The practice of dana, or generosity, is a Buddhist concept that seeks to liberate us from feelings of separateness and alienation.

For years, I sought to be of service to individuals, to groups, to a cause. I was seeking to be virtuous. I thought I was, until one day, feeling sorry for myself and a bit fearful, I found myself crying out, “When will it be my turn?” In that moment I realized I hadn’t been of service to anyone. Instead, I had been secretly and silently bargaining. If I did enough for others, I imagined, I would be rewarded. I wanted a payoff for being good. Thereafter, I knew when I was bargaining and when I was, instead, offering a free gift of myself, my time, and my resources. I learned to value the giving of a free gift, expecting nothing in return. I also learned to receive, to experience the gift of another person’s time, expertise, and resources.

A child picks a flower, offering it to a stranger, then happily runs off to play. A teacher sees a student from another class in distress and offers a kind word of comfort and support. An enlightened human being sits and offers wisdom to all comers. A busy executive invites a hungry beggar to join them in the café (yes, I’ve seen it). Grandma cooks all day for the family. These are all acts of dana.

The concept and practice of dana in being taught, or guided, in meditation is like this. Ideally, each of us gives freely of ourselves. In turn, we receive the gifts of others. There are no rules. There is no formula. It is not a quid pro quo. It is not a price to pay for goods or a fee for services. This concept does not apply to “earning a living.” Even so, some individuals, groups, and organizations rely on dana, or goodwill, from others to pay their bills, surrendering the results to the unknown.

So, when you are offered and receive something based on the principle of dana, keep in mind that there is no expectation of payment, but there is an offer of connection and mutuality of good heart and good intention. Perhaps you might reciprocate in some fashion, perhaps you might “pass it on.” Give freely what you have been given – in the moment and in life.