All retreats on this site, and many sitting groups, dharma workshops and yatras are run on what is called a dana basis. This means that teachers donít get paid from the set retreat cost for their teachings or time. They have their food, accommodation and sometimes travel expenses provided, but other than that they receive just what is given to them by way of financial offerings at the end of the retreat or program. There is usually a dana box or bowl for this.

The term dana literally means generosity, but the way itís used when talking about dharma programs has more the sense of reciprocal gift. The teachings are seen as a gift and the financial offering is seen as a gift. This culture of both sides offering gifts comes from the 2500 year Buddhist tradition, and in particular, the way that monks and nuns kept the tradition alive in a dedicated way, giving teachings and relying solely on what was offered to them. 

This culture or gifts or offerings thrived in Asia and still thrives in some parts of Asia. In Australia and other Western countries, the Insight Meditation community has kept with this gift culture. This has come with some challenges.

One challenge is that the culture of the reciprocal gift is not well established here. Another challenge is that most of our teachers are lay teachers and being in a non-monastic culture means that one has to pay for things.

Dana in Australia

In Australia, some teachers rely on dana as their main income. They might occasionally run non-dana sessions or programs to provide some additional funds. They might have a partner who helps support them. Dana tends not to provide a secure income, which may be important if one is paying a mortgage, paying rent, supporting a child or children, or wanting to provide for oneís old age.

Other teachers limit their teaching as they canít afford to rely on dana.

Then there are dharma teachers who have professional jobs which allow them to take periods away from work for teaching. The dana from teaching is sometimes more and in smaller retreats often less than their regular professional income would be for the same period. There are also teachers who are retired or who have some other income.

Most teachers are to some degree dependent on the generosity of students for their financial security.

Despite the challenges of teaching on a dana basis, there is a strong commitment in the Insight Meditation community to stay with this arrangement. Dana has a beauty to it. It allows people to give according to their ability and willingness. It means that dharma programs stay relatively accessible to people who have limited funds. It comes with a spirit of trust and generosity. Itís based on an attitude of care. It honours a long non-commercial tradition.

There are fee-paying programs on mindfulness and occasionally compassion, and some are well developed and presented. These programs can make teachings available to people who might not wish to become involved in any form of Buddhism. Sometimes Insight Meditation teachers have taught these programs to help with their finances, while still providing most of their teachings on a dana basis.

In some dharma communities, the term that is used for dana is donation. A concern with this usage is that the term donation has connotations which are often not related to reciprocal gifts.
Dana Considerations

When considering dana, it's worth taking into account our common tendency to get a a good deal. Getting a good deal often involves putting oneself or one's family first, rather than caring for both oneself (or one's family) and the other person or people involved. A generous attitude, the attitude cultivated in dharma practice, is to care for each side.

It's also worth keeping in mind that you have received a gift. The gift may not be exactly what you wanted but it is what the teacher gave and was able to give. Having received this gift, your relationship with the teacher comes into play and forms a basis for the return gift of dana.

In addition, there's the simple and less personal view that dana is not just a way to support the teacher and teachings but also a way to help the continuation and viability of dana based programs.  


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