According to Buddhist Scripture, Dana or charity is an important factor (parami) for enlightenment. Any householder aspiring to liberation must fulfill this parami. A dana for the purpose of spreading the Dhamma to bring liberation to the suffering multitudes is the highest sort of Dana.
In context of a Vipassana course, Dana is accepted by the meditation center only from old students who have been practicing Vipassana and have seen the benefits for themselves. Ideally, the volition behind Dana is such. “I have experienced the benefits of this wonderful Dhamma. Some other people have paid for my lodging and food while I have partaken of this Dhamma. They have expected nothing in return. I do not even know who my benefactors are. I too must do my part to contribute to the spread of this wonderful teaching. May this dana from me be used for the spread of Dhamma to others.”
So far, so Good. Now comes the tricky part. What must be the amount of this Dana? To some advanced souls such as U Ba Khin, this was a no brainer. Whatever he saved from his monthly income was donated to dana. Now, I am not U Ba Khin. My understanding of the Dhamma is limited. Several imperfections remain in me. I am basically a person who is very careful with spending money, miserly even. There is no way I could give all my savings to Dhamma given my present level of development. I am too scared for the future. Too scared to be able to live without savings. Too scared of uncertainty. My tendency is to hoard hoard hoard. A fearful person like me cannot give like that.
Yet, I also have some decent qualities regarding Dana. For one, I must must give Dana. I would never ever become a burden on the meditation community especially when I have the ability to pay. Also apart from paying my share, I also would like to pay for a few other meditators. Then I feel I have done my part.
Now this approach to Dana is not the best. According to my understanding of the doctrine, the amount of Dana given must be within one’s means, but the amount must be the very near the limit of my means. I can say with utmost sincerity that the amount of Dana I have given has been within my means, but it has been far far away from the limit of my means. I know for a fact how much each meditator costs the Meditation center. After all I have had a look at their financial statements. So whenever I have gone to the center, I have given enough to support at least 10 other meditators. This approach to Dana is based on calculation. This according to the scripture is not the correct approach. I agree. However, because I am a prisoner of my mental patterns, I cannot get out of this approach at the moment. I console myself that I still support 10 other meditators and when my understanding improves, this aspect of my practice too will improve.
But those amounts were in the days that I was working and drawing a paycheck. At the moment I am not drawing a paycheck for the first time in 11 years. So how much Dana must I give. I may be drawing no income, but I still have substantial savings. So becoming a burden on the center is not an option. And out of a sense of obligation, my idea was to given enough for 2 other meditators during these times. This was the idea with which I went to the center.
On Day 0, I happened to glance at some forms filled out by a meditator who had come to the center to receive the Dhamma. This meditator was a person from the poorer classes of society in India. He wrote on his form, “I work on the farm. My father is an agricultural laborer. I have two sisters. We all pick rice in the fields. There is lots of imagination while I am working” For some reason, this simplicity moved something in me. Qualities of honesty, struggle and hard work were writ large on this meditator’s face.
On day6, were the beginnings of a mental crisis regarding financial matters. The better part of the 7th day was spent trying to meditate under constant assault from thoughts of financial insecurity. By the 8th day, I had intellectually (if not emotionally) surrendered all my wealth to Dhamma. Dhamma would guide all my decisions regarding matters financial.
With financial anxiety now eliminated, around the 9th day thoughts of Dana began to grow. The amount of Dana I felt I should give began to go larger and larger. They went from Rupees 3X to rupees 6X to 9X and finally settled all the way at 30X. That’s right. The amount of Dana I would give would pay for the up keep of 30 meditators during the course. That is 30% of the expenses for each 10 Day course. I think the only reason it did not go higher was because it was believed that wealth should be spread across all various meditation centers around the world. A thought came to also make an online donation to the Vipassana meditation center in Singapore.
By the end of the course, I saw no reason to reverse my decision. On the last day several novice meditators submitted their feedback. The happiness on their faces made me very happy that I was financially contributing to the spread of Happiness. Several of them came by to thank me for my service. This made me very happy. One of the meditators had this to say as part of his feedback. “I have been grappling with depression for a long time. The meditation technique gave me some relief from my misery. I believe that in the future too I will be able to make use of this wonderful technique to reduce and finally eliminate my misery.” This again filled me with sympathetic Joy and gave me confidence that I made the right decision by surrendering all of my wealth to the cause of Dhamma.
In India student meditators come from all walks of life. Most of them are very poor. They quite simply do not have the means to pay for their upkeep during the Vipassana course. As it is they are making a huge sacrifice by for going 12 Days worth of wages. Surely it is too much to ask them to pay for their upkeep for the 12 Days. People such as I, who have the means must step up to the plate. After all whatever I have, it is due to Dhamma. Therefore it is not correct to call my contribution Dana. The correct term is sum-vibhag or correct-Distribution.
Vipassana in India is a poor man’s meditation. This is not the same as calling a pear a poor man’s apple. A pear costs less than an apple and so the implication is that a poor man cannot afford an apple but he can afford a pear. Since a rich man with choice prefers an apple, it is further implied that an apple is somehow tastier or more nutritious than the pear.
Vipassana, however is the Lion among meditation techniques. It is a Spartan system which the spoiled rich people cannot handle. The rich are more interested in a spirituality that keeps them comfortable in a warm and fuzzy manner. Not for them this uncompromising and hard technique that unapologetically demands that you give up all your impurities or suffer in pain. No sir, the rich are content with a spirituality that tells them that they are perfect in every way and do not need to change at all. The rich prefer to go to Sri Sri Ravi Shankar at the Art of Living foundation that gives them just this warm and fuzzy feeling. Pay the big money for a few hours of comforting talk and few kriyas here and there and come back feeling spiritual. Not for them 12 hours of painful sitting meditation a day. Not for them a technique that shows them just how much work they need to do. They prefer to make a large monetary donation rather than put in any work. The rich are miserable to be sure, but they do not know it. They are able to fool themselves. The Poor on the other hand have no such luxury. They are miserable and they know it. And Vipassana offers them relief with no requirement of any compensation on their part unlike the art of living foundation or The Osho ashram which is out of their reach. They thus flock (some of them only) to Vipassana.
I myself heard several comments about how the ashram could not afford this or that. Yet the organizers struggled on gamely with decent facilities and very good food. They conserved much and wasted little. What a contrast from the opulent air conditioned comfort and waste of Osho Ashram or the Art of living foundation. And therefore, it is our duty, nay it is in our own self interest to pay for the up keep of our poor (only financially, not otherwise) brothers in Dhamma. Yea, you heard that right. It is in our own self interest.
May my propensity to Dana grow. May my wealth and effort be forever useful in the spread of Dhamma. May all beings come out of their misery. May all beings be happy.