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Buddha Mind - get one, be one.


Dana is a Pali word which is usually translated as giving or liberality. It is the practice of generosity - being open hearted. The most common form that this takes is the offering of alms food to the monastic sangha. 
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A village alms offering
In a tradtional Buddhist country monks and nuns would leave the monastery in the early morning and walk in small, silent groups to the nearest villages. They would be expected and the local people would come from their houses, in small groups along the way, and stand in a line waiting for the sangha to pass. As a gesture of respect they would usually remove their sandals. The exchange would often be in silence although the senior monk might use the oportunity to offer brief teachings or just 'chat' with the people - who would generally be regular visitors to the monastery.
In the West the offering of food usually takes place indoors although the format is not so different as one would encounter either in an Asian monastery or private home.
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the alms bowl
The ceremony usually begins with a request by one of the lay people, on behalf of the group, for the Three Refuges and Five Precepts. There would then be an invitation to the sangha to receive the food. In relation to the vinaya (rules of discipline - c.f.), as a refinement of the second precept, the monks are not able to freely help themselves - to property in general - and each item must be offered directly into a monk's hand. Fortunately when something is offered to one it is available to all.
When the sangha has the food in their bowls a tradition blessing will be chanted.
During the blessing the lay people will perform the water-pouring ceremony.
well -bless me Very simply this requires a container for the water and two bowls, one roughly half the size of the other - at least able to fit inside. The apparatus shown on the left is a traditional form of this but any vessels will do. During the blessing chants the water is poured into the smaller of the bowls and the quantity of water is such that it overflows the smaller into the larger.
There are several symbolic elements involved here.
The water is a symbol of life, purity and cleansing. As it is poured it represents the 'fluid' nature of generosity, how easy it is for this kindness to pass from one person to another. As the small bowl overflows into the larger one considers how the positive benefits of any generous act 'overflow' into the lives of many. When the chanting is finished the water in the bowls can be taken outside and poured onto a tree or plant; again increasing, or expanding the 'field of merits' resulting from the initial act of giving.
There are 5 benefits, or blessings, from the practice of generosity
everybody will like you.
all your friends will be good people.
you will have a good reputation.
you will have lots of self confidence.
you will have a heavenly rebirth.   (Anguttara V. 34)
As well as dana (generosity) being highly praised as a basic virtue it is a means to balance our greed and selfishness. It is easy to give away the things that you don't want but giving things of value not only helps the recipient but it also loosens one’s grip in the world of desire. This is a very important aspect of practice often overlooked.

thanks love
Generosity can be considered in relation to the second of the Four Noble Truths: tanha - desire or craving. This Truth points to the way we relate to the world through our attachment to certain things. The things that we grasp or hold on to are the very things that cause us suffering. The third Noble Truth says that to end the suffering is let go of this desire or craving.
Consider the image of a 'tight-fisted' person. Relaxed, at ease, happy - these are not words I imagine you would use to describe such a being. However someone who you thought open-handed (or hearted) might warrant such a description. We all tend to have a degree of meanness and practising giving, relaxing one's grip on, is a way of softening this unpleasant tendency.
The greatest gift you can offer anyone is your time.

Some things are easily given but when there is a resistance to give, to let go, this is an indicator of what we are addicted to or obsessed by. Letting go of material attachments is an active practise which can transform both mental and physical habits and attachments.

Those who gives alms offer a fourfold blessing:
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The monk bows down to receive an offering.
Giving is a Joy


they help toward long life
they help toward good appearance
they help toward happiness
they help toward strength.
Therefore long life, good appearance, happiness and strength will also come to the giver, whether amongst heavenly beings or amongst humans. (Anguttara IV. 57)

For correct giving

clean things
    what is best
    at the proper time
    what is suitable
    with care
    with a calm mind
    with a happy

not dirty or soiled items
according to ones means but not of a poor quality
both the giver and receiver should be unhurried
considering the needs of the receiver
the act ought be a gracious and considered one
it takes practice and practice makes perfect
clear about the situation and what one is doing
free from intimidation or grudge