Buddhist Dana is like Karma, and Anatta: just get over yourself…

It’s not generosity, dana, if you expect something in return. That’s business, an investment, a transaction. Dana is selfless, and so closely related to the Buddhist principle of anatta, non-self. This is crucial to a proper understanding of Buddhism, and love, too. For in early Buddhism the only kind of love is metta, friendship, brotherly love, and sisterly, too, or lovingkindness, if you insist on that repurposed Christian term from the Hebrew chesed. That’s too emotional for me. Buddhism is passionless, by design. American photography classes will teach you to point and click at the peak emotion. Buddhism doesn’t do that. Buddhism teaches a different way, the Middle Path, between luxury and lack, to be sure, but also passion and dispassion.

And there is no call to action, not really, hence all the rishis whiling away their hours in caves and under trees, for the last three thousand some-odd (some very odd!) years. But if you want to do something, then do something good. And giving is one of the best things that you can do, pretty much encompassing almost all the folds of the Noble (Aryan) Eightfold Path. Dana is no more about huge outlays of cash, though, than it is about getting something in return. It is about Right Intention. Because none of us can predict how the future will unfold. All we know is the past, and what we live is the present, the most important of all.

So, if the Eightfold Path comprises Right Understanding, Thought, Speech, Action, Livelihood, Effort, Mindfulness, and Concentration, then all but those last two steps of sati and samadhi would certainly be included within the purview of dana, or generosity. But there’s no reason to think that those eight steps on the path are all-inclusive anyway. I’m sure we can think of some others equally important. But as every good blogger, Chinese politician, or early Buddhist Abhidharmist knows, lists are supremely convenient, especially when nothing was written to begin with. I see karma similarly, not simple cause and effect. That’s mechanical, like Newtonian physics. Karma is an overarching principle: do good and receive good. But that’s another story. Freely give and freely receive. That’s dana…