November 30, 2010

Dana, The Elephant in the Room.

The pay-gate is not an obstacle to the mindful life—it is an opportunity to invest in it!

I will never forget my first meditation retreat.

I walked up the steep hill to Dhamrkot where Tushita, the retreat center for westerners founded by Lama Yeshe, was nestled in the thick woods above Dharmsala. I had in my backpack a stash of bananas—which I had to give to the monkeys that roam the streets of northern India in exchange for my life! As I stepped onto the grounds of Tushita I was overtaken by the beauty and simplicity of the Himalayan hill country.

I was all hopped up about subjecting myself to some serious meditation under the guidance of a real live monk. My expectations of this retreat placed me in what amounted to a posh hermitage, receiving personal instructions on the highest meditations available, and surviving on a meager diet. The only one of these expectations that came to pass was my being forced to survive on meager diet…and that failed to live up to the romantic hype I had created in my head.

Instead of intense solitude I was forced to mingle with the other retreatants. We frequently attended community teachings and group sits. We also learned the meaning of dana.

Dana is a Sanskrit word that translates as generosity. I was introduced to this concept by what I thought at the time was a backhanded way of cutting cost. I thought Tushita saved on expenses by getting retreatants to handle the day-to-day chores or washing dishes, cleaning the grounds, and preparing the meditation room. The word dana was also displayed on all donation boxes. I thought to myself, “These people want me to pay for a service, then donate more money and perform the duties of their maintenance man!”

Now, looking back on my experience at Tushita I would say the one lesson that sticks out in my mind is the lesson I learned in dana.

As opposed to the subversive attempt to cut cost and make money, dana turned out to be a wonderful lesson in responsibility. I learned that the environment I inhabit is what I make of it. If I truly appreciate my surroundings I will do what I can to express this appreciation. I came to take pride and find joy in arranging the cushions properly and washing the dishes.

This lesson is by no means a memory. Dana is an action. From generosity’s point of view, giving is the most natural response. The concept of dana continues to pour forth in my daily life.

Now-a-days the work I do yields little to no financial return. I teach meditation at a newly formed group in Shreveport, Louisiana. However, I have the good fortune to have a friend who sees this work as worthwhile, and invests in this work or practices dana by offering me a home at an affordable rate. Generosity begets generosity, and I do what I can to make the atmosphere comfortable. I clean the house not because I am in debt, but because I appreciate the environment. If you are truly grateful for your car (or bicycle) then you will take care of it—you will express your gratitude!

You may have noticed by now that after reading a couple of free articles here on Elephant you are redirected to a pay gate. My first reaction to this was no different than my initial reaction at Tushita, “What… They want me to write, and pay to do it!”

After pausing for a moment I realized I am not paying to write, but contributing to the society I live in. I am investing in the propagation of the mindful life. Elephant does more for me and my ability to share my message than I have ever done for Elephant. I hope that everyone will see the pay gate not as an obstacle, but as an opportunity to respond to his or her environment, by investing in the mindful life, a life we have all come to appreciate!

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