The realm of giving and generosity

The specific meaning of “dana” is giving, which is related to the quality of “caga” (in Pali), or generosity. The one involves doing, while the other involves being.

While this distinction is useful in its comprehensiveness, in actuality generosity and giving, being and doing, are intertwined and inextricable. Being is itself a kind of doing, as you cannot help but radiate certain qualities out into the world. And every doing – at each endlessly disappearing and regenerating instant of NOW – is a microscopic slice of being.

Giving and generosity can be expressive or restrained. For example, we might give to our child or someone else we love fondness and affection (expressive), and we might also give the holding of our temper or our hand in anger (restrained).

The essence of generosity is that we give outside the framework of a tight, reciprocal exchange. Yes, we may give the coffee guy $2.50 for a latte, and we may trade back rubs with our partner, but neither is particularly generous in its own right. On the other hand, tossing the change from $3 into the tip jar is indeed generous, as would be doing an extra great job on that back rub when it’s your turn.

While “dana” often means something fairly narrow and specific – alms for a monk or nun, or donation to a teacher – in the broadest sense, we are generous and giving whenever we be or do in the territory these words point to:

Donate, grant, award, bestow, make a gift of, bequeath Praise, acknowledge
Love, care, like
Sacrifice, relinquish
Devote, dedicate
Be altruistic
Forbear, restrain yourself for the sake of others

Let’s consider some concrete examples; you give whenever you:

Pat an arm in friendship, sympathy, or encouragement
Put money – or a banana or chocolate – in the donation bowl
Relax your position and open up to the viewpoint of another person
Offer anything out upon the internet or in a newsletter, etc.
Try to help someone
Wave someone ahead of you in line
Try to cheer someone up
Make a gift
Write a thank you note
Listen patiently when you’d rather be doing something else
Cultivate qualities in yourself that will benefit others
Change a diaper – at either end of the lifespan
Give some money to a homeless person
Express gratitude or appreciation
Volunteer your time
Tell somebody about something great

In particular, you are generous whenever you “give no man or woman cause to fear you” – in other words, when you live in a virtuous, moral way. In Buddhism, the Five Precepts are the common, practical guide to ethical conduct: do not kill, steal, lie, intoxicate yourself, or cause harm through your sexuality. Quoting Bhikkhu Bodhi, referring to the Anguttara Nikaya: “By [the meticulous observance of the Five Precepts], one gives fearlessness, love and benevolence to all beings. If one human being can give security and freedom from fear to others by his behavior, that is the highest form of dana one can give, not only to mankind, but to all living beings.

Last, perhaps as an antidote to the too-common practice of treating those closest to us the worst of all, the Buddha stressed the importance of honoring and caring for one’s parents, one’s spouse and children, and one’s employees and dependents. For example, in one sutta (discourse), offering hospitality to one’s relatives is one of the great auspicious deeds a layperson can perform.

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Paying the Dharma forward

walking-buddha-1The Buddha really emphasized giving. In fact in you think about it we wouldn’t have any Buddhism today. The Buddha’s life, after his Awakening, was a life of giving. His time and his talent in communication was spent in giving people the tools they needed to become awakened. His energy was spent traveling around India, teaching.

The entire community of monks and nuns likewise gave their time and energy — their lives, really — in order to help others.

And if it wasn’t for 2,500 years of householders donating to the sangha, none of that teaching would have been passed onto us. It wasn’t just a question of lay Buddhists putting some scraps of food in the bowls of begging monks and nuns. It was a question of them donating robes, giving land to the sangha, having dwellings and monasteries built, paying for monuments to be erected, etc.

2,500 years of giving. And we’re the beneficiaries. I benefit. You benefit.

If you benefit from the work we do, please consider supporting Wildmind. Click here to make a one-time or recurring donation.

If you benefit from the work we do, please consider supporting Wildmind. Click here to make a one-time or recurring donation.

We’re asking for donations to our Free Bodhi project. The aim is to provide seed funding for a business manager for Wildmind so that I don’t have to do so much admin and can concentrate on teaching and writing. Lots of people tell me that the teaching and writing I do has made a positive difference to their lives, and I hope you’ll consider supporting us on this.

So we’re asking you to continue 2,500 year tradition, and to pay it forward. We’ve written, and continue to write, hundreds of articles on meditation. We’ve made structured guides to various meditation practices available. We run free guided meditation videoconferences and post the recordings on Youtube.

And next year we’ll be running an unprecedented year-long series of meditation events that we’re calling a Year of Going Deeper. We chose that title because the eight events we’re running will give you a complete guide to meditation practices that can take you all the way to Awakening.

Our Year of Going Deeper is going to be free. That’s our gift. What we’re asking is that you help support us — just as generations of practitioners before you have helped support other teachers — so that we can help enlighten the world.

Please donate to the Free Bodhi project on Indiegogo, and help support our work.

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A guided meditation, and an invitation

bodhipaksaBelow is a guided meditation that I led on Saturday, at the closing of Wildmind’s contribution to the week-long Urban Retreat, led by the Triratna Buddhist Community. It’s a guided meditation on cultivating compassion, with a short talk at the beginning.

Now the invitation. Most of the guided meditations I lead and talks I give aren’t recorded. For example, back in February I led a retreat in Florida, and nothing was recorded. I’ve led workshops in Maine and Toronto, where again nothing was recorded. I intended to record the talks and meditations, but the trouble is that I get very focused on the act of communicating and forget to hit “record.”

So this is another good reason to support the Free Bodhi project. One of the things that will happen once I have more admin support is that I’ll have someone to take care of making sure that the recording equipment is set up and ready to go, and that the recordings are being made properly.

In fact even the kind of online event that’s in the recording above will happen more smoothly. At the moment I have to do all the set-up myself. In the half-hour before that guided meditation started I had to set up the Hangout, copy and paste links, send out invitations, choose the correct settings so that the graphics would display (I forgot to do that on the previous recording), and deal with people who were having technical difficulties getting into the hangout. It’s rather stressful doing all that, and I’d rather be focusing on how I’m going to lead the meditation and what I’m going to say in my introductory talk.

So in the future, the plan is to have Mark (who is lined up as my business manager and assistant) take care of all that for me. All I’ll need to do is show up and teach, which will be better for everyone involved — including you!

So please support the Free Bodhi project. Help free me up from admin so that I can concentrate on teaching. You’ll find that we are offering some great perks for donors to our project.

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“We make a living by what we make, but we make a life by what we give”

Bodhipaksa“We make a living by what we make, but we make a life by what we give.” These words are often attributed to Winston Churchill, but they appear to be the work of the prolific “anon.”

I had trouble sleeping last night, which is very unusual for me. I was rather anxious about money, since Wildmind had a very bad year financially and lost a lot of money. I’d actually expected to make a loss since we moved into a larger office and I took on an office assistant to free me up to spend more time on creative tasks. But working on the end of year accounts was rather troubling, because the losses were larger than expected and we are running seriously short of wiggle-room and are having trouble juggling our bills.

At the same time I’m optimistic! On the one hand there’s a (bad) financial cusp looming, but on the other hand what we’ve been doing on Wildmind, which is making meditation available to people throughout the world, is starting to turn into a community. On Google+ [update: Google pulled the plug on Google+ in 2019] we’ve brought together meditation practitioners — from old hands to complete newcomers — and people are sharing what’s going on in their practice, whether that’s painful or blissful. They’re also giving and receiving advice, support, and encouragement. I don’t think I’ve ever seen an unkind word there. It’s inspiring I’m inspired by our community. And it’s only just beginning! I hope that more and more of the many people we reach through our blog will join us.

I’m inspired, and that’s why, at the very time we’re facing a financial crisis, we decided to get rid of the Google ads we’d been carrying on our website. I know that this was the right thing to do esthetically and ethically. And I’m optimistic that this was the right thing to do financially, because I have faith that the Wildmind community will continue to expand, and that it will rally around and carry us through the present challenge and into a much, much better future.

So if you value what we do here, I’m encouraging you to make a regular donation to Wildmind, so that we can not only replace the lost income from the old Google ads, but build up a stronger basis of financial support. One-time donations are great, but recurring donations are ideal because we don’t find ourselves in the situation of having to chase after money month after month.

That basis of financial support will allow me to concentrate on practicing and teaching, and that’s going to help you personally in a number of ways. The more depth there is to my practice, and the more I can focus on writing and teaching, the more I’ll have to offer you in terms of support and advice. But you can also know that your gift is percolating out into the world. Something like 2 million people read the articles and meditation guides on Wildmind’s website every year. I’d like to offer even more, and to have guides on compassion meditation and the other “divine abodes.” I’d like to expand the section on the six element practice. I’d like to have more recordings that are freely available. I’d like to have many more blog posts. I’d like to have 10 million, 20 million people visit our site every year. Heck. 100 million would be better. I’d like to help bring about a meditative transformation of modern society, by giving people the tools they need to develop mindfulness and compassion. Let’s think big.

In time I’d like to make our courses available completely free of charge, so that more people can participate. We’d then ask the participants to make donations, to “pay it forward” and allow others to benefit.

So, the tl;dr (that’s “too long; didn’t read” in the modern internet vernacular) is that Wildmind really needs regular monthly donations from people like you who enjoy and benefit from what we do. Regular donations don’t need to be large. Others will join in and the total support will build. And you’ll help not just yourself, but many, many other people.

If you feel inspired and would like to help us, please consider becoming a subscriber and supporting us with a recurring monthly donation of your choosing. Recurring donations, however small, are particularly helpful because they give us a reliable foundation. Rather than spending our time and energy scrabbling for resources to keep going, we can simply help the world become a more mindful and compassionate place

[Update] Wildmind’s former Google+ community now has its own home, and is accessible to Wildmind’s monthly sponsors, who get access to more than 40 meditation courses that Bodhipaksa has created, plus a number of other benefits. We call this Wildmind’s Meditation Initiative. Click the link to learn more.]
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Sit : Love : Give (Part II)

sit : love : giveSit : Love : Give is two things.

First, it’s what we do. We believe in the power of meditation to bring more mindfulness and compassion to the world in order to make it a better place. So we sit.

Through sitting we develop love.

Out of love we offer Wildmind to the world, in order to make meditation more accessible. Google Analytics tells us that there were 2.5 million page views on out site last year. That represents a lot of learning about meditation, and hopefully a lot of practice of meditation too. That’s our giving.

And second, we encourage you to sit, to develop love, and to give to the world around you.

We invite you to give back to Wildmind, to help us provide you and other meditators with even more resources.

This is particularly important now because we decided to get rid of Google’s ads on our site. They brought in valuable income, but they spoiled the look of the site and sometimes carried messages that clash with what we’re trying to do here. This is an expensive site to run. It’s not just the web-hosting, but the time and effort put into curating, creating, and editing material for our blog and for the rest of our website.

We’d like to do so much more. We’d like to offer even more extensive guides on a variety of meditation practices. We’d like to have more recordings available on our site. Any by the end of this year we’d like to make all of our online courses available free; we’ll simply ask participants for donations at the end of the course.

If you feel inspired and would like to help us, please consider becoming a subscriber and supporting us with a recurring monthly donation of your choosing, from the equivalent of a cup of coffee at $3, to a fancy dinner at $100. Recurring donations, however small, are particularly helpful because they give us a reliable foundation. Rather than spending our time and energy scrabbling for resources to keep going, we can simply create:

Sit : Love : Give.

Or you can also become a one-time benefactor with a single donation of any amount:

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Sit : Love : Give

Portrait of beautiful young woman meditatingWildmind recently went ad-free. The income from carrying ads was certainly useful — it costs a lot to run a site this size — but carrying advertising here seemed both esthetically and ethically ugly. So they’ve gone! And we feel great about it!

However, it takes about 80–100 hours a month to curate, write, edit, and post the articles you read here, and if you enjoy and benefit from what we do, we’d ask you to consider making a regular donation.

Dana, or giving, is an ancient Buddhist tradition, and we’d much rather rely on the generosity of you, our readers, than bombard you with advertising.

We’re calling this project “Sit : Love : Give.” It’s what we do. We meditate; we cultivate love; we try to influence the world for good through our website. And it’s what we hope you’ll do, too: meditate; cultivate love; give something back.

The content on Wildmind will remain free and open! This isn’t a paywall. It’s just an opportunity to show love, generosity, and solidarity with those who want to make the world a better place through the cultivation of mindfulness and compassion.

So please consider becoming a subscriber and supporting us with a recurring monthly donation of your choosing, from the equivalent of a cup of coffee at $3, to a fancy dinner at $100.

Or you can also become a one-time benefactor with a single donation of any amount:

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Have less, give more

I’m fascinated by the psychology of giving and/or financial exchanges. Just this morning I was noticing my hesitation in committing to pay 99¢ for an iPhone app without having tried it first. But when I go into a coffee shop I happily plonk down $1.50 or so for a cup of Joe, without hesitating or asking for a free trial. The coffee will last me for 20 minutes, while I might end up using the app on a daily basis for an indefinite period of time. There’s no guarantee I’m going to find the coffee pleasant. Screwy, but normal.

One peculiarity regarding money is that people who have less of it are more willing to give it to another person in need. The following is from an article in today’s Boston Globe:

Given the opportunity to share money with an anonymous person, people who considered themselves lower in socioeconomic status shared more. When asked how much of one’s salary should be donated to charity, they designated a higher percentage. And, when confronted with a distressed person in need, they offered more help. These differences don’t seem to be innate. For example, after simply asking people to contemplate their socioeconomic status relative to those with higher socioeconomic status, people became more charitable. The authors theorize that people in the lower strata of society are particularly motivated by a greater dependence on — and, thus, concern for — social relationships, though affluent individuals may be more inclined to abstract charity (e.g., the environment).

The research is from, Piff, P. et al., “Having Less, Giving More: The Influence of Social Class on Prosocial Behavior,” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology (forthcoming).

Isn’t that interesting? It’s not a simple case, as I would have assumed, of “the rich” getting that way by being tight with their money. It seems more that poorer people are more tied into social networks and value the support they give. In my experience, many people who are better off are unable or unwilling to empathize with the difficulties of those who are less well off. In the US it’s common to blame people for being poor, even though it’s impossible for every single person to accumulate wealth, given how our society operates, with the people who have wealth setting the wages and conditions for those who don’t, often making it very difficult indeed to escape poverty.

It’s encouraging that reflecting on one’s relative lack of wealth compared to others boosts empathy and generosity. At least these attitudes are not fixed, and reflection, self-awareness, and social awareness are tools for change.

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Maya Angelou: “I have found that among its other benefits, giving liberates the soul of the giver.”

Maya Angelou

It was an interesting process, deciding (as an experiment) to make our courses available on a donation basis rather than having fixed charges.

Why did we decide to do this? Well, we liked the idea of being generous by allowing people to participate in our courses in return for whatever they feel moved to give, and we also liked the idea of giving people the opportunity to practice generosity themselves. What a great start to a relationship it would be to say to people, “Come on board. Join us. Take what you need and give what you can.”

Although we’ve always been flexible with our class fees, allowing people to take our courses for little or nothing if they request it, a fee is still a fee; it’s still us saying to a potential student, “Give us the money and we’ll teach you.” We felt very happy to experiment in this way.

But it was challenging as well. Quite a few people gave very small amounts – some have given as little as a dollar, which was the minimum that the donation system would allow — and we tried to come to terms with that. Our initial response was, to be honest, “They’ve got to be kidding! Here we are offering them in-depth personal feedback and guidance from an experienced meditation teacher for a month, and these people think that’s worth less than a cup of coffee!”

We wondered what to do when people offered such small amounts. After all, teachers need housing, food, transport, clothes, medical insurance. What were these people thinking? Could they really only afford a dollar? Had they misunderstood that this course involved personal feedback? Were they trying to rip us off? Could we have communicated ourselves better? Might this whole experiment be a big mistake?

In the end though, we realized that it was liberating to let go of attachment to the idea that people “should” give us a certain amount. Sure, we have needs, but let’s take people on board first, establish a relationship, and then see where that goes. If people have misunderstood and thought that perhaps they were just paying for a PDF download or something of that nature, then at least we’ll be able to explain what our costs are and they’ll have an opportunity to consider giving more. And if they could only afford a dollar, then fine, we’re happy to accept that if it’s all they can afford to give. That’s what we’ve always done.

So we’re gave that experiment a shot. And you know what? So far Maya Angelou is right, and giving was liberating, even though ultimately it turned out not to be a viable method for supporting our operations.

[Update] Our experiment with running our courses purely by donation turned out, by a large margin, not to be sustainable. In fact it was financially catastrophic. I don’t think people understood it at all. They may have thought Wildmind had some rich backer who was supporting everything. There was no rich backer. We returned to charging fees for our courses, but offering higher and lower charges people could choose between, in to accommodate their different financial situations. We also had some free places, although usually people who signed up for these never actually participated in the courses.

In April 2019 Wildmind pivoted to being what we call a Community-Supported Meditation Initiative. People contribute various amounts each month to support Wildmind, and in return they get various benefits, including access to dozens of courses I’ve developed over the years. That’s just about working, but we don’t have quite enough supporters for us to break even, so please do check out the Meditation Initiative and see if it’s something you feel moved to support.

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Wildmind is a Community-Supported Meditation Initiative. Explore the benefits of becoming a supporter.