Contemplating generosity

I have joined the Sangha Planning Committee of Mission Dharma here in San Francisco. Along with helping get things set up on Tuesday nights, recording Howie’s talks and posting info online, the volunteers on the committee have taken on the weekly Dana talks. I will have the opportunity to give the Dana talk soon, so I’ve been contemplating what generosity means on the path and how it supports the Sangha and in turn, how it supports the Dharma.

Dana means generosity and it’s one of the “ten perfections” in the Buddha’s teachings. In fact, it is the first of the ten perfections.

This dynamic of giving and receiving is central to the Sangha and the transmission of the Dharma. It allows the Sangha to function, on all levels — from paying the rent and supporting the teachers to providing a regular opportunity to practice the very essence of the teachings of non-attachment in an authentic and tangible way.

Looking at how the Sangha works, it’s evident that we are all giving-and-receiving.

First and foremost, we all show up. We all come together to support each other’s practice. There are other things we could be doing. Showing up is very much an act of good intentions and right effort – cultivating the wholesome and turning towards freedom and liberation. By showing up, we are giving to ourselves as well as others in the Sangha and in the community at large.

Volunteers come early to unlock the doors, turn on the heat and arrange the chairs and cushions. We upload the talks, tend to the web site and make sure there is tea.

The teacher shares with us his understanding of the Dharma. He or she gathers teachings, stories and poems; leads us into our meditation period with skillful words inclining the mind towards being present, open and compassionate with whatever arises; delivers a thoughtful Dharma Talk to help us develop wise understanding; and answers questions from practitioners. All of this is done in a spirit of metta and karuna. The teacher is showing us the way to happiness, the path that leads to the cessation of suffering.

Beyond just showing up, those who come to hear the teachings and sit together can also give freely – in many forms. First, by practicing what we are learning — bringing the skillful qualities of mindfulness and equanimity into their everyday lives. One can give by welcoming new Sangha members with a friendly face, helping with the chairs or bringing one’s own tea cups. And the Sangha members can support the Sangha with donations, which pay for the room rental and support the teacher.

Contemplating Dana in this way it seems that the whole circle of the Sangha is nothing but giving and receiving. All of it done in the spirit of non-attachment, lovingkindness and generosity. It is just this quality of openness and giving that has supported the transmission of the Dharma since the time of the Buddha.

No wonder the Buddha put generosity first on the list.