Dhamma Stream

Dana, The First Perfection – by John M. Travis
Buddhism teaches a gradual process of emptying oneself. It begins with giving away external possessions then
progresses to the letting go of less tangible things, such as time, energy and thoughts. This helps to create traits or
habits that develop our capacity for renunciation and insight into how the internal and external worlds operate.
The Pali word “dana” is often translated as giving, generosity, or self sacrifce. In an article called “Dana: The Practice of
Giving,” (Wheel Pub #367) Bhikkhu Bodhi describes it as “the quality of the heart that moves a person to give away
his or her own possessions for the sake of others. Giving in Buddhism is not a mere moral virtue to be engaged in
randomly or followed as an obligatory duty. It is, rather,
an aspect of training, a means of practice, by which
spiritual aspirants learn to overcome selfshness and
attachment and to express a compassionate concern
for the welfare of others”.
My continued research on the subject of generosity
led me to another very interesting piece in this same
publication. Only when I completed the article did
I realize that the author was one of my benefactors
of thirty-seven years ago, Susan Elbaum Jootla. She
generously provided the funds for several retreats I
attended in 1970. Later, after she and her husband and I
all attended a 30-day retreat together, they provided me
with a room and meals in their own home in Dalhousie,
India, so I could continue a self retreat for an additional
ten days. Just seeing her name in print as the author of this article instantly balanced my thinking and expanded
my heart with warmth. I had such happy thoughts, and I even began to enjoy working on this piece of writing
(which is often quite a task for me).
This feeling immediately expanded into gratitude for the generosity of my own sangha, who provide me with the
sustenance which allows me to travel and teach the Dharma. As I contemplated this, I felt a deep wish to honor
and acknowledge the sacrifces that my wife and other members of my family have made so that I may continue
to travel and teach in these intense retreat settings. In a recent discussion about this, my wife told me that she
had just come to the realization that she can practice this paramita, this perfection, through having an attitude
of acceptance, and even joy, toward my travel and teaching. This has not always been the case! Now, she says, she
feels she is doing something good for the world by not giving me a hard time about being gone so much. (The
blessings of the Dharma come in many forms!)

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