Dana (Giving)
One of the key actions of Buddhism is dana. This is related to our word, "donation", but also includes sharing, even selfless giving without worrying about getting something in return.

We witness this when we see films about the monks in Asia during their daily alms round, collecting their meal for the day. The lay folk place food in a bowl. It is a selfless gift received selflessly.

This is an important event because in this moment representatives of a higher ideal have met someone caught up in the mundane world. The selfless exchange has brought about the meeting of the mundane and supra-mundane.

We see this action of selfless giving in many forms throughout a Buddhist community. For example, this happens when temple members give money to the temple. Yes, I did use the word ‘money’ and no, religion is not just about money. But money is not evil in Buddhism. It represents opportunity to use something wisely. Everything we have in the temple is the result of laypeople sharing some of their income with the rest of us. That is why we have heating in the temple. Someone gave so we could pay the heating bill. The same is for the water and the lights. Even the minister’s salary is the result of laypeople practicing dana. Every single thing, even the tacks in the bulletin board, is there because of dana. Upon reflection, this could all be the cause of a great deal of humility and gratitude.

But dana does not just mean money. It can also be the donation of time. Just being there in otera is a donation of body and time, as is quietly listening.

There is sweat dana, the donation of work in projects to keep our temple going. During our preparations for our 100th Anniversary celebrations a few years ago, one member showed up for the third time to paint the basement. This member works weekends and out of town, but when the basement needs painting, he shows up. He has been a member for over 30 years. He pays his membership in sweat dana. Not all of us can give large sums of money, but we all have bodily action to donate.

Then there is the dana of devotion. That means attending otera when you can and trying to live what you learn there. We have reached the place in the history of Buddhism in Winnipeg where many people feel that the presence of a Buddhist temple in the city is good for the folk who live there. Right now Buddhism has a very good reputation worldwide, including our own city. We should at all costs avoid the dangers of reversing this good reputation we finally enjoy!! This dana of devotion should be continued, just as we have admirably done in the past.

Finally, the teachings of Shinran ask us to make the final ultimate dana. That is the giving up of self-powered religion and relying on the Other Power of the Bodhisattva Vow. This is the no-self power of Amida’s compassion and wisdom pouring into the world of suffering humanity. Experiencing this in a deeply personal way that strangely moves the heart is called shinjin. Here we see again the meeting of the sacred and the profane, the mundane and the supra-mundane. It is a moment of selfless exchange, the moment of true dana from which all other dana flows. It gives rise to gratitude, the recitation of the nembutsu and the arising of a future worth having. This is the future of awakening and Buddhahood. This is why dana is often called “grateful self unloading.”

Try it once, just once!

Sensei Ulrich
November 22, 2009