Sunday, 5 April 2015

The Power of Dāna

The power of the humble and selfless gesture of giving dana is seen in some of Myanmar’s great monks and meditation teachers. To give one example, Sayagyi U Ba Khin kept daily records of his own dana expenditures (he was an accountant, after all), one of three columns he used to record his behavior: “dana merit” (measured in money), “sila merit” (measured in adherence to the precept) and “bhavana merit” (referring to hours spent in meditation and recitation of verses). U Ba Khin records that he fulfilled his sīla-kusala by observing “the 227 rules of conduct with respect and diligence…[and] made a special effort not to infringe even the minor rules of conduct,” and fulfilled the bhāvanā-kusala by “[showing] my respect by meditating, by practicing patipatti.” However, his greatest detail is seen in the Dana-kusala column. Here he records that he has given the following items: “for Ingyinbin Pagoda, for Kaung-hmudaw Pagoda, 3 sets of the Tipitika in Burmese, 2 sets of three robes, 3 sets of two robes, 5 umbrellas, 6 pairs of sandals, 2 leather seats, 2 bowls and strainers, 1 razor, candles and incense sticks, 1 big box of cakes, two days of food offerings.” Next to each item is the exact cost, coming to a total expenditure of 2,442 kyat.

Another shining example is Shwe Oo Min Sayadaw (seen above, with Sayagyi U Goenka). Although he had a very large number of supporters, he only took that which he needed, and sent the rest of the donated items to seminaries throughout the country that did not have as many donors. When asked why he did not keep the donations himself, he replied that just as one can buy whatever one wishes at a supermarket, so also can one develop spiritually in any way that one desires in this time of the Buddha Sasana, but when you pass away, all opportunity is lost. For this reason, one must do all one can in the present moment to end akusala actions and tendencies. This can be accomplished in a variety of ways, from assisting monks to helping people, like, for example, his sharing his donations with those monasteries that were less fortunate. Addressing donors, he advised that when doing kusala actions, one should be “facing out” rather than “facing in.” In other words, they shouldn’t be thinking of any merit they accrue, but rather focus on the receiver of the dana and what he or she needs to be happy; when seeing their happy face, one will also become happy, and this is kusala.

In order to understand the great value that dāna can bring to one’s life, Prekhemma Sayadaw relates a story from the Buddha’s time. Suvana Devi was the king’s daughter, and she had a younger brother. One day she heard him talking to a palace servant, a boy of around the same age. Her brother was advising the servant to practice more dana, and that it was the fault of his not properly practicing dana that he was born a servant, not a prince like himself. Suvana Devi went to the Buddha and relayed this story. He explained that in a previous life, the two boys were monks who practiced intensive meditation. But the future prince also practiced dana as well. For example, he would give part of his lunch to animals. The future servant objected to this practice, claiming that meditation was the only practice that would lead to nibbana. When they both passed away, Prekhemma Sayadaw comments how “during every future life, the monk who did the meditation and dana enjoyed greater wealth and comfort. Later they both became disciples of the Buddha, and both became enlightened. But the one who practiced dana had an easier path.”