Dāna (Devanagari: दान) is a Sanskrit and Pali word that connotes the virtue of generosity. In Buddhism, dāna is the practice of cultivating generosity. It can take the form of giving to an individual in distress or need. More importantly, it can take the form of simple acts which empower and help many.
For thousands of years, Buddhist monastics have understood the life affirming importance of generosity. In Mahayana Buddhism’s “Six Perfections”, six unique dimensions of human character provide the ethical pathway to living an enlightened life. First among them is the perfection of generosity.
In the Buddhist context, generosity is not simply the act of transferring wealth or material goods to those in need. More fundamentally, it is about cultivating a deep generosity of spirit that guides one’s everyday actions. Generosity in this sense means acting to benefit others without expectation of reward or recognition. For the generous doer, its about intent not outcome.
Now more than ever, America must strengthen its collective “generosity muscle”. We must lead with generosity in our daily interactions. We must learn how to listen generously before we respond. We must offer generosity to those we spite. We must rise above petty grievances and generously offer a hand of assistance when its most difficult. When generosity scales, we are our most virtuous and courageous selves.
Businesses, government and our civic organizations would benefit from more generosity. Corporations that engender cultures of generosity establish collaborative and trusting employees that are highly motivated to succeed. Political systems reap enormous benefits when politicians adopt more generous dispositions towards their political opponents. By listening with sincerity, being open to new ideas, and working to find common ground – “generosity first” approaches to governing significantly reduce polarity and legislative dysfunction. And communities that are more generous find connections across race, ethnicity, class and religion to be dramatically richer.
Luckily, being generous feels good. We can all recall experiences of personal generosity and the deep-seated joy that they brought us. Whether we were able to provide something of material value to someone in need or magnanimously forgive an individual that wronged us – the generosity emotion has immense power!
Generosity also builds strong communities. Families, groups, tribes, and nations that act with a generosity of spirit live more harmoniously. When generosity becomes a characteristic of organizations, morale is enhanced and productivity increases. When societal generosity is highly valued, the worthiness of all citizens is acknowledged. When basic dignity is acknowledged, the deep links of interdependence forge a shared destiny for groups.
So I ask that we act more deliberately to cultivate a broad spirit of generosity. Act more generously towards the cashier, the janitor, your boss and your spouse. Establish an intent to be generous and expect nothing in return. Give first, take second. Your life and your community will be better for it.