Dāna = Generosity
According to Yogic philosophy we are always in a state of using up 'seeds' or karma, and planting more seeds of karma for the future. It is good to be generous, loving, caring, and do nice things for others because it may help them and also because it plants good seeds that blossom and create more good karma in our own life down the road.
Scientists talk about how there is a dose of serotonin that is released when we do good for others. There is benefit, of course, to receiving as well. A lot of the time, however, giving is even yummier. It just makes you feel really good, like you have done something good, contributed to someone else's happiness.
Dāna, a Sanksrit word, means generosity. It is a fundamental part of Buddhist society. Monks and nuns receive Dāna or offerings of food, clothes, alms, from lay-people. It is an opportunity for a lay-person to practice generosity, to plant positive seeds for the future by helping the monk or nun to continue along their spiritual path.
Reflecting on this idea of doing something for someone else, practicing Dāna or generosity every day, I was walking down the street on my way to do some errands. I saw a group of men walking in my direction. One of them said "do one good deed a day." The Universe was speaking. I continued walking and a well-to-do lady stopped me and expressed her befuddlement that one of the men stopped and put a two-dollar coin into her parking meter out of the blue! I said, "yes, but isn't it a nice thing?" She said "yes, but why not do it for someone who really needs it?" The plot thickens, I thought to myself. An interesting twist.
It is kind to do things for others. I think that it is good to even shock someone a little with generosity! I mean why should we just walk past each other as if we are so disconnected (when we know we really are very connected). But the lady had a good point. She didn't really need the two dollars...
Either way good seeds are being planted, but what would happen if generosity were channeled to create something of cumulative, direct and beneficial change?
Imagine if we started a conscious act of generosity each and every day. I could bake some corn-bread muffins for the neighbour. I could go for a walk and remove some litter on the country-road on the way. I will really start to think about the effects of channeled generosity and where it would be beneficial to place my time and energy.
What will you do?
The other morning before rising from bed, I started my day with the idea that I would think of some things for which I am grateful. It allowed a pause, a moment of space and reflection that created a palpable feeling of awareness and consciousness in my day.
I expressed gratitude in my mind, perhaps to my higher self, or to a listening Cosmos, the stuff that quantum physics is made of. Simply thinking of those people, things, and situations in life with a hue of gratitude brightens up the mind, mood, and one's mental and emotional space as a whole.
Not long after that, I found myself dashing off to go teach a Yoga class. Normally I would walk but somehow I was short on time, so I decided to hail a cab once I was outside of my apartment. A taxi seemed to appear effortlessly, and I hopped in. The interior was alive with the scent of a particular incense I had never experienced before and the cab driver had this very special and beautiful music on (perhaps some Middle-Eastern chanting). I felt like I was in some kind of Church, or temple experience that was very unique, but Universal at the same time. I made a comment about the beautiful music and the driver's instinct was to shut it off. I asked him to please put it back on and we sat silently, in our morning temple experience. I felt soothed. I felt grateful. I felt that the experience of gratitude I had had in bed before rising was the direct cause of this experience. Perhaps I would have gotten in the same cab without my gratitude session, but would I have recognized and experienced this holy moment unhurriedly and with such appreciation? I feel that gratitude opened the gateway of my awareness, of mindfulness and essentially allowed this experience to occur. I felt the Universe say to me: "if you like these other things, then perhaps you will also love this experience as well." The sacred experience in the taxi with the driver, the music and the incense was certainly a gift, and I treasured it.
I started the Yoga class with a reflection on gratitude based on my morning experience of the practice of gratitude. It really hit me that gratitude is a way of becoming present, of creating space in your consciousness of presence of mind and for open-hearted experience to occur. I asked if any of the students had any comments or questions on this or regarding Yoga in general. One student said "thank you so much for the reminder. I really needed to hear that."
It would seem somehow, in more than one way, that gratitude begets more gratitude, which leads to happiness, peace, and a presence of mind. Gratitude leads to a sense of compassion and understanding.
In the Bahagavad Gita, the epic of Hinduism (and thus fundamental to the teaching of Yoga), the main teaching is ALL YOU NEED IS LOVE. I see Love as a multi-faceted jewel, sides of which comprise and make up the diamond that love is. Perhaps some of the facets of this jewel might be Gratitude, Compassion, Understanding, Awareness… Each of them beaming an aspect of Love. Love certainly creates inner peace, an ability to be present and mindful of what is happening and not to be drawn into it, because love is not clinging; it is pure awareness. Love is perhaps what this Cosmos, what the Mind behind the thoughts is actually made of, and gratitude is one of the gateways to living in Love, in pure abiding Awareness.