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Focus of the Month - Dezember 2022

Dāna - Generosity and Giving

written by Jenny Trinh

“Be like a river in generosity and giving.” - Rumi

Another leap around the sun has passed and the month of December has now arrived. It marks the end of the year which naturally leads us to reflect and introspect on the past 12 months. Which seeds did we plant and from which could we nurture strong and firm roots. What did we learn and integrate, in which directions did we personally grow? Throughout the year we connected to many valuable qualities in our Yoga practice like kindness, non-attachment, oneness, compassion - Ultimately those are the seeds we want to nurture.

One of my teachers in India has devoted almost his entire life to his spiritual journey, studying texts of wisdom, living in Ashrams, not wanting or desiring more than he needs. It was him who has shown me how kindness, non-attachment, oneness, compassion can look like in human form. One day, he surprised us with several books he thought would benefit our spiritual journey and Asana practice, paying out of his own pocket. We all were so grateful but also offered him to pay for the books ourselves and what he has then responded has touched me deeply: “Whatever I give, I will receive in many other ways.”.

Due to capitalism and increased consumerism there might arise an increased sense of individualism. So, we might find ourselves clinging onto the “self-view” that says “I”/”me”/”mine”. In times of increased personal (materialistic) desires the selfless act of giving is beautifully bundling all the mentioned qualities above and more relevant than ever. This is why in December we want to focus on Dāna.

The meaning of Dāna

Dāna (Sanskrit: दान) means “generosity” and “giving”. The concept of Dāna traces all the way back to the ancient Indian Vedic period (1500BC - 500BC). According to Vedic texts it bears meanings in a wider and narrow sense. In a wider sense it simply refers to the act of giving - to a person, to family or the community. Looking at it in a narrow sense it refers to the act of charity and donation, giving to individuals in distress and need or taking on the form of bigger philanthropic projects aimed at the benefit of the public to empower and help.

The concept of giving plays not only an essential role in Hinduism but also in Buddhism and other religious belief systems. In Buddhism it also refers to the practice of cultivating generosity itself. Here, it is the first of the six Pārāmitas (= perfections) and it is characterized by unattached giving, unconditional generosity and letting go.

When we think of these virtues - generosity and giving - from our own experience we can already relate to a certain meaning in our minds. Growing up with two siblings, my mom always encouraged us to share with each other. It is because these virtues have been embedded within all cultural circles and beliefs since we can think - Enriching our shared life together on this earth and therefore being timelessly relevant.

There are so many reasons to practice the act of generosity and giving - their benefits are manifold.

Cultivating a sense of oneness and community

In the texts of the Bhagavad Gita Lord Krisha says that any sacrifice for the human welfare should not be given up. We are 7.8 billion humans on this planet and since living and being has become much more complex, each one of us is dealing with our own personal issues. Being stuck in our own minds but also through capitalism and consumerism, we have forgotten that we are all one, coming from the same source, being of the same source. Yet, some of us are more fortunate than others. By sowing the seeds of kindness and compassion into our hearts and helping people and all living beings, we can promote social cohesion, show solidarity and remember that we are all one.

Remember a time of despair where someone has helped you and the feelings that came with it. The weight of fear or uncertainty that came off your shoulders, the relief of knowing everything’s going to be alright, the kindness you’ve experienced and connection you’ve felt in that moment. Just imagine you could give someone else exactly this, a heart bathed in light, a sense of belonging and that their being matters - Isn’t that beautiful?

As we work to create light for others, we naturally light our own way.

Mary Anne Radmacher

Spiritual Growth

Dāna as a virtue in itself can truly lift the nature and spirit of the giver. giving a sense of purpose. A look at the Yogic philosophy can tell us why. The practice of Yoga aims at transcending our thoughts and through that reconnecting to our truest self which is in its essence pure and kind.

“When we practice kindness and compassion, we are the first ones to profit.”


In Hinduism and Buddhism, Dāna is a quality that is connected to spiritual growth, as a characteristic of good and enlightened persons. To give from the heart, we need to practice compassion, kindness but also non-attachment. When we are attached to things, we will most certainly be afraid of losing it, leading our mind to experience distress, making it impossible to transcend our thoughts and focus on what truly matters to our heart. From my own experience I can say that the more I possess, the more I worry. Maybe you can relate? It is in realizing the weight of attachments and in letting them go where we can find liberation of the mind and heart.

“Acts of sacrifice, charity and austerity should not be abandoned, but should be performed; worship, charity, and also austerity, are the purifiers of even the wise.”

Bhagavad Gita (Verse 18.5)

Through the act of giving we can purify our mind, releasing ourselves of unnecessary attachments and heavy traits like selfishness, greed and egoism. If we can let go of “I” and “mine” and give to others, we can thaw the “self-view” and the illusion of separation. Thus we can bring our spiritual path onto a new sphere and find true happiness.

How we can practice the act of giving

“As from a heap of flowers many a garland is made, even so many good deeds should be done by one born a mortal.”

Dhammapada 53

Buddhism teaches that none of us has or will ever undergo different experiences in life. We rather have different moments of consciousness that can be seen as a process evolving. The more we become aware of ourselves, our thoughts and actions the more we shift from a state of unwholesome consciousness to a state of wholesome and mindful consciousness. Each state of consciousness is accompanied with mental factors. Unwholesome consciousness comes with unwholesome characteristics like attachment, jealousy or aversion that have a wholesome counterpart: generosity, kindness and compassion.

Therefore, if we eliminate one characteristic we will also strengthen the other one and vice-versa. Letting go of certain negative thinking and behavioral patterns is certainly not the easiest, but it is much easier focussing on strengthening the positive and wholesome qualities within us.

What can be given

When we hear the word “charity” we think of fundraiser events and the word “giving” implies handing over something of materialistic character. This can lead to moments of mental conflicts regarding giving as resources are limited. Even if we wanted to, it’s not possible to buy a meal for every homeless person or surprise friends with flowers to brighten up their dark day. The true beauty of giving and generosity is that it comes in all forms and sizes. In the teachings of Buddha we can learn about three forms on how we can practice giving.

  1. The gift of material things

  2. The gift of dhamma (= wisdom and knowledge)

  3. The gift of non-fear (= taking sorrows away from someone)

This shows that helping and charity doesn’t necessarily involve materialistic things. We are capable of giving so much more than just money. We can give our time and attention, we can give our advice and expertise, our support and a shoulder to lean on to, our love, a smile. Most of the time, the smallest act of caring can be worth so much.

“Too often we underestimate the power of a touch, a smile, a kind word, a listening ear, an honest compliment, or the smallest act of caring, all of which have the potential to turn a life around.”

Leo Buscaglia

In what way shall we give

The Bhagavad Gita describes in the verses 17.20 - 17.22 the different forms of Dāna and they refer to the three Gunas. The Gunas are characteristics within the illusionary and ethereal world (Prakriti), the world of matter: Sattva (enlightened and pure), Rajas (satisfaction, active and ego driven) and Tamas (lazy, dull and heavy). In respect to Dāna Sāttvikam is giving without expectations of getting something in return, at the proper time and place as well as to the right person. Rajas is giving but expecting something in return, desiring fruits of the action. Tamas is giving with contempt and disdain as well giving to a person at the wrong time and place.

Taking the insights of the text as a foundation we can summarize that we shall give in the following manner:

  • Giving without expecting and seeking to get something in return and attachment to the recipients actions

  • Giving at an appropriate time and place

  • Giving to a person that truly is in need of what is being offered

  • Giving something that is useful and appropriate in that situation

  • Giving with pure intentions to just genuinely give and help

  • Giving with a sense of warmth and friendliness without humiliating or hurting the receiver by belittling them

It’s also important to remember that you can’t pour out of an empty cup. The act of giving should not bring you in situations that put you at discomfort, harm and risk.

“You have two hands -

one to help yourself and one to help others.”

Audrey Hepburn

How to practice giving and generosity on the mat

  • Meditation on love and compassion (Metta meditation)

  • Meditation on the quality of generosity, letting it infuse the whole spirit

  • Heart opening asanas for kindness, compassion and to express gratitude

  • Forward folds and supine twists to create a sense of letting go and non-attachment

  • In order to let go of the ego: Following the Asana practice for the sake of connection without being attached to a certain performance

  • Chanting mantras that invoke compassion and carrying their meaning like Lokah Samastah Sukhino Bhavantu (= May all beings be happy and free)

  • Acknowledging the oneness of all of us by mentally connecting to the people in a Yoga class, the breath, the earth beneath and space surrounding you

How to practice giving and generosity off the mat

  • Volunteering at a food bank or homeless shelter

  • Donating (food, clothes, blankets or financial aid etc.)

  • Putting together a refuge parcel

  • Buying and cooking (Christmas) dinner for a homeless person or any person in need or buying them a sandwich and hot drink

  • Raising money for a good cause (e.g. Yoga classes or workshops)

  • Listening thoughtfully to a friend who’s feeling down

  • Giving a smile to strangers and genuine compliments

  • Taking the time to talk and listen to elderly people

  • Inviting international students over for a Christmas Dinner as they might miss their home and family

  • Helping someone who’s struggling with their luggage on public transport or give up your seat

  • Answer questions on to provide rice to hungry people

And lastly, count all your blessings to cultivate a warm feeling of gratitude. From this place of grace you’ll see that deep in your heart there is the seed of generosity.

“Just give and then suddenly you find yourself on the other shore.”

Thích Nhất Hạnh

The end of the year marks a time of reflection but at the same time we also shift our gaze towards the new year ahead, a new cycle bearing soil for further growth. Where can we learn more? What other seeds can we plant? How can we embody generosity further? The practice of Dāna is timeless. So let’s use this month, this moment, the now to give from our heart to others. We can practice Dāna at any time, in any place and in so many beautiful and simple ways.

Let's do good together & donate in our Christmas fundraiser for climate protection:

Further Readings

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