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What is Dana and why is it an important practice?
Dana (donation or generosity) is a very important yogic practice. Dana opens our hearts and loosens our attachment to our limiting ego. When you share something that you have (time, money, energy) with someone in need, you create brotherhood and sisterhood. As you think about the wellbeing of others, this moves you away from the natural, survival instinct of taking care of yourself only and having a false sense of self-importance. The willingness to share stems from confidence in our own abundance and from the feeling of inter-connectedness that all of us are sharing the same planet. Giving, as a spiritual practice, is done without calculating gain and loss, but for the sheer joy of giving, from a desire to share the abundance we have with others. See more on Dana.
The Bhagavad Gita says:
That gift, which is made to one from whom no return is expected, with the feeling that it is one’s duty to give and which is given in proper place and time and to a worthy person, that gift is held to be ‘good’.XVII.20; Translation by S. Radhakrishnan
Any gift that is done whole heartedly and with pure mind is received with gratitude:
Whoever offers to me with devotion a leaf, a flower, a fruit or water, that offering of love, of the pure of heart, I accept.IX.26; Translation by S. Radhakrishnan
Dana is part of the practice of Maitri (loving-kindness and wishing all living-being safety and happiness) and Karuna (compassion, feeling the suffering of the other, and having a strong motivation to alleviate this suffering). These practices are recommended by Patanjali in order that “the consciousness becomes favorably disposed, serene, and benevolent“:
maitri karuna mudita upekshanam sukha duhka punya apunya vishayanam bhavanatah chitta prasadanamPatanjali Yoga Sutras, I.33
Which translates to:
Through cultivation of friendliness, compassion, joy, and indifference to pleasure and pain, virtue and vice respectively, the consciousness becomes favorably disposed, serene, and benevolentTranslation by B.K.S. Iyengar
By sharing what we have, we also practice Aparigraha (non-covetousness or non-attachment to property). Giving, being able to help others, brings a lot of joy. And this is one of the worst pitfalls of extreme poverty – you are devoid of the possibility of giving. The Buddha is known to have said that if you would really know the value of Dana, you wouldn’t eat a single meal without sharing it with the hungry.
How can yoga practice help with Dana?
In order for us to give, we need: the ability to give, the knowledge of how to give and the will to give.
Our Asana and Pranayama practices can help us in all three aspects. Our practice gives us health, vitality, and energy. A sick person or one devoid of energy cannot give. The practice strengthens us physically and mentally and hence makes it possible for us to give.
As the above Bhagavad Gita quote says, we need to know how to give, to whom to give and in what way. Our practice makes us more sensitive and perceptive, and this will help us to know when, how and to whom should we give.
When do we want to give? When we are joyful and experience gratitude for what we have; when our heart opens and we feel interconnected with all of humanity. This practice increases our joy and contentment and allows us to see that our happiness can never be complete if other people are suffering.
I participate, once or twice a year, in Vipassana retreats (a Buddhist silent retreat), and usually, there is no fixed price, instead, you are asked to practice Dana and to give as much as you feel like. This is very uncomfortable at first, because we are so used to having a price tag on every product or service we consume. We usually looking for ‘deals’ and try to get things at the lowest possible price. Money is indeed a very strong attachment of us. So, this custom of paying for retreats is a real practice of non-attachment! This is often called ‘economy of the heart’, rather than an economy based on supply and need. If you get nourished, you need to nourish back.
How much to give?
This is the question that tends to preoccupy towards the end of the retreat… Our tendency is to calculate and compare with the charges of similar workshops. But this is not the practice of Dana! Dana is simply giving full-heartedly for the sake of giving. Of course, many aspects come into consideration, if your resources are limited, then you need to limit your offering, or you will impoverish yourself. How much you give should depend on how important and valuable the thing is for you and how much you can give in the current state of your life. If you cherish something and want it to survive, you need to support it. You cannot be in a position of being a passive consumer.
The guideline that I follow is that you think about a certain sum, and listen to your heart. If it does not shrink, then you raise it a bit and continue in this way, until you begin to sense a shriveling in your heart.
In Iyengar Yoga this is not the custom; however, Iyengar’s guideline for teachers: ‘Always charge less than what you give’, is an instruction of Dana. The teacher is guided to concentrate on giving rather than on receiving.
Helping our Indian friends
Today, our friends in India are in great need. It’s time for us to give back to India, the land that originated our yogic path. Many yoga teachers have donated parts of their income from workshops recently to help support the health system in India, which is in dire need. I recently conducted an online workshop organized by Homevilla, an Iyengar Yoga center in Mumbai, and donated 20% of my earnings from that workshop to the charity organization in India.
I would like to share with you an appeal I received from Mr. S. Ramadorai for the ”Oxygen for India Emergency Appeal’’:
“You would have seen in the news and your social media feeds, the devastation that the pandemic is having in India right now. Each day, a new world record is set for the number of COVID cases. Hospitals have stopped admitting patients because they are running low on vital supplies and equipment including oxygen, leaving people helpless as they watch their loved ones die on stretchers outside the hospital doors.
We need your support to help people today as we simply cannot stand by and do nothing. We guarantee that the British Asian Trust will use these funds to have the greatest impact.“
Click here if you want to learn more about the ”Oxygen for India Emergency Appeal’’ and to donate.
In closure, when we notice the blessings we have in our life, the abundance that surrounds us, and experience gratitude, we have taken the first step in our practice of Dana. The next steps transfer this internal experience into action, an action that helps in a small way to balance some of the great inequalities that exist in our world. Observe how this practice feels. Where are the areas of resistance, what thoughts arise, are you able to follow through on your good intentions?
And finally, what do you experience upon completion of the practice? Has your heart opened even more?
HOW WE WILL HELP
Having consulted with the Indian and UK governments, our Advisors, and program partners in India, we have outlined a package of support that will complement what industry, government, and other charities are doing to help. The biggest difference we can make right now is to get as many ‘oxygen concentrators’ to hospitals as quickly as possible. Oxygen concentrators are alternate devices to oxygen cylinders – while cylinders contain a finite amount of oxygen supply, a concentrator continually recycles oxygen from the air and delivers it to the patient.
THE DIFFERENCE YOU CAN MAKE
Our ‘Oxygen for India Emergency Appeal’ will raise funds for these oxygen concentrators, and together with our local partners in India, we will rapidly deploy them to the hospitals and patients that need them most.
For more information about how to donate click hereTo donate either visit this link: https://pages.razorpay.com/pl_H3xEowPLqqtAAF/view
or transfer your donation to the following bank account:
Name: British Asian India Foundation Bank: Axis Bank Account Number: 917020079499911 IFSC Code: UTIB0000028 Branch: Bandra West