By: David Xi-Ken Astor, Sensei
The nature of dana, generosity or giving, relates directly to hearing and responding to one’s spiritual calling. In Master Dogen’s ‘Shobogenzo’, two chapters address dana in different ways. The first talk is entitled “Establishment of the Bodhi Mind” and was directed to the laity, and the second is called “Establishment of the Will to the Supreme” which Dogen addressed to the temple monks. These talks were given on the same day about six hours apart we are told, just after Dogen entered his new monastic home in the mountains.
The first instruction was given to the laity as a lesson on generosity of life as it is. He was imploring those who were donating money or labor to the temple, to continue to do so. An age old challenge that continues to haunt Buddhist teachers even today. A little time later, he offered a talk to the monastics in his newly established monastery, but this time focusing on impermanence, the absolutely fleeting nature of life. He beseeched the monastics to give their life away to others, to not get lost in zazen and the solitary practice of realizing themselves before taking care of all beings, including those he had addressed six hours earlier. These two teachings, different in perspective but focused on the same subject, takes dana as the act of contributing to the Sangha’s upkeep and highlights its place in a compassionate practice. The human emotion of compassion is developed when you give selflessly. Likewise, when one receives they are given an opportunity for experiencing feelings of compassion.
Dogen was a master strategist as well as a brilliant dharma teacher as his written works in our possession today reflects. His wonderful teaching reveals dana within a beautiful, circular path, flowing in both directions among the laity and the monastics. Utterly and forever different, each giving to the other. The recognition of the inter-being of self and other. The social-self in action. Through these two we create a wonderful interplay of dana, of exchange, of one hand supporting the other and the other supporting the first to the point that it is not clear which is giving and which is receiving. That is when we enter into the heart of ‘dana paramita,’ the perfection of selfless giving. The term ‘dana’ when used alone is referencing our actions toward upkeep of something we highly value. The term ‘dana paramita’ encompasses all acts of generosity, including those of supporting directly the transmission of the dharma. Continue reading