Dana is a Sanskrit or Pali word that connotes the virtue of generosity, being charitable or giving. Ancients texts call for people to be generous to those in distress, less fortunate than you or in need. Such practices can be traced back to Vedic times with Kings, Princes and even landowners being asked to give back to society. We are in the middle of celebrating the season of Christmas and New Years which is celebrated world over as the season of giving, kindness, and sharing. Clearly, people from diverse cultures believe in compassion.
In Buddhist traditions, the act of Dana involves giving up something you cherish even if that means giving up your ego. There is no point in giving up that sweater that you no longer use or sacrificing a day’s worth of salary when you are part of the privileged few. That is not true Dana. The gift must also not be given with contempt or in a manner that is demeaning to the person being given the gift. In fact, it is you who should be grateful that someone has received your kindness. That is Dana. Gifts must not be provided with expectations, especially of something in return either from the recipient or the world in general. I did something for the children in the orphanage so that God may someone be kind to me. Dana does not work that way.
There are many ways to conduct Dana. You can be charitable with your time, with your money, with resources within your means or perhaps even an introduction that you know a person might cherish. Some people sing and dance to make people laugh; others fly halfway across the country to be with someone less fortunate than them or even your aging parents. This year if you managed to provide joy to someone that may not even have deserved your kindness, then you have practices, Dana. Go make someone smile!