by Rev.Keisho Leary
"Donation" has roots in the Sanskrit word DANA. If you make generous donations to our group, we are told, this act of merit on your part, if repeated over and over again and accompanied by wisdom, will lead you to the fully awakened state. You may make direct monetary contributions, purchase goods, and services or tickets to events produced by us, or you can donate your time and effort.
Thus through the kind contributions of many people organizations thrive, the land is purchased, buildings are constructed, books and magazines issued, and a staff is supported. But one looks and wonders, where are all the promised Buddhas? It seems that Dana has come to flow in the wrong direction, that is if the Great Awakening is to result from following the Buddha’s path.
Buddha Sayamuni’s sangha has four groupings: monks; nuns; laywomen; and laymen, all of whom are able to practice the Dharma and realize Nirvana. But only the monks and nuns are to receive alms. The layfollowers, or UPASAKAS, are by definition bestowers of alms and not receivers. The upasaka lives in the world, supports himself, and supports the monks and nuns.
Few true monks now exist in the world, and the Buddhist organizations are dominated by upasakas. If we as upasakas solicit donations or offer religious goods and services for sale, we are acting contrary to the Buddha’s wishes, accumulating no merit, and not following a path conducive to enlightenment. The intention of Sakyamuni was that his lay followers (many of whom attained enlightenment) work diligently and honestly, and that the wealth accumulated would become the means of benefitting all sentient beings.
The great concept of Dana is interrelated with many other aspects of the Dharma. It will relieve suffering and bring happines. It expresses love and selflessness. It is linked with all of the Paramitas, the Bodhisattva way of life, and the transferences of merit.
The four types of Dana are:
1) Giving material things, such as food and clothing
2) Giving the Dharma
3) Giving kind and gentle words
4) Creating a life in harmony with the Dharma
The traditional set of eight offerings for the altar are:
1) Water for washing
2) Water for drinking
4) Candles or light
Note that money is not among them. As well as "donation," "offering," and "giving," the word "Dana" has been variously translated as "bestowing," "practicing generosity and liberality," "making gifts," "relinquishing," "abandoning," and "providing for peoples’ needs and benefits."
Dana is, of course, the first of the Six Paramitas, but is also associated with the other five Paramitas as follows:
1.) SILA: The five upasaka precepts are:
giving life (not killing)
taking only what is given (not stealing)
offering the truth (not lying)
giving up intoxicants
and giving up inappropriate sex
2.) KSANTI: Of the many English words used to render Ksanti, possibly the best is endurance, but also used are: surrender (giving up), and forgiving. Again, we practice Ksanti when we refrain from forcing our opinions, and give people some space.
3.) VIRYA (or right effort): Here the meaning is conveyed by the phrase giving it everything you’ve got. We also have the scriptural explanation: abandoning greed, anger, and ignorance.
4.) DHYANA: can be viewed as giving thought to the Dharma.
5.) PRAJNA: In the Prajnaparamita Sutra, Avalokitesvara teaches Sariputra that all things have Sunyata nature, and therefore there is no obtainment (nothing to get). And he ends by transmitting (giving) the Prajnaparamita mantra, leading to the far shore of enlightenment. Furthermore, Sakyamuni compares the Dharma to a raft which enables one to cross to the far shore, and once there, the raft, no longer needed, is given up.
Giving is one of the essentials of the Bodhisattva path. The Boddhisattva abandons all self-seeking and offers his entire life for the benefit of others. Usually at the end of any practice session, he vows to turn over the merit accumulated so that all sentient beings together might become enlightened.
Chapter 22 of the Lotus Sutra, The Final Commission, describes Sakyamuni Buddha himself as the foremost of donors:
THE TATHAGATA IS THE GREAT LORD OF GIVING
TO ALL LIVING BEINGS. DO YOU ALSO FOLLOW
THE TATHAGATA’S EXAMPLE, NOT BEING MEAN AND
STINGY. IF GOOD-SONS AND GOOD-DAUGHTERS IN
AGES TO COME BELIEVE IN THE TATHAGATA-WISDOM,
DO YOU PROCLAIM THIS LOTUS SUTRA TO THEM.
IF THERE BE LIVING BEINGS WHO DO NOT BELIEVE
IN IT, DO YOU SHOW, TEACH, BENEFIT, AND REJOICE
THEM WITH THE OTHER TACTFUL PROFOUND LAWS
OF THE TATHAGATA.
(Reprinted with permission of Rev. Dr. Douken Unkai, President of the former California Tendai Monastery)