loss of trust in dana from the Sangha.
Starting on 1 June 2023, I will make a modest registration charge to attend a Zoom course, such as our online Buddha Wisdom Series now running in India and Israel. Current request is €30 – €40 depending on the number of sessions in a month.
The registration cost does not replace the dana but gives support to ongoing office/administration expenses. Dharma centres make a registration fee to cover cost of attending a residential retreat whether for a weekend or longer. The teacher receives dana. It will be the same principle with the registration fee ongoing office expenses, payment for websites, IT, services etc and dana for my living expenses.
We already apply registration cost for long courses such as the 12-month (two 6-month modules) Mindfulness Teacher Training Course (MTTC) starting in October 2023.
Do consider joining our mindfulness course. First module of six months for personal training in mindfulness with lifelong long benefits. Or attend two consecutive modules of six months to become a mindfulness teacher with professional certificate accepted worldwide (CPD).
Check out: www.mindfulnesstrainingcourse.org
That’s the update on Dharma and Dana.
Don’t hesitate to contact me if you have any response to this reflection.
Having said all that, let me add the way to donate to this Buddha wallah.
MAY ALL BEINGS OFFER GIFTS TO OTHERS
MAY ALL BEINGS KNOW THE POWER OF SHARING
MAY ALL BEINGS UNDERSTAND THE GIFT OF LIFE